Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Tina Joemat-Pettersson. Photo: Leon Nicholas

With a wide-ranging forensic investigation threatening to blow the lid on corrupt Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Department officials with links to organised abalone poaching groups, Tina Joemat-Pettersson, the minister of the department, says there is a campaign to discredit her.

Joemat-Pettersson said a campaign was underway to discredit her within and outside her department because of the investigation. She said she would not be intimidated from finishing her job.

She was speaking on Wednesday at a press briefing in Parliament on corruption and anti-poaching measures her department has been working on.

“A preliminary investigation reveals that there is corruption within our fisheries branch in the department and that some officials may be implicated.

“There is corruption in the allocation of quotas, permits, transfer of rights and preferential treatment given to certain businesses,” she said.

Joemat-Pettersson said a forensic auditing team had been appointed by the SAPS. Witnesses were being kept in protective custody for fear of reprisals.

“We are asking people in the department to come forward with information. They will not be intimidated or harassed. The investigation is at an advanced stage and when we investigate one person, it opens a hornet’s nest,” she said.

Asked what had happened after the suspension of the department’s director-general, Langa Zitha, Joemat-Pettersson said the issue was an administrative matter and had nothing to do with politics.

“There is a perception that I’m going out on a witch hunt, but there are attempts internal and external to destabilise the department. We are dealing with a (bad) group of people. Unfortunately, they have influenced a number of people in my department.

“I am going to clean up the department. We will not be threatened… despite an orchestrated, vicious and baseless campaign to discredit me,” said Joemat-Pettersson.

Earlier, she said illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing was done in sophisticated ways by organised criminal syndicates.

“The past few weeks have seen the results of months of hard work by dedicated officials that led to the arrest of a number of poachers in six different incidents,” she said. - Cape Argus

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