Narinjara news

Seize of Palm Oil: a few disturbing questions

Maungdaw, 13 August 02:
In a recent spate of seizures large quantities of palm oil have been confiscated from groceries and alleged ‘smugglers’ in Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships in Rakhine State in the western part of Burma, according to officials and local businessmen.

According to our sources, on the “tips” received from Military Intelligence 18, members of the Light Infantry Battalion 233 led by Captain Myint Soe raided grocery shops of Buthidaung town and confiscated more than one thousand kilograms of palm oil on the 30th July. On the previous day, the Nasaka security forces in conjunction with Military Intelligence 18, led by U Myint Lwin, confiscated about three thousand two hundred kilograms of palm oil worth over Kyat two million from the possession of Thin Tun, son of Maung Mra Tun of Maungdaw Quarter One. Incidentally, the palm oil that Thin Tun had stored in his house was owned by a Muslim businessman, Hussein Zahed son of U Latu from Kanyin-dan Quarter of the same town. Both the men were arrested and have been held without trial since then.

The palm oil has been imported and marketed by the Myanmar Ubaing Ltd (MUL), which is owned by the Burmese Army. The price of palm oil recently shot up in Rangoon and Burma proper to Kyat 1,900 per viss (1.75 kilo) due to short supply, while at Maungdaw the price for the same is only Kyat 1,200, since palm oil has been permitted to be imported from Bangladesh. The difference in price accounts to at least Kyat 700 profit margin for each viss of the cooking oil. In Bangladesh, the use of palm oil is less than soybean oil due to popular consciousness about the hazards of the use of palm oil. But it is more used industrially and in bakery, so that the price of palm oil is the lowest among cooking oils.

The supply of palm oil from Maungdaw at this stage threatened the monopoly of the Army owned MUL, according to a leading importer, and is sure to offer a chance of brisk business for the businessmen and traders from Rakhine State, which is not to the liking of the ruling Burmese junta. Besides, many of the local residents also charge that, the palm oil crisis is an artificial one created by the MUL for unethical practice of sheer profiteering.

According to the Delhi based Mizzima news on its Burmese edition, the crisis of edible palm oil compelled the residents of Rangoon to queue up in front of the MUL outlets starting from 4 am in the small hours while the oil is sold starting from nine in the morning. That also once every two or three days, it said. The price of palm oil at the outlets is Kyat 500 each viss, but each person is given only 0.1 to 0.25 viss.

Smuggling as cross-border traffic between Bangladesh and Burma has never been effectively checked even after rigorous anti-smuggling drives on both sides of the Naaf river. Considering this, the smuggling in palm oil will go up, says a retired customs official in Maungdaw. UNB reported in leading dailies from Bangladesh today that in an inter-ministrial meeting yesterday it was decided that, to check the soaring price and ensure smooth supply of edible oil the government has decided to import palm oil worth 10 million US dollars from Malaysia.

Though Burma allows a legal trade to run with Bangladesh, the seizure of palm oil from Bangladesh in Maungdaw has raised many questions. One is, what the Burmese security forces do with the ‘confiscated oil’ transport it to Rangoon, or just share it among them, while the alleged ‘smugglers’ are put to rot behind bars without fair trial, jeopardising the livelihood and fate of the accused persons? Till now, no one has come up with any of the answers. #