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An admission in parliament last week by National Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF), Senzeni Zokwana, that the Western Cape is the only province where a small-scale fishers list has yet to be compiled is gravely concerning considering that Minister Zokwana himself is alleged to have prioritised abalone processing and fishing permits for select companies in the Western Cape for a R300 000 bribe.

The allegations would mean that the Minister has essentially prioritised corruption and his own interests over the well-being of the Western Cape’s fishermen and women.

The Department also pulled out of my Committee on 20 June 2018 at the eleventh hour, after having previously agreed to come and account for various corruption allegations laid against the Department and its officials, as well as a failure to address abalone poaching in the Western Cape.

If the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries continues to dodge accountability, I will be forced to subpoena the Minister to appear before my Committee in the coming weeks. The thousands of Western Cape fishermen begging for fishing quotas need answers.

While I welcome a commitment by the Minister to address the Department’s involvement in abalone poaching by means of lifestyle audits for officials, along with the setting up of environmental courts, the Department is merely treating the symptoms and not the root of the problem.

We must address unemployment and a lack of access to opportunity in the fishing sector by effectively awarding fishing quotas to deserving fishermen and women. Abalone poaching is first and foremost a socio-economic crime rooted in joblessness in our small fishing communities. The Department must urgently address this as a first step in tackling the issue, instead of allegedly fast-tracking deals for a select few linked to the Minister.

As the DA in the Western Cape, combatting the scourge of abalone poaching in our province, and protecting our small-scale fishermen and women remains our top priority. We will not let allegations of corruption go by unaccounted for in the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

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