Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) – the national tourism organization of Nepal – has been made victim of the government indecisiveness. It is a matter of great shame for the country that daily works of NTB have remained obstructed for the past one and half months. Tourism entrepreneurs are organizing sit-in protest on the premises of NTB on the call of Joint Tourism Coordination Committee (JTCC). JTCC launched the protest putting forth demands like removal of Subash Nirola from the post of acting CEO to pave the way for appointment of new CEO, independent audit into financial expenditures in NTB, and restructuring of NTB to ensure effective representation of private sector in the executive board of NTB.
When Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) came into being back in 1999, many hailed it as a perfect model of public private partnership. NTB was envisaged to put private sector in the driving seat of tourism marketing and promotion. Private sector enjoys majority of sorts in the 11-member executive board as only five members are from the government agencies. Five members are selected from the private sector while CEO is the member secretary in the executive board. In the initial years, NTB’s performance was exemplary. Its model was even replicated by other tourism boards, notably the Singapore Tourism Board. But NTB stopped giving desired outcomes after a few years of its formation when political leaders started handpicking board members to serve their vested interests. Also, NTB neither could bring any change in its tourism marketing and promotional strategy nor launched effective programs to tap new markets.
The protest, which began on the call of a few travel trade associations, has turned big with more than 40 travel associations coming under the JTCC umbrella. Former prime ministers, former ministers, scores of Constituent Assembly (CA) members and different professional organizations, have already expressed solidarity with the ongoing protest. More than 1,500 tourism entrepreneurs from across the country have already participated in the relay hunger strike. Representative bodies of private sector like FNCCI, Nepal Chamber of Commerce and Confederation of Nepali Industries have also expressed solidarity with the protest. But instead of listening to the demand of the private sector, the government used force to disperse their peaceful rally, injuring around 25 entrepreneurs.
The government’s silence on the ongoing protest is not only surprising but questionable. Though the tourism minister formed two committees – one to probe into irregularities in NTB and the other to recommend suggestions for restructuring of NTB, tourism entrepreneurs say that alone won’t fulfill the demand. Also the tourism minister is silent on the JTCC’s demand for removing Nirola from the post of acting CEO. The tourism minister shouldn’t have any problem in removing Nirola from the post as the Office of the Attorney General has already suggested to the tourism ministry that the post of acting CEO in NTB is illegal.
Why is the government not listening to the demand of the private sector? The government’s silence over the entire issue suggests that it is trying to undermine the private sector. If the government does so, it would be unfortunate for the Nepali tourism industry. As financial irregularities allegedly committed by Acting CEO Nirola have already come in media, the government should make no further delay in launching investigation into the alleged irregularities. The government has formed a team under a joint secretary to probe into irregularities in NTB. But how can a committee led by a joint secretary probe irregularities in NTB headed by a government secretary?
It’s never too late. The government should immediately invite representatives of JTCC for the talks to pave the way for resumption of daily activities of NTB.