About 400 travel and tour agencies have asked government to pay more than Shs4.5 trillion it is holding in ticketing debts as it prepares to change to a new air travel procuring system.
The money has been accumulated over a period of years with some members taking as much as three years without being paid.
Speaking at a media briefing in Kampala yesterday, Ms Pearl Kakooza, the Uganda Association of Travel Agents chairperson, said government’s failure to pay more than 400 travel agencies was betrayal that has disenfranchised Ugandans and condemned them to abject poverty and slavery.
“This is betrayal,” she said, adding that it was wrong for government to refuse to pay what is due to them.
She also castigated the new directive for government agencies to procure tickets from airlines, saying it contravenes the principle of empowerment and will ultimately kill one of the main stems of tourism.
In a letter dated May 28, the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Authority, directed that government accounting officers will effective the next financial procuring air tickets from airlines and not through travel agencies.
The move has effectively seen some government agencies such as Kampala Capital City Authority invite bids from airlines to supply air tickets services.
Previously, government agencies have been purchasing air tickets through travel agencies and the move threatens to cripple the operations of more than 400 travel agencies that employ about 4,000 Uganda.
Government business, according to details from Uganda Association of Travel Agents, contribute about 60 per cent of travel agencies income.
In an interview yesterday, Mr Everest Kayondo, a member of Uganda Association of Travel Agents and chairperson of Kampala City Traders Association, said the move undermines the campaign to promote Uganda through the Buy Ugandan Build Uganda mantra and points to a government that has no will towards creating employment opportunities.
“Ideally government buying tickets direct from airlines is the same fee they would pay the travel agents so they are not going to save but instead deprive us of our commission,” he said.
He wondered why government was so keen to takeaway business from travel agencies, whose commission comes from airlines.
“Travel agencies get commission from airlines. Why is government so focused on cutting out this income?” he wondered.
In the same press briefing, travel agencies, under Uganda Association of Travel Agents, demanded that government pays the more than Shs4.5 trillion held in ticket debts as well as review the new directive.
“We demand that a thorough study is done to establish the impact of this directive to the national interest, jobs, equity and fair business competition,” Kayondo said.