Contestants threaten to pull out in solidarity with Yangchen
by Valentine Maponga And John Mokwetsi
The cash-strapped government has forked out billions in taxpayers' money to fund the Miss Tourism World 2005 pageant in a bid to revive the tourism industry and its battered international image, The Standard can reveal.
The government took over the running of the pageant from Zimsun, after the hospitality group failed to raise US$2 million (more than Z$12 billion) for the licence. Subscribe to AllAfrica
Out of the US$2 million, the organisers Miss Tourism World fronted by London-based John Singh, said they would use US$100 000 to pay the five winners.
Apart from paying for the licence, the government also forked out billions of dollars for accommodation, food and travel fares around the country, as the contestants visited holiday resorts.
The loss-making Air Zimbabwe spent over $530 million flying all the 93 contestants from London into the country and another $180 million ferrying them around the country. It will also fly them back to London.
There are more than 200 people staying at the Sheraton, including contestants, organisers, government officials and the foreign journalists whose expenses are being paid by the government.
A room commands $650 000 during the week and $700 000 over the weekend, costing the government more than $130 million every day and totalling about $1 billion for the six days the contestants and officials have been booked at the hotel.
During their stay in Zimbabwe, the models, organizers and journalists were treated to lunch and dinner at the plush Victoria Falls Hotel and Boma restaurant at government expense. It costs $200 000 a plate at each of the resort places.
Apart from that, the models, accompanied by a police escort, also toured the Eastern Highlands, Great Zimbabwe and Kariba resort areas. The government also hired United Tourism Company (UTC) buses for the tours. An official at UTC said it costs about $22 million to hire a 44-seater vehicle from Harare to Kariba.
Sources said government also forked out foreign currency to pay for the South African state-of-the-art equipment to ensure the event is broadcast to other countries.
"Tonnes of equipment were flown in from South Africa in a hired cargo airplane. The plane will come back tomorrow to collect the equipment," said a source at Air Zimbabwe.
The equipment includes Plasma screens, lights, cranes and dolly. There were also other companies that were hired to design the stage and graphics, for set designing, and choreography. A South African company called Globecast reportedly provided the satellite transmission.
The hired equipment and personnel will be paid in foreign currency.
While the government spends billions of dollars trying to spruce up its image, the country's education and health sectors have collapsed due to lack of funding.
However, addressing journalists in Victoria Falls a fortnight ago, Millicent Mombeshora, government spokesperson for the event, defended the use of taxpayer's money saying the country would benefit.
"This is what we call the harvest theory, whereby the government uses the taxpayer's money as seed. The taxpayer will in the long run harvest the results. Many tourists will visit the country bringing the much-needed foreign currency," she said.
George Charamba, the Secretary for Information and Publicity on Friday said government took over the event because a poor show would have reflected badly on Zimbabwe.
He confirmed that government was paying for transport, medical aid facilities, communication equipment, accommodation and other related bills for the contestants and the organisers.
"It is the role of the government to market this country and that is why we had to chip in. Sometimes it's necessary to spend money for a good cause and we are expecting positive results from this event," Charamba said.
Zimsun chief executive officer, Shingi Munyeza, said his company had not lost out since a better Zimbabwe would mean a lot of business.
"If tourists don't come it means we would be out of business. We never lost out because we are looking at the long-term gains and this event is not meant to be a one-day wonder," Munyeza said.
In 2003, the government paid $60 million for a licence for hosting the 2002 Miss Malaika pageant claiming that the event would bring in thousands of tourists and revive the country's ailing tourism sector.
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