Sep 27, 2022 News
– says initiative will breed corruption, will not address low catch
Kaieteur News – Government’s $150,000 one-off cash grant to fisherfolk is a band-aid approach to solving the problems plaguing the fishing industry, Shadow Oil and Gas Minister, David Patterson has said.
He told Kaieteur News in an invited comment yesterday that a comprehensive plan is what is required to offer relief to the ailing fisheries sector. He said while government attempted to cover up the low catch being experienced by the fishers by explaining that it was the off season for fishing, the cash grant confirms the suffering of fisherfolk in Guyana. It was Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo who said last year that there is no proof that the oil activities offshore were the reason for the low catch. In fact, he explained, “I grew up in a fishing village, in Unity. There are periods when we have had low catch too. The guys would go out many, many times and didn’t bring in any (thing) much and that was long before we were producing oil, since I was a young boy.”
As a consequence, Jagdeo implied that it would be irresponsible to attribute the decline in fish catch across the country to ExxonMobil’s operations. However, Patterson is of the view that “the mere paying of this compensation is an acknowledgement that there is an issue and I’ve heard them say that it’s a global issue but it’s being exasperated by the oil operations.” Further, the former Minister of Public Infrastructure pointed out that Guyana’s experience with low fish catch is not unique, as other oil producing nations would have faced a similar fate. To this end, he believes that government should be embarking on a comprehensive plan to address the situation rather than attempting to cover it up by paying a small grant to the parties affected from taxpayers’ dollars.
Patterson pointed out that a very important component of that plan should entail an independent baseline study into the fisheries sector. He stressed that while oil giant ExxonMobil has been conducting offshore studies, it would be outright foolish to believe the company would provide information that suggests negative about its operations, hence the need for an independent baseline study to be conducted.
He explained, “Everybody has been calling for this for the longest while but they are deliberately declining to do a baseline study. What this study means is if you did it two years ago, it would say how much these fishermen have been catching every trip and that would have been the base. If you do it now, the base would be so much lower because they are barely catching 200 instead of the 1000 pounds.”
In addition to the total catch, Patterson noted that this study would also identify the breeding grounds of the various species of fish as well as their migratory patterns at various seasons. Likewise, he noted that it would also help to identify where the fish have relocated to if the oil operations chase them further away from regular fishing grounds. “So that study would help to show if they have moved and where they’ve moved to and so on.”
In the meantime, Patterson noted that the $150,000 grant is not sustainable, as the current cost of living has spiraled. In fact, he argued, “It is a very ill-conceived programme. You are only going to selective groups and take for example public servants minimum wage, to get that $150,000, they would need a pay increase of 22 percent to get that money so it’s not equitable, it’s not fair and it’s not sustainable.”
As such, he said, “like everything else, this is just a plaster on the fishing industry and we have to examine it holistically.” According to him, “They (government) don’t have a plan and the fisherfolk have been complaining for the last two years since oil production started so giving people $150,000 is just a political gimmick. What you are supposed to do is start to progressively address this issue but we aren’t seeing that.”
Patterson on this note returned to his point about baseline studies, explaining that this investigation could lead the local fishers into new fishing locations, which could also mean better equipment and boats would be required. Another important alternative Patterson listed was compensation from the oil company. He pointed out that the baseline study could help identify whether the oil operation is indeed impacting the country which would then tie the oil company to taking responsibility for the damages caused. The Shadow Oil and Gas Minister pointed to the urgency of the fishing industry being resuscitated as the subject of food security takes the limelight in the Caribbean. He explained, “We would be catching less local fish and would have to start importing more and that brings the onset of the Dutch disease but the government doesn’t want to admit that’s where we’re going that’s why they are applying these plasters but it will only get worse.”
He added, “They will blame the Ukraine War, they will blame climate change and all sort of things but with all politics aside, we have to address our issues here in Guyana.”
In offering another recommendation, Patterson said the baseline study could push ExxonMobil to pay up a monthly fine for the damages caused to the country’s fisheries sector. The former Minister explained, “Most of these fisherfolk have a fishing society or a fishing co-op and these have been around since the 1970s and 80s where these people can land their boats, ice and so on and what’s supposed to be happening is that you (Exxon) give the money to a fund so its not a question of handing out money. You do a fund and they contribute directly which would go to sustain fisherfolk.”
He said this fund could be used to help fisherfolk wean off the “one-off dependency syndrome” and help them diversify their operations, rather than sit back and wait on the next handout. On the other hand, he told Kaieteur News that the handing out of these grants can be the recipe for corruption.
“One-off payments wouldn’t work, we don’t even know who the fishermen are and who are not so it’s a recipe for corruption and we are already hearing that. You are hearing about the thousands of persons that are getting money and I’m not even so sure there are so many fishing boats as there are people being compensated,” he concluded. Over the past week, government handed out approximately $195 million in fisherfolk relief grants to over 1,000 affected persons. According to VP Jagdeo’s Facebook page, fisherfolk in Regions Three, Four, Five and Six have already received payments.
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