A group of Cook Islands fishermen and their supporters have been demanding a full refund for the tax they paid on their baked fish, saying the government needs to take more responsibility for the island nation’s water resources.
“The government needs some help from the community to take responsibility for these issues,” fisherman and co-founder of the Cook Islands Fish and Wildlife Department, James McInerney, told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
McInerneys group has been lobbying the island’s president, Maka Kahungunu, and his administration to release the full amount of taxes that are owed to the country’s fishing industry, which has grown from $20 million in 2005 to more than $1 billion today.
The Cook Islands has more than 1,300 commercial fishermen.
About half are employed by the fishing industry.
In the past, the government has used its revenue from fishing to help pay for water and wastewater treatment and other infrastructure.
The government has said it can’t pay the bill, because it can never provide the amount of tax it owes.
McIinerneys calls the issue a “political” one and says it’s a “moral issue.”
The government says it has paid back the full taxes, but not the amount owed, which it estimates to be about $3 million.
McInserneys said the money is in the form of an annual income tax refund for current residents.
He also said the government would have to pay back another $300,000 in future years to cover the amount it owes from the taxes paid on the baked seafood.
McIngerneys also said that the government’s handling of the bakers’ issues has been inconsistent and has made it difficult for the fishers to make money.
He said he has spoken with some of the fishermen who have complained about the lack of transparency and the difficulty of working with the government.
In December, Kahungu told the Associated Press that he’s aware of the problems with the bakes.
“We’ve been hearing about them for a while, so I’m just really surprised that this has come to the forefront,” he said.