AS WE STAND AND WATCH, CRIMINAL STUPIDITY TORPEDOES THE FISHING INDUSTRY

2014-02-13 06:44

Our minister of Agriculture and Fisheries announced last week that by 2022, no previously advantaged” South Africans would have access to fishing quotas, and that they would only be available to the ”previously disadvantaged”.

Now, any way you look at that statement it spells racial bias and ethnic manipulation of outcomes with the terms “advantaged” and “previously disadvantaged” as proxies for white (or similarly “advantaged”) people versus people who are not white.

It therefore portrays a universally discredited command or centrally planned economic model that conceals real costs, since such bias recognizes neither the opportunity costs nor the negative financial impact inflicted on the economy by contrived inefficiencies.

Such notions should be unthinkable in a nation purporting to practice democratic government and a free economy. Neither are they compatible with a society where – had our constitution been taken seriously – individual freedom, merit and one’s contribution was sacrosanct and race or skin colour of no account.

So, quiver in anticipation the South African fishing industry!

Let us take a step back and try on some logic.

POINT # 1

The fishing industry is founded on a natural resource that requires monitoring and management because of it is vulnerability to over-fishing. That is government’s job, and an important one at that. It requires a multidisciplinary approach that includes the use of oceanography, marine biology, statistics, economics and a good measure of common sense.

POINT # 2

The industry is capital intensive. Trawlers and fishing boats cost a lot of money and are often imported and paid for in hard currency. Thus they are likely to become more expensive as our currency continues to tank – as seems inevitable.

Historically private enterprise corporations and overseas partners have come to the party to make such investments which have required the promise of financial return, sound resource management and sustainability.

That has been the logical role of corporate private enterprise.

POINT # 3

Because of its capital intensive and unskilled manpower nature, fishing margins are modest hence management of fishing enterprises should logically be in the best possible hands and subject to rigorous management and financial controls.

Only a sound return and the prospect of profits will attract investors.

So to place all quotas in the hands of disadvantaged people short on business experience, financial acumen and access to capital is akin to parceling out land to share-croppers rather than entrusting it to professional farmers (which - who knows - the minister probably also finds a seductive notion).

The point is that it is economically illogical and logistically impractical. At its most absurd, some quotas are earmarked for recipients lacking vessels, crew, processing facilities - or even sea access.

Of course this is hardly news, since the warm and fuzzy notion of rights holders being “communities” has already been tried in the pilchard fishing industry with disastrous results.

Enterprises commandeered by those with newly allocated fishing rights are typically mismanaged and stripped to the point where they get sold back to the industry.

The mechanics are simple. Because communities cannot run businesses, poorly qualified but politically connected trusts and legal entities “get appointed” to manage the enterprises, ostensibly to channel benefits back to the community. Instead, the "communities" receive scant benefit and those favoured get rich.

Furthermore, the time, money and investment capital to set the original businesses up ab initio is simply written off in what in practice amounts to government sanctioned stripping of private assets. Its outcomes serve only the interests of the political elite and well connected because business pays the price of confiscation and ordinary citizens pay the socio-economic costs of an ailing and inefficient industry, including inflationary prices, undercapitalization and unemployment.

Interestingly, some beneficiaries of such largesse (unearned quotas) simply don’t bother to net a catch. They just sell back their rights/ quotas to entities that know how to make them work - a great way to make a quick buck, and yet another example of how those connected with the governing mafia draw rent from the hard work and risk taking of others.

My conclusion is that to not only continue but intensify the strategy the minister embraces constitutes criminal stupidity and delinquent resource management.

It cannot be justified at any level and government should be held to account.

Conclusively, to continue dishing out fishing quotas only to those less qualified to manage the resource will trash an existing and viable industry that contributes to the nation’s food security, foreign exchange inflows and employs people who would otherwise be unlikely to find work.

Although Zuma is noted for neither his intellect, ethics nor personal probity, he plumbed new depths with his Fisheries cabinet appointment and leaves me with one burning question: where and how did he contrive to find incompetence as conclusive and vacuousness as palpable as that demonstrated by Tina Joemat-Pettersson?

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