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Barring foreigners from buying local rice won't fix the problem, Umno Youth chief told

Mydin boss Ameer Ali Mydin says it is an impractical and discriminatory idea.

4 minute read
Economists say the suggestion to keep foreigners from buying local rice will not solve the problem in the long run. Photo: Bernama
Economists say the suggestion to keep foreigners from buying local rice will not solve the problem in the long run. Photo: Bernama

Business tycoon Ameer Ali Mydin has criticised the suggestion by Umno Youth chief Dr Muhamad Akmal Saleh for local rice to be sold only to Malaysians amid rising prices following a market shortage of the staple good. 

Speaking to MalaysiaNow, he said Akmal's suggestion would not address the problems at hand. 

On the contrary, he said, it would complicate operations and increase the workload for employees at supermarkets and retail stores who would have to check every time a purchase is made. 

"In terms of operations, it is not practical at all," Ameer, who previously criticised the government over the matter, said. 

"Surely the workers at the counter cannot be expected to ask for passports or identity cards – that is the work of the immigration department.

"And rice is not the only thing that is subsidised by the government. Eggs are subsidised as well, and toll. We don't want to see a situation where there is a problem and instead of solving it, the government makes it more difficult for the people."  

Akmal had said on Sept 14 that locals should be prioritised over foreigners in the matter of the domestic rice subsidised by the government. 

"If the (agriculture and food security) ministry cannot do this for the whole country, it should at least be allowed in Melaka," the state exco said in a Facebook post. 

The shortage was sparked after national padi firm Padiberas Nasional, or Bernas, increased the price of imported white rice by 36% on Sept 1, leading to a surge in demand for the cheaper local white rice.

The government subsequently imposed a limit of 10 bags for 10kg of the staple, amounting to a total of 100kg per customer.

Ameer, the Mydin hypermarket boss, said on Sept 12 that the government appeared to have learnt nothing from past failures, describing the move to set a ceiling price as an attempt to "please the people".

"It's havoc out there. The government somehow repeats the same mistakes. Somehow this government has not learnt," he told business station BFM.

Responding to Akmal's suggestion, Ameer also said that prohibiting foreigners from buying local rice would amount to discrimination and send the wrong message.

"Foreign workers have also contributed to the economy, and their employers pay levies to the government. This is a staple food and I think there is no need for discrimination.

"Foreign workers don't earn very much, either. There are other ways we can do this," he said. 

For example, he said, he had repeatedly suggested a float system for subsidies, including for goods like rice. 

"We could also give more targeted subsidies to help those in the B40 group with cash aid like the Rahmah Cash Contribution programme.

"This would put more focus on those in need," he said. 

Economist Irwan Shah Zainal Abidin meanwhile said the main issue at hand was the increase in price which he said should be controlled by the government.

"The price of imported rice has gone up, which indirectly affects the demand for local rice," Irwan, a lecturer at Universiti Utara Malaysia's Business College, added.

"The demand for local rice has outstripped supply due to the cheap price. And some traders seize the chance to prioritise imported rice, so that they can make more profit.

"This is why the question of limiting the sale of rice only to Malaysians does not arise."

Irwan also said the government should take proactive measures such as giving more aid to reduce the burden on the people.

In the long run, he said, the government would need to improve its self-sufficiency level for the production of rice, to reduce dependence on imported rice. 

"In my opinion, limiting purchases for a short period of time is fine, but how effective will this be?

"Whichever way we look at it, the country will need to increase its production of rice." 

Ahmed Razman Abdul Latiff, MBA programme director at Putra Business School, said limiting the sale of local rice to Malaysians was a reasonable suggestion but had its weaknesses. 

"It has its pros," he said. "But don't forget that the problem will be in terms of implementation and monitoring, as there will be parties who take the opportunity to keep local rice and sell it to foreigners to make a bigger profit."

Economic analyst Abu Suffian Yaacob meanwhile said that the rice shortage had been expected as far back as several months ago. 

But Abu, from Universiti Malaysia Kelantan, said the government had not taken any proactive measures. 

He also predicted that the price of imported rice would continue to rise, as exporting nations reduce their sales to maintain domestic supply in their own countries. 

"This is why the government needs to work with rice producers to stabilise the price of local rice."