On 21 September 2012, members of the Portfolio Committee on Fisheries descended on Simonstown harbour to inspect South Africa's fleet of once state-of-the art but now abandoned fisheries patrol and research vessels.
We provide the press statement issued this morning by the DA's Pieter van Dalen, a member of that Committee. What is apparent is that South Africa has collapsed from being a one-time leader in fisheries management into being nothing more than a pariah fisheries state, unable to undertake routine fisheries research and unable to protect our Exclusive Economic Zone as we are obliged to do under the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas. As the recent minor oil spill from the stranded Seli I indicated, we are also unable to ensure basic coastal and ocean pollution management and control.
South Africa's fisheries management has been singularly decimated by the Tina Joemat-Pettersson, the minister of fisheries and without doubt the worst minister responsible for fisheries... EVER. During the past week, Feike understands that the Minister has gone on a month's stress leave and suspended and/or fired two more staff. It is understood the Fisheries Department's spokesperson, Selby Bokaba, has been suspended and the Minister's private secretary has been fired or suspended. At present, the department is without a Director-General, a Deputy Director-General, a plethora of top managers and a spokesperson. The Minister had recently also suspended her "special" adviser, Rams Mabote - not that his suspension weakened fisheries management in any way, though.
The Department remains without any political or senior civil service leadership and there is less than 12 months to go before long term fishing quotas need to be allocated across 8 commercial fisheries.
The press statement issued by the DA follows:
A visit to Simon’s Town Naval Base on Friday revealed that the state’s marine patrol and research vessels are going nowhere slowly.
The patrol vessels have not once left the harbour since they were bestowed into the Navy’s care at the end of March. The DA warned that this would happen as far back as November last year.
The Navy argues that the vessels were not in sufficiently good condition to go to sea. Having seen the condition of the vessels for myself now, I can understand their concern. But the Fisheries department was equally defensive and argued that they operate under different standards. The Africana, for instance, spent 270 days at sea last year, leaving little time for maintenance. As far as they are concerned, qualified auditors had declared the vessels as seaworthy. However, it is clear either way that the Fisheries Department should have taken a keener interest in how the previous contract holders, Smit Amandla, were looking after these critical assets. It is also clear that the Navy see it as their mandate to patrol the shoreline and there was evidently a turf battle going on long before today’s meeting. In November 2011, Smit Amandla lost the contract they had held for the previous decade to operate and maintain these state-owned marine patrol and research vessels.
But the R800m contract was then handed to politically connected Sekunjalo under dubious circumstances (currently the subject of a Public Protector Investigation). The DA ensured that the contract to Sekunjalo was withdrawn. But we also called for a plan to be established to ensure that the vessels still carried out their critical functions. The contract to Smit Amandla was then extended to the end of March 2012, but no clear handover plan was in place to ensure that the Navy received the vessels as a going concern. It was revealed at today’s meeting at Simon’s Town that DAFF and Navy officials were only made aware of the decision on March 22, 8 days before the end of the month. A MoU (and an associated Service Level Agreement (SLA)) was then drawn up, the details of which are not particularly clear (other than to state that the operation of the vessels would now be subject to the Defence Act (and their operations thereby classified).
The MoU governs the arrangement for one year. This raises a number of critical questions which I will be putting to the ministers of both departments. First, the question of funding is crucial. As it stands, the Navy foots the bill for maintenance work, sends the invoice to DAFF and then waits to get paid. The Navy has essentially inherited an unfunded mandate. Moreover, the incentive to really invest in these vessels is unlikely to be high unless there is relative certainty that the vessels will be in Navy care for the foreseeable future. This raises the second question. What plan is in place to ensure the proper and effective functioning of these vessels beyond March 2013? Finally, research (for which at least three of the seven vessels are designed) is a civilian function. It is hard to follow the logic that would retain it under Navy jurisdiction. Patrols, however, can at least logically be assigned to the Navy, though the civilian officers that used to undertake those functions would now have to be retrained as Naval officers. The Fisheries Department should have had a clear plan in place.
When the Sekunjalo tender was withdrawn, a new tender process should have been followed immediately. The problem could have been resolved by the end of 2011. Instead, thanks to Minister Joemat-Pettersson’s ineptitude, the Navy and DAFF bureaucrats have been handed a problem that shouldn’t have been theirs in the first place. With the Minister firing or suspending everyone in near vicinity to her, job uncertainty and staff morale must be at an all-time low.
Unfortunately, I estimate that these ships are unlikely to leave Simon’s Town before the end of the year. Very few people can be blamed for this unacceptable state of affairs other than the Minister of Fisheries. She should, as on so many other occasions, have been the first to go.