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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Minister denies 'sabotaging' tourism

By Lerato Maleke

The minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism, Kitso Mokaila has refuted a recent article published by the Maun-based newspaper, The Ngami Times, that he (Mokaila) is sabotaging the tourism sector.

In an interview, the minister said he is very good at consulting with other stakeholders and never takes decisions alone. He says as the minister, he has to tweak policies for sustainable tourism to ensure a balance in eco-system. Further, he said he has to look at which part of the economy benefits most, whether hotels or camps, "and therefore have to invest in infrastructure because these are great investments and immovable assets that also create employment."

Among other things Mokaila said he has to look between the mobile operators and the self-drivers to see who contributes to the economy.He was responding to the chairman of Botswana Guides Association (BOGA), Kenson Kgaga, who recently complained that the running of the entire tourism establishments is deliberately being made intricate by Mokaila who has at some instances also told them point blank that as long as he still heads the ministry, all concerned will dance to his tune and abide by his word.

The soft spoken Mokaila said he was shocked to hear that and rubbished this as "blue lies". "You know I don't like petty issues particularly concerning my ministry. You know me, even in parliament, I don't participate in petty issues and that is why most of the time I don't participate in debates," he said. Mokaila said if people are concerned about something concerning him or his ministry, "they should come forward. "All the doors in my ministry are always open, rather than running to the papers and run serious allegations about me and my ministry as well", he stated.

"This is a Batswana's ministry, so how could they say I take decisions alone and never consult with other stakeholders in the Tourism sector? Is that possible for a minister?" he asked. Mokaila argues that in every ministry there has to be order and control, adding that "that is why there are ministers and the fact that I give orders doesn't mean I am sabotaging people", he explained.

Further the minister explained that the newly implemented regulations (the new Chobe regulations) do not have any problem while on the other hand BOGA argues that the regulations have made it clear that self-drive visitors are no longer as welcome in Botswana as they once were.

Mokaila dismissed claims that severe restrictions on self- drive visitors in Chobe have recently been imposed. According to the minister, there is one particular spot where self-drive visitors spent countless hours admiring game and may be "waiting for a perfect shot", referring to the parks waterfront, Sedudu island. "Sadly though, I don't think I'll be able to visit the park as often as I once did", said a self-driver, Loftus Viljoen from South Africa.

The minister said that the Department of Wildlife and National Parks has introduced three one way routes along the Chobe River bank, with only one entry point at Kasane's Sedudu gate. The three routes are the Riverfront Route, the Upper Route and the Nogatshaa Junction Route. Each route has been colour-coded, and vehicles entering the park are issued with circular discs for the windscreen that display the specific routes on which they are allowed to drive. Therefore self-drive visitors argue that spending time in Chobe was already pricey, but due to these new regulations, they say it will become very difficult to afford a couple of days in the park.

According to the newly implemented regulations a fee, still to be announced, will have to be paid for the use of the new routes. Moreover, only 25 vehicles will be allowed on each route per day. Tour companies are allowed to have only two vehicles in the park at any one time, and if they want to increase their fleet, they will have to register their request and join the waiting list.Bookings according to the Tourism sector will be done up to a week in advance, and confirmation sent after two days. However, they can also be made on the spot for "walk-in clients", provided there is space available on the routes. Further, the new regulations demand that vehicles be allowed to spend only five minutes at a sighting, and a maximum of four vehicles may stop at a sighting. Mokaila says this is done to avoid and reduce unnecessary congestion in the park. He dismissed claims that the restrictions are certainly aimed at getting rid of self- drive visitors and serious wildlife photographers.

Explaining the routes, the minister said the Riverfront Route (Blue) runs along the Chobe River from Sedudu gate to Serondela, and the way back is along the road that leads from Sedudu to Ihaha. "This is where most of the park's animals can be seen, especially early in the morning and late in the afternoon, as that is when they come for water." However, the minister has a problem with these peack hours because that is when heavy congestion is observed "hence the new regulations".

The Upper Route (Red) starts at Sedudu gate and turns left at Sedudu valley, while the Riverfront Route goes to the right and the way back is via the tar road that leads from Ngoma to Sedudu. The Nogatshaa Junction route (Green) starts at Sedudu gate and follows the park boundary towards Nogatshaa (southwards) and the return route makes use of the tar road between Ngoma and Sedudu.

Sourced from: Mmegi Online

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