26 November 2012

Tanzania: Why Private Plots in the National Parks?

THE Parliament has made a shocking discovery after it found out that there are sections of the country's national parks that have become exclusive possession of private individuals.

The rare deal surfaced during the recent visit by Members of Parliament who form the Land, Natural Resources and Environment Committee at the National Assembly.

The legislators, led by the committee chairman, Mr James Lembeli, MP for Kahama, realized that there was a serious oversight during the exercise to sell a number of tourist properties formerly owned by the government, which are located within national parks.

Director General of Tanzania National Parks, Mr Allan Kijazi, told the MPs that the four tourist properties formerly owned by the state firm, Tanzania Hotels Investment (TAHI) operate within Serengeti National Park, Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority and Lake Manyara National Park.

"The transaction is to the effect that, the buyer (in this case 'Hotels and Lodges Limited') fully owns the properties and the land on which they were built thus essentially making them owners of parts of the National parks. Mr Christopher Ole Sendeka, a member of the committee and MP for Simanjiro thought the act was a "blasphemy"; "No one can own any part of the country's coveted national parks, why did the state allow the transaction to take place in the first place?" he asked.

Other MPs wanted to know why the Tanzania National Parks did not buy the properties when TAHI announced their sales about a decade ago. TANAPA Director General responded by pointing out that Parastatal Sector Reform Commission had turned down their bid to buy the hotels.

"According to the PCRS a parastatal like TANAPA could not be allowed to buy another parastatal (TAHI) and therefore the properties were sold to a private firm," explained Mr Kijazi. Longido Legislator, MP Michael Lekule Laizer said the properties were built by taxpayers' money and he wasn't sure if the government got back the same value invested during their constructions let alone making any profit from the transaction.

Mr Saning'o Ole Telele, MP for Ngorongoro added that there have been complaints from local residents, who claimed that racism was also rife is hotels owned by foreigners. Former Tourism Minister Ms Shamsa Mwangunga in 2009, for instance, issued a stern warning to the management of Lake Manyara Wildlife Lodge, which was alleged to have refused providing services to Tanzanians, favouring whites and other foreigners instead.

However, the main concern was the fact that, owning such permanent structures situated in the heart of a national parks, meant that the possessor also owned the reserves, which at best is an insult to conservation. "Just as no person is allowed to lay claim over an area inside National Parks or Game Reserves; nobody should own any building or property in the same conservation area," stated the parliamentary committee in their joint resolution table by their committee chairman Mr James Lembeli.

And "Hotels and Lodges" really got a bargain from the deal: Lake Manyara Wildlife Lodge, for instance is the only Lodge located on the very edge of the breathtaking escarpment of Lake Manyara National Park, affording magnificent views down across the Lake. Ngorongoro Wildlife Lodge, on the other hand is perched on the rim of the crater at 7,500 feet above sea level, providing vertiginous views plunging down into the crater floor.

The Seronera Wildlife Lodge, strategically located in the heart of the Serengeti, one of the most important spots of Serengeti National Park, where visitors can witness lions hunting and actual killing. It is also where all game-drives and balloon safaris take place. There is also Lobo Wildlife Lodge, the most romantic safari lodge in East Africa, remotely located in the north of Serengeti National Park, on the migration route, hidden within giant volcanic rocks and providing an unrivalled bird's-eye perspective of the migration.

Other properties formerly under TAHI, but now owned by Safari and Lodges Limited include Zanzibar Safari Club, idyllically located on the shores of the Indian Ocean, Changuu Private Island Paradise (Prison Island), one of Zanzibar's best known attractions and Bawe Private Island, just 25 minutes dhow ride from the spice island of Zanzibar. It was also revealed that owners of properties located within Serengeti, for instance, pay very little concession fees of between US$ 4 or US$ 8 per room even though the normally charge between US$ 350 and US$ 500 per room.

The two properties located within Serengeti get over 20 billion/- from tourists every year, said Mr Lembeli adding that their earnings was 50 per cent of what Serengeti national park (with a revenue of nearly 45 billion per annum) gets. "You can therefore imagine if only two lodges earn 50 per cent of what an entire park like Serengeti gets, how much do all properties located within the park get per year? It could be ten-times what TANAPA gets from the park," pointed the Parliamentary Committee Chairman. Serengeti has a total of five lodges and nine permanent camp-sites with 2735 beds between them.

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