Bernas won’t be paid to pack subsidised rice under MyBeras programme

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KUALA LUMPUR (March 30): Padiberas Nasional Bhd (Bernas), the sole company in charge of rice supply in Malaysia, will not be paid to undertake the packaging and distribution of the subsidised rice under the MyBeras Programme, which is set to kickstart in May.

"They cannot make profit from it,” Deputy Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister Datuk Tajuddin Abdul Rahman told reporters at the Parliament lobby, adding it was a social responsibility for the company.

Earlier, Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek told Parliament that Bernas was appointed by the government to pack and distribute rice under the MyBeras Programme, to designated distribution centres.

The programme was announced in the 2016 Budget recalibration on Jan 28.

Ahmad Shabery said Bernas can appoint any licensed wholesaler to pack and distribute MyBeras, including cooperatives.

MyBeras, which involves providing 20 kg of rice a month to each poor family, was meant to replace the Super Tempatan 15 per cent (ST15) programme, which was abolished in November last year.

The government said S15 had been abused and the subsidised rice had not reached the targeted lower income group. The government had paid RM530 million in subsidy annually, for ST15 rice.

Last year, the agriculture ministry said a total of RM528 million subsidy was paid to Bernas for milling the ST15 rice in 2014.

Meanwhile, Ahmad Shabery said that Bernas, which is controlled by business tycoon Tan Sri Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary, has not completed its restructuring process, and any move to re-list the company would be a commercial decision.

Meanwhile, Ahmad Shabery said any changes to the organisation structure of Bernas needs the approval of the ministry, based on the concession agreement with the government.

"Therefore, on the question of the re-listing of Bernas on the Bursa Malaysia, this is really a commercial decision, which can only be decided by the shareholders of Bernas, not the government," he said in a written reply to Alor Setar MP Gooi Hsiao-Leung.

Gooi had argued that a company solely in charge of the rice supply and distribution in the country, should not be privatised; and he had been pursuing this matter relentlessly.

Bernas was delisted in April 2014, following a privatisation exercise by a group of officers linked to Syed Mokhtar.

Ahmad Shabery's predecessor Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri had said Bernas had given him a personal pledge that it would apply to re-list on the local bourse, and the National Farmers’ Association (Nafas) and the National Fishermen's Association (Nekmat) would be given 5% equity in the company, respectively.

However, in June 4, 2015, RAM Ratings had downgraded the ratings of Bernas' RM750 million Islamic Commercial Papers/Medium-Term Notes Programme (ICP/MTN) (2010/2017) to A3/negative/P2, from AA3/negative/P1.

The rating agency said the downgrade reflects the material and unexpected deterioration in Bernas' financial profile, arising from the extension of financial support to its parent, Tradewinds (M) Bhd, as well as several adverse industry developments.

It added that the group had channeled a large amount of advances to its holding companies and related parties, totalling over RM700 million.