By Ahmed Y. Turay
The Parliamentary Oversight Committee on Tourism and Cultural Affairs, which is the supervisory committee charged with the responsibility to supervise the Ministry of Tourism and its agencies, and by extension the development of the Tourism industry, has concluded a weeklong inspection spot check oversight visits to Hotels and Guest Houses in the Western Area from Monday 21st to Friday 25th March 2022, respectively.
The purpose of the oversight visit was to monitor, supervise, and investigate all Hotel and Guest House facilities, including registration of Licenses, certificates among other things, as mandated by Section (93), Subsections 1,2,3, and 6, of 1991, Constitution of Sierra Leone (Act No: 6 of 1991).
In his opening statement, Chairman Hon. Isaac Tom Tucker, representing Constituency 022, Kono District, further stated that they intended to undertake the oversight visit to major Hotels and Guest Houses in the West Area, to monitor the implementation of government laws and policies to ascertain compliance in respect of registration and payment of licenses to the National Tourist Board (NTB), compliance with local content policy and the minimum wage in respect of staff, residential and work permit for foreign employees, Audit report of institution (Hotels and Guest Houses) for the past years and up to date, documentary evidence of tax payment in respect of National Social Security and Insurance Trust (NASSIT), Pay As You Earn (PAYE), National Revenue Authority (NRA), among other things, as well as Waste Management and compliance with public health regulations, and adherence to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), with the optimism that the following Hotels are aware of their visit, through official notice from the National Tourist Board.
Hon Tom Tucker also noted that the oversight visit was not a watch-hunt, but part of their duty to supervise the sector and to know about the challenges they face, adding that as Members of Parliament (MPs), they might also proffer solutions to those challenges. He also noted that the commencement of the oversight visit is also geared towards increasing their financial commitment and growth priorities, and to ensure quality service delivery of the Hotel Tourism industry in the country.
He also described the oversight meetings as a year in year out process aimed at assessing the accuracy and efficiency of the quality service delivery to customers.
The MP further allayed the fears of recent happenings, intimating that they were a result of COVID-19, and expressed appreciation to the government for the special recognition of the Ministry of Tourism and Cultural Affairs and the Ministry of Finance for their tireless efforts in assisting the Hotels in their operations in 2020. He furthered that as Members of Parliament (MPs), they wanted to know if the hotels benefited from the government’s efforts to cushion the impact of the disease on their businesses.
Hon. Tom Tucker went on to inform that as MPs they are the people’s representatives, and this has been the reason why they are always seeking their interests, and this visit is in that respect.
Statements and comments, as well as suggestions and recommendations, were also made in order to create a more significant impact in enabling and ensuring better understanding for the committee.
The Classification and Quality Assurance Manager from the National Tourist Board, Ibrahim Turay, in his statement, noted that the NTB is the unit that is responsible to give certificates and licenses to all registered hotels and guest houses in the country, as well as ensure effective and efficient use of the facilities. He said that almost every operational hotel that had submitted a list for and on behalf of their workers, benefited from government-assisted funds that were allocated to cushion hotels during the pandemic. He also added that access to funds during the COVID-19 was a big challenge for most hotels, as many cannot pay their 2020 license fees. Many hotel owners appealed to the Committee to help them recommend that the payment of fees during the pandemic be waived, as their businesses were down, and heavy restrictions imposed on travelling also affected their known customers.
In their responses Hotel owners and managers of Family Kingdom, Radisson Blu Mammy Yoko Hotel, expressed concern over the running costs of their businesses, disclosing that since COVID-19 ravaged the country, their businesses suffered negatively from the impact, with businesses closed and staff reduced, working alternatively. They also spoke about the effect of electricity outages that have affected the running cost of their businesses, as they have been forced to use generators and purchase fuel. Water supply was also reported as another serious challenge, as guests have to use water regularly. In this respect, they pay for the supply of water from GUMA via their browsers, which often do not come in time. The hotel owners also spoke about land grabbing along that beach area and the high rate of tax from the NTB and the FCC. They also expressed concern over the increase of Licenses from Le7,500,000 to Le 22 million, of which many are unable to pay, as their business is not making that much, money, with few guests patronizing the hotels.
Other MPs including Hon. Alieu Ibrahim Koroma of Constituency 122, Western Area Urban, Hon. Horace Ekuyemi Vincent of Constituency 111, Western Area Rural, and Hon. Khadijatu Davies of Constituency 110, Western Area Rural, also spoke expressed similar sentiments on the need to summon the Electricity Distribution Authority (EDSA) through the Ministry of energy, and the Guma Valley Water Company, through the Ministry of Water Resources to create and strengthen collaboration and partnership with NTB for the development of hotel tourism in the country, whilst the Clerk of the Committee, Sideratu Deen Kuyteh, administered the Oath for affirmation.