Go after unscrupulous middlemen in transport of produce, govt urged

Consumer activist Jacob George says cartels control both market prices and the availability of produce at wholesale markets.

PETALING JAYA: A consumer activist has urged Putrajaya to come down hard on middlemen involved in the transport of goods and produce, saying the industry is mostly controlled by loan sharks and triads which affects the price of food items in the country.

Jacob George, who is president of the Consumers Association of Subang and Shah Alam, said the government is not involved in the appointment of such agents.

Instead, he said, activity is controlled by cartels “with massive amounts of money and muscle”.

“Farmers do not have time for distribution,” he told FMT. “They are saddled with their own debts. They just want to harvest their crops and put them on the road.”

George, who has been active in consumer affairs for 45 years now, said this in turn affects food security in the country.

According to him, cartels dictate the prices of goods and pay farmers in cash upfront.

“Their transporters then bring it to wholesale markets where their men are given instructions to take further care of the goods.”

Thus, he said, cartels control not only market prices but the availability of goods as well.

“Sometimes they can manipulate the situation by creating an oversupply or shortage because they control things end-to-end,” he said.

George said the Federal Agricultural Marketing Authority, a government statutory body, was meant to fulfil the function of middlemen. However, he added that this role never took off.

“There are a lot of little Napoleons involved, making it harder to get rid of unscrupulous middlemen.”

His comments follow claims by a group of chicken farmers that they are sustaining losses due to pressure from middlemen to keep their prices low.

The farmers told FMT they might have to close shop if the situation does not improve.

George said unless the government gives consumer associations the support they need, they will be powerless to help.

Referring to government efforts in the past to bust diesel smuggling activities in the country, he said one of the strategies employed by the domestic trade, cooperatives and consumerism ministry was to offer rewards for whistleblowers.

The army had also stepped in, along with the Special Actions Unit or UTK.

George, who was involved in these efforts, said the same tactics should be used to remove cartels from the industry, with army or UTK personnel stationed at wholesale markets to monitor the situation.

“Right now, we (consumer associations) don’t have that kind of muscle to fight the triads,” he said, adding that he himself had received threats from middlemen who accused him of trying to distort their supply chain.

Fake or not? Check our quick fake news buster here.