Clip wings of fisheries minister: IPPR

Tujoromajo Kasuto

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) is calling for the removal of the discretionary powers of the minister and the implementation of transparency measures in the Marine Resources Act, among other recommendations.

This is contained in the research body’s new research paper, ‘After Fishrot: The Urgent Need for

Transparency and Accountability’, which wants the fisheries sector to be opened for complete scrutiny, including the publication of all rights, licences, and quota details, as well as beneficial ownership information.

According to IPPR Executive Director Graham Hopwood, the Marine Resources Act needs to be amended immediately to remove the Minister’s discretionary power and to introduce transparent measures.

The IPPR recommends that the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources (MFMR) publishes the list of all rights holders, quota recipients, and licence holders, as well as details of Total Allowable Cathes and summaries of the scientific advice on which they are based.

Furthermore, the government should follow through on the commitments made in HPP II and NACSAP to align laws and practices with the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) transparency standards.

According to Hopwood this should entail moving towards open contracting and instituting beneficial

ownership registers, meaning the person on whose behalf the business is conducted.

‘’The government will immediately address the institutional weaknesses in the MFMR in tandem with the above reform processes to ensure a new level of professionalism and commitment to quality governance is achieved. The government to join the Fisheries Transparency Initiative (FiTI) and adhere to its standards and requirements. The government should start the implementation of the Access to Information Act immediately, with funds set aside in the 2023/24 budget to set up the necessary structures and staffing complements,’’ the paper recommends.

Furthermore, government is encouraged to implement the Whistleblower Protection Act and the Witness Protection Act, with funds set aside in the 2023/24 budget to set up the necessary structures and staffing.

Hopwood further urged the private sector to commit to supporting fundamental and holistic reforms, including transparency pledges, in the fishing industry rather than seeking to get what short-term gains they can from a dysfunctional system.

‘’Civil society and the media ensure they hold the fisheries industry to account and insist on access to information. Donors to assist in boosting capacity and expertise within the media and civil society to effectively monitor what can be a complex industry,’’ IPPR further proposes.

The National Anti-Corruption Strategic Action Plan commitments, the IPPR says should be implemented by the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine, while the Harambee pledge is overseen by the Anti-Corruption Commission.

These commitments to reform the fisheries sector come in the wake of the Fishrot scandal, which broke in 2019 but had been ongoing for at least seven years.

The scandal involved the illegal transfer of fishing quotas to an Icelandic fishing company, Samherji in exchange for millions of dollars in bribes.

Fishrot received international attention as a result of the Al Jazeera documentary ‘Anatomy of a Bribe’ and coordinated media coverage in Iceland and Namibia.

Much of the reporting was based on the release of over 30 000 leaked documents relating to Samherji on the Wikileaks website.

Three years on from these revelations, ten suspects are facing trial in Namibia, including the former Fisheries Minister and Minister of Justice.

Meanwhile, in Iceland a long-running investigation headed by a district prosecutor has yet to result in any formal charges being laid against Icelandic suspects.

Hopwood states that over the same three-year period no major holistic reform of the system for awarding fishing rights and quotas has taken place in Namibia.

‘’Fishrot to a great degree was enabled by the secrecy in which the Fisheries Ministry operates in Namibia. There are no publicly available lists or registers of the companies that receive rights and quotas or the vessels that are licensed to fish in Namibian waters. There is certainly no attempt to compile and publish anything that resembles a beneficial ownership register for the fishing industry,’’ he says.

He notes that the much-criticised Marine Resources Act which allows the Minister of Fisheries to act with inappropriate discretionary power remains untouched on the statute books and the systems for allocating rights and quotas are still mired in secrecy.

‘’To re-emphasise the quotation from Woodrow Wilson at the start of this paper: “Everybody knows that corruption thrives in secret places, and avoids public places, and we believe it a fair presumption that secrecy means impropriety.”

Local environmentalist Dr. Chris Brown also summed up the situation in a 2022 blog post: “If

government does not start a process of reforming the current governance systems to make them open, transparent and accountable, with all necessary urgency, then one is left with little option but to assume that these weak, opaque governance systems are being deliberately retained to facilitate mismanagement, state capture and corruption.” This paper sets out to look at what Namibia can learn from international experience and

global best practices if it is to undertake serious reforms before 2025.-BBC

By Observer