25 February 2018

Ethiopia: Mang't Quarrel Triggers Tourism Organisation Chief's Dismissal

The Board has also called to have him held accountable for his alleged misdeeds

A fierce battle with a deputy and staffs led to a call for the dismissal of Yohannes Tilahun from his post as CEO of the Ethiopian Tourism Organisation (ETO), by the national Tourism Board under the chairmanship of Tewolde Gebremariam, CEO of the Ethiopian Airlines Group.

The Board held a day-long extraordinary meeting last Thursday, concluding the meeting after drawing eight main points including the sacking off Yohannes, writing a letter to the Minister of Culture & Tourism requesting his dismissal. The Board gathered for the meeting to hear the 11-page report from the Board Supervising Committee, formed to assess the good governance of the ETO, after complaints were lodged over violations of rules and regulations at the Organisation.

The Committee was formed on February 1, 2018, when the Board heard the half-year report of the Organisation. Yohannes and his deputy Yechale Mihret, presented a report with different content, according to the report of the Supervising Committee which has three members.

The Supervising Committee conducted the supervision in two chapters, reviewing complaints from the Board, the Ministry, and the Organisation itself. In the report, Yohannes was accused of receiving monthly salaries from two bodies: 14,000 Br from the government and 8,000 dollars from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). He was also allegedly accused of misusing his power, making purchases against the procurement law of the nation, engaging in other businesses such as consultancy, illegally firing employees and frequently travelling with the Organisation's resources. He was also accused of producing fake reports.

A week ago, the World Economic Forum (WEF), in its international travel and tourism competitiveness report, disregarded another report by the Ministry of Culture & Tourism of Ethiopia to the parliament, stating it was not based on accurate statistics. Hirut Woldemariam (PhD), minister of Culture & Tourism reported the semi-annual performance of the sector indicating that a total of 485,806 tourists had visited the country, enabling the industry to generate 1.8 billion dollars based on an estimated seven-day tourist stay.

Yohannes,a western educated corporate leader returned from the United States, believes that he has to be judged with his output and performance rather than procedural patterns, was in a constantly quarrel with his co-workers, who have been accusing him of varies irregularities. He, in return, claims that his deputy and the subordinates are not competent, proclaim false reports and leak information to a third party.

The Committee tabled its assessment report to the board last week, along with the recommendations of taking corrective measures at the Organisation, which it had identified as a "house of irregularities" that violates the rules and regulations of the country.

After reviewing the report from the Committee, the Board passed eight decisions accompanied by a message of disappointment, with the deeds of the Ministry and the Organisation. The decision which was sent to the Ministry was copied to the Office of the Prime Minister and Culture, Tourism & Communications Standing Committee of the parliament. The Board also blamed the Ministry for intentionally hiding irregularities at the Organisation and failing to bring it to the Board's attention.

The Board also claimed that it was not even formally notified when the Ministry assigned Yohannes, as the second CEO of ETO, in May 2017. It also ordered to terminate his salary from UNDP, which started paying him the paycheck with a letter of request ordered from Hirut. The Board also suspended any employment at the Organisation, allegedly made with nepotism.

"For his deeds, Yohannes has to be held legally accountable," reads Tewolde's letter issued last Friday.

Yohannes, who claims has a financial background, obtained his first and Master's degree from the University of District of Columbia in Finance and Business Administration, respectively, declined to comment on the allegations against him.

"I'm not totally informed about the decision, and haven't received any letter yet," Yohannes told Fortune on Friday via phone.

Before assuming his current position in May 2017, replacing the founding CEO Solomon Tadesse, Yohannes claims that he has served as chief technology officer and adviser to the commissioner at the Ethiopian Investment Commission (EIC), the chief executive officer of General Electric (GE) Ethiopia, and senior director of public-private partnership at the Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA). Although he was on secondment between ATA and EIC and has never advised the commissioner, Yohannes has no official title at EIC.

Though he has listed varies achievements he made at the institutions mentioned above, as his employers officials from the EIC claim that he did not have a formal work contract instead worked with a contract base, employed by another part. Officials from the ATA also claims that he has achieved none of the achievements he has listed on his Linkedin account, such as facilitating agro-processing investment deals of one million dollars.

The ETO, which was established in 2014, along with Tourism Transformation Council and Tourism Board, was designed to transform the country's tourism industry. Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalagn chairs the council.

"The next step would be holding officials from the Ministry of Culture & Tourism accountable," said a source close to the case. "The Board's next meeting will focus on the Ministry."

Our attempt to reach Hirut bore no fruit, as she did not answer the phone call or reply to a text message inquiry from Fortune.


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