OPINION: $10mil USD should build, not pay for, hotels

Taban Gabriel, Juba

The internet and mainstream media is still flooded with debate about a letter written by Juba hotel administrators regarding claims that the government owes them $10mil USD in accommodation arrears.

The hotels in questions include the Juba Crown Hotel, Royal Hotel, Radas, Ocean, Referenda Apartments among others. The aforementioned debt is said to belong to members of the National Transitional Committee (NTC) who have used Juba hotel accommodation since 2019.

The hotels signing the debt letter

The letter, dated 5th January, contains a reference line with sets forward an ‘urgent appeal for settlement of hotels’ accommodations arrears’. It is addressed to Tut Gatluak Manime, the Presidential Advisor for Security and chairperson of the NTC, and criticises the Government’s lack of response to similar letters dated the 2nd and 3rd November 2020.

The hotel owners urged the Government to quickly settle their debts or face eviction.

However, let’s get talking and allow me to apply the upright journalistic pyramid to this argument.

First of all, why was the NTC team accommodated in very expensive hotels for long periods of time, despite the majority having homes and families in Juba? Secondly, why has it taken so long for the NTC leadership to clear the claimed hotel debts?

I don’t want to breed noise here, but to be sincere; some of our leaders seems immune to criticism and are tormented by the spirit of feigned indifference. By feigned indifference I mean that they pretend not to care about a given situation. In other words, they are careless.

Why do I say this? Well, if the Government office in question truly cared about its image — and that of the whole Government — they would have cleared the debts long ago. The status quo would have been maintained, and the relationship between the Government and hotels restored before media coverage.

More generally, however, the amount of money in question is simply too much to be spending on hotel bills or individual politicians alone. $10mil USD should have been directed towards those thousands of displaced South Sudanese citizens struggling from the effects of flooding and tribal conflict, foreign refugees or civil servants suffering without pay. The $10mil USD would certainly have addressed some of these situations.

Equally, why is the Government not investing in its own hospitality infrastructure? Though small in writing, $10mil USD could build a number of guesthouses and hotels to accommodate public servants from across the country. The Sudanese government used to have something similar; the ‘Istiraha’. Our government could emulate this, and in doing so cut spending on private hotels.

The Juba Crown Hotel, a private hotel in the city. Rooms can cost up to $210 per night.

It is also worth mentioning that most private hotels in Juba are owned by foreigners. This ensures money earned is immediately wired away to foreign accounts, leaving our country dry. Aren’t we tired of being sucked empty by foreign investors?

The Ministry of Physical Infrastructure should really take note of this, and act to save the country from unnecessary spending.

The writer is a freelance journalist; for any queries about the article, he can be reached by email at gabronn2014@gmail.com.

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