PUTRAJAYA (Dec 6): Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has defended his decision to urge Padiberas Nasional Bhd (Bernas), controlled by tycoon Tan Sri Syed Mokhtar Albukhary, to allocate up to RM60 million in funds for rice smallholders as part of profit-sharing efforts from the rice monopoly.
Dismissing the notion that he is out to double down on bumiputera tycoons, Anwar said he had discussed “in good terms” with Syed Mokhtar, who agreed to assist the smallholders while Bernas renegotiates its existing rice import concession with the Government.
Speaking to reporters after he started his official duties as the finance minister on Tuesday (Dec 6), Anwar was commenting on remarks made by Kedah Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor, who claimed that he only dared to reprimand Syed Mokhtar instead of other corporate figures in the country because the businessman is Malay and easily bullied.
Anwar said the matter should not be politicised, and that it was actually not an easy decision to make, just like when he made the decision to reduce the number of special draws by number forecast operators to just eight times per year from next year onwards, from the present 22, which had caused certain people to label him as anti-Chinese as it involved companies controlled by Chinese businessmen.
On Monday, Anwar said Syed Mokhtar had agreed for Bernas to provide RM10 million this month to reduce the financial burden of rice smallholders, followed by another RM50 million next year.
At the time, Anwar said the Government “should not burden” the concession holder until it is determined whether the returns generated are appropriate.
Bernas is controlled by Perspective Lane (M) Sdn Bhd, with one golden share held by the Ministry of Finance (MOF), company checks show.
“The concession was not given to him initially, but to Bernas, [before it was taken over by Syed Mokhtar] from [political] parties-linked individuals,” Anwar said at the press conference on Tuesday.
“He (Syed Mokhtar) requested to get back his costs, and the ministry can negotiate with him. In the meantime, as Bernas recorded profit, [I said] please assist the smallholders. He agreed,” Anwar said.
“This does not mean I want to destroy the business empire [of Syed Mokhtar],” the PM added.
He further said that the MOF will hold another discussion on how Bernas can assure comfort and justice for poor paddy farmers.
Anwar also gave his assurance that the Government would find ways to assist businesses, citing as an example that the Government could improve the related infrastructure at the Tanjung Pelepas Port in Johor.
Tanjung Pelepas, via Pelabuhan Tanjung Pelepas Sdn Bhd, is 70%-owned by MMC Corp Bhd, according to the latest annual report. MMC is controlled by Syed Mokhtar, following its privatisation in 2021.
In November 2020, then agriculture and food industries minister Datuk Seri Dr Ronald Kiandee said in a parliamentary reply that the Government had extended Bernas' rice import concession monopoly for another 10 years. The concession was previously scheduled to end in January 2021.
Under government policy, 30% of rice consumed in Malaysia is imported, the ministry said in September 2021.