KUALA LUMPUR: Padiberas Nasional Bhd (Bernas) wants some form of rice import monopoly to be retained, says its chief executive officer Ismail Mohamed Yusoff.
“The system works and it should be maintained. But if the Government wants to review it, we are keen to work with them,” he said after meeting the Council of Eminent Persons at Ilham Tower yesterday.
Besides importing rice, Ismail said Bernas also looked into the livelihoods of some 150,000 padi farmers to ensure fair prices for their harvest.
“Rice is the only commodity which the Government guarantees a buy-back from farmers.
“We reap profits from rice imports and subsidise local padi farmers,” he said.
Ismail said Bernas operated only 28 out of the 180 rice mills in the country where between 650,000 metric tonnes and 800,000 metric tonnes of padi were imported annually.
Asked if ending the rice monopoly would bring prices down, Ismail said it was “unlikely”.
“We have the cheapest price for rice with a bowl costing 26 sen.
“Even if we lowered it by just one sen, local farmers will be affected,” he said, adding that they supplied some two million tonnes of padi.
On food security, he said Bernas’ role as the “sole gatekeeper” was crucial in ensuring sufficient supply of rice.
Besides the Government’s three-month rice stockpile, he said Bernas also has a three-month stockpile while local suppliers held a two-month stockpile.
At present, Ismail said the nation imports about 650,000 metric tonnes of rice a year.
Last week, Agriculture and Agro-based Industries Minister Salahuddin Ayub announced the end of Bernas’ monopoly to import rice.
Salahuddin said a working paper on breaking up the monopoly would be drafted following feedback from all stakeholders.
However, he assured that the Government was not planning to close down Bernas but to break up the company’s monopoly to supply rice by granting licences to several other companies.