Traders should not be allowed to import rice–solon

26.03.2018

A vice chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations on  Sunday backed the recent directive of Malacañang for the National Food Authority (NFA) to speed up the importation of 250,000 metric tons of rice.

Rep. Luis Raymund F. Villafuerte Jr. of the Second District of Camarines Sur said the Palace has recently directed the NFA Council (NFAC) to fast-track rice imports, along with a crackdown on erring employees possibly in cahoots with unscrupulous grains businessmen.

“The President’s order to speed up rice imports should give all the more reason to the NFAC to reverse its longstanding policy of allowing private traders to import rice in favor of giving back to the NFA 100-percent control over all overseas purchases of the staple,” Villafuerte said in a statement.

“While the NFA can do the job of importing rice better and faster, it must also watch out for some scalawags in its ranks who sell NFA rice to traders, as this will defeat the purpose of stabilizing prices in the market,” he added.

Villafuerte, citing Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol, said President Duterte issued the order to the NFA to expedite rice imports during a recent NFAC meeting and told the Cabinet he did not want a repeat of the 2008 rice crisis.

Full control

Villafuerte also said the NFA should regain full control over rice imports, considering that certain unscrupulous grains traders have cashed in on the current system to corner the bulk of domestic supply and unduly jack up prices of this staple at the expense of ordinary Filipinos.

The lawmaker called on the NFAC to reverse its policy of letting private grains businessmen import rice through the NFA, following an earlier appeal by NFA Administrator Jason Aquino to farmers to sell part of their harvests to the food agency so it could replenish its stocks.

Amid the current “artificial” supply problem, Villafuerte said the council should also consider setting up a separate body to monitor the supply and prices of rice, with the end goal of imposing a price ceiling once retail prices spiral out of control—in the same way that the government exercise regulatory control over vital services like electricity for the protection of consumers.

“We need to fix the existing system to shield both farmers and consumers from the shady practices of private traders that have left the NFA helpless in carrying out its primary task of ensuring the stability of the price and supply of rice in the market,” Villafuerte added.

Under the current system, the NFA has the sole authority to import rice, but the NFAC allows private traders to similarly purchase stocks from abroad through the NFA.

He also said the rule of thumb is that palay bought from farmers should only have a 100-percent markup once milled and sold as rice in retail outlets.

“At the current average farm-gate buying price of P20 per kilogram of palay, regular-milled rice should be sold at around P40 per kg only,” he said. “But right now you can see that regular-milled and commercial rice sells for around P43 per kg to P50 per kg in retail outlets.”

Under its food-security and price-stabilization mandate, the NFA needs to have a strategic rice reserve equivalent to 15 days’ national consumption and a higher 30-day buffet stock during the traditional lean months of July to September.

P50-million fine

Meanwhile, Rep. Manuel Luis T. Lopez of the First District of Manila filed House Bill 7417, or the Rice Security and Stability Act of 2018, which seeks to impose a P50-million fine and an imprisonment of 12 years against those who will be found guilty of hoarding, profiteering and engaging in cartel operations and price manipulation of rice in the country.

Lopez said the passage of this measure seeks to identify the responsibility and accountability of businessmen who are found guilty of committing any of the “prohibited acts inimical to the interests of Filipinos, most especially the poor.”

The bill qualifies hoarding as the undue accumulation by a person or combination of persons or corporate entities of rice beyond his of their normal inventory levels and profiteering refers to the sale or offering for sale of rice at a price grossly in excess of its market value.

The measure also defined cartel as a combination of or agreement between two or more persons or corporate entities engaged in the production, manufacture, processing, storage and unreasonably increase or manipulate its price.

Price manipulation, finally, is any act committed by any person, persons, entity mor entities engaged in the production, manufacture, importation and other similar activities that seek to control and influence the price of rice at any given time.


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