Shilongo’s Departure Makes Waves

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By Mbatjiua Ngavirue WINDHOEK The sudden and unexpected announcement last week that Namibia Tourism Board CEO Gideon Shilongo is leaving his post is continuing to make waves in the tourism industry. The Federation of Namibian Tourism Associations (FENATA) yesterday became the second tourism body to issue a statement lamenting his departure. The Hospitality Association of Namibia last week released a statement expressing its “disappointment and sadness” at Shilongo’s leaving. FENATA Chief Executive Jackie Asheeke has pointed out that contrary to earlier reports, Shilongo had not resigned, but only decided not to renew his contract. The statement from FENATA clearly shows Shilongo was a well-loved figure in tourism circles, which raises the question why he is actually leaving his job as head of the NTB. Since Shilongo’s departure was first made public there has been much speculation about the real reasons behind the move. The NTB boss is currently attending the World Travel Market trade fair in London, and could not be reached for comment. Shilongo reportedly told Die Republikein newspaper last week that he decided not to renew his contract because of frustration over poor funding for the NTB. This has however done little to quell the speculation, and only raised more questions about what the real reasons might be. The situation has not been helped by the fact that the Ministry of Environment and Tourism has kept mum on the matter, while private tourism bodies are heaping praise on Shilongo. There have been suggestions that Shilongo may have made powerful enemies during his five-year tenure at the NTB, and that his enemies now have their knives out for him. Shilongo is known to have made himself unpopular with the government-owned enterprise Namibia Wildlife Resorts (NWR) by demanding strict enforcement of NTB regulations on the parastatal. During his tenure he insisted that NWR adhere to the same quality control standards the NTB imposes on all other tourism establishments in the country. It is believed that at one time he presented NWR with an ultimatum that it must either bring its resorts up to standard or face possible closure of some of them. He was also adamant that NWR should pay the huge arrears it owed the NTB in tourism levies, making it clear the company would receive no special favours by virtue of being a state company. Some sources suggest the question of levies may also have brought him into conflict with powerful interests in the private sector tourism businesses. At present tourism establishments pay a levy based on a certain percentage per bed-night sold. To raise its income the NTB proposed that this levy be replaced by a fixed levy of N$10 per bed-night, coupled with new levies on car-hire companies and the trophy-hunting industry. These proposals apparently met vocal resistance from sections of the industry, and the NTB was forced to ask the industry to come up with counter-proposals to help resolve the cash crunch faced by the NTB. According to one reliable source, Shilongo was at one time offered the position of chief executive officer of NWR. The source however explains that Shilongo – who is no fool – politely declined to accept the poisoned chalice he was being handed. This is however believed to have not endeared him to his political masters, who desperately needed someone to rescue them from the increasing political embarrassment NWR was becoming. Shilongo is also known to have been sympathetic to the idea of turning the badly managed, loss-making and failing NWR entities into public-private partnerships (PPPs). The then Minister of Environment and Tourism Phillemon Malima did not favour public-private partnerships, and even less his deputy Petrus Ilonga who fiercely opposed any mention of PPPs. In an interview, Asheeke of FENATA quickly dispelled any suggestion the private sector may have been behind Shilongo’s leaving the NTB, saying Shilongo was the tourism industry’s number one supporter. “People in the industry saw that Gideon understood the industry. He knows how the value-chain in the tourism industry works, which is something most people in the government sector don’t. “Because he understood this he was the one in our corner, and could promote things that support the industry,” she said. Shilongo will be leaving to take up the position of Manager: Corporate Affairs at Namibia Breweries Limited, the same position he held prior to joining NTB. Asheeke felt that although there might have been occasional arguments between the industry and Shilongo, these were not the deciding factor in Shilongo’s decision to leave. She said the post at Namibia Breweries has now been upgraded, and Shilongo was made an attractive offer he could not refuse. “Time moves on, and five years is a long time for anyone to be in the same place. He may have started feeling he was being taken for granted. It makes me sad because we did so much together,” she said.