Friday, July 1, 2022

Congestion at Chobe National Park causes suspension of licenses

The C licenses, which allow mobile safari operators to start ferrying tourists, have been suspended.

Speaking at a consultative meeting with mobile safari operators in Maun and surrounding areas, the Minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism (MEWT), Tshekedi Khama, said that, because of congestion at Chobe National Park, his ministry had suspended all C licenses while they look at other areas of expansion to allow for the construction of more hotels and other tourism facilities.

Khama urged the participants and interested parties to make contributions to the issue, saying that the decision is not yet final.

He said that, in the meantime, his ministry is considering the western side of Ngoma and Nogatshaa areas to help alleviate the current situation in which people tend to flock to the same places in greater numbers.

Khama said that the Chobe area is Botswana’s tourism priority as it also boasts of a good population of elephants and other animal species.

Heading the discussions was Botswana Guides Association (BOGA) chairman, Kenson Kgaga, who said the tourism industry has been disturbed by the MEWT’s ever changing rules and regulations from which they suffer, adding that this overshadows their efforts to assist the Ministry with ideas even in the future as they are never consulted beforehand.

Kgaga said, over the years, they have raised concerns pertaining to the bad state of the roads, which are dilapidated at both Moremi Game Reserve and Chobe National Park as they are frequented by tourists, year in and year out.

“Our numerous pleas to have issues of great importance addressed by those in high office have always fallen on deaf ears. We have been undermined from the onset and I am afraid of what we might be heading for, if we continue like this,” said Kgaga. “Mind you, we ferry tourists over the same roads, and we have always had breakdowns, which have led to our licenses being confiscated without proper hearing on the part of officials from the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP).”

Kgaga, once again, repeated that they feel looked down upon.

“We find this to be inexcusable as we lose business along the way. We do not want to be made to fail by people who tend to deliberately punish us for no apparent reasons.”

Mobile operators also questioned the credibility of a parliamentary portfolio committee on natural resources that once paid them a visit and promised to help see to it that their grievances are addressed.

The mobile operators said that they had not received any form of feedback, even though they were made to believe solutions to their many predicaments were going to be dealt with in due time as the issues dated back a long way. One of the operators, who acknowledged the sensitivity of the issues and refused to be named to protect his enterprises, said that they believe that the many parliamentary committees are only set up so that MPs may benefit from the night outs and other allowances as the result of their works are never seen. He wondered why, then, they are always expected to attend such petty forums while they should, instead, be made to face and deal with the industry’s daily hardships.

Another operator from Chobe brought to the attention of the minister a case in place, whereby one of their colleagues had to part with his license after a client on a boat cruise had requested to answer to a call of nature. He said that, unfortunately, the driver was seen and caught by patrolling DWNP officials who then confiscated his license.

Responding to their queries, Neil Fitt, the Permanent Secretary at the ministry, said the DWNP has, so far, sourced six graders that are going to be used to level all internal roads in the parks “even though the process might take a little longer”.

He added that, in the meantime, there is no promise of a tarmac even though it is important that the roads be made accessible. He said he was also disturbed by some people in the tourism industry who trade their licenses.

To this, Fitt said that whoever is caught doing that will be withdrawn and blacklisted “because such licenses are given to individuals after they have qualified”.

On the Chobe license issue, Khama promised to take the matter forward as well as to find out what really transpired.

“This is too extreme and very unacceptable. If we fail to provide facilities as DWNP, or as the ministry as a whole, we need to look at ourselves because it impacts on us,” Khama said. “I am so sorry to hear this and I promise I will follow it up with the DWNP and, hopefully, will get to the bottom of it. We need to be seen packaging this country, and this includes making decisions and conclusions which are understood by all concerned parties.”

The minister advised against jumping to conclusions “just because we feel we can and are better placed”.

“Let there be further consultations before any action could be taken,” Khama said. “I also think it is high time some management policies are reviewed so that they may accommodate some of your complaints. I believe we also have elements of catching up here, so as to keep us going.”

Khama also stated that a lot has happened at the Civil Aviation Authority of Botswana and at Air Botswana, “which, therefore, calls for a need for them to always show seriousness in their daily work”.

He said officials there need to be committed, while they also need to be assisted whenever possible so that they end up making the right decisions.

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