TOURISM and Arts Minister Ronald Chitotela says Zambia is a leading country in the tourism industry within the SADC region for being the first to have opened safari hunting.

And Chitotela says he has written to President Edgar Lungu to move the land adjacent to ZNBC Mass Media Complex from the Ministry of Community Development to his Ministry so that they can construct a hotel and an arts centre.

Speaking when he featured on the ZNBC Sunday Interview, Chitotela said Zambia was the leading African country in the SADC region in the tourism sector after having established safari hunting.

“Zambia is a leader on the African continent, and I want to thank His Excellency, the President, for positively considering opening up the tourism sector slowly. Today, I can proudly say that we are the only country in the SADC region that had even opened for safari hunting. We have had tourists coming for safari hunting from as far as the United States of America. We have seen hotels closing, people permanently losing employment. Others have been sent on forced leave and these are people with families, people who live in rented houses, people who have a lot of social and economic responsibilities behind them. Today, I am proud to tell you that we are the first country in the southern African region to have the Emirates flying back into Lusaka,” Chitotela said.

And Chitotela disclosed that he wrote to President Lungu to move the land adjacent to ZNBC Mass Media Complex from the Ministry of Community Development to his Ministry so that they could construct a hotel and an arts centre.

“The next thing we want to do, so that we appreciate the artists, the land adjacent to ZNBC here when the Department of Arts was under Ministry of Community Development, the land to-date belongs to the Department of Culture and Arts. We have written to His Excellency, the President, that we formally move the plot from the Ministry of Community Development to the Ministry responsible for Tourism and Arts so that we can build the hotel. And that hotel will come with an Arts Centre. And we can have the Centre for Excellence where the artists and those that would want to perform and excel will be able to be given a platform where they will be able to go and do programmes of the art nature and show themselves to the international world. That is a great achievement,” Chitotela said.

He also hailed the PF government as the first in Zambia’s history to create a stimulus package for artists during and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The PF government is the first government in the history of Zambia to have thought of artists and to create a stimulus package for them so that they can sustain themselves, not just during the COVID-19 [but] even going forward. I have spoken to them to say, ‘if somebody creates a seed fund for you, it’s not for consumption, but for growth.’ We are the first government under President Lungu to have signed an insurance cover for our friends in the arts industry. Today, the artists that have been captured are covered by the insurance. In an event of a misfortune, the insurance company will move in. And the artists will be compensated. This was launched this year. We signed the MoU between the National Arts Council of Zambia and various artists and the insurance provider,” he said.

He said the K30 million artists stimulus package had nothing to do with the disgruntled youths’ bush protest, but was something borne out of President Lungu’s desire to grow the arts sector.

“His Excellency visited Victoria Falls and I have heard a lot of people have been saying, ‘it’s a political plan’ and that maybe it’s because of those referred to as the bush protests. This was not the idea. We were in Livingstone the time when His Excellency went to open up Victoria Falls. After our visit to Victoria Falls, he chose to interact with the craftsmen and women at Mukuni Park. As we were walking, he asked them and they narrated moving statements that others complained that they had not sold for the past three to four months, and that they were living in rented houses. They were unable to pay for social services,” he said.

“Then, the President whispered to me and said, ‘when we get back to Lusaka, speak to the Ministry of Commerce and Ministry of Finance.’ In fact, the K30 million [artists stimulus fund] was suggested by the President. In fact, the artists complained that, ‘we are unable to access the K10 billion stimulus package that has been set by the Bank of Zambia because of the conditionalities set by the bank; can you, Mr President, set us a fund under CEEC i(Citizens Economic Empowerment Commission) in collaboration with the National Arts Council of Zambia so that we can come up with our own regulations?’ And the President called me and said, ‘call the Minister of Finance (Dr Bwalya Ng’andu) and Commerce (Christopher Yaluma) and yourself, sit down, and let’s have this idea be actualised. So, this had nothing to do with the bush protest. It is the desire by the President to grow the art sector industry.”

Chitotela predicted that with the K30 million stimulus package for artists, Zambia would be a “beacon of envy” in the next five years.

“With this K30 million set aside, in the next five years, Zambia will be a beacon of envy within the region and within the continent. To answer the question of who is eligible for this fund? We called the National Arts Council of Zambia and said, ‘you are the ones responsible for all the artists in Zambia,’ they came up with their own guidelines on how they must be able to access that money and conditions on how to access. So, the National Arts Council of Zambia, working with all the Arts associations, constituted the working group of people from different arts backgrounds and they came up with the guidelines on how this money would be accessed. What we did, as government, was just to endorse and approve their own guidelines. We never attempted to change, not even a comma. So, if there will be a failure by certain groupings within the arts sector, they will not blame government because it is they who came up with the guidelines,” said Chitotela.