When Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) was created, it was dubbed as the first truly functional model of public-private partnership (PPP) in Nepal. When it delivered some encouraging results for Nepal's tourism industry, the model's replicability potentials formed chapters of many books like of Karna Sakya and provided basis for a large number of business working papers and case studies. But, unfortunately, the same NTB has now become the test case of alleged embezzlement of resources and sit-in protest against the same by the country's tourism entrepreneurs. Thanks to all-pervasiveness of our albatross politics.
While penning these words, it had almost been a month that the protesting entrepreneurswere demanding an impartial probe into financial irregularities by the acting CEO of the Board, Subash Nirola. But nothing was moving ahead primarily because it was a PPP. The Board headed by the secretary in the Ministry of Tourism as the ex-officio Chairman is expressing government's inability to take unilateral action, as it is the 'private' organization while the entrepreneurs too do not have the legal power to oust the CEO.
A few months ago, the NTB made a policy decision to organize the tourism fairs in the districts 'to promote the domestic tourism'. This has panicked the traditional entrepreneurs that their income would be shared by the district level hospitality and amenities industries. The government sees no flaws in the Board's decision. The entrepreneurs argue that the money spent for such fairs in domestic markets should instead be spent in international publicity so as to attract the foreign tourists. This is no doubt a valid reason. But, just spending some money for promotion of domestic tourist market can hardly be established as an evidence for corruption.
The fuss is beyond these allegations of misappropriation of funds. The fact is, the protesting organizations of the entrepreneurs are affiliated to Deuba faction of the Nepali Congress, Oli faction of CPN-UML and Bhattarai faction of UCPN Maoists while the CEO is considered close to Khanal faction of the UML or, a chameleon, who also sometimes claims to be a Koirala Congress. And, for every political party, it was a matter of great pain that a newly emerged reputable organization like the NTB was functioning independent of political interference for more than a decade. And appointment of CEO is also not based on one’s political loyalty. Therefore, every political party perhaps feels that if the current CEO is ousted through a political move, then it can set a trend and every next Tourism Minister can pick a new CEO along with each change in the government.
The protest of the entrepreneurs wore a grotesque look when so called senior leaders of all three major parties reached at the sit-in site to ‘express solidarity’ to the demands, without going into the merits of the allegations. If there are irregularities, there are related legal and quasi-legal institutions to investigate and prosecute the guilty. Why would leaders need to meddle in this process? Only plausible answer is that every party is keen to make the NTB a new political prey, which is deplorable.
The problem in the NTB began long ago when the Board failed to pick-up a professional CEO in a transparent and timely manner. The ‘Acting’ position is always an incentive for the incumbent to look for quick bucks from all possible means including kickbacks. And, as allegations are already labelled to Nirola, he should either make public all the details of procurement as soon as possible proving his integrity or step aside until proven innocent allowing for an independent probe. The prolonged stand-off between the Board and the entrepreneurs is putting the entire Nepal tourism sector in bad light. And, the government must step in to solve it than being a party to a side.