Fishermen gathered at Maldives Industrial Fisheries Company’s (MIFCO) Koodoo Fisheries Complex are protesting the company’s failure, over the last three months, to pay them for the fish sold to the state-owned fisheries company.

Videos posted on social media show the protesting fishermen complaining that they have not been paid for their fish in more than three months.

Minister of Fisheries and Ocean Resources Ahmed Shiyam said last week that MIFCO had outstanding dues amounting to over MVR 190 million to fishermen and the administration was working on a loan to settle the dues.

According to Shiyam, actions by the previous administration, in terms of habitual debt monetisation combined with poor fiscal discipline, had created challenges in obtaining loans both internally and externally.

“The figures show that there is about MVR 190 million that has not been given to the fishermen at the moment. The government and MIFCO are working hard to find a facility by giving sovereign guarantee at the request of the President,” Shiyam had said.

Meanwhile, current overdue payment estimates, as of Saturday, have risen to MVR 298 million, with the ministry now saying to the fishing community that the administration hopes to release payments by 5 March — the issue has become particularly contentious as the fasting month of Ramadan draws nearer and fishermen have been complaining for months that dues have severely affected their lives and livelihoods.

In addition, after the recent price reduction of the per-kilo buying rate of skipjack tuna from MVR 25 to MVR20, fishermen are currently being paid regularly every week, the minister assured.

MIFCO, prior to 16 September 2023, was purchasing skipjack tuna at MVR 17 per kg, however, the previous administration had increased the price to MVR 25 in September in the lead-up to the second-round run-off of the presidential elections, despite rumoured reservations within MIFCO, in what was widely speculated to be a political move — the then administration, at the time, attributed the price hike to negotiations on removing Europe’s 22 percent tax on the Maldives’ fish imports looking ‘positive.’

Some observers had attributed the outstanding payments to the country’s poor financial standing as President Mohamed Muizzu had seemed to indicate earlier this month that development projects had slowed due to the significant debt, and resulting financial challenges. However, the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade on Saturday signalled that the financial situation was under control, pointing to anticipated investments and the increase in tourist arrivals as an indicator that the economy will soon rebound.