Monday, November 16, 2009

Abalone Divers get R20 000

On 17 October 2009, President Zuma addressed the commercial abalone divers in Hawston, Western Cape, about the future of their commercial fishing rights. After hearing their stories and the failures of Marine and Coastal Management to address abalone poaching and the implementation of the long-promised "social plan", Zuma underook to revert to the right holders with an update about their futures as commercial abalone divers " within a month". The time has now come for that promised update.

What has happened in the interim since Zuma's visit is that abalone divers have received payments of R20 000 each in lieu of the suspension of their fishing rights since February 2008. There remains much unclarity regarding these payments and the manner in which they are being made. There are too may right holders who simply don't have answers to important questions. Firstly, the payment of all funds is being facilitated through a trust that purports to represent all commercial abalone divers. Interviews conducted with a number of Zone E and G right holders appear to contradict this as they did not consent to the establishment of the trust. Secondly, Marine and Coastal Management has delegated all "co-ordination" and direct supervision over the payments and the trust to a Charles Swarts, who is a commercial abalone diver from the Overberg region. It is unclear why only one person has been given such authority by MCM (as opposed to by the divers themselves) especially considering that there are 12 active zonal representatives for each of the 6 abalone fishing zones, A, B, C, D, E and G. Thirdly, divers were initially promised a payment of R90 for every kilogram they were allocated in the 2007/2008 season, which amounted to approximately R52 000 per right holder. It is unclear why this payment has been reduced to R20 000 per right holder and who took this decision. A further related concern is the sudden appearance of the consulting firm Anix Consulting who has been appointed to manage the payment of the funds to the right holders. It is unclear how they were appointed as there is no known tender seeking the appointment of such a service provider. Anix Consulting's status on the Companies & Intellectual Property Registration Office website also states that Anix Consulting is in the process of "deregistration" effective 14 November 2009. Subsequent to Feike's queries on 16 November 2009, this status has now been changed on Cipro to "in Business" effective 17 November 2009.

Feike put the following questions to MCM's Desmond Stevens in a bid to obtain clarity on the various issues raised above:

1. The trust that was established to channel the payments:
  • Who are the trustees of the trust?
  • How were they appointed and by whom?
  • In terms which provisions of which laws are funds being channelled to/via this trust?
  • Could you please provide me with a copy of the signed trust deed?

2. The R20 000 payments to abalone divers: It was initially understood that divers would be paid R90/kg or R52 000 (on average). Why are they being paid R20 000 only. Is this the sum total of the “social plan” payment? Please provide details regarding any further payments that may be intended.

3. Why does MCM require right holders only work through a certain Charles Swarts? Who appointed him and from whom does he have a mandate to represent. Could you provide a written copy of the mandate Swarts has?

4. Should MCM in fact not be the focal point of all communication, liaising and responsibility for the management and disbursement of public funds? Please also advise in terms which laws is Swarts and the trust authorised to disburse public funds?

5. The role of Anix Consulting. Could you please detail their role in this matter? Please also advise -
  • in terms of which tender/procurement procedure they were appointed?
  • what is the value of their contract and who is responsible for paying them?
  • who are their members/shareholders and/or directors
  • is MCM aware that their current CIPRO status indicates that Anix Consulting is in the process of deregistration?
Desmond Stevens elected to avoid answering any of the questions. He instead advised Feike to contact Charles Swarts. The response is significant as it demonstrates a flagrant disregard for accountability and good and responsive governance concerning the management of public funds and a public resource. Feike has advised Stevens that the information will be formally requested via the Promotion of Access to Information Act and we will also seek the assistance of a Member of Parliament who could force the Minister(s) responsible for fisheries to provide honest and complete answers to Parliament.

Zuma is still expected during the course of this week to update the commercial abalone industry as to whether they will be allowed to commence commercial fishing either in December or January 2010. Feike believes that a viable TAC of 212 tons could be granted to the industry. Any allocation must be coupled to a comprehensive compliance strategy that focusses on reducing the R3 billion in abalone estimated lost annually to poaching.

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