Hawks set sights on fisheries boss Desmond Stevens

2014-06-08 15:00

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The controversial former acting head of fisheries, Desmond Stevens, is the target of a Hawks investigation into allegations that he demanded millions of rands from fishermen in return for fishing rights allocations.

Paul Ramaloko, spokesperson for the crime-fighting unit, told City Press that the investigation had been ongoing for more than a year.

The case was brought to the attention of the Hawks by a whistle-blower, Ramaloko said.

But despite this – along with a damning report from law firm Harris Nupen Molebatsi – Stevens remains in his job as director of stakeholder engagement at the Cape Town-based division of the department of agriculture, forestry and fisheries.

Fisheries spokesperson Lionel Adendorf said the department was unaware of any investigations against any senior official within the fisheries division.

“Mr Stevens is still in the employ of the department,” he said. “If and when disciplinary steps are taken against any official, we consider it private and confidential.”

Tina Joemat-Pettersson, the former minister of the department, commissioned the Harris Nupen Molebatsi audit after an outcry from numerous fishermen.

Last month, she set aside the fisheries allocation process after the audit found “shortcomings” in the way it was handled.

“This audit report shows that, despite many allegations, no evidence could be found that the process had been deliberately manipulated or had been corrupt,” Joemat-Pettersson said at the time.

But a reading of the findings and recommendations of the audit report, a copy of which is in City Press’ possession, showed that Joemat-Pettersson sanitised the report’s findings. These were particularly damning of the role played by Stevens in the process.

It was difficult to establish reasons for many of the decisions Stevens – as the delegated authority – made, the report reads, because there were no records, minutes and agendas of the assessment panel meetings.

The report also questioned how Stevens made decisions related to new entrants and existing rights holders, and urged the minister to get him to “provide detailed reasons for his decision in respect of each fishery as a matter of some urgency”.

Joemat-Pettersson ignored repeated requests for comment this week.

Stevens said he welcomed any “legitimate” investigation into his involvement in any of his responsibilities in the department.

“These untested allegations are an attempt to make me a scapegoat for decisions that I made in consultation and by direction of all management above and below me,” Stevens said in an email to City Press.

“I deny with the contempt it deserves any suggestions that I took any bribes from anyone in my career. I will at the appropriate time and platform prove my innocence. The team and I who led the [fishing rights allocation process in 2013] was exonerated from any corruption and/or manipulation of process by this report.”

Annette Steyn, the DA’s spokesperson in fisheries, said the Harris Nupen Molebatsi report, which she has seen, was “hush-hush”.

“We will start taking it on from next week,” she said. “We just knew nothing will be taken seriously if Parliament is not in operation yet. The ANC is still struggling to put committees together.”

But the Hawks probe of Stevens was news to her.

“I am shocked but not amazed by these allegations,” she said. “If the allegations are found to be true, this would be a sad day for vulnerable people in our country.

“Fishing communities make a living by putting their lives at risk every day. The fight for fishing rights was even fought in court. If poor people have to start taking their government to court to be allocated a right to earn a decent living because officials are corrupt, it is indeed a sad day.”

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