Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Has the Minister of DAFF deceived?

In a recent response to a Parliamentary question posed to her by the Official Opposition in the National Assembly, the Minister of Fisheries confirmed that her fisheries department only collected fish levies after issuing invoices to each and every right holder by post.

The full set of questions and answers are provided below:
Question 159 for written reply: National Assembly, Mr M J Ellis (DA) to ask the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries:
(1) What amount in levies was collected from fishing rights holders during the 2009-10 financial year;
(2) whether all invoices for these levies have been sent to rights holders for the 2010-11 financial year; if not, why not; if so, what are the relevant details;
(3) whether there have been cases during the 2010-11 financial year where fish levies have been collected without invoices having been issued; if not, how was this conclusion reached; if so, how can this be justified;
(4) whether, in the cases where such levies have been collected without invoices having been issued, her department will refund the levies with interest until such time as invoices are issued; if not, why not; if so, what are the relevant details;
(5) on which legal provision does her department rely when it collects fish levies in cases where no invoices have been issued? NW172E

(1) R 53 million.
(2) Yes, invoices are posted.
(3) No. all invoices are raised and collected through declarations made by the rights holder.
(4) Collections cannot be done in absence of an invoice.
(5) No such cases have been identified. Collections cannot be done in absence of invoices.
(6) No such cases have been identified. Collections cannot be done in absence of an invoice.
So, the Minister states in Parliament that not a single rand was collected from any right holder for levies without an invoice and that no levy is due and payable without an invoice. Now that is news to us and surely to the 3000 commercial right holders! Feike has contacted a random selection of right holders and none has ever received an invoice from the department. In fact we have had numerous clients whose permits were being withheld unlawfully because payment was being demanded by the department despite not having issued invoices to right holders! Minister, we have correspondence in this regard.

We can only draw two conclusions from such a response. The first is that the Minister has knowingly lied to Parliament. The second is that the Minister (despite having special advisers on her payroll) just simply does not know what is going on at the department of fisheries. On both counts, this Minister is a liability to the fishing industry and proper governance.

Minister! Your staff have not issued a single tax invoice for a fish levy in recent memory! Have you asked them to provide you with copies with the 3000 odd invoices they ought to have generated and issued at the end of the last fishing season (December 2010)? Could you please provide us with copies? And we are not fools either. The levy declarations which are completed and submitted by right holders ARE NOT invoices! Feike has confirmed with your finance staff that in fact invoices are not generated and issued to right holders. Right holders are required to pay levies based solely on their own computations in their "levy declaration forms". Your finance staff confirmed that an invoice will only be generated if a right holder asks for one AFTER they have paid!

Minister, we wait with bated breath for copies of the invoices your department posted to right holders at the end of the last fishing season. (We hope your staff kept copies and that the Post Office did not lose them all while trying to post them).

A further concern is the fact that the Minister states that during the 2009/2010 financial year, her department only collected R53 million in fish levies. During this period, the commercial fisheries would have landed approximately 580,000 tons of fish. If one considers that in 2007, the commercial fisheries landed approximately 550,000 tons of fish and the department collected R82,5 million in levies (at a lower levy rate), then one must ask the Minister to explain how on earth her department collected R30 million less in levies in 2009/2010 than in 2007 and with a larger TAC?

If the Minister is correct and invoices were indeed issued to every right holder, then a quick reconciliation of invoices will show who paid and who underpaid or failed to pay their levies. Minister, please explain the substantially lower rand amount collected by way of fish levies in 2009/2010?

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