PM Anwar says ‘reprimanded’ tycoon Syed Mokhtar about rice monopoly

Malay Mail
Malay Mail

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 5 — Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim revealed today that he spoke to tycoon Tan Sri Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary about the latter’s perceived monopoly of rice import through national rice company Bernas (Padiberas Nasional Berhad).

Anwar claimed at a press conference held after a special Cabinet meeting earlier this afternoon that he had “reprimanded” the billionaire, but stopped short of revealing details of the purported conversation.

The country’s tenth prime minister, who is also the finance minister, has vowed to carry out his reform agenda fully and said among his top priorities would be to break existing monopolies over supply chains by politically-connected elites.

“I had spoken to Tan Sri Syed Mokhtar and he had been reprimanded because he monopolises rice imports,” Anwar said.

“He must know that this import permit is not a concession and not a form of reward for him, but instead given to Bernas,” the prime minister added.

Bernas controls 30.6 per cent of the local rice market in which it imports rice from countries such as Thailand, Myanmar to meet local demand, according to a report by The Edge.

Syed Mokhtar holds close to 92 per cent of Bernas shares through four of his companies: Perspective Lane (M) Sdn Bhd, Kelana Ventures Sdn Bhd, Seaport Terminal (Johore) Sdn Bhd, and Acara Kreatif Sdn Bhd.

In 2014, the same year the billionaire secured the shares following a failed first bid, the Barisan Nasional administration at the time admitted in Parliament that the takeover had effectively given Syed Mokhtar monopoly over rice import.

Among Bernas’ previous shareholders was former federal territories minister Tan Sri Shahidan Kassim who sold his stake for RM400 million.

Today, Anwar suggested his government could review the permit given to Bernas.

“I know Tan Sri Syed Mokhtar would still have to recoup (the cost to buy Bernas) but I would want to state my vow that the government under my leadership will no longer permit the monopolies of wealth by politicians who with such ease suck the blood of poor paddy farmers,” he said.

“But right now, we cannot burden Syed Mokhtar until we can look at his profits and if the turnover is acceptable,” he said.