AUTO RAISES MORE CONCERNS AMID CALLS FOR CLARIFICATION
(Posted 21st November 2013)
Uganda’s tour and safari operators are bracing for another controversy with the Uganda Wildlife Authority, not long after UWA announced that they would put their gorilla permit sale on line, a decision which was met with anger, at times outrage and broadly disappointment by the tour operators, who fear the loss of a vital revenue stream for their operations which until then favoured AUTO members with preferential access to the sale of one of Uganda’s highest value tourism commodities.
Now, a fresh spat is in the making according to sources within the AUTO membership, who availed a recent mail about UWA’s announcement to introduce transport of their own.
‘If UWA has vehicles based in the parks which are for hire by tourists entering with public transport or small cars which are not fit for game drives, that is ok because they have done that with their boat trips on the Kazinga Channel and on the Nile to the falls. The problem arises if they are trying to send people into the parks using these cars from Kampala. That will make them a competitor and we shall object to them engaging in private sector business to compete with us by using donated vehicles which pay no park entrance unlike our cars which attract fees every time we go into a park’ said a source upon the question posed how this would affect AUTO members.
The mails in question, sent out by the AUTO Secretariat to members perhaps sheds some light on the concerns of the association and their members and is in the interest of transparency quoted in full, but less the addresses and signatory in the header to afford privacy to those who sent and received this mail:
SUBJECT: Re UWA Safari Vehicles for Scheduled Tours
Lately UWA has been in the media promoting a card to the public. Yesterday Dr Seguya (UWA ED) and Mr Masaba Stephen (Business Development) were on UBC. Earlier today as I listened to Capital FM, I had both gentlemen again on radio and they talked about the UWA Card and Domestic Tourism.
If I may quote Dr Seguya's words, he said' " UWA has teamed up with the World bank to acquire Safari Vehicles and effective next year they will be running scheduled tours to Uganda's National Parks".
In a liberalised economy like Uganda's where business is supposed to be by the private sector, the words from Dr Seguya have got me thinking once again, as a sector (tourism) do we really have planners? What are our priorities as a sector? Is Government through its line department of Uganda Wildlife Authority trying to compete with the private sector in running business or there is a total lack of direction...if not what can best explain acquisition of safari vehicles when you could be putting these funds into combating poaching, works on tracks in the National Parks, welfare for the rangers, vehicles for rangers in Bwindi forest, trails on Mt Rwenzori, acquiring new boats for both Murchison and Queen Elizabeth National Parks, getting a new ferry for Murchison etc.
Has UWA become a tour operator? Do they have a tourist licence to operate tours?.What do u want us to call some of these people who instead of getting their priorities right are busy running a "ferry" and some cruises/ boats in our National Parks that are all in a poor state/ always breaking down every now and again?
Has the UWA Board of Trustees failed in its mandate of over seeing management at UWA.? If not what can bext explain these level of manipulation from top management at UWA?
What I fore see:
> Under the disguise of these "scheduled UWA tours" the tour operators will lose the core of their business.
> These vehicles may be a disguised way of some people benefiting from the break down of these vehicles and hence make a quick back!.
> There may be a sinister move by some people at UWA to "fight" the tour operators.
> I can foresee a Red Cross like scenario coming up at UWA.
> Foreign Non Residents and Foreign Residents will eventually disguise and use these so called "UWA Tours" to the disadvantage of the registered tour operators like members of AUTO who pay rent, pay taxes, rarely get discounts from UWA etc
Mindful of the fact that the gorilla permit online question still remains un resolved, I strongly believe this is a big challenge and collectively we need to put a check on some of these UWA exceses. Iam proposing we re enagage our Lawyer for advice on a way forward. What do you think?
In closing has the direction and policy of the World Bank, and in respect of the gorilla permit initiative by USAID been questioned by key stakeholders in Uganda’s tourism industry, why they support activities by public sector bodies in direct conflict with private sector business, a question which should be answered by those responsible in the two organizations. Watch this space for more such developments and updates in due course.