MINISTRY of Youth, Sport and Arts Permanent Secretary Kangwa Chileshe says government will not scrape off any loans which were paid to artists, adding that legal action can also be taken if need be.

On August 12, 2020, government gave K30 million as Presidential Arts Empowerment Fund, through the National Arts Council (NAC), to ‘deserving artists’ as loans.

In November 2020, 152 artists in various categories benefited from the revolving fund.

In an interview, Kangwa said effective January month-end, beneficiaries would be required to present their payment plans to the Ministry.

“There are situations where youths genuinely borrowed money, went into a project and there are records to that effect. But they are struggling for one reason or the other. It could be covid, lack of skills or they entered into a business without knowledge. We are not going to take a blanket approach and say let us scrap off the entire debt. We cannot do that because these are national resources. We are accountable to Zambian people who put us in power for those resources,” Kangwa said.

“The number one objective for us as a Ministry is recovery because we want to be transparent with our resources. There are situations where these resources were used for political expediency. In the sense that when they were being given out, the intention and motive was not actually for young people to pay back. In such situations, we demand obviously that they pay back so that things are corrected. We do demand that those resources be paid back.”

Kangwa said beneficiaries of the empowerment fund had the responsibility to pay back.

“The empowerment funds which artists were given, my expectation obviously is that artists who were given finances under CEEC, National Arts Council and basically through this Ministry have a responsibility to pay back the Zambian people. They have a responsibility to pay back and so we expect them to pay back. We are not scraping off any debt for any artists concerning how much money they borrowed,” he said.

“Infact, if I were them, I would actually present myself to the Ministry as opposed to the Ministry starting to pursue them. They are the ones who should come to the Ministry and talk to us. They should say I borrowed K500,000 or a million Kwacha and this is the plan I have to pay back. They can say give me time and this is the amount I am able to remit the Ministry this month. I am expecting that because that is responsibility.”

Kangwa said the Ministry had already written letters to 80% of the beneficiaries reminding them to remit the funds.

“Now if they are going sit down and wait and say we will see what they will do, then letters are going to find them. Infact, we have already started writing letters to everyone. Anyone who got a cent from this Ministry, we have written to almost 80% of them to pay back so that is the expectation. Even those that acquired whatever form of loan, there is correspondence in every part of this country for them to pay back. If they are not in a position to start remitting, they must come to the Ministry and give us a position on how they might be able to do that in the nearest future. So that is where we are and we are not leaving any stone unturned,” he said.

“Listen, we are not trying to punish the young people but we are just trying to set a standard and a standard that stipulates that we must be very prudent in the management of resources for this country. We must be very careful because these assets belong to Zambians. You know, the crisis we have in this country is the issue of youth unemployment and lack of entrepreneurship. So if we take a laissez-faire attitude towards resources, we are not going to achieve anything. So it starts with fiscal discipline. And this Ministry, being Youth, Arts and Sports, we must be exceptional in the execution of discipline.”

Kangwa said the UPND government was not going to victimise the youths.

“By the end of the month, we will have a Youth Director and we will have a full-fledged department. This means that effective even at the end of this month, there will be a requirement by the artist to begin to do what I have just told you. So the delay does not mean that we have forgotten about it and we are not going to act on it, no. So before we finish everything we are doing in-house and complete the alignment of the Ministry by the end of the month, my expectation is that the wise ones will begin to engage us as a Ministry as opposed to waiting on us to take action,” said Kangwa.

“So everything is on the table including legal action. That is why I am saying there are no jokes because it is serious business. Everything is on the table to recover stolen and misused assets. We are also saying the UPND government did not come to victimise the youths but we have a human face. So it is not like we are going into a fight but we only want to help the youths. What we do not want is people being used by political parties to strip the Ministry of its assets. We want the youths to be genuine.”