The Fisheries Minister called a press conference today (Human Rights Day) to announce that she is instituting a committee of inquiry into the procurement procedures and processes at the Fisheries Branch.
The Minister admits that the Fisheries Branch is responsible for threatening the continued management of our fisheries resources and failing to properly allocate a critical tender worth some R800 million. She states, without apology or remorse, that the fisheries branch under her watch is guilty of employing "flawed processes" and it was her department's "processes and procedures that failed"!
She is more concerned with Sekunjalo's reputation that has apparently been "tainted" rather than show any concern that her department cannot be trusted with the nation's fisheries resources.
Instead of taking the South African public and fishing industry into her confidence and explaining how she will ensure that come 1 April 2012, our fish stocks will be protected and fisheries research will not be compromised, we are told about the establishment of a committee of inquiry that will look into past tender allocations (read the 2005 tender allocation to Smit Amandla). As the Business Day pointed out on Tuesday (Editorial, 20 March 2012), this is a red herring; it is a waste of time and resources because, put quite bluntly, had there been any questions about the 2005 Smit Tender or any other tender in the previous decade, the Auditor General would have red-flagged it.
We have worked through the audit reports of past years and the only concern raised prior to 2010, was the disposal of the Eagle Star which was essentially given away. However, if the Minister is so committed to exposing corruption and fraud and the wrongful appointment of service providers by her department, she can simply start with the appointment of Anix Consulting that was unlawfully appointed by her current staff to illegally disperse public funds to certain right holders in the abalone fishery. In fact, this blatantly unlawful tender would be a good place to start, Minister.
And of course, her press statement fails to explain what she intends doing about the tainted Sekunjalo tender. Why has the DG who signed off on the tender not been fired? Why have those members of the bid committee identified by the forensic report not been suspended and are not subject to investigations and disciplinary processes? Are these officials being subjected to life style audits? Why have criminal charges not been laid against them? How can a Minister admit to flawed processes and procedures and then sweep it all under the carpet by confirming confidence in her senior management team at the Fisheries Branch? Huh, so no one is in fact responsible for these flawed processes and procedures that has plunged fisheries management into a complete crisis?
The more the Minister speaks, the more the questions. It is our view that the committee of inquiry is nothing more than a desperate attempt to distract the media and the public's attention from the deepening crisis surrounding the R800 million Sekunjalo tender. This much is clear from the Minister's ill-conceived statement that she "will cease to respond or entertain any further allegations or queries as those would now be in the jurisdiction of the Committee".
The Committee has not been formed as yet and it is not a court of law.