(eTN) – The absence of substantive boards of directors at the newly-created East Africa tourism parastatals is said to be a further cause of growing dissent within the tourism industry and between senior stakeholders, the associations under which the industry comes together, and the Tourism Minister.
The devolved approach itself, which has seen several new bodies brought to life under the new tourism act, is coming under criticism, too, as a number of individuals in leading positions seem to think that a central tourism authority could be more efficient and certainly cheaper to run.
“All these new parastatals need offices, equipment, and most important, staffing. We are watching Mwazo if he is trying to pack these bodies with his party supporters and will at the slightest suspicion take this to court. It is the same with board positions. In August, the High Court halted some of his attempts to unilaterally act on appointments when a number of people serving on existing boards sued him after he unceremoniously sacked them. Substantive cases still have to be concluded, and it is because of the minister’s unilateral action that the entire process has now stalled. There is some backroom thinking going on about the possibility of having the tourism act amended to suit the industry better and make better use of resources.
“Right now there is fear that the all-important marketing function has lost funding which has shifted to create and pay for these new parastatals. We are looking at available options. In Tanzania, they are considering to form a tourism authority. In Rwanda, all these functions we have, what 8 or more parastatals [are] for now, are combined under their RDB [Rwanda Development Board] structure. Administering tourism should be cost effective and serve the industry, not become an election platform from which to hand out jobs for votes. Now we are going into the final countdown to elections, so everything Mwazo now does will be scrutinized if he dishes out party favors. It may be left to a new minister in a new government next year to sit with us and try [to] sort out this mess,” said a regular contributor on condition of anonymity.
In the absence of boards several of the new parastatal bodies have failed to substantially take off, as regulations require a number of approvals, for instance, for budgets to be given by properly constituted boards. While in some instances the Permanent Secretary in the tourism minister can assist to get things moving, the saga of former Tourism Permanent Secretary, Rebecca Nabutola, found guilty to have participated in a fraudulent scheme together with a former KTB CEO and a former KTB board member, will, however, serve as a warning for the current Permanent Secretary to exercise utmost caution when dealing with parastatals in the absence of a board, to avoid a similar fate.
For now though, following hot on the heels of Mwazo’s ultimately futile attempt to sack Muriithi Ndegwa, the CEO of the Kenya Tourism Board, another controversy is brewing between the industry and an increasingly isolated and ineffective minister who is now perceived by many as a burner and not a builder of bridges.