Kilifi County Park fees standoff escalate
The tourism business in Kilifi has been paralyzed after Watamu and Malindi boat owners and operators went on strike protesting against the new e-citizen system introduced by the government claiming it was delaying tourists.
Thousands of tourists have been left stranded following the strike that has seen all boats grounded as owners and operators demand that all tourists be allowed to pay via Mpesa.
According to them the county government has increased park fees for non-residents and the requirement for foreigners to pay in dollars via ecotizen to gain access to national parks.
“The process is slow and takes over one hour as opposed to the normal process which previously lasted less than five minutes”
About 300 tourists have been turned down who were visiting the park until the problem was resolved in Watamu while in Malindj the situation was the same witnessed as boat owners and operators downed their tools over the park fees stalement.
Over 35 boats that deal with different excursions within the Marine Park and National Reserve were all docked at Blue Bay Beach as the operators downed their tools of trade.
Watamu Boat Owners Association chair Fadhil Omar said they decided to strike because the new system was delaying tourists.
“Normally it takes two minutes, three to five but in the new system it takes up to one hour for a tourist to book a ticket,” he said.
Omar said transactions done through the E citizen are very expensive as they are charged in dollars for foreigners.
He said it was wrong for KWS to come up with such initiatives without involving the community as agreed.
So far he said tourism was high with a majority of them being foreigners and each day they can take over 300 tourists to the marine park.
“We have over 35 boat owners here and those with e-cards are five others do not have know will they operate if they do not have the cards” he claimed.
Watamu Boat Owners Association official Hussein Abdi asked President William Ruto and his Deputy Rigathi Gachagua to
Intervene and resolve the delays in their e-citizen platform.
He said they can pay promptly Kenyans via e-citizen but a challenge to foreigners because the system declines the demand for US dollars.
“Not all foreigners come with dollars some come with euros, others with pounds we have to change to remain with Kenya money, if the government fails to manage the dollar what of us common citizens we urge the government to allow us to pay with Kenya money even for foreigners using mpesa through the same e citizen,” he said.
Robert Ziener a tourist from Germany said they have waited for over one hour for them to get a ticket from KWS and were yet to get it.
He said initially they had been told it would take five minutes which did not happen.
“The boat operators need to be allowed to work if the park fees will go up it is the locals who will be affected,” he said.
Fadhili Amico Mio a boat owner said their aim was not to fight the government or KWS but they were not happy with how the government was treating them by introducing a system that was inconveniencing foreigners.
“Foreigners some come with euros and we rely on beach operators who come with Kenya money so we should be allowed to pay for foreigners using mpesa,” he said.
Twalib Abeid former chairman of Malindi Boat Owners Associations said that since 1968 agreed with Kws to stop fishing and do conservation to bring revenue to the government and the community.
Abeid said so far Malindi boat operators have 49 boats and 101 members.
“We have suffered a lot during corona pandemic Tourists were not coming now they have begun to return slowly Instead of attracting them we are frustrating them You tell a tourist he will leave at 9.00 he stays we tell him to stay for 10 minutes we take them to board and they wait,” he said.
John Boen secretary of Malindi boat operators said they are not happy with the husltle President William Ruto for introducing e citizen with dollar input which is not working effectively.
He said the dollar payment has a convenient fee of 1 per cent which they cannot explain to tourists.
After paying he said the dollar was extra charges which are over 27 dollars.
He said they returned 200 tourists due to the stalemate which was a big loss to both the government and them.
The boat operators said if action is not taken within seven days they will begin going to the reserves with tourists without paying any fees and shall be ready to be arrested all of them.