By Amin Kef (Ranger)
If there is one person, in recent times, that gave an apt description of the status and perception held of Sierra Leone’s tourism sector of yesteryears and contemporary times, it is the controversial Statesman, newspaper Columnist, the octogenarian, Dr. Sama Banya, who is popularly known as Puawi.
He gave a graphic and comparative analysis of how the Ministry of Tourism was negatively perceived and treated compared to the significant transformation seen when President Bio, during his first tenure, appointed Dr. Memunatu Pratt as Minister to head that Ministry against the backdrop that it has the potential of being a game changer and a vital contributor to socio-economic development.
Quoting Dr Sama Banya, he said: “The Ministry of Tourism and Cultural Affairs is no longer a Cinderella Ministry but a vibrant, proactive organization that has put Sierra Leone in the international arena as one of 50 countries, not just in Africa but in the global system.”
He was totally right when he averred that Dr. Memunatu Pratt was constantly in the news for the right reasons including taking the once Cinderella-like Ministry to one of prominence.
Compliments of such nature were, on several occasions, heaped on the result oriented former Minister of Tourism and Cultural Affairs, Dr Memunatu Pratt, while she was in office and even after, for the sterling initiatives she introduced and implemented as well as for her incessant passion to transform a once moribund Ministry and make it become a prominent and key Government institution that, in recent times, did so much in generating much needed revenue as well as advancing development in areas related to the tourism and hospitality industry.
Even after successfully transforming that Ministry within the five years she was in control, appreciation for her diligent work has been pouring in from various quarters with the latest one expressed by the Grassroots of the SLPP, in a letter sent to her, bearing the signature of the leader of the group, Henry Lambert.
The SLPP Grassroots expressed profound thanks and appreciation to her for the outstanding job she did while serving the nation as the then Minister of Tourism and Cultural Affairs and went on to catalogue the many positive things she did and how they positively impacted lives and the nation as a whole.
Indisputably, there is no gainsaying that during her tenure as Tourism Minister there were many positive transformations that transpired under her leadership in concert with one of the Ministry’s Agencies, the National Tourist Board headed by its General Manager, Fatmata Mida Carew.
In her few months in office (2018), the tourism industry experienced the highest growth rate in leisure visitors since the aftermath of the war.
Her unique leadership style and competency rendered Sierra Leone to be quoted by the most popular online publisher, ETurbo News as the must-visit emerging tourist destination.
Also, it was during her time in August of 2021 that Air Senegal was welcomed to the shores of the country by the Government of Sierra Leone through the efforts of the Ministries of Tourism as well as the Transport and Aviation Ministry and other line MDAs on airlines inaugural flight operation at the Freetown International Airport.
She maintained at that time how the operation of the flight will greatly boost the tourism sector as Air Senegal offers exotic and attractive prices in linking Sierra Leone to over twenty global destinations.
“The coming of Air Senegal to Sierra Leone is very timely and the hospitality industry is delighted and looking forward to working with them in developing tour packages and having an arrangement for prospective visitors to Sierra Leone to use Air Senegal,” she averred at going further to say that the sustainability of the airlines operations is highly dependent on tourism, hence the need to grow regional tourism and then presented the tourism ‘traveltainment’ magazine to the CEO of Air Senegal.
In June of 2022, Dr. Memunatu Pratt, was appointed by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) as Global Chairperson for Women in Tourism. It must be noted that the UNWTO is the specialized UN agency in the field of tourism that is committed to enhancing the positive impact of tourism development on women’s lives and, in so doing, contribute to the development of the fifth sustainable development goal, “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”.
The 2020 Budapest-Bamako-Freetown Rally used this country to serve as the finishing line a feat that was repeated in 2022 due to her effective networking.
Other positive strides included keeping the tourism sector alert and proactive as she introduced nation-wide sustainable beach cleaning exercises, Adopt the Beach Theory in order to keep the beaches clean, safe, established an entertainment foundation, enhanced massive ministerial support extended to entertainers, pioneered tourism diagnosis trips to Bonthe & Sherbro Islands, introduced the Bonthe Agro- Cultural and Tourism Festival and Kabala Fest, rebranded and positioned Sierra Leone in the tourist generating regions, ensured a review of the Tourism Act and other related acts, provided strong advocacy for Visa Free and Visa on landing, strong and timely advocacy on reduction on Air tickets and negotiated Tourism studies program at Universities in Sierra Leone.
Her tenure witnessed the return of many African-Americans who traced their roots back to Sierra Leone and claimed Sierra Leonean citizenship.
With supports from development partners such as the UNDP and World Bank the Tourism Ministry, under her leadership, provided skills training for women living in coastal areas as a way of giving them alternative sources of income in order to make the sector relevant to development.
At the Akwaaba African Travel Market held in Lagos, Nigeria on the 31st October, 2022 the former Minister of Tourism and Cultural Affairs, Dr. Memunatu Pratt, officially received an award as the best West Africa Tourism Minister, which she dedicated to President Bio, the tourism industry and the people of Sierra Leone.
Shout Climate Change Africa, a non- governmental organization that has high stock of professional mix of expert in various field ranging from climate change to other environmental and development issues, awarded the former Minister of Tourism and Cultural Affairs, Dr. Memunatu Pratt, the “Minister of the year” award, which was handed over to her by His Excellency Simon Mustard, British High Commissioner to Sierra Leone during the National 2019 Environmental Care Award 2019, held on the 23th November 2019 at the Miatta Conference Hall in Freetown.
The Ministry, under her watch, gained the support and confidence of donor partners, UNDP, EIF, and the World Bank who have been very instrumental in the implementation of the activities of the Ministry and its agencies.
Furthermore, the Jamaican High Commissioner accredited to the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Cameroon and Senegal, Esmond St. C. Reid engaged the former Minister of Tourism and Cultural Affairs, Dr. Memunatu Pratt at the Ministry’s head office in Freetown and during the engagement, he recommended the establishment of a joint commission for the two countries.
Chronicling all her accomplishments during her tenure will be an endless exercise and this space will not accommodate all as she did so much in enhancing the Ministry to one that helped in rebranding the image of country and positioning it as a strategic entity.
Without any iota of doubt, the name of Dr. Memunatu Pratt will indeed go down the political history of this country as an instrumental personality and one of the greatest public officials that translated the development aspiration of President Julius Maada Bio related to changing the dynamics of a moribund Ministry to become a very significant game changer.
A summary of his achievements could be summarized in a nutshell as stated below:
KEY ACTIVITIES UNDERTAKEN AND ACHIEVED BY THE MINISTER OF TOURISM AND CULTURAL AFFAIRS SINCE 2019-2022
IMPROVED THE INTERNATIONAL IMAGE OF SIERRA LEONE AND DIVERSIFY MARKETING OF THE COUNTRY
In improving the image of Sierra Leone marketing and promotion, the country actively participated in key targeted international market such as; United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain, Scandinavia, USA, Russia and West African Sub-Regions with different activities including: Trade Fairs And Exhibitions, Promotion In Internationally Renowned TV Channels, Road Shows, Marketing Representatives, International Networking, Promotional Materials and Domestic Tourism.
The Ministry also facilitated the fast-tracked the introduction of Visa on Arrival ratified by government to help the tourism industry.
Produced Tourism Promotional Materials namely: Traveltainment Magazine ( 1st Issue published, 2nd Issue in progress),Tourism Inflight Magazine and the Tourism Information Register.
Attained International Recognition with Active Participation Globally by settling dues and attaining full-fledged updated Membership with UNWTO with active participation at global stage.
Attracted Host of International Tourists: Hosted 700 tourists with 227 Vehicles in Budapest Bamako-Freetown Rally ,300 Danes for research and related tourism activities, provided home and naturalization to host of African Americans tracing their DNA back to Sierra Leone and attracted Idris Elba a renown international activist; actor, writer, artist, model, etc. in root tourism with huge investment interest at Bonthe.
Organized Workshop Training on Marketing & Rebranding for:Embassies and Diplomatic Missions and appointed Press Attaché.
In terms of improving the policy and Legal Framework the following Policy Documents are in the process of completion supported by the Government of Sierra Leone, World Bank and Enhanced Integrated Framework Project: Review of Tourism Development Act-1990, Tourism Governance and Financial Management strategy – Completed, Tourism Marketing and Branding Strategy – Completed, E-Tourism Finance ,Review/upgrade of National Tourism Policy and Ecotourism Development Plan, Tourism Master Plan, Tourism Wildlife Policy, National Heritage Bill – Draft currently at the Law Officers’ Department, National Entertainment Policy-Draft developed.
- PROMOTE COMPETITION IN THE SECTOR TO REDUCE COSTS AND IMPROVE VALUE FOR MONEY
- Collaborated with NRA to Reduced GST Charges on travelling cost and across tourism value chain.
- Collaborated with Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration Departments on Introducing Visa on Arrival Regulation.
- Collaboration with EPA & NPAA to Review Environmental Social Health Impact Assessment Charges(ESHIA) for tourism and hospitality industry operators and separating them from mining and Agricultural industry activities
- Collaboration with Freetown City Council on the reduction of tourism establishment’s property tax (City Rate).
- Worked with Statistic Sierra Leone to conduct the National Tourism Census for a comprehensive report and list of all tourism establishments in the country
- Report launched.
- REHABILITATE AND DEVELOP HISTORICAL AND CULTURAL SITES THROUGH A HOLISTIC REHABILITATION PLAN
- Heritage and engineering assessments conducted on few and action plans laid for comprehensive restoration, protection and conservation of these sites.
- Restored the historic Bonthe Clock Tower,
- Bunce Island Slave Fort conservation
- Government has committed to provide more funds to enhance the tourism infrastructure at Bunce Island.
- Restoration of Bai Bureh’s Grave
- Government has given clearance for development funds towards the comprehensive conservation of the Hero’s Graves including Madam Yoko, Sengbeh Pieh’s, Kailondo etc.
- Rehabilitation of other Historic & Cultural Sites
- The Rehabilitations of old Fourah Bay College in progress
- Proclamation of St. Charles and Maroon Church as National Monuments,
- Rehabilitation of Old Kings Yard Gate, Old Government Warf Step, the National Museum and Railway Museum in progress.
- Established School heritage clubs in school at regional level.
TOURISM SITE DEVELOPMENT:
- World Bank Support: The Sierra Leone Economic Diversification Project,
- The project development; Leicester Peak, Tacugama Sanctuary, Bureh Beach, River No. 2, and Bonthe Island.
- Development will commence this year on three sites; Leicester Peak, Tacugama Sanctuary and River No. 2.
- Under the Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF) Project
- The Project is currently developing three Sites (Wara Wara Mountain, Tiwai Island and Banana Island)
- Construction of Roads Leading to Major Touristic Sites
- The designed for the construction/rehabilitation of access roads leading to cultural/historical sites list submitted list to SLRA by the MTCA/NTB has been done.
- CAPACITY BUILDING AND HUMAN RESOURCES DEVELOPMENT PLAN, UPGRADE THE EXISTING SCHOOL FOR HOTEL MANAGEMENT, AND COLLABORATE WITH INTERNATIONAL HOSPITALITY INSTITUTIONS
- Curriculum Development for Tourism, Travel and Hospitality Industry has been completed.
- The construction of 22 training Bedrooms including kitchens at MMTU – Brookfields Campus is in Progress.
- Engaged the Ministry of Technical and Higher Education, the University of Sierra Leone (USL), Njala University and UNIMAK at Regional level for the introduction of Degree Program in Tourism, Hospitality and Management.
- MRC Hosting continuous radio and TV talk show called Salone Country Pot at AYV is ongoing.
- PROMOTE ECO-TOURISM TO ENSURE THE PROTECTION OF THE COUNTRY’S RICH BIODIVERSITY
- The Ministry has worked with the EPA, NPAA, MoLH, MoE, FCC to declare places as Tourism Development Areas such as:
- The Mortomeh Mud Slide Area, the Western Area Peninsula,
- Plans to beautify and provide facilities for these protected areas are on course.
- Partnered with renowned environmentalist Dr. Jane Goodal to declare Chimpanzee as national animal of Sierra Leone.
- Organized Tourism Local Governance Conference to Engage Local Authorities to Promote Eco-Tourism in the country.
- Organized tourism promotion workshop of domestic tourism for Civil Society Organizations, SLAJ and Media Houses.
- We organized the first ever National Tourism Governance Conference for Parliament, with the theme: “The role of Parliament in the development of Tourism and Cultural Sector”
- SUPPORT LOCAL ENTREPRENEURS TO PROMOTE TOURISM-BASED ACTIVITIES THAT LINK WITH THE RURAL ECONOMY, HARVEST SEASONS, WILDLIFE, FARMING PRACTICES, ART, AND CULTURE
- We have organized Training on Tourism Entrepreneurship and Resilience to Climate Change and alternative livelihood for Women in Coastal Risk Areas in the following Communities
- River No. 2
- Banana Island
- Bonthe island &Yargoi
- Mattru Jong & Tobanda
- Tambaka (Outamba Kilimi)
- Cline Town Community
- Aberdeen/Lumley Beach Community
- The Ministry and its agencies commemorated UN World Tourism Day by holding series of regional dialogues and the grand celebration in Freetown.
- Also organized an Agro Tourism festival with the Ministry of Agriculture in Bonthe and Koinadugu districts in 2019.
- ESTABLISH PUBLIC–PRIVATE PARTNERSHIPS AND PROMOTE PRIVATE SECTOR INVOLVEMENT
- The Ministry is partnering with local private and international entities for the conservation of the nation’s heritage assets for tourism investments.
- Developed MoU with AYV and Africell to promote tourism.
- PROMOTE ADVENTURE TOURS SUCH AS SAFARIS, JUNGLE TOURS, MOUNTAIN TREKKING, ETC.
- A study tour to Kenya by the Ministry and other relevant sectors to see the possibility of promoting wildlife tourism has been done
- Assessments of the Sierra Leone wildlife resources by Kenyan experts has been done and the report with its recommendation is available,
- The signing of MoU on tourism trade agreement has been done by H.E. the President and the Minister has been done.