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10 Sep, 2019

PATA Foundation Chairman quits following “inquisition” by two Executive Board members

Bangkok – The Chairman of the PATA Foundation, Mr Peter Semone, has quit abruptly, less than a year before he was due to start an official process to hand over the baton. The shock resignation, the first of its kind in the Foundation’s history, comes in the midst of a major restructuring programme under way within PATA, and opens up questions about the continued influence of its “old guard”, their commitment to making way for a younger generation, and the roles and responsibilities of PATA board and committee members.

Although he said in his official resignation letter that he felt he had served in the chairmanship since June 2014 and that it was time to “to pass the helm to someone else to lead and guide the Foundation,” other high-level PATA sources said Mr Semone, who is in his 50s, had faced intensive questions from two septuagenarian members of the Executive Board which he felt had crossed a line and impinged on the integrity of the Foundation’s Trustees.

The issue had been building up since last year but came to a head at the July 2019 meeting of the Executive Board in Bangkok. Another meeting is coming up next week alongside the PATA Travel Mart in Kazakhstan.

Mr Semone declined to discuss details beyond what was contained in his official letter. Asked specifically why he chose to quit now, Mr Semone said he just couldn’t be bothered continuing. “We’re all doing this on a voluntary basis. It takes a lot of time and effort. Everything was on track to create a Foundation 2.0 as per the strategic plan. The Trustees have been very supportive, but I have a full-time job working with USAID to help Timor-Leste build up its tourism industry. To be making a real difference at the grassroots of one of the world’s poorest countries is an humbling and satisfying experience. The people who pay my salary would rather I continue to do that than spend a week in Kazakhstan.”

Mr Semone

On paper, the PATA Foundation is an autonomous unit under the PATA umbrella. It was set up this way with full approval of the PATA Board. The autonomy gives it more flexibility to raise funds, elect Trustees, and make decisions on beneficiary projects.

Under a Foundation 2.0 strategic plan approved by the Trustees, the goal was to restructure it in a way that would dovetail its agenda with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. “With a shift in the mid 2000’s to a culture of results-based development and facing a climate of decreasing funding, the PATA Foundation needed to change,” Mr Semone told the Trustees.

In line with the PATA Foundation governing bylaws, it was envisaged that the Foundation would continue to maintain “an arms-length, collegial relationship with PATA grounded in mutual beneficial collaboration and partnership.” It will also have a “distinct brand positioning from PATA, while continuing to leverage and support PATA’s solid reputational foundation as a leading advocate for the sustainable development of travel and tourism in Asia Pacific.”

In his resignation letter to the Trustees, Mr Semone said,

According to whistleblower sources within PATA, at the Executive Board meeting in January 2019, instead of taking a macro approach towards the Foundation’s work and exploring ways to support the Foundation 2.0 agenda, micro-management questions arose about the “status of the PATA Foundation and in particular what was the responsibility of the EB in regards to governance and oversight of the activity of the Foundation and Trustees.”

Mr Calderwood

An update provided by Mr Bill Calderwood, a former Interim CEO of PATA and Executive Board member, said, “It became obvious that there was insufficient clarity on the relationship between the EB and the Foundation, and that many aspect of its operations could not be clarified by the (PATA) management team. It was therefore agreed that a briefing paper should be prepared on the operation, status, governance and reporting protocols, and the EB should be briefed at the July 2019 meeting.

“It is intended that after review and discussion, the EB will determine if the relationship between the Foundation and EB is, as was expected and, acceptable.”

Mr Calderwood’s update wanted the following queries clarified:

Whistleblower sources said that the tone, content and nature of the questions made them sound more like an “inquisition” rather than a briefing.

Mr Matzig

At the July EB meeting in Bangkok, Mr Luzi Matzig, chairman of Asian Trails, weighed in with detailed questions about the processes of the Foundation’s finances, payments, auditing, oversight and accountability.

Asked if they felt they suspected any wrongdoing, both Mr Calderwood and Mr Matzig declined to comment, citing non-disclosure and confidentiality agreements signed by the EB members. Mr Calderwood referred the questions to Prof Chris Bottrill, the PATA chairman and Dean of Fine and Applied Arts, and Director, International, Capilano University.

I sent Prof Bottrill the following questions,

I got the following response:

Prof Bottrill

Whistleblower sources said the Trustees, many of whom are also long-standing PATA veterans like Mr Calderwood and Mr Matzig, were stunned by Mr Semone’s resignation. One Trustee said this in an email to Mr Semone:

Another Foundation Trustee, Mr Scott Supernaw, has been appointed interim chairman. It is not clear at the time of writing if the Foundation Trustees will seek some reverse accountability and transparency from the EB members about their own roles and responsibilities and commitment to good governance.

Full details of the PATA Foundation are here: https://www.patafoundation.org/
The list of PATA Foundation trustees is here: https://www.patafoundation.org/?page_id=60
The list of PATA Executive Board members is here: https://www.pata.org/about-pata/executive-board/