GATOSP has decided to abide by the decision of the ministry on seabob licences

Dear Editor,

Although the Ministry of Agriculture has put forward its best efforts to answer questions about the issuance of two sea-bob licences last year, one particular newspaper continues to bombard the Minister of Agriculture, Zulfikar Mustapha, claiming that his decision to issue the said licences was ‘an act of corruption’. At this point, it is unclear what more is expected to be said on the matter. It is clear that the editorial section of this newspaper has taken a special interest in the matter and might even have a vendetta against someone in involved in the matter.

Requests were made by the press, stakeholders, and interested parties for information on the matter to be made public. The Honourable Minister and the Fisheries Department made every effort to answer those questions in keeping with the Fisheries Act of Guyana. In the editorial of the Friday, March 19, 2021 edition of the Stabroek News, the issuance of these licences was once again criticized. It must be made clear that since news broke of the issuance of the said licences, Minister Mustapha and the Ministry’s Fisheries Department have engaged the Guyana Association of Trawler Owners and Seafood Processors (GATOSP) on several occasions. At the time, the identity of the new licence holder was questioned. The Ministry subsequently made that information available to the public. The individual’s photo was published in some sections of the newspaper, along with his background and experience in the industry. Although the GATOSP had initially indicated that they were not satisfied with the way the licences were issued or the fact that the licences were issued in the first place, the ministry had made every effort to assure GATOSP and the public that the issuance of the two new licences would not threaten the sector or jeopardize Guyana’s Maritime Stewardship Council (MSC) certification. At the time the licences were issued, only 80 other licences were active. The quota caters for 87 licences.

The editorial stated that the matter has been extensively carried by that particular new outlet. That remains a fact. What also remains a fact is that the editorial in question does not entail any new information on the matter. The GATOSP has since engaged the Ministry by way of a letter dated February 19, 2021, stating that they will abide by the decision of the Ministry. Vice President, Dr. Bharrat Jagdeo was also questioned on the matter and maintained that there must be equity in the industry. The VP also suggested that there should be a periodic review of the issuance of seabob licences to avoid a monopoly in the industry. The author of the piece asserted that when the ministry was confronted about the issue last November, the licences should have been suspended, as that is what good governance requires. I beg to differ. After concerns were raised, Minister Mustapha met with the GATOSP. He listened to their issues and was determined to come up with a solution that would see the issue being resolved amicably. In my opinion, that is good governance. If governments rescinded every decision made because a section of the population didn’t agree with it, no policies would be in place.

I can say with the utmost certainty that within the coming weeks another article will be written on the matter. I am also confident that the writer will make good use of a few journalistic jargons to disguise the reconditioned information, as they did in this piece. As was previously mentioned in my response, the GATOSP has decided to abide by the decision of the Ministry. The matter should therefore be seen as resolved. The Ministry will continue to engage all stakeholders of the fisheries sector, and all other stakeholders in the agriculture sector as their views and opinions remain of utmost importance to the Ministry as it works towards building a resilient and sustainable agriculture industry. The Ministry also remains unbiased in its modus operandi and steadfast in its efforts to ensure the government’s development agenda for the agriculture sector is realized.

Yours truly,

Janell Cameron

Public Relations Officer,

Ministry of Agriculture

Editor-in-Chief’s note:

It is unclear why the Ministry of Agriculture decided not to identify Stabroek News as the newspaper which has been reporting extensively on the improperly issued seabob licences. The editorial of March 19 did not identify Minister Mustapha as having issued the seabob licences nor did it say he had engaged in “an act of corruption”. Is it the case that the Ministry is saying that the two licences were issued by Minister Mustapha? The newspaper’s view has always been that the clandestine issuing of the two seabob licences by the ministry without public notice and without consultation with the Guyana Association of Trawler Owners and Seafood Processors (GATOSP) – the stakeholder with which an earlier conservation agreement had been reached – must be considered highly improper and providing fertile ground for corruption. Furthermore, whether there are 80 or 87 trawlers in operation, the opaque issuance of two seabob licences poses an existential threat to the Maritime Stewardship Council (MSC) certification which GATOSP had invested money and time in attaining and which in one fell swoop the ministry showed utter disdain for. What would stop the ministry now issuing two of three more seabob licences quietly to favoured ones? The seabob should be considered a valuable, at-risk national resource to be carefully harvested and only under transparent licensing. Whether or not GATOSP has accepted the ministry’s decision is of little consequence to Stabroek News’ position that the licences were improperly issued and that there must be consequences. It is also the case that the holder of the two licences remains well unknown to the local and Trinidadian fishing communities and no amount of whitewashing by the ministry will change that fact. That may explain why the ministry has been prescient enough to expect that there will be further reportage on the matter.