THE current mess in the bêche-de-mer industry is a result of ignorance by the senior officials of the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources (MFMR).
Ontong Javanese medical practitioner and entrepreneur Dr Reginald Aipia revealed this on Sunday following seizure of illegally harvested beche-de-mer stocks last week.
Dr Aipia said the reports of illegal harvests had been forwarded to the National Fisheries in 2016 and 2017 but no investigations were carried out.
“The Fisheries and Marine Resources Permanent Secretary Dr Christain Ramofafia and Director of Fisheries Edward Honiwala knew very well that illegal harvests of the lucrative marine commodity have been going on before the ban-lift but remained ignorant.
“And this is the biggest question the nation should ask is why are they ignoring the reports?” Dr Aipia said adding that the government officers were allegedly ‘bribed.’
Dr Aipia said, the involvement of Chinese business houses in controlling the bêche-de-mer minimum buying prices and export license warrants an investigation into the ministry.
“The four Chinese men who were awarded the license are the ones who have been funding the illegal harvest in 2013 and this year.
“They provided food ration and chartered marine vessels to conduct the illegal harvest at the Ontong Java atoll.
“The goal of Chinese business houses is to bribe their way into the market and monopolise the buying prices,” the Ontong Javanese claimed.
Mr Aipia continued;
“The Fisheries Department’s Marine Resource Pricing Unit is very poor in ensuring due diligence checks on oversea buying prices.
“The minimum buying prices is too low in comparison to overseas market which offers a handsome pricetag.
“One possible goal of these Chinese exporters is to control the trade by paying at lower prices so they can get all products from local bêche-de-mer divers and offset debts incurred,” he said.
Dr Aipia who was heavily engaged in the beche-de-mer industry in the past years said the Fisheries Department has miserably failed on its part.
“Our people lose their resources, the government loses in revenue collection and our country will never ever benefit from this most sought after marine product.
“It is highly recommendable that the government look deeper into the Fisheries Department and start rooting out corrupt officers,” he said.
Last week, Police seized tonnes of illegally-harvested beche-de-mers from three of the Chinese business men who were awarded the export license.
– Chen Zhen Company Limited located at Ranadi.
– Oceanic International Limited owned by Noelyn Bao and Xu Qiang at Ngossi Ridge, above Rove, West Honiara.
– Solomon FVC New Process Import and Export Limited owned by Frank Sheng Song at Bahai road up St Nicholas.
The confiscated dried bêche-de-mer products are now under police custody awaiting court proceedings.
A former Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources Nollen Leni over the weekend said there is sufficient evidence to sack responsible fisheries officials since these are the same officers involved in the controversial bêche-de-mer saga in 2012-2013.
He pointed out that these fishery officials are responsible for the misdemeanors in the screening of bêche-de-mer export license applications.
“Police conducted the raid without any report from the fisheries officials which is a clear indication that these fisheries officers are not doing their job with due diligence.
“They knew the illegal harvest and Chinese business houses tactics to win support in this lucrative market but they continued to ignore it,” he said.
“There is Fisheries Advisory Committee but with this mess questions its commitment to its mandated duties,” he added.
By TEDDY KAFO