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KUCHING, June 10: Sarawak Pakatan Harapan (PH) wants the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Agro-based Industry to abolish the monopoly enjoyed by Malaysia’s sole rice importer Padiberas Nasional Berhad (Bernas) as soon as possible.
Its chairman, Chong Chieng Jen, told a press conference here this afternoon that consumers in the state had been paying in excess of between 20 per cent and 30 per cent for the rice they consume.
He said the current practice is a continuation of that during the reign of the BN, where rice dealers and wholesalers could identify their own sources of rice in Thailand or Vietnam but they had no right to import them. They have to get Bernas to import for them.
Monthly rice consumption in the state currently stands at 10,500 metric tonnes for white rice and 4,500 metric tonnes for the fragrant variety.
Chong, who is also Stampin MP and Kota Sentosa assemblyman, claimed Bernas earned a gross profit of about RM400 per metric ton of white rice and about RM1,000 per metric ton of fragrant rice imported from Thai and Vietnamese sources.
“So, Bernas’ total estimated gross profit per month for white rice is RM4.2 million and fragrant rice RM4.5 million, meaning the total gross profit per month for doing nothing or just for arranging for the import of the rice is RM8.7 million.
“Per year, the estimated gross profit will come to RM104.4 million,” he told a press conference at the Sarawak DAP headquarters here.
Bernas is owned by Tan Sri Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhari.
Chong also claimed that Bernas has a 40 per cent to 50 per cent stake in several main rice dealers in Malaysia, and it was using this leverage to get the rice dealers to sign a petition in order to retain the monopoly.
“These rice dealers are currently under the control of Bernas because the latter had bought into the shares of several major rice players, of between 40 to 50 per cent.
“So when they control the voting rights of the shareholders, definitely they control the decision to sign the petition,” said Chong.
Earlier this week, Minister of Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Salahuddin Ayub announced that Bernas’ monopoly had been terminated and that a working paper on breaking up the monopoly would be drafted with feedback from both the ministry and other stakeholders before submitting it to the government for further action.
“To protect the interests of local ‘padi’ farmers, we have identified the modules used in other countries (on importing the staple), among them Indonesia, which has been successful in its approach in opening up the monopoly on rice,” Salahuddin told reporters on June 6.