As the ongoing protest by fishermen over the government’s failure to make regular payments for fish purchases enters its fourth day, Minister of Fisheries and Ocean Resources Ahmed Shiyam has pledged to pay MVR 100 million in overdue payments before 26 February. However, this assurance has done little to quell the ongoing protests at the Maldives Industrial Fisheries Company (MIFCO)-operated Kooddoo Fisheries Complex on Kooddoo Island, Gaafu Alifu Atoll.

The issue, which has now snowballed into a national crisis, was brought to the forefront when Minister Shiyam was summoned to parliament on Tuesday. MIFCO owed fishermen MVR 280 million in unpaid dues over the past three months, he revealed, with the total amount owed to fishermen by the state standing at MVR 310 million.

In an attempt to placate the disgruntled fishermen, Shiyam assured that the government would pay MVR 100 million before Monday, adding that all pending payments would be cleared before the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan. The government plans to clear all debt to fishermen before 5 March, he assured.

Shiyam also shed light on MIFCO’s financial situation. MIFCO has earned MVR 395 million for 18,987 metric tonnes of fish exports since the Mohamed Muizzu administration assumed office, according to the minister. However, he said that MIFCO’s expenses, including fuel and ice issued to fishermen on credit, have exceeded MVR 435 million since 17 November.

The minister attributed the issue of delayed payments to decisions made by the previous administration. He pointed out that this crisis unfolded following the Ibrahim Mohamed Solih administration’s decision on 17 September 2023 to raise the purchasing price of skipjack tuna to MVR 25 per kilogramme.

The Solih administration justified the hike in fish purchasing prices by citing a green signal from the European Union regarding waiving tariffs on Maldivian fish exports. However, the Muizzu administration refuted this claim, stating that the EU gave no such signal. The Muizzu administration has since lowered the price to MVR 20 per kilogramme.

Despite the ongoing protests, Shiyam urged the fishermen to return to their work. “We respectfully urge them to cease their demonstrations and return to their fishing activities, thereby avoiding any further loss of daily income,” he said. This statement was met with mixed reactions. Shiyam defended his statement, asserting that fishermen have been briefed on how and when the overdue payments will be made.

In a bid to quell the unrest, Shiyam visited Kooddoo on Sunday to speak with the protesters and assure them that the government will pay their dues. However, the protesting fishermen threatened to cut the electricity supply to the Kooddoo complex on Tuesday. Currently, fishermen from 27 vessels are still in Kooddoo, refusing to stop the demonstrations until their dues are paid.

Ahmed Samah Rasheed, the Chief Operating Officer of MIFCO, told the protesters on Tuesday that MVR 119 million had been arranged and the funds would be paid soon. However, the protesting fishermen have stated that they won’t stop their protests until MIFCO pays at least MVR 200 million in unpaid dues.

This issue has garnered national attention, with resolutions presented to parliament urging the government to expedite the delayed payments for fishermen. The motion, submitted by Rozaina Adam, the Member of Parliament (MP) for Addu Meedhoo, is the second motion submitted to parliament over the same issue.