Johannesburg - The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries had launched an investigation and would deal decisively with staff involved in a scandal over the usurping of Foodcorp fishing rights, it said last week as it sought to exonerate Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson.

In a statement issued by Lionel Adendorf, the director of communication services at the fisheries branch, the department said unpopular decisions made by its fisheries branch wrongly reflected on the minister, even when she had taken decisive action.

This comes amid revelations linking Joemat-Pettersson to vindictive action against Foodcorp in a deal where the company’s fishing rights were stripped and passed on without due process while it engaged the department over a black economic empowerment (BEE) share dilution dispute.

Media reports yesterday revealed that Foodcorp’s fishing rights were granted to cherry-picked beneficiaries, politically connected Freedom Fishing, which has no known fishing credentials, and Ulwandle Fishing, which is said to have no boats.

Foodcorp opted to sell its rights to an Oceana-led consortium including these two firms as BEE partners but the deal, now before the Competition Tribunal, hit the skids when the potential buyer balked if it came without the rights.

The department “takes full responsibly for the deal, has started an investigation into the matter, promises to take the necessary steps against anyone who is found to have done wrong, and commits to do whatever is required to ensure that the deal be either rescinded or done in a fair and transparent way,” his statement said.

It said it was not the first time the minister’s name was dragged into unpopular decisions. “Such suggestions seek to apportion blame away from those who made the decisions as per the delegation of authority.”