The Auditor General presented to the Speaker of the House of Representatives the National Audit Office (NAO) report entitled ‘A Strategic Overview on the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture’s (DFA) Inspectorate Function’. This study assesses whether the DFA’s inspectorate arm, through its operations and capacity, is identifying and managing risk as well as allocating the resources at its disposal in an effective and efficient manner.
The DFA operates in a challenging environment, which is highly regulated both on a local and supranational level. Though this Office acknowledges that these pose significant stresses on the Department’s operations, it still perceives certain inefficiencies and ineffective practices which undermine its visibility and effort allocation in regulating the fisheries sector. In particular, this audit found that the DFA’s visibility on the sector in question is limited and that its inspectorate effort allocation can be better managed. Specifically, the NAO saw how only a very small portion of the local registered fishing fleet is equipped with remote tracking devices and that physical inspections at sea are very limited. This situation, NAO opines, leaves the DFA with no visibility on most of the fishing activities carried out at sea, thereby allowing significant risks of irregular fishing going undetected. This Office also observed that the Department’s efforts in conducting inspections on land is largely asymmetrical, with a wide range of the Department’s inspectorate remit being somewhat neglected in favour of a small number of select areas. As an example of this latter point, the NAO saw how, while inspections on catch landings are given priority, verifications at retail stage (which is considered as a final level of control for it to detect, and act upon, any irregular fishing activity through traceability review) are severely lacking.
Concerns also emerged on DFA’s HR situation. Specifically, the Department asserts that it is severely understaffed as call for applications issued by itself tend to not generate sufficient response and that it is experiencing a relatively high rate of resignations. NAO however observed that if the DFA were to streamline its operations, this staff shortage may be well reduced through increased efficiency. The Department also expressed that its workforce could be better trained, though the NAO observed how training provided by the former only reached a very limited number of individuals.
Through its review, this Office saw how the DFA’s IT system is robust, but involved significant laboriousness, rendering it somewhat inefficient. The NAO also saw how the voluminous amount of inspection reports generated by DFA officials on the ground are paper-based, which adds to the cumbersomeness of its reporting system.
Finally, this Office observed that the DFA encompasses both operational and regulatory functions. The NAO is of the opinion that, as much as practicality allows, an entity which is primarily considered as a regulatory body should not be burdened with operational functions.
These issues, along with others, are comprehensively presented in the audit report in caption together with this Office’s recommendations. This report, in its entirety, may be accessed through the NAO website: www.nao.gov.mt, as well as on the NAO Facebook page www.facebook.com/NAOMalta.