The Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation has locked horns in a judicial battle with the Tourism Corporation Khyber Pakhtunkhwa over the ownership of properties in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
The issue initially surfaced in July this year when the Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC) advertised in newspapers to lease out its countrywide properties for 30 years. To block the move by the PTDC, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) government obtained stay order against the proposed leasing from the Peshawar High Court. The two entities that are supposed to promote tourism have also been indulging in a blame-game.
The Federal Ministry of Tourism was devolved under the 18th Constitutional Amendment along with a number of other ministries and its assets were transferred to the provinces.
It is worth mentioning that the PTDC was not among the departments that were handed over to the provinces. Instead, it was placed in the pool of Inter-Provincial Coordination (IPC) division for settling certain issues before transferring it to the provinces.
However, based on the decisions made by the PTDC board of directors in the 75th and 76th review meeting and 78th board meetings, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)-led KP government moved a summary approved by Chief Minister Pervez Khattak and notified the takeover of the PTDC properties in the province on September 1.
The KP Tourism department and the TCKP gave the assurance that services of all KP-domiciled regular employees of the PTDC would be retained on the same terms and conditions as before.
It was now the turn of the PTDC to approach the court of law and obtain stay orders on September 5 from the Peshawar and Islamabad high courts against the KP government’s move of taking over the PTDC properties. A bitter legal battle had now ensued between the federal and provincial tourism bodies.
Talking to TNS, Managing Director PTDC Kabir Ahmad Khan argues that he was heading a private corporation registered under the Companies Act and it could neither be devolved nor its properties transferred. “We consider PTDC just as private as an individual running his private motel or hotel. PTDC is not among the subjects that were handed over to provinces under the 18th Amendment. It was first attached to the IPC and then to the cabinet division,” he stresses.
Kabir Ahmad Khan adds that the PTDC wasn’t automatically devolved with the passage of the 18th Amendment. “The devolution of the Tourism Ministry had nothing to do with the PTDC. The PTDC rules allow for the devolution of the corporation only if it is devolved under the Private Companies Act or through a decision by the board of directors,” he maintains.
He adds that the KP government’s stance over decisions made during the board of directors’ meetings was not valid as the new board in the 80th meeting reversed all previous decisions made on the subject. “The decisions of transferring PTDC properties to the provinces were made in the 78th board meeting in October 2013 under the conditions of assessment of value of the property and determination of liabilities. The KP government took control of the properties without meeting any of the two conditions,” he argues.
On the other hand, the TCKP saw malafide intention of the management of PTDC when it advertised long leasing of its properties. Sajjad Hameed, General Manager Properties at TCKP, tells TNS that the fate of the PTDC and its assets had been decided vide 18th Constitutional Amendment and subsequent decisions of its board of directors. “Five properties of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government are on lease with PTDC since 1987. These motels will be reverted to the province in 2017 when the 30 year lease expires,” he adds.
These five motels at Ayubia, Balakot, Kalam, Miandam and Naran and 14 other motels at different tourist destinations in the province along with three tourist information centres at Peshawar, Abbottabad and Saidu Sharif in Swat are precious properties and the reason for the legal tussle between the federal and provincial tourism corporations.
Of the 19 motels, the one at Naran, Mansehra is the largest with 160 kanals of land. The 60-room motel is situated at a breathtakingly beautiful location in the magnificent Naran valley. However, according to Sajjad Hameed, the motel has lost its efficiency and is not generating the revenues it used to in the past. “The motel has the potential to generate up to Rs20 million per annum. Sadly due to mismanagement and lack of interest of the concerned officials, it is only generating up to Rs5 million which barely pays for the expenses incurred in running the property,” he says.
The PTDC motel in the picturesque Bamburet valley, Chitral has 16 rooms for guests and is spread over an area of 8 kanals and 2 marlas. Speaking to this scribe on the phone, one of its employees Khalid Mehmood says the motel often receives good number of foreign tourists during the Chelam Josht and Shandur Polo festivals — “Most of the rooms at our motel are occupied in summer season. Local guests visiting Chitral often come to Bamburet and many prefer to stay with us as we provide good quality services.”
The prime location of the PTDC motel in Miandam in Swat provides guests a 360 degree view of the beautiful valley. The 10 kanal and 19 marla motel has 21 rooms that all face the lush green lawn that has walnut trees standing tall beside apple and peach trees.
Mir Rahman, an employee at the motel was not concerned about the departmental infighting for the right to own the property. “I don’t know about the battle over the ownership of this motel. All I know is that we receive many guests all season and most of them return happy after their stay with us,” he adds.
The fate of these motels is in the hands of the court and the issue could drag on for some time. However, PTDC head Kabir Ahmad Khan was hopeful that the courts would give verdict in PTDC’s favour as they had a strong case. “I had a meeting with the chief secretary of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa which was also attended by the managing director TCKP. It was made clear that the 80th PTDC board meeting had reversed all previous decisions on the issue. I will meet the chief secretary again and I hope the ambiguity that the TCKP had in understanding the situation would be resolved,” he adds.
TCKP’s Sajjad Hameed feels the PTDC was using delaying tactics. He says despite clear cut decisions of the PTDC board of directors and after a lapse of four years, its management had failed to transfer PTDC assets to the provinces. “During the last court hearing on October 31, the PTDC lawyer managed to delay the matter by telling the court that he had not read the case. The next hearing is on December 2,” he adds.
Whatever the outcome of the tug-of-war between the PTDC and the TCKP, it is a known fact that tourism can play an important role in the revival of the national and provincial economy. The TCKP is a relatively young organisation, yet it has mega plans in the pipeline for the uplift of tourism in KP. Still it would need the expertise and moral support of the PTDC in the implementation of its plans.