Bernas to help govt devise system to replace rice monopoly

Bernas CEO Ismail Mohamed Yusof (middle, in dark blue coat) speaks to reporters after meeting the Council of Eminent Persons today.

KUALA LUMPUR: Padiberas Nasional Bhd (Bernas) said today it is willing to work with the government to devise a system to replace its rice marketing monopoly “that will be best for everyone”.

Bernas CEO Ismail Mohamed Yusof said the monopoly system had worked in providing sufficient rice supply in the market, but added that the company would cooperate if the government wanted to review the present system.

Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister Salahuddin Ayub previously said the government would terminate Bernas’ monopoly over the supply of rice by licensing several other companies to enter the market.

Bernas, which is part of billionaire Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary’s stable of companies, is involved in the procurement and processing of padi, and importation, warehousing, distribution and marketing of rice in Malaysia.

According to the company’s website, its obligations also cover maintenance of the nation’s rice stockpile, acting as the buyer of last resort for padi farmers, managing the Bumiputera Rice Millers Scheme and the distribution of padi price subsidies to farmers on behalf of the government.

Ismail defended the monopoly system, saying it ensured sufficient supply of rice in the market at a low price.

“If we look at the time since Bernas was set up, we have not had any issue about sufficient supply of rice. There has always been rice in the market,” he told reporters after meeting the Council of Eminent Persons here.

Ismail said 60% of the rice currently sold in the market was locally produced, with the prices among the cheapest in Southeast Asia.

“A bowl of rice costs an average of 26 sen. If we want to push the price lower, how much can the farmers earn?” he said.

He said Bernas also bought unwanted padi from farmers and provided them with subsidies.

“This is Bernas’ social obligation that the government has to take into account.

“Everyone talks about Bernas’ rice monopoly but no one talks about how they are going to help farmers buy the unwanted padi and give subsidies,” he said.

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