Faulty Trekking Permit System to be scrapped

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Upamanyu Raman


Trekking is one of the major tourism activities in Nepal.  The topography of the country has provided magnificent avenues for tourists, travelers, and mountaineers. Nepal has attracted thousands of trekkers from around the world. History of the organized and commercial trek in Nepal started in 1960. Every year thousands of adventurist trekkers flock to Nepal. Trekking business has become a leading tourist activity.

Travel and trekking agencies are the main service providers whose core responsibilities are to guide and support trekkers. The government has a role to issue visa and trekking permits to some restricted areas such as  Inner Dolpo, Kanchenjunga, and Upper Mustang. For the majority of the trekking permits throughout the country is issued by Trekking Agencies Association of Nepal (TAAN). The TAAN is a non-political, non-governmental association created by trekking agencies. The TAAN is thus a common forum of trekking agencies.   It is not very much clear why TAAN was given the authority to issue permits for the trekkers and collect revenue accordingly. As per the arrangements made,  the revenue collected by TAAN for issuing permits is shared 30 percent each among Nepal Tourism Board (NTB), TAAN, a joint account maintained for NTB and TAAN, and 10 percent is allocated for the welfare fund for the support staff and laborers associated with trekking industry.

TAAN’s failure and inactions

The TAAN, being an agency of service providers has also been given regulatory responsibility. Since several years TAAN is issuing permits through its offices called Trekking Information Management Systems (TIMS). The TAAN, an NGO shouldering both service plus regulatory responsibilities was a new practice in Nepal. Initially, the arrangement was made in 2010 AD as a temporary measure but it continued for years without any review. The understanding of the government while authorizing TAAN was for a very short period to revert the regulatory responsibilities to the government departments. However, for reasons not clarified, the system continued for years.  Over the years, questions were raised about TAAN’s capacity, accountability, and transparency by stakeholders.

It was widely accepted that TAAN has done little in promoting trekking business, easing trekking permit issuance, identifying new trekking routes. Serious concerns are raised about the credibility and financial accountability of TAAN.  Because of growing suspicions and accusations against the handling of revenues by TAAN, investigations were conducted and still, the case has not been settled. There is a glaring gap of coordination among the concerned parties, NTB, Department of Tourism (DoT), and TAAN.  Due to the ongoing investigations and growing rift among the agencies, the revenue collected through permits issuance is on hold. The money that is supposed to use for the promotion and support of trekking and tourism business is sitting idle.  People and agencies associated with the tourism business are complaining about the permit issuance arrangements entrusted to TAAN. Most stakeholders see foul play in these arrangements. It’s a known fact that TAAN has been overly politicized and suspected of mismanagement and probably a large scale corruption. Whenever there are elections for TAAN body, money and partisan politics said to be heavily involved. It is said that it’s because of the attraction of the money collected through trekking permit issuance TAAN posts are so attractive.

In view of the conflict among concerned agencies and the possible corruption cases, voices are against entrusting TAAN for trekking permit issuance. The other grave concern raised by stakeholders is regarding TAAN’s failure in core areas such as, issuing permits,  record keeping, management, support, and institutionalizing information and management system. Most activities are seen conducted haphazardly without institutionalizing a system. Thus far,  no planned and systematic initiatives have been taken promoting services. Tourists and trekkers are mostly found confused about where to go to obtain trekking permits. TIM’s offices are neither properly organized nor hospitable.

Scrapping Tain one window policy TIMS and maint

The TAAN issuing permits and collecting revenues has been taken as a serious issue by other agencies associated with the tourism industry in Nepal.  Currently, Nepal Association of Tour & Travel Agents (NATTA) that collects a particular tax on behalf of NTB from tourists’ during their departure is asking for a share. The NATTA wants to have a certain percentage of that amount.  Likewise, Nepal Association of Rafting Agencies (NARA) is asking the government to have an arrangement like TIMs, to issue permits for rafters.  The NARA wants to establish a system akin to TIMS, as named Rafting Information Management System (RIMS). It is expected that other associations too might ask to have the same arrangement as TIMS. It’s too late to scrap the TIMS arrangement so that the role and responsibilities of service providing agencies will strengthen focusing on services and promotions.  Let NGOs or private agencies remain within their domain. Issuance of permits for trekkers is a vital part of regulatory responsibilities, that always lies, MUST lie, with the government departments. Since the Department of Immigration issues trekking permits for restricted areas, it’s time to scrap the arrangements made with TAAN and all trekking permits must be issued by the Immigration Department or any one of the designated government department. One window policy will be tourists/travelers friendly. Mistakes were made in the past but time has come to correct the past mistakes.

 

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