Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has all but confirmed that President Robert Mugabe’s trips to Singapore are an attempt to seek specialist medical attention unavailable in Zimbabwe.

Tsvangirai told journalists yesterday that government had no choice but continue paying for Mugabe’s treatment outside the country if he is sick because it had a duty to do so.

The Prime Minister though, was non-comittal about Mugabe’s exact ailment. Quizzed by reporters on the ballooning foreign travel bill incurred by government, Tsvangirai shifted the blame on Mugabe’s health saying: “Certainly I don’t accept collective punishment.” He however, said Treasury had to pay because government could not watch the 87-year-old die.

“If the President is sick he should be attended to. And whether you like it or not, I think he may say ‘look, I was sick I had to go and get attention.’ And therefore the State has a responsibility of looking after its leaders,” said Tsvangirai.

Pressed on why he has failed to impress on Mugabe, who is reportedly battling cancer, to seek cheaper local treatment, Tsvangirai said: “He is certainly not suffering from malaria as you would understand which we can obtain at the nearest hospital. So I think there might be complications there.”

“And maybe the (medical) attention (available) of that is outside the country where you have got that expertise and you don’t have that local expertise. What do you want him to do?”

Added Tsvangirai: “But then if someone is sick, what do you want him to do? You want him to die when he can seek medical attention somewhere? I think those are justifiable excuses.

“But overally, I think the question of expenditure is a question that the minister (of Finance) is aware of, he has drawn the attention of Cabinet that foreign travel has become one of the most runaway expenditures. So we hope that we will all act with restraint over that issue.”

While Mugabe’s spin-doctors have frantically tried to obfuscate the reasons for his visits to Singapore, Tsvangirai yesterday gave it all away, confirming that Mugabe was consulting medical specialists abroad. During his latest visit to Singapore last week, the eighth such trip this year, Mugabe claimed he had gone on a “private visit.

Arriving at the Harare International Airport on Sunday morning, Mugabe denied his health is failing. “You want to ask me about my health? As you can see, this Mugabe is fit, but I don’t know about the other Mugabe,” said a puffed up Mugabe. Mugabe’s health has been the subject of constant local and foreign media speculation over the past decade.

He is said to be plagued by cancer according to confidential US embassy cables containing briefings with top Zanu PF officials. One cable said Mugabe had been spotted at Gleneagles, a top private hospital in Singapore.

Finance Minister Tendai Biti has said the GNU principals and Cabinet have blown $40 million in six months to June, a top-line ripple for the government’s total recurrent expenditure over the same period.

The three principals, Mugabe, Tsvangirai and Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara were said to have collectively blown $29 million on travel alone.  Government officials, including GNU principals, have undertaken a series of overseas trips. It is believed that Mugabe withdraws at least $3 million on each of his medical trips overseas, a figure critics say is too high given that the country is broke.

Tsvangirai said it was unfair to blame all the principals for the budget overruns without itemising who spent what. “The question of expenditure, we cannot all be lumped into one expenditure item,” Tsvangirai said. “Surely you should examine who has spent what rather than try to lump us all and say we have all spent $29 million.

“Go and find out in terms of budget allocation what President Mugabe has spent, what was he allocated for, what Prime Minister Tsvangirai was allocated for and what he has spent, then we can have an objective discussion,” said Tsvangirai.

Tsvangirai said his relationship with President Mugabe has evolved from “very acrimonious bitter enemies to a situation where I can say we are collaborative opponents, we collaborate in government as coalition partners.”