In a “milestone” move, the government has granted some Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA) inspectors judicial powers to search tourism facilities, catch violations and confiscate evidence.
The decision comes as the QTA works to bolster the number of visitors to the country several-fold, as part of a long-term vision to diversify the economy away from hydrocarbons.
In a statement, Hassan Al Ibrahim, QTA’s chief tourism development officer, said:
“There is no doubt that the decision is a milestone in QTA’s history. For the first time, a number of QTA employees have the full authority to enforce the terms of the law by investigating potential violations that hotels, tourist facilities and exhibition organizers might have committed.
The jurisdiction of these officers include spotting violations, pinpointing perpetrators, and gathering the evidence needed for investigation and trial.”
What it means
Speaking to Doha News, former Qatari justice minister and practicing criminal attorney Dr. Najeeb Al Nuaimi said that some QTA employees would now be allowed to enter any tourism facility without permission, search them for violations and confiscate evidence without obtaining permission from the prosecution’s office.
“This allows the QTA to quickly catch tourism violations and perpetrators,” Al Nuaimi said.
The QTA employees then submit the evidence to the prosecution to open an investigation. That department would refer it to trial if the case merits, according to Al Nuaimi.
Potential violations could include practicing tourism or establishing tourism facilities or exhibitions without a license; breaching license conditions; harming the environment; and not providing receipts to customers for services.
Hotels or tourism facility could also be penalized for doing anything that “contradicts the law, public order, public morals or affects public safety or the country’s stability,” according to article 13 of Law No. 6 of 2012.
Last year, this was interpreted as selling alcohol in public parts of the hotel like on the beach, near pools and in hotel lobbies.
Punishments include fines ranging from QR10,000 ($2,700) to QR100,000($27,000), and a prison sentence of up to one year.
However, Al Nuaimi added that QTA employees don’t have executive authority to make arrests or enforce fines, as that’s within the jurisdiction of the police forces.
“They can only confiscate any evidence proving violations and report it to investigative authorities,” he said.
According to Al Nuaimi, in the past, QTA employees didn’t have any authority to conduct sudden searches of tourism facilities.
They had to report suspected violations to the prosecution’s office, which took time and gave perpetrators the opportunity to eliminate the evidence.
Last month, for example, several hotels violated regulations when they hiked prices without permission after Qatar saw a large influx of tourists from Saudi Arabia.
In its statement, QTA said:
“The decision will ensure tourism sector’s institutions adherence to the best international tourism standards and practices. It is noteworthy that QTA is working in cooperation with partners in the public and private sector as well as stakeholders in the tourism industry to upgrade tourism in Qatar to international standards.”
Many hotels in Doha declined to comment on the new decision, calling it a sensitive matter.
Plans to expand QTA’s judicial powers have been in the works for the past few years.
This is not the first time government employees have been given judicial authorities in Qatar. Last year, employees from the Ministry of Municipality and Urban Planning were also given judicial authority to register violations and shut down restaurants that have health code violations.
They have since then shut down several restaurants, including temporarily closing a branch of the prominent Turkish restaurant Marmara Istanbul in Bin Omran following reports of food poisoning.
That case is now in court.