BY Demola Ojo
Penultimate Thursday, the Senate Committee on Culture and Tourism held a one-day public hearing on a bill to amend the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation Act which was enacted in 1992.
Before getting into the nitty-gritty, it is important to note that this is the second time in a few weeks that the Senate has proposed an amendment to an Act setting up an agency in the tourism sector, the first being the NIHOTOUR Bill. So in spite of the unfortunate act of bundling the tourism ministry with (or more accurately, under) the Information ministry, there are ongoing efforts to make it count and pull its weight as an alternative source of revenue for the Federation’s coffers.
Chairman, Senate Committee on Culture and Tourism, Senator Matthew Urhoghide, sponsor of the Nigerian Tourism Development Authority, (NTDA) Act N137 LFN, 2004 (Repeal and Enactment) Bill 2017 (SB 429), pointed out in his speech that “…the act which established some of these agencies under our purview exist without any law to back their existence. All we are doing is to provide for those that do not have and amend those acts which do not allow such agencies to operate to meet with set objectives and to generate revenue to do so.”
He continued that since the enactment of the NTDC Act of 1992, it has not gone through any form of review or amendment despite several years of socio-political and economic changes in the country.
“The Act like most laws made under the military regime is characterised by so many inadequacies and shortcomings and we will be doing the country evil if we do not review, amend and enact a new set of laws which are in consonance with global trends,” he posited.
A few parts of the Bill have been highlighted and debated among various bodies and stakeholders in the tourism industry. A few of them include regulation, source of funding for the Corporation/Authority and its operation of a tour company.
The Federation of Tourism Association of Nigeria (FTAN) presented its own dissenting views right there on the floor of the senate. Some of its reservations have been reechoed.
In relation to funding, FTAN kicked against the sections on Tourism Development Fund (TDF) and Tourism Development Levy (TDL). “These two put together, clearly shows that NTDC wants to muzzle everyone in the country, including corporate businesses and tourists, which among others it is proposing to pull money from.”
There has also been opposition to the “establishment” of a tour company which some of the players have described as the NTDC setting itself up in competition against the bodies it should be protecting.
“We’re fortunate to have a forward-looking senate,” said NTDC Director General, Folorunsho Folarin-Coker during a chat with THISDAY. Reiterating that the Bill is at the instance of the Senate Committee on Tourism, he encouraged those with reservations to research more and ask questions concerning any grey areas, rather than denounce it in totality. For him, there are no personal benefits but rather, institutional ones. “I met the Bill there (upon assumption of office),” he said.
Reacting to the concerns surrounding the proposal for a Tourism Development Fund from a Tourism Development Levy he said, “It is not a new tax. The proposal is for a percentage of the 50 USD already being charged on airline tickets to be set aside for the fund.”
He also threw more light on the proposed tour company which he says is already in existence as the National Tourism Bureau. “The Bureau has been in existence since 1992. It is a small department of between 15-20 people and they already conduct tours. They take visitors of the foreign ministry for example, around Abuja.”
According to THISDAY checks, Section 5 of the NTDC Act of 1992 states:
(1) The Corporation may set up a tour operating company to be known as the National Travel Bureau (in this Act referred to as “the Bureau”) to operate tour services within and outside Nigeria.
(2) The Corporation shall operate the Bureau on a commercial basis that is to say, it shall ensure that the revenue accruing to the Bureau from services provided by the Bureau are not less than sufficient to meet the total cost of providing these services.
Despite not being one of the issues up for discussion at the Senate hearing, the call for a standalone Tourism and Culture ministry was again deafening due to an act of omission by the current Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who was conspicuously absent.
Expressing his frustration, Senator Urhoghide said: “There is no recognition given to the culture arm of this ministry.” According to the committee, the Minister’s non-appearance (and the fact he didn’t send a representative) speaks volumes of the ministry’s disposition to culture and tourism matters. Worried by the attitude, Senate President Bukola Saraki, represented by Deputy Senate Leader Senator BalaNa’Allah, called for the separation of tourism from the Information Ministry.
With the robust debate from all sides on the floor of the senate as well as the subsequent public scrutiny, the next hearing of the NTDA Amendment Act can’t come soon enough. Along with it, those pushing for progress within the industry as well as proponents of a tourism ministry might all get their wish.