Business

Question marks hang over Bernas’ fate

bernas

Zaidi Azmi
Written by Zaidi Azmi

SHAH ALAM — July 8, 2019: As someone who had worked at the company even before its corporatisation, Abdul Halim Abu Bakar was skeptical of the government’s decision to break Padi Beras Nasional Berhad’s (Bernas) sole hold on rice imports.

The 64-year old retiree doubted that having more companies importing rice will bode well for the country, particularly regarding the well-being of local paddy farmers which Bernas was obligated to care for by virtue of its import monopoly.

“It’s the APs (approved permits) that the other companies want from this move. I don’t think these companies will continue acting as a buyer of last resort once they get the APs,” said the Perlis-born Halim who attended Bernas’ 25th anniversary celebration at its office here today.

Following the 1973 food crisis, which saw a rice price hike, Malaysia had a year later opted to remodel its rice import model to that of a single gate-keeping mechanism.

Since then the import of rice would only be done through the National Paddy and Rice Board that would later become Bernas.

The government had after the May 9 general election last year, decided to dismantle the rice management model.

The logic of ending Bernas’ rice import monopoly, said Agriculture and Agro-based Industries Minister Salahuddin Ayub, was to reduce the retail price of rice. Critics, however, argued otherwise.

The argument was that while the price of imported rice fluctuates – due to market competition – Malaysia’s national rice policy dictates that imported rice shall not be sold at a price that is lower than those locally produced.

In April, researchers of Khazanah Research Institute had also warned the government about the implications of liberalising the country’s rice import system, which they said could harm the country’s stockpile and erase paddy farmers’ social safety net.

The latter was possible because Bernas was only able to perform its role as a buyer of last resort -that would buy paddy irrespective of the quality at a guaranteed price- due to its sole hold on the country’s import of rice.

Despite the talk of ending Bernas’ monopoly, the government, since announcing the matter 14 months ago, has yet to disclose any meaningful detail on how it intends to go about once Bernas’ concession expires two years from now.

“The ball is in their court now…but the public haven’t heard anything from them (the ministry). Like everyone else, we’re pretty much in the dark too,” said a source familiar with the issue.

Bernas’ latest game plan seemed to indicate that it has yet to throw in the towel in the proverbial fight to maintain the existing status quo.

Since last year, the company has continued to reiterate its commitment to safeguard the commercial and social interests of local rice farming industry and over 140,000 paddy farmers in the country.

“We plan to tour around the country, especially in places where we operate. We want to meet and greet our direct and indirect stakeholders, who have played crucial roles in ensuring the continuity of Bernas,” said company managing director Ismail Mohamed Yusof today.

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About the author

Zaidi Azmi

Zaidi Azmi

If Zaidi Azmi isn’t busy finding his way in the city, this 26-year-old northern kampung boy can be found struggling to make sense of the Malaysian political scene. Zaidi can be reached at [email protected]