President Ernest Bai Koroma has, in a Specially Called¬†Meeting held at State House, commended and endorsed the reformation steps being undertaken by the Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources, Haja Afsatu Olayinka Kabba, noting that the regulatory actions were in line with his governmentís agenda for change, in connection with transforming the fish and marine industry to benefit the country and its citizens.
The President made this statement whilst addressing members of the Sierra Leone Industrial Fishing Association (comprising all fishing companies in the country) in a meeting held at State House on Thursday 4th March 2010.
President Koroma described the fishing industry as being in a "chaotic state", whilst pointing out that lucrative industry has over the years failed to benefit the people of this country.
President Ernest Bai Koroma: Fully Supports His Fisheries Minister's Reformation efforts!
"The fish industry is in a chaotic state because we donít adhere to the existing laws that regulate the industry. The situation is more chaotic and worse because government officials tasked with the responsibility of implementing the law, compromise and connive with players in the industry to do the wrong things. Therefore, we inherited a fishing industry wherein the revenue is limited because of our chaotic activities. Because of the chaotic state of the industry, we do not have direct access to the EU market. But our fish products find ways to the EU market through other illegal means" President Koroma pointed out, adding: "As a government, we must put a stop to this because I am not sure that the fishing companies and the country are benefiting as they would if the countryís fish products have free access and pass through the correct process to access other countries".
President Koroma said he met the fisheries and marine resources sector making just 2.5 billion Leones per annum when the APC took office in September 2007 at which point, by the next Budget Estimate, his government had set a target of 4 Billion Leones of which, it was only¬†under the visionary leadership of Hon. Afsatu Kabba, that Government has now realized an excess of 11 billion Leones within the last one year.
President Koroma furthered that his government is on the verge of restructuring the Fisheries and Marine Resource Ministry.
"As a government, we believe that sanity must be ensured in the industry" the President said, adding: "We must ensure that the laws are respected. If there is a need for us to renew our existing laws we will renew them, but we need active implementation of the laws for everybody. We must encourage the fish industry to grow".
President Koroma informed the fishing company owners that his government, through the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources is presently constructing jetties in Goderich, Tombo, Shenge and Bonthe.
"When we complete this project, we are going to embark on other projects to enhance the provision of fish for domestic use" he said, adding: "So, as a government, we have agreed to re-enforce these laws so that we will move forward. In moving forward, we know that existing laws may not be adequate but we must comply with them".
President Koroma said: "As a government, we have authorized the Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources, Haja Afsatu Kabba, to ensure that all fishing vessels are registered and inspected at the Government Wharf until further notice", adding "When they go through inspections, they must obtain all their license before they are qualified to operate".
According to the President, the government has agreed that all vessels should be licensed on a quarterly basis and in advance.
It is important to note here that prior to Minister Afsatu Kabba taking up office, the game that had been played at the Ministry between corrupt officials and trawler owners would see Fishing companies take licenses for One Month and then disappear at sea for several months freely fishing. The insistence of the Minister that she will no longer sign One-Month Licenses but a Minimum of Three-Months Licensing all helped contribute to the astronomical increase from a targetted 4 billion leones to 11 billion leones. Unfortunately, the stance of the Minister resulted in her creating powerful enemies for herself whom¬† have been accused of utilising agents within the Anti Corruption Commission as a tool to discredit the Minister.
Still continuing to highlight his endorsement of the Minister's Policies, the President moved on to the issue of Trans-Shipment which had proven to be another big battle that the Minister had fought to regularise within the last one year.
"The issue that has again been raising difficulties is that of the trans-shipment that was being done off shore. We have now agreed that in the interest of all parties including government, that it should now be done at one point. All trans-shipment should be done at Government Wharf," the President clarified thus endorsing the Minister's stance that no more off-shore secret trans-shipment would be encouraged.
Then the President moved on to one of the most thorny issue of all which concerns the BY-CATCH. By-Catch are fish products caught by a Fishing Vessel which it was not licensed to catch but which it alleges it mistakenly caught within its nets.
On the issue By-catch of fish products, the President endorsed the adamant position of Minister Afsatu Kabba which had pitched her against the notorious established 'Fish Mafia' in the country. President Koroma explained that it is a laid down law that no more than 20% of the wage of the total catch should be unlicensed by-catch products, adding that anything slightly above the stipulated 20%¬†will result to the forfeiture to the state of 70% of that quantity. This again was the position that had been taken by Minister Afsatu Kabba as that was the Law which, as a result of complicity & connivance,¬†has been rarely enforced since it was enacted. As a result of the immovable position of Minister Afsatu Kabba, the Fish Companies had taken the Minister to Parliament. The Minister had stood her ground and instead told the Parliamentary Sub-Committee that since they [Parliament]¬†had the power to change the Law, it was up to them to change it but she would not be relenting on that stance.
All in all, the Meeting ensured that the whole world was made known what the position of the President was in the matter of the Reformation of the country's chaotic Fisheries Sector by his able and dynamic Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources.
Speaking on behalf of the fishing companies, the youngest Fishing Entrepreneur in Sierra Leone, Mr. Harleston, a member of the Sierra Leone Industrial Fishing Association, thanked the President for reminding them of their responsibilities, and also for ensuring a level playing field for all agencies. He assured President Koroma that they will change their attitudes, comply and uphold the laws and regulations governing the fishing industry in Sierra Leone. He said the association is very interested in accessing the European Union (EU) market.
"Henceforth, we assure that we will effectively work and comply with the Fisheries and Marine Resources Ministry to help develop food protein and much needed revenue in Sierra Leone," Harleston assured the President.
All the Fishing Companies in the country were¬†present at the Presidential Meeting including Fish Magnate Madam Lilian Lisk of Okekey Fishing as well as the representatives of the Fishing Company, AlJan which is operated by¬†the President's brother, Thomas Koroma and his wife.
The welcome Statement by the Minister at State House here follows:
Statement by Hon. Afsatu O.E. Kabba on the Occasion of the Presidentís Meeting with Fishing Companies on Thursday 4th March 2010
Your Excellency Sir, My colleague Ministers and Deputies, Proprietors of Fishing Companies, Director of Fisheries, Members of Staff of the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources, Office of National Security, SLMA, Navy, I welcome you to this unique gathering.
I am particularly delighted for the turn out of fishing companies at a short notice of which I am very grateful of.
When I took up office, my intentions include running a very transparent Ministry which could serve as one of the biggest bread basket for Sierra Leone. In that light, I urged my staff to put our shoulders to the wheel to make the difference of which you now see 11 Billion Leones. Our gathering here today demonstrates the participatory approach in fisheries management that I have endeavored to promote during my tenure as Minister of the fisheries sector.
Despite recent developments, I still believe that forging credible partnership between resource users and the resource custodians is a pre-requisite for rational resource used for equitable national development. I will crave for your understanding and cooperation during the course of the coming months. I am happy that we now have the watchful eyes of H.E. the President over us and for that I salute sir.
The last meeting was held in the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources and the meeting with the fishing companies in now held in State House. It is my fervent wish that our meeting today will set the stage for continuous dialogue between the ministry and stakeholders in the fishing sector.
If I could borrow from your own words sir and paraphrase from the presidential address on the occasion of the State Opening of the Third Session of Third Parliament on 9th October 2009 at 10am, and I quote:
"Mr. Speaker, the potential of our Marine Resources to generate wealth has never been realized. We are taking steps to redress this situation through maintenance of jetties; better management and coordination of agencies involve in the fishing sector and robust response to the reckless operations of illegal vessels in our waters. It is painful that we cannot export direct to the European Union (EU) market, yet our resources are illegally fished here, repackage in neighboring countries and then sold to the EU. Our priority for this coming year is to systematically deal with this anomaly and the other constraints preventing us from realizing the full socio-economic contribution of this sector".
Itís clean up time.
I thank you.