THE Federal Government has been urged to set up food distribution and storage centres nationwide to address the issue of escalating prices of essential items.
Johor Indian Muslim Entrepreneurs Association (Perusim) secretary Hussein Ibrahim said the centres could be located in the southern, central and northern regions.
He said similar centres should also be set up in east coast regions of Pahang, Terengganu and Kelantan as well as a centre each for Sabah and Sarawak.
“The time has come for the Federal Government to start managing food distribution services to prevent third parties from profiteering,” he said when contacted.
The centres, he added, should be placed under the Domestic Trade and Cost of Living Ministry and Agriculture and Food Security Ministry.
Hussein recalled that previous governments had vowed to eliminate the role of middlemen, which was one of the main reasons for the increase in prices of essential items.
“We have seen changes in the Federal Government since May 2018, but until now, no concrete measures have been taken to overcome the issue,” he said.
He suggested that Economic Minister Rafizi Ramli go to the ground to monitor the prices and ask customers to boycott eateries found overcharging customers.
Johor Indian Petty Traders and Small Business Association (Jipta) chairman D. Ravindran said that instead of blaming food operators for increasing prices, the government should look at the core problem.
“Distributors are the ones who determine the prices of raw food ingredients and not eatery or food operators,” he said.
He noted that it had been more than a month since the new government was formed and promised to look into the high cost of living.
The Federal and state governments, Ravindran said, should constantly engage with consumer groups and business organisations to get their feedback to address the issue.
“The then Johor consumer affairs committee chairman Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek would meet up with the groups regularly if there were issues related to high-cost of living in the state,” he said.
He added that consumers also had a choice whether to patronise the eateries and not just complain about exorbitant prices charged.
Meanwhile, Rozita Ramli, who operates a mixed rice stall at Jalan Cermat Hawker Centre in Taman Maju Jaya, Johor Baru, said the ongoing north-east monsoon had pushed up prices of basic food items.
“I have no choice but to increase my prices,’’ she said.
She added that most of her regular customers did not mind paying extra for their food as prices at other stalls had gone up too.
Rozita said downpours which resulted in floods as well as the long Chinese New Year holidays had further contributed to the hike in prices of raw ingredients.
“Before the monsoon season, prices of fish and vegetables stabilised but now, they have increased due to lack of supply,” she noted.
She said the price of seafood had gone up – stringray from RM28 per kg previously to RM40 and farmed prawns from RM40 to RM60 per kg.
“The price of sea prawns has been RM100 per kg since early January and is likely to continue until the 15th day of the lunar new year,” said Rozita.
As such, she has stopped selling sambal tumis udang petai (prawn sambal with stink beans) until after the monsoon ends in March or when the price of the crustaceans start to stabilise.