The move was also aimed at making the blocks reflect the geographical position of the area, according to tourism ministry permanent secretary Major General (rtd) Gaudence Milanzi.
Speaking in an exclusive interview with The Guardian yesterday, Milanzi acknowledged that several hunting firms appeared to see the move as an attempt to deny them access to preferred blocks.
“They actually call it swapping instead of renaming as stated by the government, meaning the government is trying to hinder them from doing business, which isn’t the case,” he said.
He cited one company not happy with the decision as Wengert Windrose Safaris (Tanzania) Limited (WWS), an American hunting firm which was operating in the block before it was divided.
According to the PS, after the Lake Natron block was sub-divided, new allocations were done and the hunting block previously occupied by WWS was granted to another company named Green Mile Safari Co. Limited (GML).
This greatly annoyed WWS, whose dismay was hardly appeased by the fact that they were granted a different block within the same area, Milanzi said.
The company is said to have refused to vacate the previous block on grounds that it has already invested heavily on it.
According to Milanzi, while the government was attempting to settle the matter amicably, WWS instituted a case in the High Court of Tanzania’s commercial division and has also been writing letters to the US government complaining of alleged mistreatment by local authorities.
“The company has taken this issue too far… we have been receiving letters from America complaining about how American firms are being mistreated in Tanzania…all this is very sad,” he said.
He described as baseless reports that the hunting industry is awash with corruption, saying such reports are being promoted by people who don’t understand the industry.
“There is an independent advisory committee that is responsible for block allocations…this committee is actually made up of very credible people,” Milanzi said.
He noted that the hunting industry has been contributing substantial amounts of revenue to the government each year. In 2010/2011, it contributed up to $23 million, he said.
But these figures appear to have begun decreasing because of various anti-hunting campaigns by conservationists as part of wildlife conservation efforts, he added.
The controversy surrounding the re-allocation of hunting blocks in the Lake Natron area resurfaced last week after the Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, Prof Jumanne Maghembe, explained the government’s stance on the matter.
A day later, WWS issued a statement saying Prof Maghembe had been misled on the issue to the extent of giving false and inaccurate statements in the National Assembly.