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The Ghana Tourist Board has been transmuted

Posted on: Feb 17, 2012

At long last the Ghana Tourist Board has been transmuted and upgraded by Parliament into a national Tourism Authority and a lot of us who have worked towards the preparation of the bill that made the change possible are happy with just a few reservations. Cardinal among these reservations is the fear that years from now, tourism critics may point at the new Authority and say, ‘There, the so-called new ‘Authority’ is still the old Board in disguise.’ I am strongly convinced that this may not happen to please armchair tourism critics. This is because the new Parliamentary Act [871] that establishes and empowers the Authority has removed most of the old strictures that crippled the old Board, such as the Board’s attachment to the apron strings of government through the almighty subvention, which was always woefully inadequate.

In the first place, as I have mentioned, Act 871 addresses a very important past problem relating to our tourism development. In spite of the role of tourism in national development, and the old Board’s role in the conservation of historical, cultural and natural resources, there was no formal linkage between the tourism sector agencies and the agencies that have direct responsibility for these resources including the Forestry Commission, Wildlife Division, the Museums and Monuments Board and the chieftaincy institution who foist our colorful festivals.

Again, there are many laws that impact on tourism, dealing separately with hotels, wildlife preservation, national museums and monuments and investment promotion. In addition to the foregoing bottlenecks that hampered the operation of the defunct Ghana Tourist Board, the relationship between the public and private sectors as regards tourism development and promotion had all along been very weak. The existing structure was therefore incompatible with modern tourism requirements and did not accord with international best practice.

In the past, what we have known, and that made me shed almost all my respect for District Assemblies, was that as we strove to bring tourism to the district level as a poverty-reduction tool in line with the Millennium Development Goals, the order of the day was that District Administrations were, and even to date, aloof and sat on the wall. How many Districts have tourism development plans? You cannot count up to ten in the whole country. Now, by the new law, whether the DCEs like it or not, there will be District Tourism Committees with functions to perform.

Act 871 is therefore a most welcome development made possible by parliament and what enthuses me most is that now, it seems that the engine of growth, the private sector, has been placed in the driving seat, perhaps among other reasons, to protect the new Authority from unnecessary politicization of tourism development. The Act also insists on a modicum of gender balance. The foregoing improvements on our tourism development landscape becomes evident is we look at the operational structures of the new Authority. Representation on the governing Board is as follows:

Besides the Ministry of Tourism, the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning is represented, as is the Ministry of Local Government and Rural development, the Ministry of Culture and Chieftaincy, the Ministry of Lands and Forestry and the Ministry of Environment, Science and Technology. The other representations include three persons from the private sector with the requisite professional qualifications that must include women. A District Tourism Committee is to be headed by a Chairperson from the private sector, two representatives from the District Assembly, one representative from the traditional authority, the District Tourism Officer and two other persons one of whom must be a woman from the private sector nominated by the Ghana Tourism Federation, a federated private sector body. One implication of the District structure is that our increasing tourism graduates can get employed as District Tourism Officers to lead tourism development and within the extended functions of the Authority. With such PPP alignments, the expectation is that tourism will now become one of the pillars of productive and sustainable sources of decent employment and poverty reduction in Ghana. I am also happy that the law establishing the Authority takes particular interest and action on a problem that has been hanging around our necks and growing in weight, the issue of sex tourism that can demean our cultural norms. The Act 871 criminalizes any form of sex tourism and even prescribes penalties. Section 54 states clearly that a person engages in sex tourism if he or she lives off the earnings of a commercial sex worker, so let the pimps around the Nkrumah Circle and elsewhere beware. A person is also guilty of sex tourism if he or she corrupts another for immoral purposes, and also criminalizes hotels and other premises that are proved to have been used for illicit sex. The punishment in each case is 450 penalty units, or a jail term not less than 3 years and not more than 5 years or to both. All these are subject to the provisions of the Criminal Offences Act, 1960 [Act 29].

Under the Legislative Instrument 1205 which empowered the old Ghana Tourist Board, there was no protection for the private sector hotel operators in their financial relations with customers. So, sometimes guests left hotels without paying their bills. Under the new law, an indebted guest may have his personal effects seized by the hotel’s management and after a three-month period, sell them to defray the bill. If the proceeds are more than the unpaid bill, the balance may be sent to or given to the recalcitrant lodger. This section 49 also gives the hotelier the legal right to dispose of lost and found items after a legal period of three months. The Act also has a consumer protection clause to protect the lodger. This is in the area of the Authority’s mandate to review advertisements by hotels, travel agents, tour operators under a ‘caveat vendita’ action. It has now become an offence for tourism service providers listed above to mislead consumers through advertising, or to corrupt public morals.

Why am I convinced that the new Authority will enjoy a high level of autonomy? Money is what always matters in such cases. The Authority has several sources to exploit for financial autonomy and include, of course government sources. The Authority will be funded with monies provided by Parliament [not government], fees from income-generating activities, donations, loans and grants. This means that the Authority may contract loans on its own, and engage in income-generating activities, be they events, consultancies etc. Other sources of funding include funds approved by the Tourism Development Fund, which is one of the most important provisions of the new Act. Monies may also be allocated by government through the Ministry of Finance which sits on the governing Board.

The Act establishes a Tourism Development Fund and we are all happy about it, especially the private sector. One of the biggest hindrances to private sector investment in the tourism sector has been insufficiency of funds and credits. Try as we would, the Private banks have so far turned a deaf ear to appeals to grant special loans to private sector tourism operators who have invested in the sector out of love for doing so, and for the long term returns. Building and running a hotel is an act of love, I always say, because tourism projects have long gestation periods before they turn up profits. You may ask any hotelier, and he will tell you that if he had used the initial capital to sell rice, textiles or petrol, he would by now have become a millionaire. It takes over ten years for a new hotel to turn up profits. The Fund will be resourced from seed capital from government, a 1% levy on accommodation 50% of which will go into product development! This is my Halleluyah clause, this Clause 25 of the Act. The Fund is also to be resourced from donations, project enterprise revenues and the Ministry of Finance. I think our private sector and uncompleted tourism projects may now heave a sigh of relief, and pray that the new Authority and the Fund become living realities. For the foregoing reasons, I was happy to see the inclusion of a new Business and Investment Department among the traditional departments of the defunct Board.

The Act 871 enjoins the Authority to ensure collaboration with public, private and international agencies necessary for the performance of its functions, and even more importantly, charges it to ensure the management and development of appropriate designs for tourist sites. This will eliminate the past problem of haphazard development. We have known investors who build and complete ‘bad’ hotels before they contacted the Ghana tourist Board. Such poorly designed and built hotels or restaurants show obvious and dangerous deficiencies in matters like ventilation, structural safety, poor room configurations with some even not having fore escapes, and with unacceptable flow of services. The Authority is also compelled by the Act to develop standards and guidelines for designs for use at tourist attraction sites, and this provision seeks to avoid haphazard developments which are unsustainable.

To conclude, I wish to observe that plans and laws are executed by human beings, and this has always been a problem in Africa for two reasons. One is professional limitations which we may call square pegs in round holes. The employment of unqualified people, nephews and nieces, in-laws and political friends has been one of the banes of development in Africa. Another is corruption. A contract the kicks back 20% to the offeror is certainly likely to result in shoddy work and abandoned projects. I must also add political interference that I referred to in the beginning of this article. Political patronage is a poison to development. The new Ghana tourism Authority must be supported to become viable, but this viability will not come overnight, or at once like the switching on of a machine. So armchair tourism critics should not start putting fire under our chairs, and they should not go the way of giving a dog a bad name for purposes of hanging it. South Africa’s tourism, for example, was not built in a day.

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