Fishermen will start receiving the 100 million Rufiyaa (US$6.4 million) fuel subsidy allocated to them in the 2012 state budget as soon as Parliament approves revisions proposed by the Fisheries Ministry, the government has said.
Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture Ahmed Shafeeu said subsidising fuel for fishing vessels would “incentivise” many fishermen who are currently unable to fish due to high fuel prices.
“A lot of fishermen now use larger fishing boats which require more fuel. So they opt not to make trips if they can’t get a good catch after burning so much fuel. The fuel subsidy will encourage more people to go fishing,” said the minister.
Shafeeu said fishing in the Maldives has declined by more than half from approximately 185,000 tonnes of fish caught in 2006 to about 70,000 in 2011.
“It is very important to assist the fishermen as it affects the livelihood of many people. Also, this needs to be done in order to sustain the industry and increase fish exports as there is a risk of losing some markets,” he explained.
This year’s subsidies, unlike previously, will be given based on the horsepower (hp) of the fishing vessel instead of the size of the vessel. Registrations are open until June 7 for fishing boats to apply for subsidies, according to the ministry.
The former administration withheld releasing the subsidy citing insufficient funds in the state budget for the fishing subsidy. Former Minister of Finance Ahmed Inaz told the Parliament in October 2011 that the state would have to reduce other subsidies to issue Rf100 million as oil subsidies for fishermen.
Governor of the country’s central bank Fazeel Najeeb last month said the Maldives was facing its worst economic crisis in recent history. Parliament’s Finance Committee revealed in May that expected revenue for 2012 had plunged 23 percent – a shortfall of US$168.6 million, leaving the country with a budget deficit of 27 percent.
Fisheries Minister Shafeeu said although the state is in debt, the 100 million must be released to fishermen since Parliament had allocated the money for fishing subsidies in the state budget.
Former CEO of the Maldives Industry of Fisheries Corporation (MIFCO) Adil Saleem, who also held the position of Transport Minister in the former government, said encouraging a subsidised industry “completely reverses” of the former government’s policies, although he said it was important for fishermen “in the current situation.”
“Subsidising is wrong,” Saleem said, arguing that it did not address the core problems in the industry and is “not the solution for a sustainable industry.”
“Coup financiers are shaping the industry so that the fishermen act as their staff, going fishing everyday on subsidised fuel,” said Saleem.
However, he noted the fishermen are currently in “desperate need” of assistance due to the low prices they get for the fish, and said the subsidies should be released to them as a short-term measure.
“An election is what we really need,” Saleem said.