Here's why I am obsessed with DAFF

Beverley Schäfer asks where all the money from confiscated and then resold abalone is really going to

Ministry Spokesperson, Khaye Nkwanyana, has accused me in the media of obsessing over the National Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF), claiming that the Western Cape Provincial Parliament has no capacity to question the severe corruption, maladministration, and incompetence that our province is forced to endure, under this blundering Department. Mr Nkwanyana is incorrect in thinking that the actions of DAFF have no impact on the economy of the Western Cape, but he is quite correct in stating that I am ‘obsessed’ with the Department, so let me tell you why.

According to a report released last month by the Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network (TRAFFIC), 96 million individual abalone have been poached from the Western Cape’s oceans since 2006, 90% of which are destined for Hong Kong. The report further states that 43% of the illegal harvest is exported through various sub-Saharan nations, involving a cartel of organised crimes syndicates in bed with the Chinese. Now let me ask you, when was the last time anyone in South Africa could order abalone in any one of our restaurants, while approximately 2174 tonnes of the marine snail are illegally shipped to the East every year at a cost of R628 million?

Many implicated in these crimes, particularly the divers who are poaching, are former small-scale fishermen who are continually denied access to our waters because DAFF cannot effectively allocate them a fishing quota. The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries’ failure to empower the Western Cape’s fishermen and women, coupled with its inability to sustainably manage our endangered marine resources, has single-handedly led to the abalone poaching crisis in our province. 

Of those ‘obsessed’ are organisations such as the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), who thankfully won a case against the department just last week, with DAFF failing to adhere to scientific recommendations relating to the Total Allowable Catch of West Coast Rock Lobster. The internal charge sheet against DAFF’s Deputy Director-General, Ms Siphokazi Ndudane, which the Department publicly claims is false, was submitted as part of the WWF’s case in an affidavit and made reference to by the Western Cape High Court. Mr Nkwanyana strangely though, continues to make public claims that the charge sheet is false, when it forms part of the evidence in this ground-breaking case, and which was not refuted by DAFF during the proceedings. So how can it be a hoax?

The withdrawal of my statement around Ms Ndudane’s guilt was a factual retraction as she has not been found guilty in a court of law or disciplinary hearing for the allegations levelled against her in the internal charge sheet. This correction is made to accurately reflect the facts and to protect the legal proceedings of the Department, and rightfully protect the integrity of Ms Ndudane before the disciplinary process against her concludes. Thus, it was premature to state that she has been found guilty, when the disciplinary process is ongoing. As I respect the course of law, Ms Ndudane is no doubt innocent until proven guilty, and that is what my retraction stated.

I however have not retracted asking SAPS to investigate the alleged charges levelled against her at the Cape Town Police Station, and I have also received confirmation from the Public Protector as of 28 September 2018 that her office will now be investigating the Department. These two processes must run their course.

But let me put into context my ‘obsessiveness’ of alleged corruption in DAFF on the Western Cape economy.

When poached abalone is confiscated by SAPS, it is placed in DAFF storage rooms, and then auctioned and sold on the international market, more often than not, as legally caught abalone. The proceeds from these sales go directly into the Marine Living Resource Fund (MLRF) which is supposed to be used to finance further conservation efforts. However, DAFF has stated in parliament last year that, "the reality is we don't have the money and we don't have the people. There are only three people in the Directorate for Small-Scale Fisheries Implementation. That means three people for a coastline of 4 000km and over 300 fishing communities". What happens to the money in this fund when we know that abalone busts occur on a weekly basis, and the storage facilities are constantly stocked with confiscated abalone and fish?

With relation to Ms Ndudane, the allegations in the charge sheet implicate her in the theft of confiscated abalone from DAFF storage rooms in December 2017, to the value of R20 million. The charge sheet alleges that she signed fraudulent documentation pertaining to the Total Allowable Catch of West Coast Rock Lobster, which the WWF referenced to in the case it won against the Department last week. These internal accusations must be investigated as a matter of urgency.

I am ‘obsessed’ with DAFF because Ms Ndudane remains suspended on full pay. That’s taxpayers’ money. I am ‘obsessed’ because it seems as if DAFF is shielding allegations of theft, fraud, and corruption against its own officials. I am obsessed by the fact that according to the internal charge sheet, Ms Ndudane is alleged to have taken on illegal practices and mismanaged state funds to perform Fishing Rights Allocation Processes (FRAP), without following the appropriate procurement process. This has a direct effect on the allocation of fishing quotas to deserving fishermen in the Western Cape and has forced many small-scale fishermen and women into poaching.

If being ‘obsessed’ with DAFF means hounding and rooting out corruption in the Department to protect our oceans and our fisheries, then I will remain ‘obsessed’ to the very end. I continue to lobby for the mandate for small-scale fishing to be given to the Provinces. The Western Cape fishing sector cannot be a self-enrichment scheme for an elite few, while the real people of this Province continue to be deprived of their right to form part of this economy. If protecting the people of the Western Cape is seen as obsessive, then I remain ‘obsessed’. 

Beverley Schäfer, MPP, is Standing Committee Chairperson on Economic Opportunities, Tourism and Agriculture, Western Cape Provincial Parliament.