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Madagascar citizens demand transparency in a fishy deal with China

Whales swimming off the coast of northwestern Madagacsar by Salvatore Cerchio et al. / Royal Society Open Science CC-BY-4.0 (http://rsos.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/2/10/150301.article-info)

In September 2018, Hery Rajaonarimampianina, the incumbent president of Madagascar, announced that a 10-year fishing agreement had been finalized between the Malagasy Agency for Economic Development and Promotion of Enterprises and Taihe Century Investments Developments Corporation, a Chinese business consortium.

According to sources in Madagascar, the president had negotiated the deal with almost no input from his administration, parliament or civil society.  Madagascar's main development partners, including the World Bank and the European Union were not informed of the deal either.

A press release from the president's website announced that the 10-year agreement comes with a promise of investment by the Taihe corporation of up to 2.7 billion USD. It is not clear precisely how this money will be used, although it says the funds will go toward building fisheries infrastructure and supporting fisheries management. Part of the investment will also go toward a bamboo forestation project.

In return, the Chinese consortium will be allowed to deploy up to 330 vessels in coastal fisheries.

The deal was unilaterally conducted by the office of the president, raising concern and anger from Malagasy citizens. The Fishing Ministry confirmed that they have not been involved in the agreement either and expressed concerns about the risks of over-exploiting the island's sea resources.

In Madagascar, the fisheries sector is both a source of income and a vital means of subsistence for the coastal population. This fishing deal may very well endanger the lives and overall survival of 250,000 Malagasy citizens.

Citizens launched a petition to demand more information on the agreement and ensure the protection of Malagasy sea resources. As of October 28, more than 15,000 signatures have been collected. Madagascar Locally Managed Marine Area Network—MiHARI has raised a red flag as well. MiHARI President Hermany Emoantra stated in an interview:

The livelihoods of Madagascar’s coastal communities will be seriously threatened if they must compete with the potential catch capacity of these fishing boats. We mustn’t forget that with the arrival of just six industrial fishing boats in the Toliara region this year, some communities are already struggling to make ends meet. So, imagine what could happen with (the projected) 330 boats — how will these people live, where will they go?

The signing of the agreement between Chinese and Malagasy delegations via Fishing Ministry webpage / Public Domain.

Transparency International Initiative—Madagascar also published a communiqué emphasizing the risks resulting from the opacity of this agreement:

[Cet accord] représente en réalité une menace sans précédent sur notre environnement marin déjà fragile. L’accord a été signé en présence de M. Hery Rajaonarimampianina, sans concertation aucune avec les acteurs concernés, en ignorant les probables répercussions négatives à long terme pour l’environnement et la population malagasy. L’opacité entourant les conditions d’attribution de ce contrat est particulièrement inquiétante. Aucune garantie n’est offerte sur les supposées retombées économiques importantes de ce projet d’investissement. La seule certitude à ce jour est qu’il doit démarrer dès cette année. Les gains potentiels avancés par l’AMDP sont par ailleurs sujets à caution dans la mesure où, à notre connaissance, aucune étude d’impact économique ou environnemental n’a été faite.

[This agreement] is, in fact, an unprecedented threat to our already fragile marine environment. The agreement was signed in the presence of Mr. Hery Rajaonarimampianina, without any consultation with the actors concerned, ignoring the likely long-term negative repercussions for the environment and the Malagasy population. The opacity surrounding the conditions of the award of this contract is particularly worrying. No guarantee was offered on the supposed significant economic benefits of this investment project. The only certainty so far is that it must start this year. The potential gains  are also questionable insofar as, to our knowledge, no economic or environmental impact study has been done.

This fishing controversy is happening a few weeks prior to the presidential elections on November 7.

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