Govt not shutting down Bernas, only rice monopoly affected, says minister

Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister Salahuddin Ayub (picture) said the government is not planning to close down Padiberas Nasional Bhd (Bernas) although the company’s monopoly over the supply of rice has been reduced.

He said the government is only planning to break up the company’s monopoly to supply rice by granting the same licence to several other companies.

“We are not trying to do away with Bernas, but as time goes by, we see there are problems and the need to break the monopoly enjoyed by Bernas.

“To break this monopoly, there has to be control because this is related to food safety,” he told reporters after attending a dialogue with farmers at Nilam Puri Area Farmers’ Organisation (PPK) in Kota Baru yesterday.

Salahuddin said several other entities would be involved in the approach to open up the monopoly on rice supply, but so far, the ministry has not finalised which agencies would be involved.

He said he would discuss the matter at the ministry level before drafting a proposal and submitting it to the Cabinet.

On Wednesday, a local newspaper quoted Salahuddin as saying that Bernas’ monopoly as the country’s largest rice miller would be terminated.

Asked on the introduction of new policies for the ministry, Salahuddin said he is still making his rounds and being briefed by the various agencies under the ministry.

Meanwhile, the ministry is expected to announce the rebranding of the National Feedlot Centre (NFC) project next month, in an effort to revive its operations.

Salahuddin said the revival of the project will help meet the country’s livestock needs, which was affected following controversies surrounding the project.

He said the project must be revived immediately for the government to achieve the 30% target of local beef production, while reducing dependence on imported meat.

“We will continue with the original idea of the NFC project and will engage new operators who are capable and really interested to ensure the success of the project.

“I have asked the ministry’s secretary general to draft a proposal within a month,” he said in a recent interview with Bernama at his office in Putrajaya.

He said before making the official announcement, the proposal on the project would be tabled in the Dewan Rakyat, during the meeting of the 14th Parliament, to secure sufficient funds for the project.

According to Salahuddin, the move to revive the project is a practical and realistic decision as there is a need to increase local meat production.

The NFC, managed by National Feedlot Corp Sdn Bhd (NFCorp), was launched in 2007 to monitor, guide and train contract farmers.

However, the project was embroiled in a controversy when NFCorp executive chairman Datuk Seri Dr Mohamad Salleh Ismail, husband of Umno Wanita chief Tan Sri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, was investigated and charged with two counts of misappropriating a total of RM49.7 million from the NFC. Mohamad Salleh was later acquitted of the charges on Nov 25, 2015.