Kathmandu| 2019-12-26 Thursday
As the countdown to Visit Nepal 2020 begins, the country’s tourism promotional body-the Nepal Tourism Board-has lost its head. The term of its chief executive officer Deepak Raj Joshi expired on Tuesday and his successor has yet to be chosen.
On December 4, fearing setbacks ahead of the launch of the Visit Nepal campaign, the Nepal Tourism Board’s board of executives had decided to extend Joshi’s term by three months. Joshi, however, did not accept the offer.
Joshi told the Post that it was not his intention to dishonour the board’s proposal.
“I made up my mind to reapply for the post and under the given law, if I would have accepted the board’s proposal, I would have been out of the race,” said Joshi.
Four tourism board officials told the Post that Joshi had been encouraged to apply for the second term.
“As most key stakeholders in the tourism industry hailed Joshi’s tenure, he was encouraged to reapply for the second term,” said one of the officials.
Tourism entrepreneurs, however, decried the timing of everything, as Visit Nepal is just around the bend.
“The launch of Visit Nepal 2020 is next Wednesday and Nepal Tourism Board is now headless,” said tourism entrepreneur Ashok Pokhrel. “This shows how serious the government and the Nepal Tourism Board members are about the growth of Nepal’s tourism and Visit Nepal.”
The campaign, which will launch officially on January 1, has set a target of almost doubling foreign visitor numbers to two million and generating Rs200 billion in revenue.
“It’s really disappointing. What’s the difference between extending Joshi’s term for three months and a year?” said Pokhrel. “If the government was serious, Joshi’s term would’ve been extended by a year to make Visit Nepal campaign a success.”
Joshi’s exit further complicates things for the tourism industry. A number of tourism entrepreneurs and government officials who wished to remain anonymous told the Post that the tourism industry is already unhappy with the Visit Nepal Secretariat led by industrialist Suraj Vaidya.
So how will the board function now?
There is no legal provision for appointing an acting CEO to the board.
According to Nepal Tourism Board officials, after the CEO’s term expires, a management committee will be activated for three months to perform daily activities. The committee will include five department heads, led by senior director Nandini Lahe Thapa.
“They will execute the programmes which have already been endorsed for these fiscal years. Besides that, they cannot make other decisions,” said a board official.
The board officials said that if the process goes smoothly, it will take at least three weeks to appoint the CEO. But industry insiders say that even three weeks is optimistic, given the Nepal Tourism Board’s track record, where political manoeuvring is rampant.
“Even one complaint filed at the court could disrupt the whole process. That has been the case before. It’s a Visit Nepal next year and if the board remains headless for months, it will be challenging for the government to meet its objective,” said Pokhrel.
According to a Nepal Tourism Board official, 17 individuals, including Joshi, have applied for the post of CEO. Among the applicants, seven are from the private sector-Bijay Nepal, Pramesh Shrestha, Deepak Bastakoti, Prasanna Adhikari, Bishnu Prasad Gautam, Dhananjaya Regmi and Bachhu Narayan Shrestha.
The other 10 applicants-Deepak Raj Joshi, Kashi Raj Bhandari, Hikmat Singh Ayer, Rohini Khanal, Lekhnath Bhusal, Santosh Bikram Thapa, Kundan Mishra, Nabin Pokhrel, Surya Thapaliya and Uday Bhattarai-are from the Nepal Tourism Board.
A three-member CEO selection committee led by Biplab Paudel, executive director of the Hotel Barahi in Pokhara and a member of the board of directors at the Nepal Tourism Board representing the private sector, has been entrusted with the task of appointing the new chief.
The other members of the committee are Ghanshyam Upadhyaya, joint-secretary at the Tourism Ministry; and Krishna Bahadur Mahara, who serves on the Tourism Board representing the private sector as the proprietor of the Hotel Devotee in Dhangadhi.
The 11-member Nepal Tourism Board consists of five representatives each from the government and the private sector besides the CEO. The tourism secretary chairs the board.
As per the process, the CEO selection committee shortlists three candidates based on their presentations and interviews, and submits their names to the board, which ultimately selects the CEO.
The Tourism Board was established in 1998 under the public-private partnership model with the mandate to promote Nepal in domestic and international markets.
But the board soon became a political playground, and there was a flurry of complaints that the board was not functioning as per its mandate.
In February last year, the Special Court convicted two officials, including former director Subash Nirola, on corruption charges and sentenced them to seven years in jail. The court, however, gave a clean chit to 20 others in the corruption case.
The CEO appointment process has run into controversy in the past well.
Eight years ago, the board had shortlisted 12 applicants in the first week of November. But the CEO was only appointed in December 2015, four years later. During that period, more than two dozen writs were filed in courts, either to halt or postpone the appointment process.
-The Kathmandu Post