Monday, March 16, 2015

Sunday Times Unpacks Report on 2013 FRAP

The Sunday Times yesterday published its analysis of the Harris Nupen Molebatsi Report into the 2013 Fishing Rights Allocation Process, which we have long said was an unmitigated failure and denial of due process to thousands of traditional small-scale fishermen and their crew.

Although Feike had published our analysis of the Findings and Recommendations Chapter of this report back in March 2014, the complete report was only made public last week after the Portfolio Committee on Fisheries demanded that DAFF make the full report available. Although DAFF relented by making the 120 page report available, none of the annexes were included. We understand that DAFF will not be allowed to table its budget vote this coming week unless all the annexes are provided to the Portfolio Committee.  

The 120-page Report does however detail a travesty of farcical errors, manipulation of outcomes and a litany of abuses of the rule of law. It confirms that the planning for the 2013 rights allocation process began extremely late. For example, one of the 2 service providers responsible for data collation and verification was only appointed in December 2013 and given 2 weeks to essentially do the work Deloitte Forensics took months to complete (accurately and efficiently) back in 2005. 

The result is confirmation that not a single annexure was studied or considered. In other words verification of data in the application form simply did not occur. 

The Report confirms that the process of scoring and evaluating applicants was profoundly illegal. Exclusionary and peremptory criteria such as demonstrating access to suitable vessels was never considered - explaining how it came to be that so many applicants were granted rights despite not having a vessel! Reliance on fishing was not considered, thus explaining how applicants (opportunists) from Johannesburg and other non-coastal towns suddenly became holders of fishing rights while fishermen with decades of experience were summarily removed from the industry!

The Report repeatedly requires Mr Desmond Stevens, who was responsible for the decisions to explain why criteria were ignored; how scores and weighings were determined; why certain decisions were taken, but he has steadfastly refused to provide any explanations or where he provided any, these were considered to be irrational or unsupported by the facts. 

Perhaps the most glaring deception is that when the FRAP 2013 results were criticised, the critics - including Feike and many line fishers - were predictably called racists and anti-"transformation" - whatever that word means anymore - by the likes of Stevens and his cronies who benefitted handsomely from the FRAP 2013 Farce. However, the report makes clear in a single table how the decisions actually substantially undermined "transformation" or black empowerment as the weighting scores allocated for "transformation" (and what was scored under the category of "transformation") were irrational, arbitrary and unrelated to the objectives of increasing black and female participation in any one of the 8 fishery sectors.   

The complete irrationality and illegality of the FRAP 2013 is of course confirmed by the fact that to this very day neither the Minister of Fisheries nor Mr Stevens is able to place a single word on oath in defence of the catastrophic decisions of 30 December 2013 that denied thousands of fishermen and their crew their rights to fish. They have still not filed a single affidavit against the SA Commercial Line Fishers Association's court case which was launched last year.  

Perhaps an even greater tragedy is that despite the department having commissioned this report and having had access to its findings for some 12 months now, its recent pronouncements on the proposed timetables for the allocation of fishing rights that were supposed to occur this coming year and the roll-out plan for the implementation of the small scale fisheries policy, only confirm that DAFF seems committed to repeating the failures of 2013. For one, it refuses to accept that one cannot prepare for fishing rights allocation processes in 12 months. The Molebatsi Report states clearly and without contradiction, an effective, legal and efficient process requires 3 years of advance planning

And secondly, many of the staff that were integrally involved in the FRAP 2013 Farce remain employed by DAFF, never having been disciplined or fired for what is the most illegal and damaging fishing rights allocation process ever undertaken in our history. 

By way of comparison, the timetable for the 2005 rights allocation process began in 2003 - more than 2 years before rights expired and after the Fisheries Department commissioned a comprehensive analysis of the 2001 rights process, which identified key policy and fishery sector objective gaps and public criticisms! The informal consultation and dialogue with industry lasted some 15 months alone which resulted in each industry body effectively writing their own sector policy, defining what suitable vessels should be; what ecosystem management considerations ought to apply; what were considered key targets and objectives by industry; what policy constraints required removal in order to encourage investments; what financial lenders had highlighted as key constraints to lending in that particular sector; what were the key faults and failures of the 2001 rights process etc.

The foundational problem at present is that DAFF continues to believe that it is the principal repository of policy solutions and ideas and it was ordained to draft fishing policies and then simply gazette these for comment! This type of top-down approach is anathema to effective and successful fisheries management which is dynamic and fluid. Any draft policy put out by DAFF on its terms will almost certainly be daft; out of date; irrelevant and out of kilter with the unique needs and constraints faced by each individual fishery sector. Policy development in our challenging fisheries economies has to commence via a process of dialogue, which itself has to be frank and honest and where participants must know that their views will not result in vindictive consequences as has happened in the past. 

In 2003, the department commenced this process with a series of broad policy-based questionnaires crafted specifically for each fishery sector. Thereafter, round table sessions were convened with industry bodies and representatives to iron out key policy differences and ideas on process. Only after substantial informal consultations, dozens of round table sessions where ideas and policies were openly and honestly (and very frankly) debated and dissected, were the formal draft policies gazetted for formal comment and consultation. Participants knew that despite their most honest and frank criticisms of any departmental proposal, they would never be at risk of "losing their fishing rights" or being targeted with vindictive section 28 proceedings or have their vessels arrested or summarily confiscated. 

Without there being an environment that actively encourages open and honest dialogue about fishing policy, it is impossible to commence a process of planning for any fishing rights allocation process. As we have repeatedly stated before, there is little point pretending to prepare for any fishing rights allocation process when the failures of the past are not internalised and actual measures implemented to prevent their recurrence.

In addition, let us not forget that DAFF is presently facing a 309% budget cut, which would effectively nullify their compliance, research and management budgets. Rights allocation processes are expensive affairs that require proper funding and it is simply inconceivable how the costs of fixing FRAP 2013, redoing the forgotten abalone rights allocation process of 2014, implementing the small-scale fisheries policy and allocating more than 2000 fishing rights for the 2015 rights process can be achieved in 11 months when absolutely nothing has been accomplished or fixed since the Harris Nupen Molebatsi Report was published in March 2014. 

And despite the cash-crunch, DAFF has failed to - 
  • gazette the peremptory grant of fishing right fees as required by section 25(2) of the MLRA, which ought to have raised sufficient funds to recover the costs incurred for FRAP 2013; 
  • charge the 2000 interim relief lobster fishers any money for permits, levies on fish landed or any other fees over the past 9 years. DAFF loses more than R3,3 million annually as a result; and
  • review and publish an amended fees and levies gazette since September 2010. This failure would have cost DAFF no less than R40 million over the past 5 years. 

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