The government increased the ministry's budget in recognition of its economic importance. What are your priorities for these funds?
We are responsible for forestry, wildlife, tourism, and national heritage so our investments will clearly go into these areas. In the forestry sector, we will invest more in tree planting in new extension areas, the protection of existing forestry resources for water catchments, and the creation of new nature reserves to ensure the total conservation of areas with exceptional flora and fauna. In the wildlife sector, our main investments will go into anti-poaching efforts and expanding our tourism infrastructure.
What is the new administration's position on coordinating with international institutions to help reduce and prevent poaching?
Our policy is three-pronged. The first is coordinating with the international community, because if there is no demand for ivory in the world poaching will cease. At the regional level, we are cooperating with our neighbors that also have elephants and coordinating with them so that we can apprehend poachers together. At the domestic level, we have a monitoring system in place now so that we can immediately respond to instances of poaching. Secondly, we are arresting not only the people who shoot the elephants, but also the ones who cut off the tusks, transport the ivory, sell to the middlemen in the big cities, and export to countries like Vietnam.
What is your opinion on applying VAT to tourism services in Tanzania?
In 2007, we pushed strongly to develop the tourism industry, finally enacting the Tourism Act in 2009. One of the first actions we took under that legislation was to allow tourism services companies to operate in a tax-free environment to help them grow. We envisaged that they would need this assistance for around five to six years. In 2015, we realized that the time had come for the tourism sector to pay its share of tax like all other sectors. By that time, tourism had grown to 17% of GDP and Tanzania was earning 25% of its foreign currency from tourism. We cannot have a small farmer paying taxes and huge business with a turnover of millions not paying its share. The second point is that Tanzania is moving away from its dependency on donor support, which is now down to 18% from about 54% when I was first a minister in 2006.
How do you see tourism flows evolving in Tanzania?
The biggest shift will be to diversify our tourism products from Serengeti National Park, Ngorongoro, and trekking Kilimanjaro to include going to the beach afterwards. We have the best beaches on the East African coast; for example, Pemba Island. We are talking to investors to create land for tourism near Dar es Salaam and another project to build a big marina in the South of Kilwa. One of the biggest problems we have had so far in trying to grow tourism in the west and south of the country is that people usually have to travel to these areas by small 12- to 15-seater aircraft and the airfares are high. However, from October 2016, with the arrival of new Air Tanzania aircraft tourists will be able to travel on regular flights to Kigoma. Then, on to Dar es Salaam for USD150 instead of having to pay USD1,600 for chartered flights.
How are you responding to the threat of the climate change to make the tourism sector sustainable in the long term?
There have been many changes and when a country bases its economy on nature and the ecosystem it has to take this seriously into account. In the past, we used to think about wildlife and national parks as ecosystems we should leave to take their own course. Now we cannot; we have to respond to the new challenges. We will lose all the wildlife within 20 to 30 years if we take a laissez-faire approach.