Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Thabo Dithebe’s exit at BTO is a bitter reminder that tourism sector is not in our hands

By close of business on Friday, Thabo Dithebe was no longer the Chief Executive Officer of the Botswana Tourism Organisation (BTO). He has been forced out, not just from his job but even hurriedly pushed out of serving the three months notice that he intended to do. For those who might not been following up the proceedings of the Parliamentary Committee on Statutory Bodies and State Enterprises, Dithebe recently told the committee that he resigned from his position due to political interference. In his words, “BTO is in chaos and that is why I am resigning”.

But while everyone seems to be sinking-in and absorbing this sober news that a fellow countryman has been technically pushed out of the job he so loved, we are once again subjected to another shock. The powers that be have gone further to even force Dithebe to leave earlier than he was scheduled to. Dithebe was to leave in Friday, but as we speak he is jobless. Tourism Minister and some other “powerful” beings decided that “he should go now”.

Still at the parliamentary session on Wednesday, the Permanent Secretary Elias Magosi hinted on the possibility of leaving the Ministry of Tourism. These are two indigenous Batswana, who by our suspicion, believe had committed their professional lives to help grow this important sector. 

Shocking as it is, we will not be shocked if it becomes “business as usual” at government enclave despite all that has been reported in the local media. We have been told how the minister has helped some BTO executives to “illegally” work in this country. We have also been told how the minister insisted on hiring an “unfit” individual who is closely linked to his family business interest. All these are abnormal things that we should not be made to turn a blind eye on. 

These abnormalities at both BTO and the Tourism ministry where friends and associates are hired and imaginary “foes” are fired as when those in power wants are a reminder of sad reality about one of the key sectors in our economy. We are out of touch with it. 

Even apart from the poor governance issue, it is worrisome that at national level, despite the tourism sector’s potential for growth and contribution to the domestic economy, our country is unable to retain atleast 50 percent of the revenue generated by this sector.

As previous statistics did show, only 10 percent of the domestic tourism revenue is retained locally whilst the rest is claimed by foreign countries through their companies. We have been told that this is so because the bulk of Botswana’s tourist bookings are handled in South Africa and as far as the United States of America where most of these operators originate. This is all a doing of those in power who seems to be benefiting from the current set up. 

The sad and unfortunate reality is that our government has all along turned a blind eye on the fact that Botswana’s tourism sector supply chain is foreign-dominated, a set up which certainly contributes to the loss of revenue. Imagine how much tax the government could be making out of these hundreds of tourism transactions. Unless someone at the government enclave could stand up and say policy makers are not aware of this obvious reality.

That tourism has significant potential for growth is a well known fact that no one would want to repeat. The listing of the Okavango Delta amongst UNESCO’s heritage sites is one such reminder of the great monetary value that our tourism sector has. 

One other well-known sad reality is that the government has over the years continually turned a blind eye on is the fact that foreign domination and ownership of tourism facilities has led to the repatriation of tourism revenue, domination of management positions by expatriates, lower salaries for citizen workers. This has at the same time, even though sole beneficiaries would want to deny it, led to a general failure by tourism to significantly contribute to rural poverty alleviation in both Okavango and Ngamiland districts, where a vast number of tourist’s sites are found. Both Okavango and Ngamiland records high rates of poverty year in year out. The two districts remind one of the dusty Boteti region where diamonds are mined.

One then wonders if it would be wrong to conclude that the tourism sector has a minimal economic impact on rural development of Okavango and Ngamiland inhabitants mainly because of its weak linkages with their lives and by extension to the domestic economy. 

Although dominated by Batswana of the ‘’white’ origin, leaders of the tourism sector should consider addressing problems in this sector with much emphasis on enclave tourism development. It is our belief that such measures would at the same time promote more inclusive and beneficial tourism development for the communities around the delta as well as other communities surrounding highly valued tourists sites.

There is no need to remind the “powerful” Tourism sector leadership of what is going in Maun, Kasane and all other lucrative tourism centres. The #Bottomline is that a reform of management of the tourism sector to ensure that tourism development in our country has linkages with the rest of the domestic economy is long overdue and essential. This could start with ensuring that a greater proportion of the tourism revenue is retained in the country. There is no doubt that if properly managed, the tourism will continue being a valuable instrument for progress, job creation, infrastructure development and economic growth for our people. 

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