You are, unfortunately, more likely to squeeze water out of a stone than obtain any information out of Branch Fisheries, an independent Department in the Ministry of Forestry, Fisheries, and the Environment, under Minister Barbara Creecy. Nobody answers the phone, nor responds to an email, and Telkom will tell you that “the customer requests their number is withheld.
One excuse offered by someone close to them, was that they were all too busy carrying out the Minister’s order that all work on the already two year delayed FRAP (Fishing Rights Allocation Process) decisions had to be completed by year end! Though this for political expediency may still happen, in terms of the relevant existing Legislation it should be a complete impossibility. But then, does our mainly dysfunctional Government and its Departments ever worry about the inconvenience of Legislation, let alone the Constitution?
One a simple example that springs to mind is the Marine Living Resources Act itself that was promulgated in 1998. This clearly lays down the requirement of establishing a Consultative Advisory Forum for the benefit of the Minister, and indicates what matters he or she shall refer to them. The Minister is then obliged to consider their advice on all or any matter brought up in the intentions of the Act, or referred to them by any ministerially recognised Fisheries Body.
However, many years ago, this body, due to the resignation of certain of its members, could no longer carry out its responsibilities, so the then minister dissolved it, and it ceased to exist. Unfortunately, nowhere does the Legislation entitle the Minister to do this, which would require Parliament to first amend the Act accordingly. As a result, since then I suspect that many of the decisions taken by the relevant Minister, or the Departments staff, could be unenforceable in law. Certainly, it could be questioned as to whether this body was a practical necessity, but then the Legislation should have been amended accordingly by Parliament, after normal debate!
Out of interest, in the nineties I served on the Forum, chaired by Mandla Nyxana, which was instrumental in preparing the White Paper for new legislation, which subsequently gave rise to the MLRAct. We all knew that the one matter that needed to be corrected was the highly restrictive allocation method ensuring the unfair exclusion of the award of rights to so many. From my point of view, publicly expressed at that time and supported by the majority of the forum’s members, I proposed, particularly in respect of inshore and nearshore resources which could be a great creator of jobs, that by negotiation, and possibly where relevant the payment of reasonable compensation, many Rights Holders should give up such, or a proportion thereof. Then, these rights or quotas could go towards empowering individuals or entities out of coastal communities, who had generations of participation in harvesting them. I also noted that many of these resources were already over fished, and needed increased legislation to ensure only sustainable levels of exploitation in the future. At the eleventh hour my proposal was rejected!
I will comment no further here on the Department’s efforts towards what started out as Small Scale Artisanal type fishing recommendations some six years ago. This has ended up as a politically motivated farce, which, like so much that has gone on over the last decade, simply aims at depriving rights of all other racegroups in favour of the black population in the name of Radical Economic Transformation, more commonly known as RET ( Shouldn’t RET stand for Radical Economic Tragedy by now).
In all of this, one has to feel certain sympathy for the Minister, whose obvious strengths lie in economics (also undoubtedly needed in Branch Fisheries) and not Natural Living Marine Resources, a highly specialised environment whichever way you look at it!. In such an unfamiliar area, she must then rely on guidance by her departmental staff. However, with only several notable exceptions able to claim the qualifications, expertise and experience needed to provide her with advice in such circumstances, it is hardly surprising that FRAP, and the Department as a whole, is in such an unbelievable mess. One would then ask why this has been allowed to happen.
Well there are several obvious answers, all of which most reasonably educated South Africans from all race groups already know as they have been analysed so many times that we are weary of been told them. However, in terms of so many Departments lack of ability to carry out their responsibilities, the greatest failing has arisen through the principle of proportionate race representation. This has resulted firstly in the premature loss of so many competent and experienced individuals, and then the appointment of incompetent individuals neither able, nor qualified, let alone experienced enough to do the job required of them.
Once again an example, being one of many of course, is the following. Back at the start of the year, the Department blamed the delay on whoever was responsible for preparing the so-called Socio Economic Impact Assessment Studies for each Rights Sector. Finally these were recently published with almost all comment being identical including the emphasis for the need of expanding RET in the Industry, long possibly the most comprehensively transformed other than the Taxi Industry. However, since one assumes they were drawn up by a committee consisting of scientists and economists with considerable experience of the fishing industry and the resources it depends on, it has only one filing location, namely “file 13.” Exactly how it is meant to help the committee(s) tasked with selecting all the worthy Rights Grantees, is totally, once again, beyond my understanding!
At this point perhaps we should refer back to the 2005 onwards allocations where so many rights disputes are still awaiting the judgements of the courts. And whilst we are about it, can anybody explain why so many of those grantees were either friends, relations, or even current advisors to the Department. Furthermore, what happened to the principle that all Rights could only be exploited by the Holder thereof, firstly to create more jobs, and secondly to avoid at all costs “Paper Quota Holders.” Yet there are today hundreds, all wittingly granted back then and over the years to persons with no experience or background in the fishing industry. Whilst somebody tries to do this, could we also have an explanation why many existing quota holders then, including mostly non-whites had their quotas reduced in many cases to non-economic levels, when they had made the investment in both vessels, equipment, land distribution facilities, and production units, all of which created jobs.
Ah! Somebody has just told me that the answer to all the above questions is simply nepotism and corruption.” Is that now in SA an acceptable excuse, as it is now so common place? It may well be part of the reason, as it certainly is, in part, for SA’s never ending downwards path of its economy, but certainly not the only one by far!
We await with bated breath, Ms Minister to see whether you and the Department get it more right this time around. I have been told that a myriad of problems remain with the application process, such as a lack of Consultation, and a lack of consistency in the document application procedures. These include the fact that the newly published Sector Policies and the proposed Application Forms have little in common, once again indicating different parameters. Also, it does not appear that the general Sector conditions as per the Section B form, nor the actual specific Sector C conditions, have yet been finalized for the new Permits (Form A).
I, for one, am not holding my breath!!!