Concerned artists, including arts bodies, have urged government to enter into Public Private Partnership (PPP) to speed up the renovation of the Blantyre Cultural Centre (BCC), which still remains in ruins, four years after being vandalised.
Artists feel short-changed by government’s dilly dallying on the once mighty entertainment and cultural events venue, which has a direct economic both to government and artists.
Veteran musician Patrick Simakweli said government’s lack of interest on issues to do with culture and arts is costing the country.
He cited the dilapidated state of BCC and Arts and Cultural Policy, which, despite being approved by Cabinet, is yet to be implemented.
Simwakeli noted: “If government has failed to promote the country’s culture and arts, let it come in the open and eat humble pie. For how long have we been singing a song about the BCC? I feel a PPP agreement would serve everyone’s interests because we are fed up with empty promises.”
He said government’s failure to come up with a clear blueprint on the BCC, including other vital projects such as the formulation of the Cultural Policy, shows its lack of seriousness and commitment to issues of culture and arts.
“Why should it always be the culture and arts sectors lacking funding and resources all the time? As a country, are we ready to preserve and promote our indigenous traditional practices? How many times has the government lied to us?” wondered Simakweli.
His sentiments were echoed by artists Lucius Banda and Lloyd Phiri.
Lucius noted: “Imagine, the way French Cultural Centre (BCC) used to be; it used to house everything from French books, music, lessons, plays, films to visual arts
exhibitions. People used to learn and experience French culture right in one place which was well-funded. Can’t we do the same as Malawi?”
He said issues of cultural and arts promotion in Malawi need strong political will.
On his part, Musicians Union of Malawi (MUM) president the Reverend Chimwemwe Mhango said government needs to start working towards implementing cultural and arts-related programmes for the good of the country.
He said: “Government needs not to be reminded about the significant role of culture and arts in this country. It is part and parcel of our existence; cultural, social and economic richness. Therefore, there should be deliberate efforts such as a PPP agreement so that some of the cultural and arts related projects should commence.”
He urged a mutual relationship between government and artists to ensure a smooth running of projects.
“It’s not healthy for artists to go to the streets because government is failing to fulfil its mandate on certain issues. We must learn to deliver without being dragged. After all, we do it for our country,” said Mhango.
Government purchased the BCC from the French government for K300 million in 2011. But a delay in handing over the centre led to massive looting of the facility, including equipment such as drums and guitars that were being used by artists.
Four years have elapsed since the BCC was vandalised with only the amphitheatre being renovated to allow event organisers to use it.
Ideally, the amphitheatre is user -friendly to few artistic activities such as dance, music and drama performances. But film screening and certain type of theatre performances and poetry recitals that need auditorium experience, continue to suffer a blow.
But reacting to the artists’ proposal, the Ministry of Sports and Culture said they have already put BCC in its Public Sector Investment Plan.
In an interview, Ministry of Sports and Culture spokesperson Christopher Mbukwa said: “Admittedly, the centre has been in ruins for quite some time; however government, through the Ministry of Sports and Culture is working to restore the centre to a usable state.
“The BCC has been included in the Public Sector Investment Plan. This is basically a prioritised plan of development projects which government and development partners commit to fund for a specific duration. It is estimated that the BCC project will cost K350 million for the period of two and half years.”
He added: “So far, an assessment to establish the condition of the centre was conducted which basically gave a picture of the extent of damage of the facilities of BCC. We established the bills of quantities and estimated the associated cost of materials. Requests for quotations have since been sourced and approved for electrical installations, plumbing, carpentry, painting and roof waterproofing works from small building and electrical contractors. The selected contractor will soon start the works.”