This after the Hawks executed what they said was “a search and seizure warrant” at the department’s offices in Foretrust House on Cape Town’s Foreshore on Tuesday.
The elite police unit confiscated a laptop and cellphone from the unnamed member of FRAP, said the department’s acting chief director for monitoring control and surveillance, Thembalethu Vico.
The department had hired fishing consultant Shaheen Moolla for the FRAP process. He was instrumental in the process of granting new fishing rights.
Approached by the Cape Times for comment, Moolla confirmed he had been questioned by the Hawks during their raid.
But he would not respond to questions whether he had been suspended by the department or whether his cellphone and laptop had been confiscated.
His appointment by Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Senzeni Zokwana to a three-member independent appeals panel, to advise on appeals arising from the 2013 fishing rights allocation, had been slammed by small-scale fishers.
Moolla’s critics alleged that his advisory role was tantamount to a conflict of interest, as he had been involved in several fishing deals they found questionable.
Objecting to Moolla’s appointment in 2015, the National Federation of Small-Scale Fishers called for an urgent meeting with Zokwana and listed reasons for their objection to Moolla’s appointment, including allegations of impropriety.
Yesterday Vico, announcing the suspension after a Cape Times enquiry, said they would follow internal processes to deal with irregularities.
Asked by the Cape Times whether the suspended member was Moolla, Vico said the department was not obliged to reveal the member’s name.
Asked if they were not compelled to identify the person in the public interest, because rights allocations affected many people and even entire impoverished fishing communities, Vico maintained they would deal with it internally.
The probe, which Vico said they viewed “in a very serious light”, follows on fishing communities, some of them existing West Coast rock lobster rights holders, being left devastated by unsuccessful applications.
Questioned by the Cape Times, Moolla maintained: “The allegations appear to emanate from a very unhappy and unsuccessful applicant for fishing rights who also tried to access other authorisations from DAFF.
“Of course the integrity of the fishing allocations process is beyond question, given the transparency of the entire process and open access to all applications scoresheets, etc.
“But we had these types of empty allegations in 2001 and 2005. In those times certain senior officials in the department were even threatened by unsuccessful abalone applicants.”
Vico said: “We have taken a precautionary approach to all activities related to allocations and his (the member’s) relationship with the department.
“The department will work with the Hawks to ensure that there is a proper investigation into the matter.
“The department would like to reiterate its unwavering respect for the rule of law, (which) provides that one is innocent until found guilty by (a) court of law. The department would also like to state that it deems the member innocent until proven guilty by a court of law.
“The Delegated Authority in its General Published Reasons for the Decisions on the Allocation of 2015/2016 Fishing Rights and Quantum in the Hake Inshore Trawl Fishery states: An independent forensic company will be appointed to investigate the accuracy of information submitted by applicants for fishing rights.
“Such verification will take place during and after the fishing rights allocation process. The forensic company will carry out investigations as and when required by the department.
“If any rights holder is found to have provided false information or false documents or failed to disclose material information, or had sought to influence the minister or the Delegated Authority, proceedings in terms of Section 28 of the Marine Living Resources Act will be undertaken which may result in the revocation, suspension, cancellation, alteration or reduction of the right granted.”
The Hawks have remained mum.
Pressed by the Cape Times, its spokesperson, Lloyd Ramovha, at first promised a statement, only to retract later, saying: “Our policy and mandate dictates that we do not comment on ongoing investigations. Therefore, with respect, kindly afford us space to investigate.”
South African Deep Sea Trawling Industry Association secretary Johann Augustyn said: “We look forward to a speedy resolution of the investigation.
“The fishing industry invests billions of rand in vessels and infrastructure and sustains thousands of jobs in coastal areas, and so the transparency and accuracy of fishing rights allocations are of vital importance.”
Approached for his reaction, Naseegh Jaffer, director of the Masifundise Development Trust, an NGO representing 4 000 small-scale fishers throughout the country, said: “This has been a long time coming.
“For many years small-scale fishers have complained about being victimised and denied fishing rights by influential people in government.
“This in the face of non-deserving and non-qualifying entities having benefited from fishing rights - especially in our new democracy.
“All those suspected of manipulating the allocation of fishing rights must be thoroughly investigated and, if needed, prosecuted. All forms of corruption must be rooted out. The law must take its course.”