By Fasika Tadesse
The board has been absent for the last five months
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) has formed a new National Tourism Board to replace the board disbanded by the former Minister of Culture & Tourism, Hirut Woldemariam (PhD).
The board was re-formed this month with eight members under the chairmanship of Fitsum Arega, chief of staff at the Office of the Prime Minister. Past members Fitsum, Tewolde Gebremariam, CEO of the Ethiopian Airlines Group, Biniam Bisrat, president of Addis Abeba Hotel Owner Sectoral Association, and Yacob Melaku, president of the Ethiopian Tour Operators Association, were brought back to maintain their membership in the new board.
Meaza Biru, a prominent journalist, Daniel Kibret, a renowned writer, Bizunesh Meseret, state minister for Culture & Tourism and Tadios Getachew, founder and CEO of Boston Partners Plc, operator of Kuriftu Resorts & Spa, are the new faces on the board that held its first meeting last Thursday, August 9, 2018. The new agenda includes making arrangements to serve all visiting diaspora with discounted prices in the coming New Ethiopian Year. The call for the diaspora package was initially made by Prime Minister Abiy to provide discounts on airfares, hotel services, tour and taxi services.
The board, established five years ago by a regulation of the Council of Ministers under an initiative by the former Prime Minister HailemariamDesalegn, was disbanded seven months ago. It was tasked with overseeing the tourism industry and Ethiopian Tourism Organisation activities, including reviewing and approving the programs and budgets as well as evaluating the organisation’s performance.
A quarrel between Hirut and the members of the former board led to the dissolution of the board on April 11, 2018. In a letter of dismissal, copied to the Office of the Prime Minister, Hirut notified the members of their dismissal and the abolition of the board.
“As the Prime Minister formed the board, he is the only one who can disband the board,” said Fitsum, “so that the prime minister now forms a new board.”
The dispute between Hirut, now minister of Labour & Social Affairs, and the former board surfaced seven months ago when the board wrote a three-page letter to her drawing on eight points. The letter stated its disappointments with officials of the Ministry of Culture & Tourism and the tourism organisation. It referred to a report prepared to assess the good governance after complaints were lodged over violations of rules and regulations at the organization.
The board also proposed recommendations to the ministry, including corrective measures aimed at the organisation and the dismissal of the former CEO, Yohannes Tilahun. The organisation also held an urgent meeting and demanded a response to seven major points.
Reaching a climax, the dispute led to the dissolution of the board by Hirut just nine days before she was reassigned to the Ministry of Labour & Social Affairs and was replaced by Foziya Amin, the former chief Ombudsperson.
Beginning its first task this week with a press conference, the new board along with the organisation, will brief members of the media about the new plan of offering price discounts to the travelling diaspora, who are expected to come into the country for the Ethiopian New Year. For the current fiscal year, the country set a goal to attract 1.25 million tourists.
“We will start afresh, forgetting the past with the main aim of building the image of the country,” Fitsum told Fortune.