Former chairman of Tourism Malaysia says Pakatan Harapan faces uphill battle to reform tourism ministry, pointing to the board's bloated staff, costly overseas offices and wasteful award of contracts.
PETALING JAYA: Tourism Malaysia should be shut down to end wastage through its RM350 million a year budget, and a tourism tax on hotels should be abolished, said a former chairman, Wee Choo Keong.
Wee, speaking to FMT, questioned the board’s procedures, wasteful spending on overseas offices and awards of contracts, and its bloated staff.
He said the tourism board had a workforce of more than 900, and its 35 offices abroad cost too much to maintain. In addition, there was cronyism and “little Napoleons” within the ministry who were more concerned with ‘money-making’ deals and ‘creative accounting’ of expenditure.
Wee said the Pakatan Harapan government would face an uphill battle in trying to reform the Tourism Ministry.
Last week, he raised questions about a “Speedy Gonzales” RM99 million advertising deal made through direct negotiation, which he said had been made through dubious circumstances.
However Tourism Malaysia has denied Wee’s allegations that the contract breached its procurement regulations. It maintained that all documents signed were made in a clear and transparent manner, according to administrative procedures.
Wee, who was chairman of the tourism board for a year from September 2015, said “I was pushed out because they didn’t like that I was putting a stop to a lot of their dubious dealings.”
He said he had tried to break a monopoly of 10 firms who handled Tourism Malaysia’s advertising. “They didn’t like that I was always a hindrance to their money-making deals and creative accounting,” he said.
Abolish RM10 a night hotel levy
Wee said that the tax was only introduced as a means for Tourism Malaysia to cover its cost of operations, running to a few hundred million ringgit.
“The tax should be abolished. When the board was running low and no funds were forthcoming from the Finance Ministry, certain little Napoleons became creative and that is why they decided to introduce the tourism tax to cover the RM250 million cost.
The tourism tax is a levy of RM10 per night per hotel room, charged on foreign tourists. It was introduced in September last year and the tourism minister then, Nazri Aziz, said it was expected to raise about RM210 million a year.
Too many staff
Wee said the board had a bloated workforce.
“When it was the Tourism Development Corporation (in the 1980s), it handled everything including the work of an enforcement agency and promoting Malaysia as a tourist destination. There were about a few hundred staff then.
“Now, they no longer handle enforcement, but the workforce has bloated to about 900 odd staff. Why do you need such a high staff count when there are lesser responsibilities?” he said.
Costly overseas offices
Wee said among the causes of wastage was the costs to set up and maintain the 35 offices abroad, with each office manned by two directors.
“A rough calculation of expenditure by two directors in each country would amount to RM40 million,” said Wee.
He further queried the need for the offices as most tourists could get information on holiday destinations through the Internet.
“The nearest example would be Singapore. With or without promotions, they will still come into the country. Malaysia is their nearest and most convenient holiday destination.
Why does Tourism Malaysia still want to maintain an office there at one of the most posh areas, Shenton Way (in the heart of the business and financial district)? Rent in Singapore is not cheap, and so are expenditures to support a schooling child, who will be placed in an international school,” he said.
Wee said Tourism Ministry should develop a genuine digital promotion programme operating online which tourists in every country could tap and obtain information about their choice of tourist destination in Malaysia.
“The world has moved into e-commerce and we are still living in the past. Why? To enrich certain little napoleons somewhere?” he said.
He criticised the appointment of a company, whose nature of business was listed as ‘computer programming’ which was awarded a RM40 million “digital marketing project” for two years.
“The contract ended in December 2017. Can you see any ‘Digital Marketing Programme’ on TM’s website? None! Then they came out with the infamous ‘Digital Marketing Project’ with Geeko Tech Sdn Bhd costing the rakyat another RM99.7 million,” he said.
Wee said the last straw for him at the tourism board was when the board’s costs of RM250 million surfaced at the time when the annual accounts had to be presented to the Auditor-General’s Department.
The practice was for the chairman and another director, who is from the Finance Ministry, to sign off the accounts. However, he alleged, the accounts were not presented to the board of directors.
“The deputy chairman signed it together with the Finance Ministry representative, who later said he had been misled,” Wee said.