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General News of Wednesday, 30 June 2021

Source: www.ghanaweb.com

Government extorting money from fishing vessel owners - Minority

Eric Opoku, Ranking Member, Food, Agriculture and Cocoa Affairs Committee Eric Opoku, Ranking Member, Food, Agriculture and Cocoa Affairs Committee

The minority in parliament has accused the government of extorting money from fishing vessel owners in the country.

According to the NDC MPs on the Food, Agriculture and Cocoa Affairs Committee, the government is taking money from the vessel owners to pay persons engaged as observers to monitor activities of the vessels who are supposed to be public servants.

Addressing the media in Parliament, minority spokesperson on Food, Agriculture and Cocoa Affairs Committee, Eric Opoku, demanded immediate closure of an account that has been opened by the ministry for Fisheries and Aqua Culture to receive the money from the vessel owners arguing it's an illegal creation.

"The Nana Akufo-Addo-Bawumia government in gross violation of Section 100 of the Fisheries Act 2002 (ACT 625), extort monies from vessel owners for the payment of observers who are supposed to ensure that vessel owners comply with all the rules and regulations on fishing in this country. In consonance with the law, the observers are supposed to be public servants appointed by the Minister upon the recommendation of the council.

Why is the industry (private entities) paying public servants whose main duty is to check/oversee the activities of the vessel owners? What is even more worrying is that no social security and other statutory payments are made on their behalf, thus risking their future. This is an illegality that must be stopped forthwith!

"We are reliably informed of an illegal bank account called the GITA/MOFAD account in which these monies are being lodged on the blind side of the Controller and Accountant General and the Auditor General. We demand the immediate closure of this bank account and stoppage of these extortions and ensure strict compliance with the provision of the law," he demanded.

Opoku further stated the closed season announced by the government which takes effect from tomorrow is likely to fail. The Asunafo South MP argued the license fee which has been increased from $7,000 to $27,000 by the Nana Addo administration will make it practically impossible for vessel owners to abandon work for 2 months in the name of the closed season if the government fails to wave the fees for the period.

He said, "in 2020, the Nana Akufo-Addo-Bawumia government increased licence fees for vessel owners from $35 to $135 per gross registered tonnage. The increase is almost three hundred (300) percent.

The combined impact is that every one of the 76 vessels in Ghana with an average capacity of 200 tons pays $27,000 for a licence in 2021 compared to $7,000 in 2016. Vessel owners must not pay for a licence over the 2 months of the closed season for effective implementation and the realization of the full benefits. You cannot close the season and simultaneously expect individuals with legitimate fishing licences not to flout the directive.

In other words, you are merely cheating the fishers. How can you punish those vessels who may flout the closed season orders on the strength of their licence? The Ministry of Fisheries must note that they cannot approbate and reprobate."

Eric Opoku further accused the Fisheries Commission of overstepping its boundaries with a directive to fishing companies to reapply for licenses to operate industrial vessels.

He believes that, the directive is illegal since the issuance of such licenses falls under the Ghana Maritime Authority.

He charged the government to call the commission to order.

"The authority to allow industrial vessels to operate in Ghana is vested in the Ghana Maritime Authority and not the Fisheries Commission. The Commission only has the power to grants licence to fish which is renewable quarterly. It is therefore confusing what exactly the commission seeks to achieve with this letter.

In fact, the Fisheries Commission is overstepping its mandate and must be called to order. Particularly, when it failed to put in proper management measures that got Ghana to be issued a second yellow card which if not reversed will soon disable Ghana from exporting Seafood to the European Union," Eric Opoku stressed.

Below is the full statement.

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