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Govt’s rice shortage solution a ‘laughing matter’, says Mydin boss

Ameer Ali Mydin told Shireen Muhiudeen RM8 billion spent annually on cooking oil subsidies would be better used in direct aid to the poor.

PETALING JAYA: The outspoken head of a hypermarket chain has criticised the government for failing to properly address issues affecting the supply of rice, eggs and chicken for local consumption.

Appearing on FMT’s talk show “Stakeholders, with Shireen”, Ameer Ali Mydin said the government must “allocate the right resources” to address the nation’s food security concerns.

Asked by host Shireen Muhiudeen whether older plantation land should be repurposed to produce rice, the managing director of Mydin Mohamed Holdings Bhd said the government must make “enough land” available.

Denouncing a Budget 2024 proposal to open up 50,000ha in Sabah and Sarawak as a “laughing matter”, Ameer said:

“50,000ha? Thailand has 10 million ha producing rice, Indonesia has 15 (million), Vietnam has eight (million). We have only one (million).

“So where is the seriousness of making sure that we will have enough rice for ourselves?”

He said an additional 500,000ha must be allocated over the next three years to ensure a sufficient supply of the food staple.

Ameer also called on the government to produce premium rice for export, and to import lower quality rice for local consumption.

“This is how we (the government) should manage the country. I don’t think we are thinking that way,” he said.

Responding to a question on Bernas’s monopoly over rice imports, Ameer said the national rice manager’s stranglehold over its supply has made it less affordable for the consumer.

“If you allow me to import today, it will cost RM32 for a 10kg bag, but I have to go through Bernas. It costs me RM38. These guys mark up six ringgit for a 10kg bag.

“Who is paying for it? The consumers,” he said.

Saying the “historical” reasons for its existence no longer apply, Ameer called for the government to dismantle the monopoly and allow the price of rice to be determined by market forces.

‘No chicken, egg shortage’

Ameer also said there was no “real” problem with the supply of chicken or eggs to the market.

“We have always been exporters of chicken,” he said, adding that recent issues faced by the country were the result of “cartel” operations.

However, these problems have been negated by the government allowing the import of chicken, he added.

As regards eggs, Ameer said the real problem affecting supply is the government’s insistence on price controls.

“We actually export eggs to Singapore,” said Ameer, adding that the government “does not seem to understand” the reason for the shortage of eggs in the market.

“If it understands, it refuses to acknowledge what’s happening out there.”

Ameer said price controls imposed by the government and a failure to make prompt subsidy payments to producers had resulted in a shortage of regular eggs.

“The producers just move production to the premium eggs. If you’re not going to pay fast enough why should I (the producers) do it?” said Ameer.

Sugar next?

He also warned of an imminent sugar shortage in Malaysia if its ceiling price remains fixed at RM2.85 per kg, saying production would not be viable in view of rising costs.

“We have been telling the government that there could be a shortage. We can feel it because we are on the ground.

“The government is sitting up there in their ivory towers. They have no idea what is happening,” he said.

Local sugar manufacturer MSM Malaysia Holdings Bhd previously said that the sugar industry had not received subsidies since 2013.

Ameer also urged Putrajaya to lift subsidies on cooking oil packets, claiming it would be able to save the government up to RM8 billion a year, which could be better spent on direct cash handouts for the needy.

He claimed billions have been lost in subsidising the item, which ends up being smuggled across the border to be sold for double the price.

“I think the government knows and is planning to do something. I just hope they do it fast enough before it burns more money,” said Ameer.