Fearing a backlash from various tourism industry stakeholders, the Botswana government has knocked on its head the introduction of a US$30 tax the purpose of which was to raise money to preserve its safari operations, it was revealed this week.
The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources and Conversation, Jimmy Opelo (pictured), told a Parliamentary Accounts Committee (PAC) meeting that his ministry had decided to withdraw with immediate effect the proposed Tourism Development Levy (TDL) Bill, which was to be tabled in December 2017.
“This withdrawal is to enable the Ministry and the Botswana Tourism Organisation to conduct further engagement with various stakeholders,” he said.
Opelo said that following the conclusion of consultations with stakeholders, a revised version of the Bill could be re-tabled for consideration in accordance with established procedure. Tourists, with the exception of those from the 15 member states of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), were to pay the TDL fee at designated points of entry from this June.
According to Opelo, the Minister Responsible for Tourism, Tshekedi Khama, has written to Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi informing him of his intention to withdraw the Tourism Levy Bill. The Hospitality and Tourism Association of Botswana (HATAB) had filed a complaint with regards to not being consulted on the proposed tourism levy. HATAB said this week it was not aware that the Bill had been withdrawn and expressed shock that they were not informed that a decision had been taken to withdraw the levy.
“Even prior to the drafting of the Bill there was no consultation with the stakeholders. The introduction of the levy was made at the ITB in Berlin, Germany, in September this year. This was in contradiction to our principle of consultation that we have always enjoyed as a nation,” HATAB CEO, Lily Rakorong said.
Ms Rakorong said the tourism industry was jittery following Minister Khama’s announcement that the levy would come into force this June.
“As much as the government has the prerogative to introduce any piece of legislation, this should be done after there has been consultation with the relevant stakeholders to ensure that their input is taken into consideration to avoid a situation whereby they are affected negatively,” said Rakorong.
According to Rakorong, there was the need to reconsider the name of the levy. She observed that it should be renamed entry levy instead of tourism levy, as it cut across all sectors and should be managed by the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development Planning under the Consolidated Fund to ensure that there is accountability and transparency.
Additionally, she maintained that it was imperative to conduct an impact assessment to ensure that introducing the levy would not lead to job losses and a decline in tourism revenue.
The strange case of Botswana’s proposed tourism levy
The Parliamentary Committee on Statutory Bodies and State Enterprises was on Wednesday left speechless when the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism and the Botswana Tourism Organisation (BTO) Acting Chief Executive Officer gave contradicting statements on the status of the proposed Tourism Levy.
Appearing before the committee chaired by MP Samson Guma, the Permanent Secretary, Mr Jimmy Opelo said the contract that his ministry signed with a UK-based company to collect the tourism levy on behalf of the ministry was cancelled towards the end of last year. He noted that on realising that certain procedures were flouted as advised by the committee, they cancelled the contract and withdrew the Tourism Levy Bill.
Mr Opelo admitted that it was not procedurally right for Minister Tshekedi Khama to have handpicked the company and authorised it to collect the levy on behalf of the BTO, in spite of numerous attempts by some stakeholders advising against such a move. He acknowledged that the minister had usurped the mandate of the BTO board.
In response, Mr Guma said it was strange that the very same minister then came up with a Bill aimed at forcing Parliament to rubber stamp his decision. He said the Bill was not properly formulated, but instead explicitly deviated away from procedure, which he termed tantamount to abuse of office and power. On a parting shot, he urged Mr Opelo to make sure that he puts things in order within his ministry as procedure seems to be being flouted willy-nilly.
The committee was further gobsmacked to hear the BTO Acting Chief Executive Officer, Mr Zibanani Hubona (pictured) saying to the best of his knowledge, the contract between BTO and the UK-based company engaged to collect the tourism levy was still in force. Mr Hubona noted that only the board could recommend that the contract be terminated and that he was not aware that such a decision had been taken.
The company was supposed to collect the $30 Tourism Levy from tourists at designated points of entry. The idea was for the company to retain $18, while the government would take the remaining $12.
References: southernafrican.news, BOPA