Fisheries reform underway after NAO found ineffective practices

Departmental reform after NAO inquiry underway, parliamentary secretary says

Back in November, the NAO published a report from an investigation of the department’s inspectorate function in which it found various “inefficiencies and ineffective practices” that were undermining the department’s efforts to regulate the sector
Back in November, the NAO published a report from an investigation of the department’s inspectorate function in which it found various “inefficiencies and ineffective practices” that were undermining the department’s efforts to regulate the sector

An action plan for the Fisheries Department to implement recommendations made to it by the National Audit Office (NAO) has been drawn up and has started to be implemented, according to Fisheries Parliamentary Secretary Clint Camilleri.

“An action plan has already been drawn up by the Department to start implementing the recommendations outlined in the report,” Camilleri told MaltaToday.

Back in November, the NAO published a report from an investigation of the department’s inspectorate function in which it found various “inefficiencies and ineffective practices” that were undermining the department’s efforts to regulate the sector.

The audit found that the department was nonetheless facing challenges related to “human resources; a limited presence on the ground and at sea; cumbersome documentation and reporting systems; risk attribution; and its dual role as operator and regulator”.

“If the 64 vacant positions (over the current staff complement of 119) are truly needed and justified, NAO opines that the department finds itself in a situation of severe understaffing and consequently it cannot be expected to carry out its mandate to its fullest extent,” read the report.

This was especially true given that a significant proportion of the vacancies were for inspectorate staff.

The report also questioned claims by the department that the great number of vacancies was due to salary packages not being attractive enough for prospective applicants, who would need to work on a shift basis with specific conditions. “It is not something with is unique to this designation but can be commonly found in other public service positions in grades [that are] at least as high,” the NAO observed.

A spokesperson for the secretariat echoed the department in asserting that it was challenging to find and retain staff, especially given the “national economic success”. However, the spokesperson said the secretariat would be “putting forward the NAO’s recommendations to a competent entity responsible for collective bargaining for their consideration”.  

“Independently, we are also looking into the broader elements of the Department’s current structure and operations, identifying how best these should be reformed to better address today’s challenges and requirements,” the spokesperson said, adding that this was “high on the agenda”.

Also contributing to a lack of effectiveness on the part of the department, according to the NAO, was the fact that a significant amount of information was being recorded and kept in “paper-based format”. This, the NAO said, “creates considerable, otherwise avoidable laboriousness for the department to manage any of this information”.

“The NAO is significantly concerned by the department’s decision to further reduce digitisation of this information…thereby decreasing the department’s faculty of extracting trends and other collated information which may be invaluable for it to take informed decisions on any way forward.”

Another concern raised by the NAO related to the department’s capacity for monitoring fishing activities.

“NAO is concerned that the vast majority of professional fishing vessels are not equipped with such [vessel monitoring] systems,” one section of the report read.

It added that the department “has practically no means by which to remotely monitor the movements of a very large portion of the local fishing fleet”.

The NAO said that vessels which are not equipped with tracking devices, pose the risk of them going at sea and engaging in fishing activity out of the official seasons without being tracked by the department.

“Apart from this principle of limited visibility, NAO here also perceives unfair treatment towards fishermen who officially declare their intention to target protected species while other equally capable vessels which deceivably fail to declare such intentions are left untracked.”

Fenech Farrugia had told MaltaToday at the time that while it was true that some vessels did not have an on board tracking system, the equipment was not missing from any vessel that was legally obliged to have one.

With regards to the observation by the NAO that the department’s operational and regulatory functions should be separated, the spokesperson insisted that the department was autonomous.

The secretariat pointed to a number of measures in recent years that had “laid down a more effective system”, including a 2017 legal notice on Blue Fin Tuna Harvesting with introduced “additional controls to deter abuse”.

Finally, the spokesperson said it was also “pertinent to highlight” that any identified discrepancies have always been reported to the police.

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