PESHAWAR: Chitral Association for Mountain Area Tourism (CAMAT) chairman Shahzada Iftikharuddin has appealed to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Mahmood Khan to clear the ‘quarantine bills’ that the government owed to Chitral’s 60 hotels pending since July 2020.
In a statement, he complained that the inordinate delay in paying the Rs34 million bills of 60 hotels used by the district administration Lower Chitral for five months as quarantine facilities during Covid-19 had bankrupted the hotel industry.
“To add insult to injury the hoteliers were forced to even pay the utility expenses such as electricity, gas, security and management salaries while the facilities remained under government use,” he added.
Shahzada Iftikhar, who is a former MNA from Chitral, lamented that their repeated complaints to the deputy commissioner Chitral and commissioner Malakand and assurances of chief secretary and chief minister in their meetings with hoteliers didn’t go beyond paperwork. He said complaints lodged with the PM’s Complaints Portal turned out to be a hogwash and as each complaint triggered an automated response with a message that the problem is resolved and the case is closed.
He said in 2020 the hoteliers had invested heavily in renovation and paint works but following the forceful occupation of their hotels by the government the paint works and many hotel assets were badly damaged causing them heavy losses.
He recalled that the hoteliers who suffered due to militancy in Swat followed by a devastating earthquake in October 2015 urged the then deputy commissioner to use government facilities like schools, colleges and universities and not occupy their hotels, but their appeals went unheeded.
“This is a glaring example of the state shirking its responsibility and passing its burden in times of crises on feeble shoulders of ordinary citizens who invested their hard-earned money in tourism spots where business season is only five months in a year,” he argued.
He alleged that the federal government squandered almost Rs750 billion set aside for tackling Covid-19 but not a single penny was paid to hotels occupied by the government in Chitral. “Resultantly, the entire hotel value chain is reeling under financial strain as 95 percent of hoteliers also must pay rent for an entire year putting at risk livelihoods of more than 25,000 people across the tourism value chain including transporters, local vendors and auxiliary enterprises. We are facing a manmade disaster,” he maintained.