Why I was sacked: Pokajam - Solomon Star News

Why I was sacked: Pokajam

06 March 2014

Letter from Suva, by Islands Business Managing Editor, Laisa Taga.

Members of the PNA (Parties to the Nauru Agreement) meet in Honiara on March 5-14 to discuss a number of important issues pertaining to their success. For instance what to do with the US$93 million—and that is how to distribute this pot of money resulting from last year’s successful conclusion of negotiations with the United States government and its tuna industry.  
But missing from this very important and crucial meeting will be PNG’s Sylvester Pokajam, former PNG National Fisheries Authority (NFA) managing director. Pokajam was ungraciously dumped from his job after he was sacked by the PNG cabinet.  
Letter from Suva was told that Pokajam’s sacking was to create a position for one of the leadership’s cronies. It is also being said that his relentless drive upset others in Papua New Guinea, and he was accused of having too much power and not following ministerial directives. He has been replaced by his former deputy, John Kasu.
“I was told verbally on January 29 and officially on February 7, 2014.  I was in Manila so I did not get a copy of the letter. The Prime Minister and his Fisheries Minister simply stated I have been with NFA for too long.
“I feel that staying longer and being productive means stakeholders are more confident and it provides a stable environment for them and investors.
‘My sacking politically motivated’
“There is no law or policy in PNG stating that chief executives need to be replaced because they have simply been there for too long. Therefore, I believe my sacking was politically motivated.”
The news sent shockwaves throughout the fisheries sector because the Pacific and PNG has lost a strong voice in terms of sustainable tuna management and the development of fisheries for local employment and better economic gains.
Not many of the Pacific’s leaders have the guts to stand up to Distant Water Fishing Nations (DWFNs) like the United States and the European Union at international meetings and negotiations.
You can say Pokajam, an accountant by profession, has been there and done that.
It was only in December last year he told the European Union (EU) at the Western Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) meeting in Cairns that if they did not want to recognise PNA’s Vessel Day Scheme, they should pack up and leave the Pacific.
He was also instrumental in organising funding for PNA, an eight-member Pacific bloc of fisheries nations who own the most tuna stocks in the Pacific. At the Pacific Tuna Forum in Honiara last year, he was involved in a heated debate on eco-labelling of tuna products.  
He was told informally whilst in Manila in January this year that his contract would be terminated.
This has come as a shock to a region that may have a majority in numbers (17 Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency nations of which the PNA are also members) against (10 DWFNs) at WCPFC annual meetings but only has a handful of vocal advocates at the meeting.
Pokajam would rank as one of the top vocal advocates of tuna in the region.
Islands Business’ Robert Matau spoke with Pokajam after being told to leave an industry that he has helped develop.  
Can you summarise your career at NFA?
“I started work with NFA on March 15,  2002 as Financial Controller. In January 1980, I started my first job with the Auditor-General’s Office of PNG as a junior audit clerk. Then in April 2004 to July 2008, I was NFA Acting Managing Director and from July 2008 I became Managing Director of NFA.”
What are some of the highlights of your career at NFA?
“In 2006, I was instrumental in giving fishing access to Japan purse seiners in PNG’s Exclusive Economic Zone. The Japanese fleets had not been in our waters for 19 years, so this was significant.  Then I increased access fees revenue for PNG from US$90,000 per boat to now US$400,000 per boat. I was also instrumental in the establishment of the Frabelle and Majestic seafood processing plants in PNG. Now, five more are in the pipeline including Nambawan Seafood, Niugini Tuna Limited, Heilshing of China, DonWong of Korea and Sapmer of France.
“I was also instrumental in establishing the US$5,000 benchmark price for PNA Vessel Day Scheme fee and master-minded the establishment of the fully integrated/interfaced web-based vessel monitoring scheme/VDS monitoring and compliance.  
“When PNA wanted a secretariat, I was instrumental in securing the PNG capital injection of US$1 million.”
What was your role in bringing the US back to the negotiating table in the US treaty talks and what were the implications of re-negotiating?
“I was instrumental in convincing the then Sir Michael Somare Government through Fisheries Minister Ben Semri to withdraw from the US treaty. That meant the treaty was no longer in existence and we would have to renegotiate terms.  This has resulted in the value of the treaty increasing from US$21 million to US$63 million. It has also resulted in US vessels complying with our FFA national laws when fishing in our respective Exclusive Economic Zones, which they refused to comply with before.”
Last year, I recall you told the EU to pack their fleets up and leave the Pacific—what was that all about?
‘I told the EU this because they did not want to be subject to our national laws and they were arguing they were not party to the PNA VDS scheme.”
What kind of future lies ahead for the PNA?
“The future of the PNA is not steady because already there exists divisions amongst members. The recent one being the pooling of days by Federated Sates of Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Tuvalu, Tokelau, Nauru and the Solomons—leaving out Palau, PNG and Kiribati.

This pooling was done in secret and there is also some disagreement among members in the distribution of parties allowable entitlement. It is very important to remain united but I feel members might be confused and will refuse to accept reality. Some of these issues are the vessel day scheme (VDS) and Party Allowable Effort.

The distribution of party allowable effort (PAE) is based on 40 percent biomass and 60 percent actual effort. Biomass is calculated based on the size of the EEZ, which is nonsense because it is extremely difficult to prove that fish is there all the time. Also, each member continues to do their own thing especially when it comes to economic benefits.

For instance, Kiribati signed a Fisheries Partnership Agreement with the EU (FPA) and under that deal, the EU is exempt from VDS. These are some of the issues that need ironing out.”
So where to for now?
“I have no plans for the immediate future but I am seriously looking at entering PNG politics in 2017.”

If you were offered a job in fisheries, say in another regional capacity, would you continue the good fight?
“If I am offered to work for someone like the PNA, I would accept and I would continue to fight for fisheries in PNG and the Pacific as it is in my blood.”