By DASHVEENJIT KAUR / Graphic By TMR
Padiberas Nasional Bhd (Bernas) defended the single monopoly system for rice imports, but said it is willing to cooperate for a policy review with the government on the matter.
CEO Ismail Mohamed Yusof said the system, which Bernas has a monopoly on, has never failed the consumers and 150,000 local paddy farmers.
“The nation has faced shortages in other food, but until now there has been no issue with the supply and demand of rice.
“We always have supplies of rice in the market, while our rice is among the cheapest in the region,” he told reporters after a meeting with the Council of Eminent Persons at Ilham Tower, Kuala Lumpur, yesterday.
Thus, Ismail said the government should maintain the system considering its track record.
“If the supplying of rice is open to everyone and imports exceeds, local producers cannot sell their paddy,” he added.
“Nevertheless, we are willing to cooperate if the government wants to review the present system for the best interests of all parties,” Ismail said.
Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister Salahuddin Ayub announced last week that Bernas’ monopoly to import rice has been terminated.
Salahuddin said a working paper on the matter will be drafted before it is submitted to the Cabinet for further action.
The minister has assured that the government is not planning to shut down Bernas, but the breaking of monopoly is aimed “to protect the interests of local paddy farmers”.
Commenting on this, Ismail said the public has only scrutinised the monopoly aspect of the rice import system, but not the company’s social obligations over the years.
“All these years, we have always supported farmers as paddy has been the only commodity that has a buyback guarantee from the government,” he said, explaining that when the produce is infected, the government would still buy from farmers.
“We also take the profit from the sole rice import, besides subsidising local rice. These are our social obligations that went unspoken,” he said.
Bernas currently owns about 28 out of 180 mills, where between 650,000 metric tonnes and 800,000 metric tonnes of rice are imported into the country per annum.
“About 60% of the rice supply is local—so if you ask if it can get any cheaper, it means you are talking about lower income for farmers,” he said.
- (The article has been edited for correctness and clarity based on the input of related stakeholders.)