KUCHING (Oct 13): Some 3,000 individuals under the Malaysia Pepper Board’s (MPB) e-Pekebun database received subsidies and agricultural inputs despite not planting pepper or actively maintaining a pepper farm.
In revealing this, Deputy Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister II Datuk Willie Mongin said their names have since been scrubbed from e-Pekebun for not being genuine pepper farmers.
“I admit when I entered this Plantation Industries and Commodities Ministry (MPIC), I found data integrity as questionable. I took the effort to look at the data in the e-Pekebun system, which listed 38,000 pepper farmers, of which 90 per cent are in Sarawak.
“I agree that based on the data, some of these farmers are genuine and really active but some are not even pepper farmers and yet they received subsidies and agricultural inputs.
“I have studied it and I have given my feedback to the Malaysia Pepper Board to do a whitelist. We have now trimmed the number from 38,000 to 35,000, (which means) we have eliminated around 3,000 which are ‘tidak betul’ (not genuine),” he told the Dewan Rakyat in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.
Willie said this when answering a supplementary question from Serian MP Dato Sri Richard Riot Jaem, who had asked about MPIC’s mechanisms to ensure only genuine farmers receive subsidies and agricultural input assistance.
Riot said he had received feedback that some recipients did not even have farms but were given subsidies, while those who are genuine and in real need of such assistance did not receive anything.
Willie said MPIC has taken steps to upgrade the e-Pekebun system and MPB field officers have been directed to go to the ground to meet pepper farmers listed in the database.
“(This is for them) to verify and take the photo of them, and coordinate among themselves to ensure the individuals are genuine pepper farmers.
“I am very committed in this; I feel it is not fair to give subsidies and agricultural inputs to those who do not plant pepper as it is like denying the rights of people who are really active in this industry,” he said.
When answering Riot’s original question, Willie said MPIC is urging Malaysians to support local agricultural products, especially Sarawak’s black pepper as a move to increase its value and pricing.
He explained that more domestic consumption of local pepper would create added value for the industry, which in turn would improve pricing for local pepper.
“We have produced many downstream products. I would like to urge Malaysians to support local pepper, especially Sarawak’s black pepper.
“We need to increase the domestic usage and not be too dependent on exports,” he said.
Wille added the ministry will also increase branding and awareness on the usage of local pepper through Saraspice Sdn Bhd (Saraspice), which would be activated soon.
He said Malaysia currently produces 30.8 metric tonnes of pepper and 60 per cent of this is exported.