Monday July 21 2014

Parliament should pass the Public Private Partnership Bill

By Isaac Sebakijje

There is no doubt that given time and resources, Uganda will reclaim its position as the leading tourist destination in the region. The country continues to attract tourists and, most importantly, private investors who will set the pace for hospitality and tourism development.

It is unfortunate that leading employers in this sector generally overlook Ugandans for senior positions. How can this be when Uganda has a fairly strong education system with a diverse range of academic programmes and quality of graduates? That is because a national training institute that provides the hotel and tourism industry with highly skilled manpower is missing.

Students who graduate from existing vocational courses are limited to working in low end jobs because, despite their commendable efforts, these schools lack the funding needed to provide facilities and expertise required in the modern hotel, catering and tourism industry. Uganda must establish an institute of excellence that is globally affiliated. It must be a well funded institute that aligns the curriculum to industry needs by balancing theory, practice and technological advancement. Without this kind of high level training, the economy will be denied full benefits derived from tourism.

As of 2014, United Nations World Tourism Organisation recognised Utalii College in Kenya as the only centre of excellence in the East African region for tourism human resource training. Tanzania and Rwanda are taking steps to duplicate Kenya’s success. One of the best ways for Uganda to establish such an internationally accredited institute is through Public Private Partnership (PPP). This type of funding approach can uplift the educational and training development of this industry immeasurably. PPP is being practiced worldwide in both developed and emerging nations with great success. Its value cannot be underestimated any more.

Today, the government has neither adequate funds nor the expertise to undertake all big projects single-handedly. In cases where the government funds the projects on its own, it still struggles to find the cash to maintain them to the standard required. Therefore, it makes sense for the nation to look beyond the treasury to bridge the funding shortfall. That’s where PPP comes in handy. It combines available government and the private sector resources for momentous projects development. The proposed national institute of hospitality and tourism is one of those projects that can no longer be postponed.

There is money available out there as well as earnest partnerships from other countries if only our Parliament could fast-track the passage of the PPP Bill which has been on the floor since February 2013. Kenya passed the PPP Act on January 14, 2013 and adopted it in line with the national development roadmap called “Vision 2030”. Today, Kenya provides conducive regulatory framework for implementation of PPPs.

In the absence of a legislated approach, government currently utilises the PPP programme selectively omitting projects like the establishment of a modern tourism institute. This selective approach surrenders PPP decisions to untrained debaters in the Parliament which might not understand its positive impact on development. While PPP is a viable option for Uganda, it is a task for seasoned professionals and private specialists who are trained in the mechanics of the programme. Legislation will attract public sector officials in PPP practices and techniques to efficiently analyse any project and negotiate expertly with Uganda’s interest in mind.

For the last 20 years, the national Hotel and Tourism Training Institute (HTTI) in Jinja has faced many challenges mainly due to budgetary constraints. Currently, the ministry is doing whatever it can to address the training issues. PPP can enable HTTI to explore all options including rebuilding the facility, if need be, with view of promoting efficiency and delivery of services to world class levels.

Financial and technical resources will be created on common goals, consensus-based decision making, shared accountability for outcomes based on synergistic interactions. PPP Bill will impact many areas of development in tourism and other critical national projects in other sectors. Let Parliament prioritise the passage of this bill.

Mr Sebakijje is an experienced hotelier and tourism professional.