Travel traders intensify protest against NTB after arrest threat

Travel traders intensify protest against NTB after arrest threat

Relations between the government and the tourism industry soured further after Tourism Secretary Sushil Ghimire warned that the entrepreneurs holding a sit-in at the Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) against alleged financial irregularities could be arrested.

Angered by the threat, travel traders stepped up their protest on Tuesday stating that it was utterly irresponsible for a high-level bureaucrat like Ghimire to make such a remark. “On Monday, we went to the ministry to discuss the financial irregularities and the appointment of a CEO at the NTB, but instead of settling these things, Secretary Ghimire threatened to arrest us,” said Deepak Mahat, president of the National Tourism Entrepreneurs Association of Nepal. Responding to the secretary’s threat, irate travel trade associations have announced stopping the issuance of Trekkers’ Information Management Systems (TIMS) cards to foreign trekkers from May 11. Foreign trekkers are required to acquire a TIMS card before setting off on the trail.

As the March-June period is the second busiest tourist season in Nepal after the autumn season, the decision could affect a large number of trekkers. “We were forced to take such a harsh decision as the government has continued to turn a deaf ear to our demands to investigate the financial wrongdoings at the NTB and other issues that have been plaguing it,” said Ramesh Dhamala, president of the Trekking Agencies Association of Nepal (TAAN).

“We will stop issuing the cards to foreign trekkers unless our demands are addressed by the government.” The private sector has also decided to request Nepal Rastra Bank to stop the NTB’s financial transactions and call for a public boycott of its chairman. The associations have also decided to organize a rally at Thamel on May 8 and issue a white paper against the ongoing financial irregularities at the board. Travel trade entrepreneurs have accused the NTB’s officiating CEO Subash Nirola of promoting irregularities at the board by amending its bylaws and influencing the board members.

The board consists of 11 members, five representing the government, five representing the private sector and the chairman. Secretary Ghimire chairs the board. However, a number of NTB officials said that Nirola was not solely responsible for amending the bylaws as it is the board’s chairman who holds the final authority to endorse any legal documents.

The private sector has been agitating against the government since the past week after finding out that the NTB had amended its Financial Bylaws and had been misusing massive funds collected from tourists. The amended bylaws allow the NTB chief to spend Rs 10 million at a time for tourism promotion activities inside the country. Similarly, the NTB boss can spend $ 400,000 at a time outside the country without following any due process of the Public Procurement Act (PPA). The CEO has also been given the power to spend $ 400,000 at a time through its honorary representatives and firms. As per the new rules, the NTB can procure goods and services worth up to Rs 2.5 million through a quotation.

The board can also purchase goods and services including its promotional materials through a single supplier directly through a written proposal. As per the PPA, procurement should not be done in a piecemeal manner which would limit competition. However, in a violation of the rules, the NTB can make piecemeal purchases under the new bylaws. In other words, it can buy goods in small amounts under the same procurement deal.

The changed rules have also given powers to the head of the NTB to appoint an internal auditor to audit its account books. Meanwhile, the snowballing protest movement has received the support of more than 30 private sector organizations including the apex private sector body the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FNCCI). These associations have asked the government to immediately appoint a CEO at the board and make effective mobilization of the funds collected for the country’s tourism promotion. “The movement will spread nationwide if it is not settled immediately,” added Dhamala.

Source: The Kathmandu Post