The monopoly, cartel behind skyrocketing food prices

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The return of monopoly and cartel run by rich UMNO elites to profit from the people.

Exactly what has happened to the meat cartel scandal? First exposed in December last year, millions of Malaysian Muslims have consumed fake halal beef for the last 40 years. The scandal, involving agencies like the Malaysian Quarantine and Inspection Services Department, Customs Department and Port Police, clearly was an example of powerful Malays cheating ordinary Malays.

It means from 1980 to 2020 – under Prime Ministers Mahathir Mohamad, Abdullah Badawi, Najib Razak and Muhyiddin Yassin – very powerful politicians and senior government officers, including those from JAKIM, were “business partners” of the cartel. Yet, after almost one year since the scandal was exposed, not a single Malay top gun has been sent to prison.

Today, a fifth Malay Prime Minister – Ismail Sabri – is running the country. But it appears the humiliating scandal is quietly being swept under the carpet. It has to be covered up because all the bad guys and crooks involved were UMNO Malays. And because all the Malay political parties – UMNO, Bersatu and PAS – are part of the government, it’s best to pretend nothing had happened.

But when a Chinese company, Winepak Corporation, produced award-winning “Timah whiskey” meant only for non-Muslim consumption, almost all the Malay politicians whined and bitched until foaming at the mouth that the whiskey would confuse the Muslims. Eating diseased non-halal horse and kangaroo meat seems more acceptable than “seeing” a product called “Timah whiskey”.

Rather than interfering with non-Muslim rights by stirring up racial and religion sentiments among the Malays against Timah whiskey, which should be celebrated instead as it will generate export revenue, the government should start worrying about food security and stop the practice of monopoly. The meat cartel scandal happened not only because of corruption but due to monopoly.

From sugar to meat and from post office to national carmaker Proton, everything was being monopolized as part of the NEP (New Economic Policy) introduced after the 1969 racial riots. Before “Sugar King” Robert Kuok was forced to sell his sugar business to Felda Group in 2009, the price of sugar was kept low and stable. When Syed Mokhtar Albukhary – an UMNO proxy – took over the sugar business, prices consistently rise.

Naturally, when wholesale sugar price increases, the food prices such as canned drinks, bread, biscuits, and soya sauce also jump accordingly. Here’s a perspective of how the billionaire slaughtered the ordinary people through his almost total control of the distribution and sale of sugar – when the world price for sugar was only RM1.40 per kilogram, the retail price in Malaysia was set at RM2.90 per kg.

Not only Albukhary controls the sugar business, he also monopolizes the rice in the country when his company Tradewinds acquired Padiberas Nasional Bhd (Bernas), the country’s sole rice importer. It was revealed that Bernas’ gross profit per month is about RM8.7 million, translating to RM104.4 million annually for doing nothing except arranging the import of rice.

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Worse, the UMNO proxy got greedy when Bernas increased imports of cheap low-grade rice, causing small-scale rice millers to shut down. By systematically killing millers and paddy farmers, who happen to be ethnic Malay, instead of assisting them, the tycoon managed to maximize his profits. Do you know that about 90% of paddy farmers in Kedah, the nation’s rice bowl state, are in debt?

In 2018, it was revealed that 300,000 farmers in Kedah were drowning in debt due to shrinking incomes and increasing operating costs thanks to rice monopoly. The net income for an average farmer was only RM600 per month, forcing them to borrow to stay in business. To add salt to injury, some have to pay rent on the land because not all farmers own them.

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Now, with UMNO’s return to the driver seat, the old tactic of profiting from the poor people, especially the majority ethnic Malays, is back in business. Three days ago (Nov 25), local bread producer Gardenia Bakeries announced that it will raise prices for most of its products, ranging from 10 sen to 45 sen – effective December 1. Of course, Gardenia is owned by none other than Albukhary.

A loaf of Gardenia Original Classic 400g white bread will cost RM2.80 compares to the old price of RM2.50. The Gardenia Original Classic Jumbo 600g will cost RM4 instead of RM3.55, while a 400g loaf of Gardenia Bran & WheatGerm which is currently priced at RM2.50 will be increased to RM2.90. The local favourites such as Twiggies will jump from RM1.49 to RM1.80.

As usual, Gardenia claims that the prices increase is due to the hike in the cost of raw materials (flour, sugar, milk, whole wheat, cocoa powder, packaging, and whatnot) and freight charges. Interestingly, Massimo bread owned by billionaire Robert Kuok appears to be immune to the cost of raw materials as it has not announced any price hike.

This is not the first time Gardenia increased its prices. About a year ago (November 2020), it also announced new prices for several of its flavoured breads. The price had been raised between 5 and 20 sen effective December 2020. In Nov 2018, Gardenia also raised the prices of several of its best-known products, even though it had increased the prices of 18 of its products a year earlier in 2017.

Hilariously, when then-opposition UMNO and PAS Islamist party started a campaign in 2019 to boycott non-Muslim products, many gullible Malays foolishly swallowed hook, line and sinker. The “Buy Muslim First” campaign argued that Malays must buy Gardenia bread, for example, because Syed Albukhary owns the company. Heck, they even proclaimed the UMNO proxy as the Malays’ saviour.

The same group of extremists and racists who supported the buy-Muslim-first campaign, instead of educating people to buy the lowest priced products, is today unimpressed with Gardenia’s price hikes. And it’s not hard to understand why. The price jump of bakeries came at a time when price skyrockets for essentials like fish, chicken, vegetables, and whatnot.

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At first, the fish prices jumped, followed by chicken. Then, the prices of vegetables suddenly skyrocket. Now the billionaire linked to UMNO who is allowed to monopolize almost everything in the country has increased the price of bread. Shortage of workers becomes the convenient excuse for the escalating fish prices. But did the manpower shortage happen overnight?

Everything was part of a grand scheme to enrich the Malay elites who walk the corridors of power. While Albukhary monopolizes food supply chain, Home Minister Hamzah Zainudin monopolizes the manpower supply. First, Hamzah ordered the police and immigration to hunt down foreign workers, despite Covid-19 pandemic – deliberately done to create a shortage of workers.

At least 124,423 illegal foreign workers were arrested, and generated RM71 million through compounds. Now that a shortage of labour has been created, the same corrupt and despicable home minister happily said employers who are interested in hiring foreign workers will have to bear all the costs involved in bringing them into Malaysia.

The SOP (standard operating procedures) for foreign worker entry, involving four stages – pre-departure, arrival, post-arrival (quarantine period) and post-quarantine – is essentially a goldmine for the home ministry. Hamzah was basically repeating the process of importing foreign workers after sending them back, the same way former deputy Prime Minister Zahid Hamidi made billions through the import of Bangladeshis.

Despite chicken prices spiking to RM10.70 from RM8 per kg within a week, the clueless Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister Alexander Nanta Linggi said his ministry had no plans to enforce price control for the item. He claimed no cartel activities have been detected. Finance minister Tengku Zafrul said his Finance Ministry will be studying the method to stabilise the rising prices of chicken.

That was in September 2021. Two months later (November), hypermarket boss Ameer Ali Mydin of the Mydin chain raised the alarm as the chicken prices remained stubbornly high. Worse, the shortage saw only 60% of its usual supply was met, even during non-peak season. Again, labour shortage was being blamed, as well as heavy rain and escalating cost of imported chicken feed.

If a meat cartel could operate right under the nose of the same government for the last 40 years, chances are the same cartel or other cartels have been manipulating and exploiting the chicken prices for decades. How could the government say the current high prices of chicken are beyond its control (non-peak season) when it could easily control the price during peak seasons such as Hari Raya?

As early as April this year, chicken was already sold at RM8.80 per kilogram at the Selayang wet market. In fact, the price of chicken had increased six times in the same month. It means while the government – both Muhyiddin Yassin and Ismail Sabri administrations – knew about the problem since early this year, the so-called Malay-Muslim government has done nothing to solve the issues.

Just when you thought a change of menu to consuming more vegetables rather than fish, chicken, or meat could temporarily fix the escalating cost of living, the consumers were flabbergasted to find that the prices of cauliflower, beans, chillies, cabbage, and several other vegetables have risen by 200%. The government’s solution – deny that vegetables have jumped to such an insane price level.

Again, the fingers were pointed at the lack of manpower, floods, landslides, transportation cost, and the list goes on. In reality, the prices of vegetables, including tomatoes, Japanese cucumbers, chillies, cabbages, beans, sweet peppers and all types of salad leaves produced in Cameron Highlands have risen between 30% and 40% as early as June this year.

It means that the price of vegetables has been shooting up for months. Yet, the Ministry of Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs has the cheek to blame the reopening of all trade sectors since October as the culprit that caused the demand for vegetable supplies, leading to price increase. Was the government trying to say that the people did not eat anything at all during the Covid lockdown?

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The government talked as if the 33 million people were hibernating during the pandemic, and when the lockdown was lifted, they ate so much that cauliflower shot up more than 100% – from RM7 to RM16 per kg – while Chinese cabbage jumped from RM3 to RM9 per kg. Even if people suddenly become vegetarians overnight, how do you explain the price inflation on fish, chicken, and bread?

The people were so annoyed and frustrated that a picture has gone viral, depicting Minister Nanta Linggi urging Malaysian consumers to eat duck instead while the government investigates the price increase for chicken. The perception is not only the Sabri government is running around like a headless chicken but has lost touch with the suffering of the people on the ground.

It’s funny that former PM Najib hasn’t pulled his previous stunt this time, when he advised the people in 2014 to shop wisely instead of complaining about price hikes, while showing off a chicken he bought for just RM1. In defending his administration, Najib had also condemned people for ignoring vegetables that have become cheaper, such as “kangkung” (water spinach).

The current prices of poultry products, especially chicken and eggs are now the highest ever recorded in the country. The exponential price hikes of food items across the board, like it or not, suggests not only incompetence but also the deliberate attempt by powerful cartels and monopolies to rob the people before the coming 15th General Election.

In truth, everything is being controlled in Malaysia through AP (approved permit), import and export permits, licences, monopoly, and whatnot. The system was designed in such a way to enrich UMNO Malay elites. Therefore, they can control the prices of food and raw material from spiralling if they wanted to. The only reason they can’t control it is because they do not want to. – Finance Twitter