HERALD WEEKLY ISSUE 570:29 June 2011

Page missing from Audit report released

The special review report by the Audit Office into the agreement for the issuance of 16 fishing licenses to the Northern Cook Islands Fishing Company (NCIFC) Ltd was tabled in parliament at the last session in April.
Ben Ponia Secretary for the Ministry of Marine Resources responded to the Audit findings on 12 January 2011 and his letter of response was also tabled in parliament.
However, it was discovered that part of his letter was missing. In fact page two was missing.
Audit Office has now provided the Herald with the missing page and it is set out below.
• “The Cook Islands waters are highly policed for illegal fishing activity due to an active Monitoring, Surveillance and Compliance (MCS) program, the excellence of the CIPPB Te Kukupa patrol boat, and the use of aerial and sea assets that are provided through defence cooperation agreements. The surveillance effort assures legitimate fishers that they have exclusive rights to our waters and is forcing poachers to legitimize their operations.
• Whereas many Pacific nations have tended to over-subscribe their fishing licenses the Cook Islands is renowned as a careful steward of its licenses. As a result of good catch rates and effective management a license to fish in the Cook Islands waters is highly sought after enabling MMR to charge one of the highest fees in the Pacific. MMR is constantly inundated by fishing companies seeking access to our waters.
• With a promising catch history and proper surveillance programs in place the MMR is now poised to significantly expand its licensing regime. The intentions are to target other species aside from albacore including big eye tuna, skipjack tuna and swordfish. The Ministry also intends to license and deal directly with fewer but large fishing enterprises with a long term business prospectus that the Cook Islands can leverage additional benefits from, aside from just licensing revenue.
General Issues
I wish to reflect on out some of general issues surrounding this case and points raised by the Audit review, some of which I accept that the MMR should take responsibility for:
(1) There has been a general lack of legal clarity.
• The case is framed as being the issuance of Fishing Licenses to the NCIFC yet the Marine Resources Act 2005 (Section 35) is clear on this subject in that licenses are only issued to the owner or operator of the fishing vessel and that the license is non-transferable. As NCIFC is not an owner or operator of any fishing vessels it was never eligible nor responsible for the license conditions
• The legislation is also clear regarding the terms of payment of licenses and that no licenses should have been issued with payment terms outside of those prescribed by the Marine Resources (Long Line Fishery) Regulations 2008.
• Any contractual obligations of NCIFC to the MMR to abide by the payment of licenses were not clear. There was a dispute over a key condition for payment that was inserted in the license document.
(2) In this case, the interference of Cabinet was an exception to the rule and was undoubtedly a causal factor in the ensuing complications.
• Whilst there is no doubt cast on the good intentions of the former Minister of Marine Resources, Hon. W. Rasmussen in wanting his constituency to share from the benefits of the NCIFC proposal, it appears that the Minister was able to apply discretionary powers that circumvented the normal vetting procedures of the MMR and complicated matters further.”
The Herald has been advised that the omission was an error.

Herald Issue 554 09 March
- Norm exposes Trio of Doom
- Briefs from PM’s media conference Tuesday
- Tourism Industry ponders $5 million draft strategy
- Norman George resigns from Cook Islands Party
- Letter of Resignation from CIP
- Norman selfish says Prime Minister

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