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Hoteliers’ disregard of law puts Mara ecosystem at risk

Discussion in 'International Forum' started by Gangi Longa, Feb 18, 2010.

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    Gangi Longa Senior Member

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    Feb 18, 2010
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    Hoteliers’ disregard of law puts Mara ecosystem at risk
    By GATONYE GATHURA and GEOFFREY KAMADIPosted Wednesday, February 17 2010 at 17:05

    Kenya’s tourism industry has been placed under a global spotlight over the many hotels operating illegally in the Maasai Mara Game Reserve.
    An inter-ministerial audit indicates the government is losing millions of dollars in unpaid taxes because many hotels operating in the reserve are not licensed, and a good number of them are a threat to the fragile ecosystem.
    An audit in five government ministries and a similar number of national agencies concluded that, of the 108 units in the Greater Mara Ecosystem with almost 4,000 beds, only 29 per cent are in business legally. Yet, although the report was completed and presented to the government in March last year, little has been done about it.
    After losing patience, the UK Federation of Tour Operators, a member of the influential International Federation of Tour Operators, wrote to the minister for Tourism Mr Najib Balala two weeks ago demanding to get a list of establishments operating illegally in the Mara.
    Urgent matter
    The letter, written by Nikki White of the federation, reads in part: “You will appreciate this matter has caused our members concern, and they need information to be able to anticipate any potential business implications. I trust, therefore, that you will treat this matter as urgent.”
    However, by Monday this week, the minister had not responded to the letter. The federation of tour operators and its members are the point of contact for almost all tourism activities in Europe, and any negative advisory about Kenya abroad could leave a major dent on the local tourism sector.
    The federation and its affiliates advocate good environmental management, safety for tourists and a fair compensation for tourist-receiving countries and their communities. However, the government audit, Report on the Inventory of Tourism Facilities in the Greater Mara Ecosystem, shows blatant environmental pollution and breaking of the law.
    The situation in the Mara in so grave that Government teams compiling the report were denied access to two major facilities. “Because of low compliance with the law and regulations on licensing, taxation and ticketing, there is loss of revenue, while poor waste management is a source of pollution of the Mara ecosystem,” says the report.
    The fact that only 29 per cent of the units meet legal requirements is cause for worry for tour operators since insurance companies may refuse to compensate possible injuries to guests staying at illegal establishments. But an official at the Ministry of Tourism said that, when he received the audit last year, the minister formed a taskforce to study it and make policy recommendations.
    Mr Mwangi Gakunga, the public relations officer in the Tourism ministry, said the taskforce had since completed its work, and that its recommendations would be made public shortly once Mr Balala approves them. Mr Gakunga said the taskforce was mandated with coming up with an action plan for the Mara-Amboseli ecosystem following speculation over commercial dealings that did not sit well with the law.
    This, he maintained, the team had successfully done. The detailed report indicates that the team identified 108 tourist facilities in the greater Maasai Mara game reserve — including lodges, eco-lodges, tented camps, hotels and bandas.
    Although it is a legal requirement to have a Personal Identification Number in Kenya before being licensed to run a business, 48 of the facilities did not meet the requirement, and 69 did not have a VAT certificate, a fact that points to a massive loss of revenue.
    Almost all of them (92) did not have the mandatory Environment Audit Assessment certification, while 98 did not have a physical plan. The wanton disregard of the law and set procedures as stipulated by the Hotel and Restaurants Act and the Tourism Industry Licensing Act does not end there.
    Only 27 establishments of the 108 were found to be compliant with the Hotel and Restaurant Authority License, compared to 79 that did not. In addition, the report revealed that 51 businesses did not have the Single Business Permit. The audit says the quality of accommodation in these facilities is poor because of lack of standards and non-enforcement of existing regulations.
    It reports dismal compliance with all existing laws, including the Local Government Act, the Forest Act, Tourism Regulations, Kenya Revenue Authority laws and regulations and those which govern regional authorities. The National Environment Management Authority is yet to explain why this state of affairs has persisted under its watch.
    Ms Wangari Kihari, a communications officer with Nema, promised to issue the Nation with a comprehensive statement on the issue, while the communication department at the Kenya Revenue Authority kept promising to get back to the Nation, but never did.

    http://www.nation.co.ke/News/-/1056/863816/-/item/1/-/omr4t6/-/index.html
     
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