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Don't sell off future of rice industry to one company

On Aug 9, 2017, I filed a motion in Parliament that read:

“That this House urge the Agriculture Minister to immediately explain how BERNAS had could make a public assumption that its agreement with the government upon its expiry on Jan 10, 2021 will be 'renewed in perpetuity', which if true, would have colossal and devastating effects on the national paddy and rice industry for generations to come”.

I was compelled to file this motion after being horrified by the discovery of the above fact disclosed in a letter issued by Mercury Securities Sdn Bhd (appointed by Padiberas Nasional Bhd, or BERNAS) dated March 2, 2017 in relation to its corporate exercise carried out in March this year.

It was highlighted in the above letter to BERNAS shareholders, which was reviewed and approved by the board of BERNAS, that the BERNAS agreement with the government which will expire on Jan 10, 2021 “will be renewed into perpetuity” and BERNAS will continue to be the sole permit holder to import rice from overseas.

If what is stated above is true (that BERNAS’s agreement will be renewed in perpetuity) – the impact of such an agreement would be devastating on the entire paddy and rice industry.

We are not talking about franchising of some nasi lemak business, we are talking about handing over the rights in regulating the entire country’s rice industry – in which all stakeholders especially the farmers must be consulted beforehand.

It is rotten enough today that the government has allowed BERNAS to be become wholly privately owned and controlled by Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary’s companies, straying away from its original structure when up to 45 percent of BERNAS’s shareholding was held by the Muda Agricultural Development Authority (MADA), Kemubu Agricultural Development Authority (KADA), National Farmers' Organisation (NAFAS) and National Fishermen's Association (NEKMAT) (when BERNAS was privatized in 1996) in order to protect and look after the interests of farmers.

Neither the government nor the board of BERNAS (in which the government has representation by virtue of its “golden share”) has the moral authority or the right to sell off or gadaikan (pawn) the future of the entire rice industry in perpetuity to an individual or company.

Any such move would clearly be against our national interest, as it would not only tantamount to theft against the people, it would be theft against whole generations to come.

Today there are already endless public grievances that BERNAS, now a commercial entity, is focused entirely on profits in its monopoly of rice import business, and has neglected its role in protecting the interests of farmers, bumiputera rice millers and the rice industry at large.

With BERNAS concentrating on generating profits for its shareholders (with a recorded revenue of RM3.188 billion for the 9 month period until 30 September, in 2016 alone), the national dream of achieving 100 percent self-sufficiency level in terms of driving up local rice production for the country will never be realized.

Although my motion above was rejected by the Speaker on August 10, 2017, I am calling upon the agriculture minister to explain this matter of public importance outside Parliament, on how BERNAS could have made such a statement that its agreement with the government will be renewed in perpetuity.

Was it done with the government’s blessings? Any such preposterous plan, if true, must be put to a stop and nipped in the bud immediately.

GOOI HSIAO LEUNG is PKR MP for Alor Setar. 

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