Environment Minister willing to publish internal inquiry report into tuna industry

Jose Herrera said in parliament that his ministry would be addressing human resources challenges at the Fisheries Department by outsourcing certain inspections • Randall Caruana appointed acting director

Environment Minister Jose Herrera said he would be publshing the report from a 2016 inquiry into the Tuna industry
Environment Minister Jose Herrera said he would be publshing the report from a 2016 inquiry into the Tuna industry

Environment Minister Jose Herrera said on Tuesday that he would be willing to publish the report from an internal inquiry into the Tuna industry which was carried out in 2016.

Responding to questions by Opposition MPs in parliament, Herrera said he had ordered the inquiry upon becoming Environment Minister in 2016, following a number of complaints from people working in the industry.

The minister was asked by Nationalist MP Karol Aquilina what the result of the inquiry was and whether the minister was prepared to make the report public.

“I have no problem publishing the report. You ask a parliamentary question and I will table the report in parliament,” Herrera said.

READ MORE: Fuentes enjoyed unfair advantage, internal inquiry on tuna industry found

Regarding the result of the inquiry, the minister said there had been two recommendations, both of which were implemented.

The first, he said, related to the way in which tuna was weighed. “It’s very technical and I couldn’t explain it to you, even if I wanted to, but you can ask a PQ and I will answer it.”

Turning to the second recommendation, Herrera said the lawyer leading the inquiry had noted that an assistant director at the fisheries department was related to one of the managers at the Mare Blu tuna company.

“I need to emphasise that the inquiry did not find that she had done anything wrong, but simply that for the sake of transparency, she should not have a regulatory role,” Herrera said.

He added that as a result, the person in question no longer worked on regulatory matters.

The back and forth regarding the Tuna industry was started by Opposition MP Edwin Vassallo, who asked the minister for an update on what action was being taken following allegations of bribery against he department’s director general.

Department to outsource inspectorate function 

Herrera said that together with Parliamentary Secretary Clint Camilleri, he was working to reform the department, especially when it comes to its inspectorate function, adding that Randall Caruana had been appointed acting director general.

He said that as things stand, there is a robust legal framework in place, however the department was facing challenges with enforcement because of the difficult in recruiting staff for certain roles.

“The legal framework is there,” he said. “Now if there are abuses on the ground that is a different matter. I’ve already said that Clint [Camilleri] and myself are looking into how we can revise the inspectorate methodology.  

READ MORE: Fisheries reform underway after NAO found ineffective practices

Herrera noted that it was not easy for the department, given its limited resources, to carry out comprehensive inspections, especially out at sea.

A report by the National Audit Office last November, Herrera said, had also noted that there were too few specialized people.

“Take divers for inspections, as an example. Its not easy to find good quality people that are willing to do a certain type of work,” he said.

Herrera insisted that one option that was being considered was to outsource certain inspections.

“Hindsight is 20/20. Naturally, if we can’t find people to engage directly, this is the only way out,” he said.

He said he had encountered a similar problem at the Environment and Resources Authority, and had overcome it by issuing a tender for another company to supply personnel for its enforcement unit. 

“This problem has come up now and I will solve it,” Herrera insisted, when asked whether he would be shouldering political responsibility.

Finally, regarding the fact that the fisheries board had not met in 20 months, Herrera noted that the board’s role was a minimal one and that it did not have any regulatory roles.

As such, he said the fact that the board had not met in a while was not as serious as it was being made out to be.

“Its work is only to suggest ideas to the permanent secretary responsible,” he said, adding that there were some 50 boards that fell under the ministry’s remit and that it was not as simple to appoint them immediately.  

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