Jamaica’s agriculture ministry has failed to deliver on the promised transformation of its fisheries division into an executive agency and promulgation of a new fisheries act, with no resolution of either issue in sight.

Andre Kong, acting chief executive officer of the fisheries division, made this admission during last Thursday’s press conference at the opening ceremony of a series of regional small-scale fisheries workshop.

Of the new fisheries act, which has been in gestation since 1995, he said: “The last draft that we received, which is supposed to be the final draft, was finished and examined by the Attorney General’s Department, that’s the last thing in the process. The last word we got from the chief parliamentary counsel was that the final draft would have been with us at the end of May, but we are yet to receive it. We have been in contact. We have written to ask for a further update of the bill.”

When pressed for a timeline on promulgation of the new legislation to replace the 1976 Fisheries Act, the acting chief executive officer could not be specific but pointed to his appointment as a major sign of progress in the project. This is more than a year after Donovan Stanberry, permanent secretary in the agriculture ministry, gave a commitment that the long-overdue legislation would be given the priority attention it deserves.

Delivering the man address at an African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Fish II programme network meeting in Jamaica in November last year, he declared: “It will be heading very, very soon to the legislative committee and, thereafter, will be laid in the Parliament. And, given events in this country pending, that most likely will be in 2012.”

The general elections soon after saw the People’s National Party taking over the reins of government from the Jamaica Labour Party whose former agriculture minister, Dr Christopher Tufton, has lamented the excruciatingly long delay in the passage of the bill.

“No piece of legislation should have taken that long,” he told the opening ceremony of a fish-vending facility in Runaway Bay, St Ann, last year April, with chief technical director in the agriculture ministry, Dr Marc Panton, last November giving the assurance that this was just out of reach.

17-year delay

He told AgroGleaner then: “You can almost reach out and touch it (new fisheries act),” admitting that, “We are still battling with it, but it’s getting closer and closer.”

Meanwhile, Agriculture Minister Roger Clarke offered as an excuse for the 17-year delay the complex and unwieldy nature of legislative reform, citing the need to consult with the many and various stakeholders. On the matter of executive agency status for the fisheries division, Minister Clarke pointed to the inadequacy of potential income-generating streams as a major drawback in effecting the transformation. He shared with workshop participants at the Knutsford Court Hotel, New Kingston, which continues into next week: “In this case, the only income that they have is fishing licences (and) it is insufficient in terms of budget cost to run this project.”

However, in addressing the ACP Fish II meeting, Stanberry had given the impression that everything was on track for the restructuring to take effect within a year’s time, stating that the new facility would be fully staffed and equipped to more effectively manage the fisheries sector.

Meanwhile, Dr Sandra Grant, regional manager of the ACP Fish II programme, used that event to chide ACP states for their weak and ineffective governance, poor policies and bad institutional structures which contribute to the widespread degradation and depletion of marine and other natural resources. By failing to act decisively and effectively to stem and mitigate these issues, Grant warned that they were in fact guilty of contributing to the worsening poverty among fishing communities and, by extension, declining food security which directly affects an estimated three million people in ACP countries.

2012 Gleaner Company Ltd.