By Costa Nkomo
ZANU PF MP and Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Foreign Affairs chairperson Kindness Paradza was forced to jump to government defence after an opposition lawmaker demanded information on reports a shadowy US public relations consultancy firm had been engaged without Treasury approval.
Foreign Affairs Ministry permanent secretary James Manzou was left scratching his head after MDC Mpopoma legislator Charles Moyo demanded explanation on the circumstances surrounding government’s hiring of the US lobbyist firm Ballard Partners in March this year.
The committee was receiving oral evidence from the Ministry on its 2020 budget proposal as well as explaining some outstanding issues as raised by the Auditor General’s report.
Moyo asked Manzou to confirm if it is true that President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration in March this year hired the US firm to spruce up Zimbabwe’s image before the international community as the “Second Republic” battles to restore the country’s image.
“There are reports and speculation that say the government paid the US lobbyist firm called the Ballard Partners about US$500 000. Since we are discussing your budget, as a Ministry may you explain exactly what happened?” Moyo asked.
Manzou however requested that Moyo retake his question to which Paradza jumped in: “I don’t know, the question says there is some company hired to do re-engagement which I am not aware of.”
Referring to Moyo, Paradza added : “I think you should put your question in writing and refer it to the Minister and he is going to answer that lets deal with the budget.”
Moyo was however not to be pushed as he pleaded with Paradza to protect him arguing Parliament needed to know whether the Ministry used resources allocated to it in the previous budget to pay the public relations firm or not.
“I need your protection chairman. We are talking of a re-engagement process. We are talking of forking out money to pay a firm, that is clearly a budget chairman,” Moyo said.
Paradza remained firm advising Moyo to document his question so that Foreign Affairs Minister Sibusiso Moyo would respond.
Manzou later said: “Our expenditures are before you. If the honourable (Moyo) can zero in on the particular expenditure this will help the minister in his response.”
Ballard Partners is a US lobbyists firm connected to US President Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign.
As if to confirm that indeed Mnangagwa had engaged the Ballard Partners, speaking to Bloomerg in March 2019, Information Ministry permanent secretary Nick Mangwana said lobbying is part of the strategy the new dispensation uses in its bid to end isolation from the international community.