Sunday February 4, 2018
By Joe Lihundi
Tranquility News Reporter, Arusha
Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority (NCAA) has sympathised with dozens of Tanzanian companies for its own internal communication document ripping off tourism brands the latter built for ages.
Thanks to the mighty power of the media for amplifying the slip of tongue within the world heritage site with 8,292-square-kilometre area in which wildlife co-exist with mankind.
The authority has admitted ownership of the reckless internal memo and apologised to the victims for the losses they are counting.
The apology comes at a time when some of the 35 irate tour operators are mulling over suing the NCAA and a local Kiswahili newspaper allegedly for slander.
“Although we neither published the enlisted companies nor did we reach the decision to prohibit any of them from taking tourists to the crater, I apologise for the leakage of the internal memo,” the NCAA Deputy Chief Conservator – Corporate Services, Mr Asangye Bangu, says.
Will the NCAA apology convince the affected tour companies to rescind their decision to recourse to court, it remains to be seen.
“We’re banking on the wisdom of each of the affected individual tour operators,” Mr Bangu says in an interview with Tranquility News in Arusha recently.
“Tour operators contribute about 98 per cent of our receipts, the damage caused to them will also affect us,” he regrets.
The internal memo picked by the media accuses the 35 tour operators of tempering with the NCAA electronic payment system, leading the authority to incur financial losses, as it had to replace the system with a new one in 2015.
“I do not have the figure of the loss on my fingertips,” says Mr Bangu, insisting that all what the NCAA wants for now is to make amends with parties affected as a result of the published article.
A local Kiswahili tabloid published an article about three weeks ago, revealing the NCAA premature decision to prohibit the 35 tour companies from taking tourists to one of key attractions forming the famous Tanzania’s northern tourist circuit.
Some of the tour operators immediately cried foul, pointing an accusing finger at both the NCAA and the newspaper for damaging their reputation in public, but more seriously, in the eyes of their esteemed customers oversees.
They admit receiving and promptly paying for ‘unjustified’ claims from the NCAA to avoid unnecessary disturbances to tourists at the Ngorongoro Crater’s entrance gates.
Their efforts to demand justification from the authority for its claims as well as statements and balances of their cash captured in accounts of the NCAA blocked electronic payment system proved futile, they say.
Corto Safari and Duma Explorer, for instance, say they received invoices from the NCAA mid December 2017, demanding $10 and $100, respectfully, in outstanding electronic card payment for 2015 without justifying the claims.
“We’ve since paid the claims to avoid nuisances, but to our astonishment, two weeks later we saw our company enlisted in the newspaper,” wonders Corto Safaris Director Hellen Mchaki.
“It is quite unfair and unprofessional to punish my company for the ‘unjustified’ $10, while the authority is still retaining millions of my firm’s money in its frozen accounts and wallet,” she laments.
Ms Mlachi recalls her firm having a balance of $2,225.70 and Sh2, 095,520 in the accounts of the NCAA wallet by the time the electronic payment system was suddenly switched off.
The Duma Explorer Director, Mr Hezron Mbise, regrets the way the NCAA officials mishandled his clients by denying them entrance over the $100 ‘unjustified’ claims.
“Tourists were not allowed to enter into Ngorongoro Crater, this is inhospitable,” laments Mr Mbise, explaining that he has been receiving a lot of e-mails from his agents questioning about the mistreatment.
He also recalls writing to the authority to remind it of his company’s balance cash captured in its accounts and wallet to no avail.
Most of the tour operators suspect the NCAA accountants could have raised a colossal amount of money to recover their own internal loss if all 700 companies have paid for the ‘unjustified’ claims.
The NCAA introduced the electronic payment system in 2011 to relieve tour operators of hassles of carrying big chunks of hard cash to the area and to save time tourists spent at entrance gates.
However, tour operators poked holes in the electronic payment system then, saying it lacked transparency; backups and that it was unnecessarily time consuming, as only the authority controlled and operated it.
They argued that the NCAA machines did not generate balance statements for users to access them online and that they lacked a hotline number in case of any emergency.
Lack of any alternative means for tour operators to pay entry fees in case a card was lost or the machines failed to load cash prompted the authority to change the system.
“It’s surprising how tour operators could temper with the electronic payment system while the NCAA itself controlled and operated it,” Ms Mchaki wonders.
However, Mr Bangu allays the aggrieved tour operators’ fear of losing their cash balances captured in the defunct system, directing them to visit the NCAA office situated in Arusha City any time with effect from tomorrow.
A tour company official carrying a card for the abandoned electronic payment system to verify cash balance in the office will get the opportunity for his firm to exhaust it, says Mr Bangu, explaining that the service will be available for a two weeks’ time.
Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) is a unique protected area where conservation of natural resources is integrated with human development.
One of the main features of the NCA is the world’s largest unbroken caldera dubbed Ngorongoro Crater. Often referred to as “Africa’s Garden of Eden,” the crater is home to over 30,000 animals including elephants, lions, cheetahs, wildebeests, buffaloes and the rare black rhinos.
Ngorongoro Crater was created from a volcano that exploded, creating the caldera wilderness haven. The crater is 19 km across and consumes 264 sq km of wilderness. The rim of the crater rises just over 2,000 610 m above the caldera floor reaching an elevation of 2,286 m.
Ngorongoro Crater was officially declared as one of the seven Natural Wonders of Africa on February 11, 2013, in Arusha, Tanzania.
Votes were cast by experts from around the world. Voters referenced the largest unbroken caldera statistic along with the unique encounter with wildlife as the primary factors drawing their votes.
Ngorongoro Crater joined the Serengeti Migration and Mount Kilimanjaro as wonders of nature that call both Africa and Tanzania home.