THE Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries has allegedly failed to respond to repeated pleas for help from an emerging fishing company, owned by women, that says it has been defrauded of at least R535,000.
The women claim a certain individual signed a contract with a prominent Western Cape auctioneering house to sell their company’s pelagic fishing quota, but they did not received any money.
Shaheen Moolla, MD of Feike Natural Resource Management Advisers, who has been helping Meermin Visserye, said on Friday that nine emails had been sent and 36 phone calls made to the department during the past three weeks to inform it of the issue.
"I addressed the emails to the department’s acting chief director for fisheries, Saasa Pheehar, and copied the minister’s special adviser Duncan Hindle on them," he said.
A spokesman for the department said neither it nor the ministry knew of the matter. "However, as the minister (Tina Joemat-Pettersson) said at a press conference last week, we are aware that there is corrupt activity taking place and are in the process of investigating the wrong-doers."
At Friday’s press conference, Lulu Johnson, chairman of the parliamentary portfolio committee on agriculture, forestry and fisheries, said the issue facing Meermin Visserye was typical of that encountered by many emerging fishing companies that were awarded quotas and then taken advantage of by unscrupulous business people.
"To exploit national resources, four pillars have to be observed. The companies must have access to the resources, access to management expertise, access to affordable financing and then market access," he said.
The Meermin women say the department awarded them a 15-year quota in 2005. However, they were forced to sell their interest in a fishing vessel and needed money to buy food and other essentials late last year.
They allege individuals at the auctioneering company house had altered contracts on the auction of their quota, from which they had received no remuneration.
"Regrettably, the owners of Meermin have been denied the financial benefits of their high-value pelagic quota over the past two years. They have been defrauded and unlawfully denied access to the fishing quota and the income generated from the quota," Mr Johnson said.
He said this case was typical of situations that other small fishery companies had found themselves in.
"No charges have been laid yet and the law enforcement agencies must do an investigation. However, we are receiving more and more reports of this type of situation," he added.
He said the committee would work with the women to ensure they regained control of their company, quota and income.
Ms Joematt-Petteresson last week said that an international forensic auditing company, which she did not name, would investigate allegations of fraud, nepotism and corruption within the fisheries branch of her department.
The public protector’s office is also investigating the department concerning the awarding of an R880m fisheries protection tender to Senkunjalo Investment Holdings. The tender was subsequently withdrawn.
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