GOVERNMENT should pay all outstanding salary arrears for workers at National Heritage Conversation Commission and National Museums Board who have gone unpaid for nine months, University of Zambia Allied Workers Union (UNZAWU) president George Katapazi has demanded.

But Tourism Minister Ronald Chitotela says government has just released a grant to clear salary arrears for the workers and promised to clear the remaining two months balance.

In an interview, Katapazi said government owed National Museum workers salaries for nine months.

“It’s not just Victoria Falls alone, we categorize them all as workers from National Heritage Conversation Commission and National Museums Board, who are behind in terms of salaries, and it is only yesterday (Wednesday) when a grant was released. Even then, we are talking them not having been paid for months. Civil servants have already started getting salaries for July. And the question we are asking government is: when are the workers going to get their salaries for July? The whole of last year, National Museum only received about seven months grants and the whole of this year, they have only received two months grants, meaning they are nine months behind in terms of grants,” Katapazi complained.

He wondered how the affected institutions would be able to operate effectively if government failed to release the grants.

“And now that the fees are not coming the way they were coming, it simply means that these two institutions are unable, even within themselves, to source for funds to pay these employees. It means that they were literally dependent on the government. Meanwhile, government is not releasing these monies. So, how are these workers going to survive? I have cited Victoria Falls as an example because the Republican President (President Edgar Lungu) opened Victoria Falls in good faith, but the problem is that workers are not being paid. They are going for work without food because they are not getting salaries. And they are working under very difficult and risky conditions,” he lamented.

And Katapazi appealed to government to clear the arrears before workers downed tools.

“This is really a concern for the Union. We don’t want to withdraw our labour because we don’t want to be seen to fight government, no! Government must come in and assist these institutions so that our workers can also provide the labour that is required. Victoria Falls is a world heritage site. It is being monitored by UNESCO and it is shared by two countries. If workers down tools on the side of Zambia, how will it look on the other side of our neighbours and how is UNESCO going to look at us? And how is government going to feel because the President opened that side?” Katapazi wondered.

But Chitotela said that the only remaining outstanding balance was for June and July as the rest had just been cleared.

“The Director of Finance is just from telling me that he just sent them a grant today (Thursday) for up to May. So, the only month outstanding is June and July. The grant for February, March, April and May was sent today (Thursday) to all the institutions, which is not good enough. My desire is to be current. As you may be aware, I found a lot of backlog in a lot of institutions, including the Community Resource Board. But the Community Resource Board, we cleared them all the monies that we were owing them, the K19.8 million. So, we don’t owe them anything,” Chitotela said in a separate interview.

And he pledged to continue engaging the Ministry of Finance to ensure that the outstanding two months’ arrears were paid.

“So, the word of encouragement is that we will make sure that even the two months’ backlog will be cleared. Even the backlog was because of COVID-19. Otherwise, we are committed to ensuring that we are current. From the time I took over, we are up-to-date. What is impressing for me is that, today, money has been released for three months and we are just remaining with June and July. I will keep engaging the Ministry of Finance and we will make sure that by end of July, we will be up-to-date,” said Chitotela.

And Ministry of Tourism Director of Finance Mutale Mbalamweshi said most of the departments under the Ministry had received grants of up to April, this year.

“For this year, statutory bodies like Zambia Tourism Agency, National Heritage Conservation Commission, National Museum Board, National Arts Council, Zambia Institute of Tourism Hospitality Services, and Hostels Board of Management have received their grants. For Zambia Tourism Agency, this year, they have received grants up to April. The same applies to National Heritage Conservation Commission. National Museum have received for five months up to May; National Arts Council (NAC) have received up to April as well; Zambia Institute of Tourism and Hospitality Services have received up to April. Hostels Board of Management have also received up to April,” explained Malamweshi.