MALAYSIA - Kedah Regency Council deputy chairman and two rice millers have lodged a report to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) against Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob over suspected power abuse in handling rice subsidy, exposing drawbacks in the RM500 million subsidy for Super Tempatan ST15 per cent broken rice. Poor people are unable to purchase subsidied rice, due to allegedly pocketing problems involving senior officials in the government.
However, Ismail Sabri, who was severely criticised recently for harming racial harmony due to his boycott call, has distanced himself from the allegation, claiming that he has no supreme decision-making power in the government's ST15 per cent national rice subsidy programme. He said that the supply of the subsidised rice is handled by the commission led by the Ministry's Secretary-General. As the Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry Minister, how could Ismail Sabri pass the buck just like that? The accusation does not seem to be baseless as it was openly pointed out by the Kedah Regency Council deputy chairman, who is a rice miller himself.
It was reported that the Kedah Regency Council deputy chairman has his rice supply quota cut from 1,000 tons to 100 tons as he refused bribery while the supply of other rice millers were completely cut off. It is believed that many other millers are facing the same problem, showing that corruption problems in the rice subsidy programme has become increasingly serious.
The government implements the ST15 per cent national rice subsidy programme and subsidies 60,000 tons of rice each month, with RM750 subsidy for each ton. However, rice millers receive only RM450 for each ton while the other RM300 was said to have passed to specific officials in the Ministry. If such a saying is true, it shows the existence of corruption practices and who are the so-called specific officials? The MACC must investigate where has the RM300 gone.
The purpose of the government to spend RM500 million for rice subsidy each year is to allow the poor buy cheap rice, helping them to ease financial burden. The intention is good, but has unfortunately been abused by corrupt officials and unscrupulous rice millers, who turn ST15 per cent broken rice into ST5 per cent rice to gain profits from it, causing ST15 per cent rice can no longer be seen in the market, and the poor still need to buy expensive rice. The government's subsidy has only benefited the senior officials. The Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry Ministry has failed to properly implement the rice subsidy programme and many problems have derived from it. The Minister's capability should be questioned.
To solve the problem of abusing rice subsidy, the government must make a thorough reform, such as revoking the quota system for Bumiputera rice millers. The Ministry allegedly allows only Malay rice millers to enjoy the subsidy while shutting the door to Chinese rice millers, rather allowing Malay millers to store up to 6,000 tons of rice and Chinese rice millers to face shortage of supply. Unfair policy is also a factor causing corruption and abuse of power.
Since Kedah Regency Council deputy chairman has lodged a report against the Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry Minister and officials, we hope that the MACC can launch a thorough investigation on involving wholesalers, millers and officials in the ministry to lift the doubts of the people, as well as allow the poor to enjoy the rice subsidy.