PUTRAJAYA: Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim has rejected attempts to politicise the issue of the purported monopoly of rice imports by corporate figure Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary, saying it was raised to help poor padi farmers.

Anwar said he had a good discussion on the matter with Syed Mokhtar, who also agreed to give back RM10 million this month and RM50 million next year to help the farmers.

“We will hold another discussion with the finance ministry on how Padiberas Nasional Bhd (Bernas) can provide comfort and justice to the poorly paid farmers,” Bernama quoted Anwar as saying after starting his official duties as the finance minister here today.

He was responding to questions regarding Kedah menteri besar Sanusi Md Nor’s remarks that Anwar only dared to reprimand Syed Mokhtar and not other rich corporate figures because “he is a Malay and easily bullied”.

Anwar said it was not an easy decision to make as he had to face the same conglomerate. He said this was similar to the decision he made to reduce the number of 4D special draws from 22 to eight a year, which had caused certain quarters to label him anti-Chinese as it involved Malaysian Chinese-owned companies.

He said that when there were businesses affecting the interests of the poor, including padi farmers in Kedah, he had to take action as the prime minister and the finance minister to help them.

“I don’t make decisions without discussion. I know him (Syed Mokhtar). I know his company is big and I don’t mean to destroy his empire.

“I told him that this is for a better future for the poor padi farmers. I don’t understand why this is a problem. The Bernas issue has been going on for years and, for the first time, this is me saying enough is enough,” he said.

Anwar had previously criticised the then government for its decision to extend Bernas’ concession period, which gave it the power to monopolise rice imports.

Yesterday, he said the government would look into the issue as well as the profits and turnover of Bernas, which is owned by Syed Mokhtar after he bought 31% of the company’s shares from Tan Boon Seng for about RM800 million, and Shahidan Kassim’s stakes at RM400 million.