Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim today said that the issue of the purported monopoly of rice imports by corporate figure Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary should not be politicised as it was raised with the aim of helping poor padi farmers.
Anwar said he had held a good discussion on the matter with Syed Mokhtar, who also agreed to give back RM10 million this month and RM50 million next year to the farmers.
"We will hold another discussion with the finance ministry on how Padiberas Nasional Bhd (Bernas) can assure comfort and justice to the poor padi farmers," he told a press conference after starting his official duties as the finance minister in Putrajaya.
He said this when asked about Kedah Menteri Besar Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor’s remarks that Anwar only dared to reprimand Syed Mokhtar instead of other rich corporate figures in Malaysia because he was a Malay and easily bullied.
The prime minister said it was not an easy decision to make as he had had to face the same conglomerate, just like the decision he made to reduce the frequency of special lottery draws from 22 times to eight times a year, which had caused certain quarters to label him as anti-Chinese since Chinese companies were involved.
Anwar said when there were businesses affecting the interests of the poor, including padi farmers in Kedah, he had to take action as the prime minister and the finance minister to help the group.
"I don’t make decisions without discussions. I know him (Syed Mokhtar). I know his company is big and I don’t mean to destroy his empire.
"I told him that this is for a better future of the poor padi farmers... I don’t understand why is this a problem. The Bernas issue has been going on for years and, for the first time, this is me saying enough is enough," he said, voicing hope that further discussions would bring more benefits to the farmers.
Anwar had previously criticised the government for its decision to extend Bernas’ concession period, which gave it the power to monopolise rice imports.
Yesterday, he said the government would look into the issue as well as the profits and turnover of Bernas which is owned by Syed Mokhtar after he bought 31% of the company’s shares from Tan Boon Seng for about RM800 million in addition to Shahidan Kassim’s stakes at RM400 million.