No hike in rice price, wholesale or retail

No hike in rice price, wholesale or retail
By : Hamidah Atan and Shamini Darshni

PUTRAJAYA: There will be no increase in the price of rice at both wholesale and retail levels.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said as rice was a price-controlled item, any move to increase the price without consulting the authorities was an offence.

“Only ministers concerned can make such announcements,” Abdullah said after launching the 18th Conference of International Islamic Fiqh Academy in Putrajaya yesterday.

Meanwhile at a separate event, Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said Padiberas Nasional Bhd (Bernas) officials have been told to retract their July 1 announcement on a wholesale price hike.

“This decision means there will not be a price increase at the wholesale level, which also means there will be no increase in the retail price or at any other level,” he said.

Speaking at a press conference after attending a dialogue held in conjunction with a workshop on agriculture financing organised by Umnos agriculture bureau and his ministry, Muhyiddin said he would inform the cabinet tomorrow of the decision.

Bernas officials had met with officials from the ministry and the Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry on the matter.

At the meeting, chaired by Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Ministry secretary-general Datuk Dr Zulkifli Idris, it was also agreed that Bernas must officially inform and negotiate with the ministry on any increase in the price of rice.

“They will have to justify the price hike. Bernas cannot simply raise prices in the future,” he said.

It was also decided that any future announcement of a price hike in rice must come from the ministry.

Muhyiddin said in the agreement between Bernas and the government, any decision Bernas wanted to make had to be referred to its custodian, which in this case was the ministrys secretary-general.

"Whether or not the price of rice has increased or decreased at the international level this year doesnt matter. In the past, when the international price of rice went up we didnt increase the price.

“Similarly, when the international price came down, we didnt reduce the price. So why did they make such a decision?” he said.

On July 5, Bernas had announced an increase in the wholesale price of rice by five sen to 10 sen per kg for white rice, fragrant rice and basmati rice. The price had gone up by 20 sen for glutinous rice.

Bernas has the exclusive rights to supply Malaysia with rice. This agreement with the government ends in 2011.

“(Bernas) cannot exploit its monopolistic position to do things without taking into consideration the effect on our consumers,” Muhyiddin added.

He said there were foreign parties interested in supplying rice for local consumption.

"This will be better because there will be more competition and consumers will get a better price.

“We at the ministry will now have to look into this issue and study the possible positions we want to take before the agreement period expires.”

In a two-paragraph statement, Bernas said that it would abide by the governments decision and announced that it had cancelled, with immediate effect, the increase in the wholesale price of rice.

“Bernas will also continue to work with the government, namely the Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Ministry, in applying for an increase in the price of rice in future.”

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