The Maldives Industrial Fisheries Co. Ltd (MIFCO) has denied reports in local media that it is looking to reduce the per-kilogramme buying rate of skipjack tuna. The company also denied allegations that it is reviewing the purchase price.

In a statement, MIFCO said the company had been buying fish at the same rate since the price was increased from MVR 17 to MVR 25 per kg last September and had not considered reducing the price.

The company is not in direct consultation with the Ministry of Finance and other government agencies to review the price of skipjack tuna and is working with the relevant authorities to pay all outstanding payments to fishermen and would ensure that they continue to pay for the fish they have bought, the statement assured.

The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of MIFCO, Ismail Fauzee, had earlier suggested that, given current global rates, the company should consider reducing the per kg purchase price to below MVR 20, adding that MIFCO could otherwise face significant financial losses.

Fauzee had said a review was underway between MIFCO, the Ministry of Finance, and other relevant agencies to revise the purchase price. He added that, as it is, MIFCO was under considerable strain to meet the new buying prices without government assistance. He had confirmed that payments to fishermen were being delayed because of the price increase.

“It is very difficult to meet the expenses. There are many bills pending due to the price change. As per the [global] market rate, the price should be kept below MVR 20,” he had said.

This comes at a time when the incoming Mohamed Muizzu administration has heavily hinted at reducing SOEs by eliminating those which are underperforming or financially burdensome to the state.

“… if the SOEs are inherently inoperable or are legacy companies that burden the state because of the shape they are in, we will have to reconsider [their status],” Spokesperson at the President-Elect’s Office Mohamed Firuzul Abdulla Khaleel had recently said.

The state had budgeted MVR 250 million to MIFCO this year. However, given the current buying rate, it is likely the company’s requirements will balloon to twice the budgeted amount.

MIFCO was previously buying fish at MVR 17 per kg, but the outgoing Ibrahim Mohamed Solih administration had increased the price to MVR 25 in September in the lead-up to the second-round run-off of the presidential elections, stating that negotiations on removing Europe’s 22 percent tax on Maldives’ fish imports were looking ‘positive.’

MIFCO, incorporated in 1993, is a state-owned enterprise (SOE) established with the stated intent of creating economic opportunities for the Maldivian fishing community while supporting the nation’s economic growth. The company absorbed the first commercial fish cannery at Felivaru Island in Lhaviyani Atoll into its operations. The cannery was initially set up by the government with investment from Japan. MIFCO is currently led by Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director, Ismail Fauzee.