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Has the Ocean Economy Master Plan stalled?
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Has the Ocean Economy Master Plan stalled?

Presentation on current status of OEMP leaves questions unanswered

SOUTH AFRICA: There are “glaring gaps” in several of the sub sector implementation plans within the greater Oceans Economy Master Plan (OEMP) that the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) initiated almost five years ago.

This is according to a presentation delivered at the Oceans Economy Conference and Expo last week in Cape Town by Ntsiki Mbono, maritime advisor at the DFFE. She admitted that significant stakeholder engagements have yet to be undertaken with entities such as the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (DTIC), cargo owners, shipping operators as well as industry associations to secure missing data.

The process to establish the OEMP was initiated to build on the foundations created by Operation Phakisa. It is interesting to note that the development of the OEMP initiative was instituted five years after the much-lauded 2014 introduction of Operation Phakisa.

One has to wonder, therefore, as we approach the five-year anniversary of OEMP whether this will be viewed by the maritime industry as another stalled intervention.

Mbono’s presentation gave no real certainty as to when the industry could expect to see the finalisation of the plan, although she encouraged stakeholders to “continue implementing the short-term interventions” ahead of the finalisation and approval of the strategy.

It should also be noted that, according to a presentation by Professor Stephen Hosking of the South African International Maritime Institute (SAIMI) at a breakaway session of the Oceans Economy Conference, the maritime industry has seen a decline in both its contribution to the GDP as well as its ability to create employment when measured against the baseline measurement at the outset of Phakisa.

In fact, both the OEMP and Operation Phakisa aim to ignite specific maritime sectors despite evidence of ongoing decline and proffer the assumption that the potential can be “unlocked” through targeted interventions. The evidence at this time, however, suggests that these projections are purely aspirational.

In fact, both the OEMP and Operation Phakisa aim to ignite specific maritime sectors despite evidence of ongoing decline and proffer the assumption that the potential can be “unlocked” through targeted interventions. The evidence at this time, however, suggests that these projections are purely aspirational.

Industry participation

Industry has been invited to be a part of both Operation Phakisa as well as development of the OEMP.

Invitations to join Industry Reference Groups (IRG) were circulated at the beginning of the OEMP process and forums were established to begin discussing the plan towards the end of 2019. The advent of COVID-19 and the resultant shut-down saw the discussions go online during 2020.

The virtual participation made it easy for industry stakeholders to participate and feedback at the time was positive that the momentum would deliver results.

As such industry participation was undertaken via working sessions with labour, business, communities, academic institutions, government departments as well as State Owned Entities (SOE).

Timeframes

While Operation Phakisa had an endgame of 2033 within its sights, the OEMP extends this to 2035 and sets out three phases. Describing these as “dedicated timeframes”, it does however appear that they are not actually pegged to any specific time periods.

A presentation from two years ago compared to the one delivered at last week’s Oceans Economy Conference shows no real critical development in this regard. Two years ago, the period to achieve stability was within two years and the same vague period applies today. There is no date set against when the phase actually begins so we have no timeline to expect when these two years start or end.

This then also applies to the second and third phases geared towards the revival of the oceans economy (two to five years) and growth (five years and beyond).

The question is; did the first phase begin when the first draft strategy was created or does it begin once the Minister signs off the final OEMP for approval? There is a very real need to make this distinction because if it is the former, we should already be operating within the second phase aimed at reviving industry.

But, if it is the latter, then we need to ask ourselves; when do we actually kick off the implementation of this strategy and are we being overly ambitious to expect achieving any of the goals by 2035?

These dates highlight why the general consensus within the industry is that, while these government interventions may be well intentioned, the reality is that in many respects its business as usual – because many of the required interventions listed within the plan are subject to delivery of outcomes from government departments or public entities.

By Colleen Jacka, editor Maritime Review Africa

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