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….skirts questions tabled by Ramjattan
By Svetlana Marshall
Minister of Agriculture, Zulfikar Mustapha has failed to disclose to the National Assembly the names of the persons and or entities who would have received the two new trawler licenses in latter half of 2020, though the question was directly put to him by A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) Member of Parliament Khemraj Ramjattan more than one month ago.
“They were issued to a well-established Guyanese operator in the fishing industry, who was duly qualified to receive the said licenses, who complied with the requisite procedures and satisfied all the legal requirement in relation therein,” Minister Mustapha said, in his written response, circulated in the House on Thursday.
MP Ramjattan had turned to the National Assembly for answers after being approached by the Guyana Association of Trawler Owners and Seafood Processors (GATOSP), which had expressed deep concern about the issuance of the licenses at a time when the country and world at large are grappling with the issue of overfishing.
In tabling the questions, the APNU+AFC Parliamentarian sought to ascertain whether the Agriculture Ministry had done due diligence ahead of issuing the licenses, but Minister Mustapha said there was no such requirement.
“I know of no requirement for due diligence to be conducted on the “LICENSE.” In the Ministry of Agriculture, as indeed, every Ministry in our Government, decisions are based on meritocracy and not on caprice nor extraneous nor irrelevant considerations,” the Agriculture Minister said.
GATOSP has contended that the issuance of the licenses breached an agreement between the association and the Agriculture Ministry established pre-2015. In a letter to Minister Mustapha on November 19, 2020, President of GATOSP, Reuben Charles sought an explanation on the “unilateral” decision taken by the Agriculture Ministry to issue the licenses for trawling for shrimp but on Thursday, the Agriculture Minister informed the House, there was no need for consultation.
“In the same manner that you are not required to consult Licensed Firearm Holders before you handed out hundreds of gun licenses, there is equally no requirement to consult with trawler owners and seafood processors for the grant of new licenses. Notwithstanding, the Ministry of Agriculture consults on a regular basis with each and every sector which falls under the administration of the ministry,” the Agriculture Minister said.
According to him, the consultative engagements are well publicized, however, he did not indicate whether GATOSP was consulted given the agreement signed.
In a brief interview with Village Voice News on Thursday, the President of GATOSP confirmed that the long awaited meeting with Agriculture Ministry and GATOSP was held recently, however, the Minister did not disclose the name of the licensee.
Charles said, the Minister instead indicated that a committee, for which the association will be represented, will be established to examine the issues raised by GATOSP. When contacted by Village Voice News earlier, the Agriculture Minister said that given the concerns raised by GATOSP in its letter, he had ordered an investigation into the Fisheries Sector; that investigation, he said was completed and a preliminary report had been submitted.