On leadership, geopolitics and having low salaries / by Francisco Blaha

I got a bit of slack from the conservative corner of the MCS world for a response I did to a question of my friend Brad Soule from OceanMind during the last session of the Bangkok IMCS workshop. So I just want to emphasise the record and reiterate my personal views, as some topics do not get touched at the MCS meetings. And I know I’m fortunate to be relatively independent and sometimes bring these issues to the table without many consequences.

I think not may in the crowd git the HIpHop reference of the title

I think not may in the crowd git the HIpHop reference of the title

I just had finished my presentation on what we do in regards PSM for the Marshalls and how did we got to the MoU with Thailand. And the question that Brad asked something like: What you think is needed to have more countries ready to collaborate internationally in terms of transparency at the case you just presented?

Certainly, if I had a “one-shot” answer to that, surely, I would be a more expensive consultant, so I thought a bit and here is more or less what I said (with added context)… I think it involves 3 elements:

Leadership: I tend to bring everything down to boats, and we know that decisions are taken on the bridge. The boat goes where the captain decides for good or for bad. In the Marshall’s we are lucky that we have a progressive skipper (I wrote about Glen here), and I’ve seen in action the boss of Thai DoF ( Dr. Adisorn Promthep), and these guys are unusual and very confident, yet that leadership has a price. Because while you are changing stuff, there is a lot of people after your head, furthermore there is not always the political space for the skipper of an institution to make a difference (either small or big). Which bring me into the 2nd part of my answer:

Politics: fish is money is politics… it would be naïf to think otherwise. Furthermore (and is not the first time I said this) when politics and fisheries get-together, they seem to bring the worst of both to the surface, and the scene becomes sewage quite fast.

Fishing is the main game in town for many developing nations, is a natural resource that belongs to its citizens yet is out is sight and mind… so the interest of some in politics is to maintain it in obscurity, so mismanagement is not noticed.

Furthermore, in all those regions that allow for DWFN access, fishing has long not been only just fishing but part of geopolitics. We in the Pacific are the scene for a turf war in between China and Taiwan for quite a while now, as well as a space for Aid for Fish tactics in some cases (one main donor keeps bringing to the table a bridge they donated in the ’80s every time bilateral access is discussed and is now 2019!).

Many PIC countries side with Taiwan; hence the Taiwanese fishing industry negotiates access through bilateral negotiations. While China officially has not deals with this country, it gets involved normally via a Chinese citizen that has that island nationality and sets up a fishing company that is being seen as “local” and bring in Chinese FV as charters and joint ventures as to undermine the TW hold on the access… sure it also acts in vice versa when a country has diplomatic ties with China. The key issue here is that in not about fishing anymore… I know fishing companies in the Pacific that build massive infrastructures like wharves and huge factories that operate at a meagre % of its full capacity, yet they never go broke! Here in NZ a company working on those conditions and without subsidies would be in receivership in months, yet in the Pacific, they keep going (see this post for a more in-depth analysis on this). In any case, these DWFN keep their interest on high alert for any transparency getting into this world. Which bring me to the last element:

Shit Salaries:  An institution is made of people, and if you want a good crew you need to pay good salaries, and that is not happening in fisheries institutions. Most fisheries (all but one, in the Pacific I’ll say) are bound by being the civil service/public service type structures that has salary bands across of all sections of the employment for the state, independent if you are the person that is in charge of authorising the transhipment of 1.2 million dollars of tuna or controlling the access to the rubbish dump, and that is not right (no issues with the guy in the landfill – he does the job, but the value of their responsibilities are different).

Changing approaches in fisheries institutions requires motivated and talented people, and we have quite a few in the Pacific… but believe me, they are not in their jobs for the money… yes there are some perks with the trips and per diems…. But that does not compensate for the fact that the salaries are shit…. I estimated that the hotel bill for the staying of a week was the equivalent to their monthly salary

People in the Pacific are not individualistic by nature and family responsibilities are very high in the moral agenda, so I believe that their sense of belonging to their land and clan takes them a long way into accepting low pay. Yet where is the motivation to innovate and change if you are going to get paid the same by maintaining the status quo? At the end either you drift (and totally understandable) into mediocrity, or if you are good and can go, you get a job in a regional organisation like FFA or SPC.

I have nothing more than full respect to many of my colleagues in MIMRA and the Pacific for the level of work they do in comparison to the level of their salaries, particularly in taking into consideration the amounts of money coming into their countries from fisheries.

I live at wharf level. But for me, it is evident that If I had the goose of the golden eggs, I make sure I compensate VERY well those who are entrusted to keep her alive, and that is not happening.

And no capacity building or institutional strengthening programme by any regional or international organisation is going to make up for that… you cannot promote and expect excellence if you are not ready to pay for it.

So yea…  here are more or less the ideas behind my answer… to a rather puzzled and uncomfortable crowd