Ministerial Industry Meeting (2006)

As ones eyes swept over the august gathering, a feeling of deja-vous washed over one, to be followed by dejection; No! Downright helplessness, as slowly the enormity and inevitability of the problems facing those present suddenly clarified. Here lay an Industry brought to its knees, sacrificed on the altar of political and social expediency, greed and opportunism. Here lay another division of the enormous business of Government facing the bankruptcy of application, effectiveness, adequacy, and ability, let alone financially. It was not the first; perhaps Home Affairs enjoys that “privilege.” It was not even the second, or the third, but it was our Department, an irreplaceable cog and part of our Fishing Industry, and, whilst it had been happening, all of us had probably not wanted to believe it.

One’s thoughts had to go back over the last twenty-five years of our countries turbulent history and reflect on the sea change in the tide of African humanity. Maybe one had to conclude that it came down to too little too late for our peoples, so that we, today, stare into the face of the results of an almost bloodless revolution, with, however, the self same aftermath of all revolutions, those of poverty and destruction brought on by the inevitable chaos of change, in perceptions, and values, and priorities.

However here was everybody, the Minister, his DG, the DDG and departmental heads of MCM, the captains, or at least their lieutenants, of large industry, medium industry, and representatives of small industry, of subsistence fishers, of the Mariculture industry, of the non-consumptive industry, and some other closely related participants. Could this gathering be a final turning point, and, if so, in which direction, towards the rehabilitation or the final extinguishment of those halcyon hopes of 1994, as far as this industry was concerned.

The Minister commenced, with his normal political aplomb and undoubted skill, to lay the foundation for a non mea culpa statement. All the problems were inherited, with which he and the present participants in his department were now faced. It was difficult to be precise as to who was to blame as most of his crew had very familiar faces, had in fact been around for some time, the Minister since April 2004, and in one notable case one person had returned to the fray after originally having been judged as being incapable of winning the battle, which now might just become a lost cause. Yet there were some new faces with which one had to have sympathy. Please note, he asked at one stage, that the MLRF was created and governed by parliamentary decision and not by his department, and was, therefore, as such not their fault. Whose fault was it then, when all its income flowed in through MCM’s regulations direct from industry (levies, permit fees, etc) or indirectly (fines, and penalties) with the only exceptions being direct governments grants to it? Then the same minister and the same people at MCM controlled its total outflow. Whose fault then that it had seldom been used for the stated reasons for which it had been created. One must, however, admit that the purpose or the reasons for a “separate” fund always were somewhat vague and idealistic rather then practical.

The Honourable Minister had, in the meantime, spelt out his hopes in regard to his anticipated deliberations for the meeting, as he and his minions wrestled to overcome these “inherited” problems. This would include reporting on the state of the main marine exploitable resources, the unavoidable reasons for the misadministration of the MLRP (by his ministry?), which would be explained by his new DG (were they explainable?) and his and MCM’s perceived need to have a small committee, mandated and wholly representative of industry, to act as liaison and consultancy to, and co-management with, MCM to guide it in its future endeavours. Dr. Mayekiso had, almost surreptitiously, raised this last proposal indirectly, and, just when the meeting threatened to get out of hand later, it was reiterated and emphasised very cleverly by the Minister. This of course resulted in Industry, nevertheless quite correctly, taking their eye of the ball of misspent, maybe even missing, funds, bankruptcy, incompetence, etc.

However one proceeds too fast, and some of the content of the discussion, before this was point reached, was very important. Firstly the Minister suggested, if somewhat obliquely, that his department had failed both him and the Industry. This in itself was a remarkable admission, which produced the first real foundation for possible re-building. After he finished his opening address, he asked if, at that stage, there were any relevant comments from the floor as to his approach to the problems. The floor appeared initially somewhat lost for words. Then Mr. Walsh, an industry participant for some fifty years, now retired having reached the year of his biblical allowance, though still representing one of its smallest components, took the Minister at his word in asking for complete openness seeing this was a private and closed gathering. He stated that the Minister needed to acknowledge, that, with government and its bureaucracy being the management of the business of running the country, he was the CEO of his Department of Environment, and MCM a major division thereof. “I would not like to be in your shoes, Mr. Minister, when I stand before my chairman (the President), my financial controllers (Ministers Manuel, and Mboweni), and my board (the Cabinet) to report that my one division (MCM) is bankrupt, and, furthermore, it is so well run that my auditors declined to audit it for any lack of auditable record keeping by either the department, or the MLRF fund under its custodianship. What is first needed, Mr Minister, is an adequately competent administrative management for this division, before it even gets off the ground. Forget about anything else, affirmative action and chasing lost records included, because no division without any management, and therefore no financial expertise or budgetary planning, can ever be expected to fulfil its function. Even our most successfully run departments in government, viz SARS and the Reserve Bank, have seen fit to acknowledge their limitations. They have granted amnesty to their clients, because they acknowledge that they do not have the resources to police and investigate the past, but must rather concentrate those resources on the future. Even our chairman (the President), and our CFO (Mboweni), acknowledge, even if indirectly, that the necessary skills are just as much, and maybe even more so, a priority, as is affirmative action. Affirmative action at the cost of skills, is an invitation to failure and disaster.”

The Minister displayed his undoubted erudition, by accepting the criticism gracefully, and then the floodgates of comment opened basically supporting Mr Walsh’s views. Of course, in Industry traditional style, many speakers sought to protect their particular agendas rather than being completely open, but, given the Departments history of co-operation, perhaps this should be understandable.

In his opening address the Minister had made mention of the fact that the industry was the most black empowered of all in South Africa. This had been achieved by the enormous broadening of rights holders, and this statement was almost certainly quite correct. What he understandably failed to note, was the perhaps inevitable short term results of this, namely reducing the productivity so the country is right now facing huge shortages of fresh and frozen fish, considerable illegal exploitation (not only abalone) that seriously endangers sustainability of so many resources, and the inappropriate, but again understandable, expectations of so many grassroots unsuccessful applicants.

An unfortunate voice and opinion then raised itself in the person of Dr Pillay, the ANC socio-economic representative for the Western Cape, who indicated just how little he had either listened, or understood. Otherwise, alternatively, he considered the importance of pragmatism, in the face of political expediency, of absolutely no account, by correctly, as it happens, pointing out that, when he looked at the Department, positive and visible affirmative action stared him in the face. However when he looked at Industry, he saw more then ninety percent of white faces.

Perhaps wisely nobody, not even Mr Walsh, had the courage to point out that that affirmative action was, almost certainly, a major reason for MCM’s ineffectiveness. Also that the very point made by Mr Walsh, was the reason for all the white faces. Transformation has undoubtedly occurred, but the white faces (skills), still need to be there to give the new participants the mentorship they need. Ignore this obvious fact, and all you will reap is failure, Dr Pillay. Nevertheless his point is taken and more direct participation of the transformants is a must.

Then Dr Mayekiso gave his report, omitting one of the most important sectors eco-socially, line fish. This only demonstrated the department’s obvious shortcomings. His report was “old hat” to most of the meetings participants who are well aware of the condition of their resources. Perhaps, however, it brought home in encapsulated form, just how important effective understanding, projections, management, and compliance measures are to ensure the industry’s resources sustainability.

Then it was Pam Yako’s turn to try and justify the “unavoidable problems” facing the MLRF. She deserves much sympathy. She really is not part of the cause, having only being elevated to the position of personal responsibility as recently as mid 2005. Perhaps it was also not her fault, as she was given the facts from someone in MCM to communicate to the meeting. However all she achieved, was to give the impression that the Department felt their priority was the usage of the patrol fleet. Their ill advised, and ill planned conception by the previous DDG was, as forecast by so many, always going to lead to a major disaster, particularly in the face of no further projections or planning since, only the perceived need to finance their totally disproportionate costs, at all costs. It also underlined her lack of, and also the whole department’s lack of, expertise. So bad is the situation that Richard Ball’s suggestion that some be sold off, after evaluation, might hold great merit. Mr. Walsh later pointed out however “ The Industry has faced, over the last passed five years, exactly the same challenges that MCM suggests could not be foreseen, and are therefore the raison d’etre” for their failure. Yet all their participants have survived the factors you deem unavoidable, and without big brother Government been at their shoulder to supply remedial handouts.” Perhaps that statement does not consider entirely the differing circumstances, but nevertheless has great validity.

The Minister had now had enough; he threw his towel into the ring together with the sweetener, in more detail, of the proffered joint management scenario. It is a “must take”, though hugely complicated offer to Industry, if it can be effectively constructed. In the Ministers eyes it is overly simplistic in its format of a few liaison representatives from the whole broadened industry. But a way of implementing it must be thrashed out, and effected in a manner that ensures that he and MCM do not do about turns again, as has always happened in the past. Viz; the poor implementation format, and then the inevitable demise of the Consultative Advisory Forum; the ignoring of, and lack of, liaison with its own recognized sector bodies; the formation and then desertion of compliance co-operative committees, scientific sector workshops, industry sector liaison workgroups, etc, to name but a few. All are needed, and probably can never be replaced by two or three mandated individuals. They surely could only be participative representatives in overall co-management, and would need to be paid to do the job. They cannot be the ‘be all and end all’ of adequate liaison for so many sectors of this very large industry. Nevertheless a committee was co-opted with a mandate of sorts to formalise a proposed formal liaison body from Industry, to co-manage with MCM by April 2007. All participants in our Industry should support this initiative and pray for its success. Maybe all of us would then have turned the first of many corners to come.

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