An early-day motion has been submitted to Parliament as fishermen continue their protest over the government’s failure to make regular payments for fish purchases over the past three months. The ongoing protest at the Maldives Industrial Fisheries Company (MIFCO)-operated Kooddoo Fisheries Complex, which started on Sunday morning, highlights the growing discontent among the Maldivian fishing community.

The escalating situation necessitated the intervention of the Minister of Fisheries and Ocean Resources, Ahmed Shiyam, who travelled to Kooddoo on Sunday in an attempt to alleviate the tension. Despite his assurances to disburse around MVR 100 million of the over MVR 300 million owed to the fishermen before the month’s end, the protesters remained resolute, refusing to vacate the premises until their dues were fully settled. Shiyam further pledged to clear all outstanding debts to fishermen by 5 March.

The motion, submitted by Rozaina Adam, the Member of Parliament (MP) for Addu Meedhoo, urges the government to expedite the delayed payments for fishermen. This motion is not the first to be debated in Parliament over this issue.

Adam’s motion underscored that the government had yet to make any payments to fishermen since 18 December 2023, amounting to a staggering MVR 298 million. She expressed concern over rumours suggesting that the government, which had initially bought fish at MVR 25 per kilogramme, is now considering paying fishermen at the revised rate of MVR 20 per kilogramme, which came into effect on 12 February. Adam argues that making the payment at the revised rate after purchasing fish at the higher rate is unjust.

In the lead-up to the second round run-off of the presidential elections, MIFCO increased the per-kilogramme buying rate of skipjack tuna from MVR 17 to MVR 25, a 47 percent hike. However, given the prevailing market rates, many believed this unsustainable even at that time.

Highlighting the multitude of challenges and financial pressures that the fishermen are currently confronting, Adam stressed that the deferred payments could precipitate a crisis where fishermen find it difficult to fulfil their necessities, such as settling utility bills. It would be a gross injustice for the state to contemplate punitive measures such as terminating electricity supply to the fishermen’s households due to unpaid bills, she said, particularly when the government is the primary architect of their financial hardship.

The commitment to ensuring fishermen receive payment for their catch within 48 hours of purchase was a key campaign pledge of President Mohamed Muizzu. In light of the current situation, political analysts and critics have underscored that it is incumbent upon the administration to safeguard the rights of fishermen and fulfil its promises. This is particularly crucial given the significant implications this issue has for the country’s economy.

Critics have raised questions about the government’s ability to maintain the salaries and allowances of a substantial number of state ministers and deputy ministers amidst its financial challenges. They contend that the government’s perceived lack of urgency in settling the fishermen’s dues indicates a disregard for the importance of the fishing community, which they argue is the underlying cause of the payment delay.