Rice import monopoly shouldn't be politicised, it's aimed to help poor farmers

PUTRAJAYA: Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim today said that the issue of the purported monopoly of rice imports by corporate figure Tan Sri Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary should not be politicised as it was raised with the aim to help the poor padi farmers.

Anwar said he had a good discussion on the matter with Syed Mokhtar, who also agreed to give back RM10 million this month and RM50 million next year to the farmers.

“We will hold another discussion with the Ministry of Finance (MOF) on how Padiberas Nasional Bhd (Bernas) can assure comfort and justice to the poor paid farmers,” he told a press conference after starting his official duties as the Minister of Finance here.

He said this when asked about Kedah Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor’s remarks that Anwar only dared to reprimand Syed Mokhtar compared to other rich corporate figures in Malaysia because he is a Malay and easily bullied.

The prime minister said it was not an easy decision to make as he had to face the same conglomerate just like the decision he made to reduce the frequency of lottery special draws from 22 times to only eight times a year which had caused certain quarters to labelled him as anti-Chinese as it involved Chinese companies.

Anwar said when there were businesses affecting the interests of the poor, including padi farmers in Kedah, he had to take action as the prime minister and the minister of finance to help the group.

“I don’t make decisions without discussion. I know him (Syed Mokhtar). I know his company is big and I don’t mean to destroy his empire.

“I told him that this is for a better future of the poor padi farmers… I don’t understand why is this a problem. The Bernas issue has been going on for years and, for the first time, this is me saying enough is enough,” he said, adding that further discussions were hoped to bring more benefits to the farmers.

Anwar had previously criticised the then government for its decision to extend Bernas’ concession period, which gave it the power to monopolise rice imports.

Yesterday, he said the government would look into the issue as well as the profits and turnover of Bernas, which is owned by Syed Mokhtar after he bought 31 per cent of the company’s shares from Tan Sri Tan Boon Seng for about RM800 million and Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim’s stakes at RM400 million. – BERNAMA

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