The government is pulling out of direct management of three national parks to concentrate on policy issues.
To be placed in the hands of the private sector are Akagera, Nyungwe and Volcanoes National Parks.
The move comes after the Auditor-General of State Finances and Parliament raised the red flag, arguing that the government was compromising its supervisory role in the tourism sector by involving itself in the day-to-day management of the parks.
The move will also save the Rwandan taxpayer the $250,000 the Treasury has been pumping into Akagera Park Management Company as wages of the staff the government seconded to the firm.
Nyungwe and Volcanoes are managed by the Rwanda Development Board’s tourism and conservation unit while Akagera is co-managed by the government and a South African company, African Parks Network (APN).
Trade and Industries Minister Francois Kanimba confirmed the move, saying the government wants the private sector to take over the management of the parks.
He added that the private sector had the expertise and the innovative drive to maintain the momentum the tourism sector has shown over the years.
Besides tea and coffee exports, tourism continues to form the backbone of Rwanda’s economy.
Latest statistics from the Trade and Industry Ministry show that revenue from the sector stands at $252 million, up from $227 million a year ago. This is above the projected figure of $244 million.
The government’s plan to pull out of park management comes at a time when the public-private partnership it entered into with APN is on the rocks following concerns that the deal has not delivered the desired goals.
The company was supposed to restock the park with rhinos and lions but is yet to embark on the project.
However, the management says it had to first fence the park in order to protect the people living adjacent to the park from wild animal attacks.
The head of tourism and conservation, Rica Rwigamba, told Rwanda Today the animals would be introduced after the first project was completed.
Akagera Park Management Company, in which the government has 49 per cent shares and APN a 51 per cent stake, was to turn around the park. However, there is a widespread feeling that, three years down the line, little has been achieved.
“The only improvement has been on tourism. Little has been done on conservation,” a source privy to the running of the park told Rwanda Today on condition of anonymity.
The source’s allegations were corroborated by Clare Akamanzi, the CEO of RDB, when she appeared before Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee.
“We feel that there are certain activities they (APN) should have done that they haven’t, especially the stocking of the park,” said Ms Akamanzi.
RDB has initiated an audit of Akagera Park Management Company to determine how much money it makes and what challenges it is facing.
In the meantime, the government is reviewing the management contract as it prepares to pull out of the direct management of the park.
Recently, the Nyungwe Nziza Project was named winner of the British Guild of Travel Writers’ (BGTW) Globe Award in recognition of its efforts to harmonise tourism, wildlife and the agricultural community in one of Africa’s last surviving rainforests.
Volcanoes National Park, the home of the rare mountain gorillas, lies in northwestern Rwanda and borders Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda.
The mountain gorilla is Rwanda’s leading tourist attraction.