Fishing rights: A history of bending the rules

2015-04-05 15:00

Two weeks ago, Department of Fisheries Deputy Director-General Mortimer Mannya gave a presentation to Parliament on his department’s new fishing rights allocation process.

An ambitious project that was designed to award long-term rights to fishers in nine sectors was scheduled to kick off in February at a cost to taxpayers of R20?million. It is meant to make up for a process towards the end of 2013 that was dogged by allegations of corruption, maladministration and political interference.

Instead, it emerged that two subjects of a corruption investigation, Dennis Fredericks and Desmond Stevens – directors of inshore fisheries management and stakeholder management at the fisheries branch, respectively – are involved in the new project.

According to the presentation, Fredericks is involved in four stages of the new process, and chairs one of its committees.

Stevens is involved in five stages.

Rules bent during the old process, overseen by former minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries Tina Joemat-Pettersson resulted in the following irregularities:

.?Rights to fishers in the tuna pole fishery were awarded to a nonexistent company, along with another company that was in the final stages of deregistration;

.?Companies with male sole directors – according to a companies record search – were awarded rights where female management control formed part of the award criteria; and

.?At least 18 individuals without access to a boat or ship were handed rights to catch demersal shark and hake – both deep-water species.

Fisheries managers also claimed political interference during the old process, according to a report from Emang Basadi Legal and Forensic Services.

Should these allegations be proven, and if legal remedies are pursued, this could hold grave political and legal ramifications for the department and its new minister, Senzeni Zokwana.

The report was delivered to the fisheries branch of the department in February.

Stevens, the delegated authority, was found to have applied criteria not set out in the policy determined for each specific sector.

He also failed to score applicants on mandatory criteria, including female ownership and management, as well as employee share schemes.

“A minimum essential requirement such as access to a suitable traditional line fish vessel was ignored,” said Emang Basadi investigators.

Stevens this week referred all queries to the department, which did not respond to questions.

The old process was set aside following an earlier forensic audit by law firm Harris Nupen Molebatsi Attorneys, which followed an outcry from fishermen and several court challenges.

The firm could not justify many of the decisions Stevens made while allocating rights because there were no records, minutes and agendas of the meetings of the assessment panel appointed for the process.

City Press has seen minutes of a December 15 meeting in Cape Town, which states the department is seeking “senior counsel opinion on the feasibility of implementing some or all of the recommendations” of the Harris Nupen report.

No final resolution was taken on the report, but the minutes highlighted the firm’s disclaimer that its views did not “bind the minister or department or limit their response to litigation”.

Mannya referred questions to departmental spokesperson Makenosi Maroo, who did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

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