The Government of Sierra Leone has been to taken to court by the lessee of Mammy Yoko Hotel for what he referred to as forcefully been asked by the recent past government to have an agreement with UNAMSIL for the lease of his property, a lease said to come to an end in two years time.
Speaking over the weekend to Awoko, the Minister of Tourism and Culture, Hindolo Trye said, the lessee for Mammy Yoko has embarked on the legal action but that as a government they are prepared to challenge that. “The Lessee has taken us to court in Texas that the last government forced them to have an agreement with UNAMSIL and that things were stolen. But we as a government are going to challenge that”.
The Ministry of Tourism and Culture is said to have even drawn attention to the Presidential Transitional Team’s Report, that it was one of the ministries that was completely neglected by the recent past government.
Speaking on current happenings at the Bintumani Hotel, Minister Trye said, the people who run the hotel are investors who came from China and were given half a million dollar loan by the previous government and the rate of repayment of those loans were reduced from 10 to 5%, given three years rent free and they were given duty free concession. The Minister said, this is the most troubling because the duty free concession is not only to import goods but also to sell goods and materials in our markets.
Speaking on further plans, Hindolo Trye said, they are presently looking at eco-tourism as the order of the day. Tourism, Trye said, is likened to other sectors like transport. “The difficulties involved in moving from Freetown to Lungi are not attractive to tourists. The number of missions we have abroad is not conducive to tourism. When immigration settles, the Minister said, they [government] want to see ‘if we can have online visa application into the country as that will help a lot”.
He disclosed that by September all solid structures along the Beaches will be removed and trees to be planted “and we shall be working with the army all in an effort to prevent beach erosion. We also wanted to electrify the beach and we called in the NPA to give us a survey of what we needed and it came out that we needed 1.2 billion and we don’t have it. So we are looking at other alternatives like the use of solar energy and we are also waiting on NPA to give us the base so that we can open up bidding for that.”
Minister Trye said, it has proved difficult to attract tourists from outside due to the image of the country in the outside world. “Our image abroad is not good, we are still regarded as a war torn country and that has a negative effect on the country and tourism as well, as we cannot attract tourists when the country is labelled as a war torn country. In fact we carry one of highest air fares in the world even goods and services through the insurances are very high”, Trye said.
Speaking on what he has been doing since appointment as Minister in charge of the Ministry of tourism by the President, Minister Trye said, the ministry is not like a painted house.
“In as much as government put emphasis on tourism, and in as much as we realize the potential of tourism in our economy, we have to face the reality” and that, “as much as government has little money we would spend that on our priority areas and not on tourism, even though we are mindful of the impact tourism would create on our economy”. The Ministry, he said, has a strategic plan which is very important to the ministry and this includes the tendency to hire consultants to look at all the laws within the ministry. Speaking on the laws regarding tourism in the country, Trye said, the ministry is seeking the services of a legal expert to look at the existing laws regarding tourism in the country. “If you look at the laws, they are very ancient”. On how he intends showcasing Sierra Leone tourism to the outside world, Trye said “We are seeking funding for marketing and promotion. We will give a package to most of our diplomats going to our missions to help market Sierra Leone outside” but however lamented they are have very limited resources.
“We also want to create a hub system between Sierra Leone and the Gambia because Gambia has a lot of tourists”. On the benefits of tourism in the development of the country’s economy, he said, if tourism is organized in the country, “we can be able to contribute something like 6% to the GDP. Tourism is a major foreign exchange earner, it can create job, and it is a link for investment promotion.” Sierra Leone, Trye said, used to be a land of gold, iron and diamond but that within 30 months from now, it should be the land of tourism and culture. By John Baimba Sesay