Ghanaians said to actively assist foreigners to register fishing businesses
The Centre for Maritime Law and Security (CEMLAWS) has condemned Ghanaians assisting foreigners to register fishing businesses, seeking permits for importing vessels, and obtaining fishing licenses to exploit the country’s resources.
CEMLAWS in a policy draft titled “Enforcement of Beneficial Ownership Requirements to Curb Illegal Foreign Participation in Ghana’s Industrial Fisheries Sector,” was copied to the Ghana News Agency in Tema.
The policy draft is an output of a two-year project funded under the Bloomberg Philanthropies Vibrant Oceans Initiative, “Enhancing Transparency in the Fisheries Sectors of Benin,” and coordinated by CEMLAWS with project partners in the respective countries.
The document was reviewed by the project lead, Dr Kamal-Deen Ali, who is also the Executive Director of CEMLAWS, together with his officials.
They said although Section 47(1) of the 2002 Fisheries Act (Act 625), intended to safeguard Ghanaians as the beneficiaries of local industrial fishing licenses, “in reality, Ghanaians have been actively assisting foreigners to register fishing businesses using corporate structures, to conceal the actual ownership often through fronting schemes.”
It added that in such schemes, not only do the Ghanaian partners or fronts lose out significantly on the economic benefits, but also the state, and society lose the opportunity to use the fisheries sector for socio-economic development.
The document noted that a closer observation of the trend revealed that the infiltration of foreigners in Ghana’s fisheries sector was largely due to the failure to implement a beneficial ownership regime.
Currently, a fishing business incorporated, or a fishing vessel registered in Ghana was typically considered to be owned by a Ghanaian, even though the individual served as the legal owner and not the beneficial owner of the business or vessel licensed.
CEMLAWS stated that there was a need to implement and coordinate the enforcement of beneficial ownership regimes within the industrial fisheries sector, noting that such a move would help eliminate foreign involvement and enable Ghana to harness the benefits of coastal resources.
It said apart from the tuna fisheries sector, there was an outright prohibition against foreign ownership and participation in industrial fisheries, adding that Sections 46 and 47 of the Fisheries Act emphasised three crucial criteria for granting licenses for industrial fishing.
The criteria are industrial fishing without a licence is expressly prohibited; industrial fishing licenses, barring exceptions for tuna fisheries and bare-boat charters, were exclusively issued to vessels that were Ghanaian-owned; and a clear line is drawn between mere legal ownership of a company’s shares and its beneficial ownership or control over the vessel.
It recommended that the Fisheries Commission (FC), and the Ghana Maritime Authority (GMA) institute measures that truly revealed the beneficial ownership of the industrial sector.
This would help address the issues of Ghanaian fronts, opaque schemes, or special purpose vehicles to register and licence foreign fishing vessels to operate in Ghanaian waters,
The Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture Development (MoFAD), CEMLAWS called for the amendment of the Fisheries Regulations (LI 1968) to ensure that the applicant providing information on shareholding should additionally include beneficial ownership information.
It also recommended that beneficial ownership information of applicants for vessel registration and licenses should be evaluated and investigated, stressing that greater scrutiny was required for corporate shareholders and multi-layered ownership schemes as they could be obfuscating.
The policy draft also suggested that the Fishing Licence Register must contain updated entries on beneficial ownership and ensure that renewal of registrations and licenses was subject to a declaration of beneficial ownership.
It also called for the development of regulations for the submission of beneficial ownership information using the data required by the Registrar of Companies as a baseline with additional industry-specific information.
It said given that industrial fishing was primarily reserved for Ghanaians, the MoFAD and FC must collaborate with the Registrar of Companies to regulate the registration of business entities involving foreign participation.