On May 26, 2020, an online investigative paper Mulengera News published a story titled “More Trouble At Tour Operators Body As Treasurer Resigns After Loss Of Millions”. As thousands of tour operators and tour guides struggle through the COVID-19 situation with no or few bookings, this article confirmed the long held suspicion about activities at AUTO and how our secretariat is run.
For starters, the Association of Uganda Tour Operators claims on their website to be Uganda’s leading tourism trade association, representing the interests of the country’s leading and experienced professional tour operators. I have been a member of AUTO for many years and we have seen numbers growing over the years either through voluntary subscription or through coercion – you either pay our fees and join us or we will reply negatively to all your potential clients who contact us about your authenticity. The latter being one of the best ways we have seen our numbers grow because hundreds of companies fight for clients and they need that positive review or else the run our business.
The Mulengera News Article quoted AUTO’s Board treasurer Charlotte Kamugisha resignation letter. “When I got our bank statements, I noticed two payments to Flex events totaling UGX 65,117,920 and paid in March 2020. The payments were for organizing a marathon event that never took place. Flex Events was procured by a marathon committee headed by the Vice Chair,” recalled Kamugisha. “They marketed a proposal to the board. No budget was presented except a projected cost of about 100 million.”
For any AUTO member who has been at our Annual General Meetings including the one when the current board was elected might not be surprised by what is transpiring now. The level of intrigue, bribery during elections set a firm foundation for this and more that will be exposed.
It should be remembered that AUTO also thrives on tax payers money channeled either through the Uganda Tourism Board among others. Little do the tax payers know what their taxes do because no authentic audit report is produced every year. All we received are cooked-up audit reports. And I am sure the money mentioned in the treasurer’s resignation letter will surface in the audit report as having been legally spent and accountability “cooked” to match the claims. No one beats AUTO secretariat at “cooking” up accountability. If you doubt, look out for this year’s Audit report when it is produced by whichever auditor we appoint.
How can we claim to be Uganda’s leading tourism trade association when fraud and corruption is written on the walls of our secretariat? For years, members have complained about how AUTO chooses companies that take part and benefit from International Tourism Expos, grants and support but the secretariat shuts everyone up. Of course no one can complain further knowing that they need a positive review or recommendation of their next client from a self-styled controller of Uganda’s tourism industry. As long as you paid AUTO fees ( 750,000/=), even if you carry your company in your wallet, not a briefcase this time ( briefcase is bigger and better), you will get positive feedback from AUTO whenever foreign tourists inquire about your authenticity.
The connivance between our secretariat and some employees of Uganda Tourism Board to cut out hundreds of hardworking Uganda promoting Uganda as a destination is something that has raised fears among us. We all need that extra client, so we have kept silent for years. If you didn’t know, there has been a scheme at AUTO and some Uganda Tourism Board staff to screen whoever comes into the Tourism Industry. The screening is never based on basics of a genuine approach to promote Uganda but based on one’s tribe, one’s income status and one’s ability to ‘cough’ their hard earned income to these untouchable people. If you are brave enough to resist, you are labelled “Non-existent” even if the company is legal and pays all government taxes. I am sure you know where your business ends up if you don’t comply with their demands.
We all like AUTO and sometimes feel it is growing to be the leading tourism trade association, representing the interests of the country’s leading and experienced professional tour operators. However, I don’t know any institution, government or business that has grown to see its objectives achieved when all it activities and approach is characterized by fraud and illegally profiling of its members. As I mentioned above, there is no doubt that AUTO will fully account for hundreds of millions of shillings fraudulently spent. Money including payment for the Murchison Marathon which happened when the country was under lockdown will be ‘perfectly’ accounted for. I don’t see any persons including the parties mentioned in the treasurer’s resignation letter leave office, investigated or held to account in any way.
To my fellow tour operators, we are in this together. Stay safe and healthy. I hope this helps us get started with our long waited struggle to get rid of fraud, corruption and tribal-profiling in AUTO.
The Writer has been an AUTO Member to 15 Years
Names withheld on request