New NFA charges – arbitrary, illegal, extortionist or just shafting rafting for a quick buck?

DOES GREED KILL THE GOLDEN GOOSE OF UGANDA’S RAFTING TOURISM

(Posted 21st November 2013)

The National Forest Authority, together with the Adrift Adventure Company, were yesterday all but accused to have connived to extort rafting companies and their clients, who are now subject to a steep fee for needing to walk a 50 metre distance to bypass the Grade 6 Itanda Falls before re-entering the river below the falls again.

A mail from rival rafting company Nile River Explorers, sent to members of the Association of Uganda Tour Operators and forwarded by a regular source to this correspondent to expose this scheme, has raised the inevitable question what jurisdiction NFA has over the area, if they have gazetted their claims and gone through the pre-requisite stages of introducing such charges, i.e. through a process of consultations with the tourism industry and civil society interested in and affected by such arbitrary charges and if at all any legal process was observed to source a ‘collection agency’ through a public tender process required under relevant Ugandan laws and regulations to which NFA as a government body is subject to. It has also been noted that the fees demanded do not differentiate between foreign nonresident visitors, foreign resident visitors, East African residents and Ugandan citizens as is required and by the way practiced by NFA for entrance to national forests under their jurisdiction.

As no answers have apparently been provided to enquiries sent by Nile River Explorer there is growing suspicion of potential collusion and allegations of improprieties have emerged.

Word in fact has reached from several regular sources in Kampala that those affected by this apparent arbitrary decision are now seeking redress by filing not just a complaint with the Inspector General of Government and the Public Procurement Authority but are also considering pressing for a criminal investigation into the alleged malpractices.

There is also no explanation of the retroactive demand when comparing the date of the letter by NFA and the actually announced commencement dates of these, generally considered illegal, charges and how that would could be legal practice.

Adrift has in the past gone into the bad books of other operators when attempting to obtain a monopoly on island developments on this stretch of the River Nile, and when this was exposed at the time a third party resorted to threats and intimidation against this correspondent, though it was never clear what the true motive for that was and who actually was the driving force behind a half hour long outburst on the phone.

The full text of the mail, which did not contain any privacy or re-distribution rider, is shown below to allow readers to make up their own minds and do their own searches vis a vis the added information that the majority interest in Adrift has been sold to a South African company, which has been making immediate claims to have with the Adrift business also acquired a number of concessions to build lodges in or near most of Uganda’s national parks. This claim was immediately questioned by key tourism stakeholders who say no such ‘vacant’ concessions exist to the best of their knowledge under UWA’s concession policy for the named parks of Bwindi, Queen Elizabeth National Park including the Kazinga Channel which connects lakes Edward and George and the Murchisons Falls National Park. ‘UWA is periodically advertising for public interest in concessions inside protected areas and this is a transparent public and open process. The outcomes too are public knowledge and I am not aware of any pending unused concessions under the name of Adrift or of their new owners, but then of course, considering the circumstances you are asking me about this, nothing would surprise me’ said a senior industry stakeholder on condition of anonymity.

Start quote:

Sent: Tuesday, November 19, 2013 9:05 AM

Subject: PROFITEERING FROM PEOPLES SAFETY

Dear AUTO members,

Nile River Explorers recently received a letter from the NFA, signed and dated 23RD OCTOBER 2013 from Michael Mugisa, the Executive Director, stating that effective as of the 1ST OCTOBER 2013, a ‘GREEN FEES’ payment had been implemented on the walk around section of Itanda Falls and that this fee is payable to Adrift Adventure Company Limited, who have been awarded the collection agency contract.

This was not the first we had heard of this alleged ‘Green Fee’ payment as Adrift have been advertising it in their brochure for several months, but despite numerous enquiries, until receipt of this letter no other rafting or kayaking company on the Nile has been consulted or even informed about these fees.

The fees are as follows:

$15 pp rafting / kayaking

$20 per Raft

$ 15 per Kayak

For those of you that are unaware of the Itanda Falls walk around – this is a grade 6 rapid that is by international safety standards considered not commercially viable to run. Even world class kayakers would seriously consider their own safety before attempting it.

To try and impose a fee on the 50 metre Itanda walk around is OUTRAGEOUS !! It is nothing but PROFITEERING ON PEOPLES SAFETY!! And we are appalled that Adrift would even consider being actively involved in the collection of these fees that are so blatantly targeted at rafting & kayaking companies and their clients on the Nile.

Nowhere in this letter does it state that the same fees will apply to visitors to Itanda Falls who are not rafting, nor does it differentiate between non-residents, residents and citizens of Uganda. This effectively means that Ugandan employees will be subject to the same fees as clients. When taking into account that there are separate fees for individuals and for the vessel they are using, for the average safety kayaker these fees are disproportionate to their daily wage.

From a company point of view – here is the basic mathmatics:

Nile River Explorers operate trips with a minimum of 3 clients, at $125 pp the total income to NRE is $375 – to operate these trips we need 1 x raft plus guide, 1 x safety boat plus guide, 3 x safety kayakers in kayaks:

2 x rafts $40

2 x guides $30

3 x kayaks $45

3 x kayakers $45

3 x clients $45

TOTAL : $175 Green Fees

Without imposing this ‘Green Fee’ as an additional expense directly on our clients, which Adrift are advertising as doing, almost 50% of our current income would go directly to ‘Green Fees” before we have even begun to pay for client transfers, wages, food, drinks, equipment & vehicle repair and replacement, VAT – and they are just basic expenses – it does not even begin to cover office expenses & wages, advertising & marketing, training of guides etc.

Yet at all other NFA sites the average fees are:

What percentage of these fees goes where is not clear to us, but we do not believe that Adrift would embrace the collection of this outrageous fee without it resulting in a profit for themselves.

For those of you that are unaware, Adrift has recently been acquired by TOURVEST:

http://www.bdlive.co.za/business/transport/2013/09/17/tourvest-buys-controlling-interest-in-adrift

And how does this acquisition affect you as members of AUTO? For years Adrift have shared offices with AUTO and yet no other tour company except those directly in competition with Adrift have found this to be completely UNETHICAL?? Adrift has been purchased by a major South African conglomerate, that according to the article above have also acquired, with this purchase, concessions on lodges in several major national parks??

If the Executive Committee of AUTO are so concerned with gorilla permits going on-line because major international operators will purchase all the gorilla permits, WHY ARE THEY SHARING OFFICES WITH TOURVEST ??

http://www.tourvest.co.za/siteimgs/Files/Structure.pdf

General Manager

Nile River Explorers

www.raftafrica.com

End quote

Meanwhile has Adrift’s TripAdvisor site taken some serious hits too with several individuals raising their concerns and making a range of observations and allegations, while the management responses sound like a broken record, desperately trying to defend, what seems to be indefensible. Read for yourself via this link:

http://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g480250-d1752547-Reviews-Adrift_Adventures_Raft_the_Nile-Jinja_Eastern_Region.html

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