October 17, 2011

No fund misallocation in Mark Lapid case – DOT chief

FOR now, Mark Lapid is staying on as general manager of the Tourism Infrastruture and Zone Authority (Tieza), formerly the Philippine Tourism Authority.

Thus said Ramon Jimenez Jr., acting secretary of the Department of Tourism, in an extensive interview with this writer, for BusinessMirror.

Jimenez also said there were no issues of fund irregularities with regards to the Commission on Audit’s report on Lapid. “The problems are administrative; we're not talking here of somebody stealing money, and that's why, in fact, he was sanctioned. Certain movements have been restricted already,” the DOT chief stressed.

He added that he was “working very well” with Lapid.

As per the Tourism Act of 2009, Tieza is “mandated to designate, regulate and supervise the tourism enterprise zones established under this Act, as well as develop, manage and supervise tourism infrastructure projects in the country. It shall supervise and regulate the cultural, economic and environmentally sustainable development of TEZs toward the primary objective of encouraging investments therein.”

It would be recalled that Jimenez’s predecessor, Alberto Lim, asserted that President Aquino had failed to act on the COA report on Lapid as the latter’s father, Sen. Lito Lapid’s vote was needed to approve the postponement of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao elections.

In the same interview, Jimenez also said changes were in store for the controversial Tourism Congress (TC). A number of tourism officials and private tourism stakeholders have criticized that the current crop of TC representatives were not “truly representative” of the sector.

Hoteliers said their sector, for instance, were not represented in the TC. “And yet they have someone representing the real estate sector sitting as one of its officials,” remarked the general manager of a five-star hotel, who declined to be identified.

The amended Sec. 137 of the Implementing Rules and Regulations of the Tourism Act of 2009 calls for the DOT Secretary to convene the Tourism Congress and their duly representative members. Thereafter, he is supposed to preside over the election of the group’s new president, as well as its other officers.

“The fact of the matter is, the current congress, their terms expire in November. Now I am not inclined to wait for that. What I’m more inclined is to get the parties together before that time, because there is a very unique opportunity for all of them to participate in a genuine transition as dictated by the new IRR,” Jimenez said.

The TC is a key body in the tourism industry, which is why its previous representation became very contentious. It recommends candidates for the respective boards of the Tieza, Duty Free Philippines Corp. and Tourism Promotions Board. (formerly the Philippine Convention and Visitors Corp.).

With proper candidates to the TC and said DOT-attached agencies, the private sector is given a pivotal role in directing the course of tourism promotions and marketing of the country.

In the interview, Jimenez also outlines his priority programs, his vision for Intramuros, and how he intends to use the Rizal Park as a “national laboratory” to train local governments in the standards of establishing tourism facilities. (Click BusinessMirror Sunday for the rest of the interview.)

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