Pakatan Rakyat has promised to end national rice company Bernas’s control over the industry as part of its budget plans in a bid to stimulate yields and create competitive prices to improve income for farmers.“Pakatan will end Bernas’ monopoly and its position as the sole rice importer will be reviewed and import licence will be opened to create competition,” PKR leader Tian Chua told reporters here.
Bernas, under the control of tycoon Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary, had a commercial chokehold on the country’s staple food.
This, according to Tian, who sits in Pakatan’s budget committee, allowed the company to manipulate prices.
This meant that paddy farmers had to sell yields according to Bernas’ fancy and being the sole importer, import rice prices could also be manipulated to increase the company’s profit margin.
Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad, PAS’ representative in the committee, said that rice was among the basic food items with controlled prices.
“So it is obvious that only local rice will be subject to price control and not imported rice,” he said, adding that this would mean Bernas as the sole importer of rice had absolute pricing power.
Tian also said that Pakatan would seek to overhaul the subsidy structure for rice farmers.
As the subsidy for rice went straight to Bernas, PKR chief strategist Rafizi Ramli said this begged the question as to how much of the aid actually landed in the farmers’ hands.
“We will ensure that the subsidy will go directly to the recipients,” he added.
Pakatan would also stretch the anti-monopoly policy to the sugar industry.
Malaysia imports almost all of its raw sugar requirement through four companies via import quotas set by the government based on their past sales.
The four include Gula Padang Terap Sdn Bhd and Central Sugar Refinery Sdn Bhd – both owned by Tradewinds, Malayan Sugar Manufacturing Company (MSM) and Kilang Gula Felda Perlis Sdn Bhd.
A record budget deficit in 20 years forced Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s administration to cut sugar subsidy by 25 sen in retail price per kg to RM1.90 causing inflation to rise and voters fuming.
Sugar importers denied allegations that they had chalked up profits from the subsidy cut.
They said that rising global sugar prices kept revenues relatively low, insisting that Malaysians still enjoyed among the lowest prices.