Monday, 10 July 2017

SIERRA LEONE: Overseas Arrivals Increase 310% But What Percentage Are Foreign Tourists?

President Koroma’s recent ten days holiday trip to Europe has sent a powerful and ironic message to tourists thinking about their next destination, that Sierra Leone is not good enough for anyone looking for an enjoyable holiday.

President Koroma is one of the richest heads of state in Africa, after failing to publicly declare his assets since coming to power in 2007. High level corruption in Sierra Leone is rife, despite the president promising a zero-tolerance agenda.

He is said to have amassed over $200 million in real estates in some of the most expensive and popular cities of the World, as well as cash in various overseas bank accounts.

Sierra Leone is classed as one of the poorest nations in the world, with more than fifty-percent of its citizens dying before their 50th birthday of poverty and preventable diseases.

A powerful message also sent by president Koroma’s unpatriotic decision to seek healthcare and holiday in the rich suburbs of Europe is that if you are in Sierra Leone and you rich, and need medical attention get out of the country fast; and if you have money and looking for a holiday resort – get out of Sierra Leone as fast and far away as you can.

But this lack of willingness to put Sierra Leone first, is not just a problem for the president, though the buck stops with him, as head of state who is expected to show strong leadership.

Ministers and senior government officials are all at it: From spending millions of the country’s meagre, hard-earned revenues on luxurious cars and palacious homes for their families, to travelling abroad and investing in real estates overseas.

Recent Audit Reports have found that millions of dollars are being spent by ministers and officials on unnecessary visits overseas, with little or no financial return to the cash-strapped nation.

Critics say that the abuse and misappropriation of ministerial per-diem is making it possible and easy for officials to afford holidays overseas, at the expense of the poor tax payer and international donors.

President Koroma’s perverse decision as the man at the helm of promoting the country’s tourism industry, to take his break away from the ‘hard work’ of running the country, comes as the UN published a report suggesting that Sierra Leone may record one of the fastest growth in tourism in 2016, once all the figures have been gathered and if their projections are correct.

According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), Sierra Leone may have witnessed 310 per cent more overseas arrivals in 2016, compared with the previous year when Ebola was declared over. But most of these annual arrivals are Sierra Leoneans living abroad. What percentage of this 310% increase are foreign tourists? That’s the crucial question which the report does not answer.

About 24,000 people arrived in Sierra Leone in 2015 – mainly international health and care agencies and foreign military personnel that arrived to help combat Ebola.

UNWTO says that “while it doesn’t have complete data for the year, that is expected to reach 74,400 for 2016 once all the sums have been done.” Sierra Leone’s economy cannot survive on 74,000 tourists. The president and his ruling APC have failed woefully.

But when compared to one of the most popular tourist destinations on the continent – South Africa, you then see how poorly president Koroma and his government have performed in attracting overseas visitors to the country. In 2016, South Africa had more than 10 million holidaymakers.

What does Sierra Leone have to offer? Amazing beaches, idyllic villages and smiling people, says Gunnar Garfors, who has visited every single country on Earth.

Sadly, this is all the ruling APC government of Sierra Leone can boast about in its tourism brochure, after ten years of poor governance, corruption and ineptitude.

Should tourists thinking about their next holiday destination follow president Koroma’s example, few will arrive in Sierra Leone.

They will be heading for Europe, where president Koroma,one of the richest leaders in Africa feels more comfortable and happiest

“There isn’t a Sierra Leonean who doesn’t wish the country was booming with tourists. But the fact is that it isn’t. In order to really open up Sierra Leone’s tourism industry, it still needs to do away with government barriers that impede tourism growth like heavy levies on airfares.

You can travel to Senegal for almost two to three times less from the UK than you can travel to Sierra Leone and that needs to change If we want tourists, we have to earn them.

We need to fix our health infrastructure because no one wants to vacation without emergency health care. Most importantly, we need to empower local businesses in the hospitality industry by creating financial incentives that allow them to set up easily, and grow,a Sierra Leonean commented on social media about the latest hyped-up news report about increased tourist numbers to Sierra Leone.

The fact remains that president Koroma and his ministers do not put Sierra Leone first. When he makes a decision to buy his fleet of expensive and luxurious 4×4 vehicles he does not put the welfare of the people first; when he decides to fly to Germany for holiday he does not put the country’s tourism industry first; when he sends his children abroad to study,he does not put the country’s education sector first; when he gives out contracts to his foreign cronies,he does not put the country’s entrepreneurs first; when he chose to invest his money in foreign banks and real estates,he does not put the country’s banking sector first.

The ruling APC have shown that they do not have the full interests of the people of Sierra Leone at heart. They have abused the massive electoral capital with which they were entrusted in 2007 and 2012.

They have failed the people of Sierra Leone.

It is time for change. It is time for a government of national unity,a government made up of progressive liberals with the skills, commitment and expertise to move Sierra Leone forward, a government that will prioritise investment in electricity, water, health and education.

Without these, there will be no development,no jobs,no wealth creation, and Sierra Leoneans will continue to depend on foreign aid for their survival. Sierra Leone needs change in 2018.