(eTN) - Not long ago I wrote an article over the allegations made in a report by the Seychelles Auditor General about audits of the Seychelles Tourism Board (STB), which at the time, instantly roused the passion of the private sector, condemning in particular the British consultant who wrote the draft report as well near incompetent, while also suspecting that he was party to a hidden agenda to sully the shining image of STB.
Letters were written since then by the Seychelles Hospitality and Tourism Association, a key stakeholder in the country's sectoral set up, to express its own and very different view on the affair, which in the interest of full and balanced reporting is being reproduced here:
Seychelles Hospitality and Tourism Association
Tuesday 24th April 2012
Mr Barry Faure
Seychelles Tourism Board
Dear Mr Faure,
Re: Seychelles Tourism Board Performance Audit Report of the Auditor General - December 2011
On behalf of the Seychelles Hospitality and Tourism Association [SHTA], we have seen with surprise the Performance Audit Report completed by the Office of the Auditor General in December 2011. We feel we need to place, through you and through the press, our comments on the report because we have been mandated to lead this Tourism Board by us being part of the four private sector board members in the seven men STB Board. We feel that we have no option but to defend through the press our involvement on the STB Board because the Auditor General chose to do just that, in publicizing his Audit Report. As a private sector controlled board we remained as we still remain today, conscious of the need for us the country's private sector, to guide the Tourism Board in its operation of the industry with a policy of âease of doing business' and to be âbusiness friendly'.
We need to start by placing on record that this private sector controlled Tourism Board with Alain St Ange as CEO came into being only on the 10th August 2010. Seychelles was at that time suffering with a drop in its visitor arrival numbers and this prompted us, as the country's tourism industry representatives to work with the CEO of the board on the need to catch up on lost time to ensure that the country's accommodation establishments and the national economy did not suffer as a result of the consequences of the then widely predicted reduction in visitor arrival numbers. The tourism industry wanted to see a tourism board that would commit to work out side civil service norms, and as such move away from the bureaucratic approach with meetings and paper documents to a more practical and hands-on approach.
We have to record points made under key findings and recommendations incorporated in pages 3-7 of the Audit Report:
1. We feel that the presentation of those points and the way they are âportraying' the facts give the wrong impression of those facts. These points we have discussed at our board meetings, it is important for us as the SHTA to again put our comments on record and to alert all concerned about our observations.
2. We agree with the fact that the Seychelles Tourism Board had been operating since 2005; without a formal strategy and poor management of its financial resources, but this was pre the new private sector controlled Board and its new Management.
3. We agree with the fact that no certified financial statements were produced as duly required by Law, since those of 2004, 2005 & 2006 being certified in 2009 and 2007 & 2008 to be certified in 2011, 2009 & 2010 to be certified in 2012. However we have to state clearly the fact that the Statutory Auditors did not exercise their role, as Statutory Auditors, for this not to happen and to continue for such a long time. The new Seychelles Tourism Board and its management recognized that anomaly and immediately took the decision to request that an external audit firm be recruited to prepare accounts for all those deficiencies of the past which had been allowed to exist unabated.
4. We note the point of frequent changes in CEO and Financial Controllers but it is important to again point out that since August 2010 after the new Board and management took office only one CEO and Financial Controller have been in office until the report submitted by the Auditor General.
5. We do not agree with all that is being said regarding the âstandards and inspection' as this area, as we have said over and over again, had been drifting towards a âreal bureaucracy' which did not help and sustain the development and maintenance of the tourism and hospitality service industry. The Tourism Board is not the agency with the power in this domain. The Tourism Board remains the advisory agency working alongside the Licensing Authority. The SHTA believes that this is an area that will require a mindset change by many in Seychelles, but the work priority at the Tourism Board led by the SHTA has to be to protect the country's economy first and foremost. The era of âbig brother' syndrome in the inspectorate needed to stop and this is what the SHTA had pushed for. Guests' security is safeguarded by the Health Inspectors and the Fire Brigade Agents, as the private sector led Tourism board pushed to stop meddling in management of establishments, but to instead work with all establishments to ensure they remain open and operate with success for the benefit of our country's economy.
6. This role of the Seychelles Tourism Board was relooked at under the control of the new board:
a. First priority was to boost Marketing to sell the Seychelles, after working to regain crediblity in the market place.
b. Second priority was to have the Tourism Board reorganized as a competent and able body so that it would bring immediate results for the country.
c. Third priority was to âclean' the Financial Management side of the Tourism Board and so as to produce Certified Accounts.
7. We have to openly state that we regret the absence in this report of the fact that:
a. The Government of Seychelles, starting with the President of the Republic who had the responsibility of the tourism portfolio, took the decision of appointing a new chairman of the Board, a new private sector driven Board and a new Chief Executive Officer, in August 2010, to ârestart' a new Seychelles Tourism Board to be better managed, more dynamic and much less bureaucratic.
b. The CEO, with the Board's Approval and the Ministry of Finance's assistance searched and found rapidly a new Financial Controller, to rapidly put the âFinancial side of the House' back in order; one of its priority being to compile and prepare the financial accounts and statements for 2007-2010 which is why a private sector firm was hired.
c. The CEO, working with the office of the president who held the portfolio for ourism presented a new strategy, encompassing the Seychelles Brand of Tourism that would help claim back the country's tourism industry.
8. We do not agree with the proposals made in the report on the overall âinspection concept' as the country's tourism trade wanted to abandon the âbureaucratic and punishment routes' to arrive to a more âservice and assistance oriented' approach to the business, as we strongly believe that the private sector controlled Tourism Board is created and funded to âCater a Service' to the Business, and certainly not to impose on them more âbureaucratic red tapes'.
9. We do not agree with the concept of having a fee to be charged to the tourism businesses for inspection purposes. This inspection is for the issuing of a license which is payable already.
Finally we need to remind you, Mr. Chairman, of the Government Management Audit Report completed in August 2010 which we have all sighted as members the STB Board. This report speaks a different song to what has been issued by the Auditor General.
Our controlled Tourism Board has been faced with repositioning Seychelles without Air Seychelles on European Routes and assisting in searching for airlines that will provide direct air access to our country. We remain a long haul tourism destination competing to retain a fair share of the tourist market. Today we have seen an increase in airlines serving Seychelles. This has and will help the country, but the task is to ensure no repeat of the past occurs. âEasy come easy go' is often the approach of airlines if the country cannot generate enough business for their general marketing to pick up and to give them the business.
Seychelles has been down this path before and saw the loss of British Airways, Lufthansa, Air France, Alitalia and South African Airways to name but a few. This is why the SHTA has pushed for open lines of communication with our airlines and this is also why we go out to work with our airlines to market the country.
The SHTA has been advocating for more funds to market our country and not the approach being advocated in the Auditor's Report, as this will only crucify the Seychelles Tourism Industry and in so doing derail the country's economy.
Mr Faure, as Chairman of our STB Board, on behalf of the private sector members of the Board we say that we disassociate ourselves with that Audit Report and find it full of flaws and misguided analysis. We feel that it generally lacks the understanding of the tourism industry.
Louis D'Offay (Mr)
Mr James Alix Michel - President of the Republic of Seychelles
Mr Alain St Ange - Minister for Tourism and Culture
Mrs Elsia Grandcourt - CEO; Seychelles Tourism Board
In conclusion, one can only wonder how this was allowed to happen in the first place, unless done with a fair degree of malice and ill intent, and for certain this consultant will find a number of black marks against his name, best not to try and get another assignment in the Seychelles, where he stepped on all the wrong toes and sang in all the wrong tunes with total disregard to the reality on the ground, a reality about which the global media rave over as a shining example of how tourism marketing should be conducted.