FMT LETTER: From Paraman Subramaniam, via e-mail
Felda which is one of the world’s largest association of plantation owners and managers, covering over two million acres of rubber and palm oil plantation estate and having more than 115,000 families which some believe consists of more than 98% Malays/Muslims, is doing extremely well. Recently it was announced that as of Dec 2012, 112,635 Felda settlers will receive a dividend of almost RM1,000
Not only Felda settlers are provided the best of facilities and technology to maintain and increase the productivity of their lands, they are also provided with an admirable support system in terms of facilities, healthcare, housing, education for their children and much more. Looking at it macroscopically, Felda through federal aid provides ‘cradle to grave’ assistance to these settlers in their everyday needs.
In terms of education, facilities available like community rehabilitation centres, family literation centres, Permata, Semai Bakti Hostel, Felda Tuition Schemes and Science Learning Centres, is truly remarkable. Children from age one onwards can be enrolled. Tuition for students in Standards 5 and 6 and Forms 3 and 5 numbering close to 59,000 are provided to assist them to get good grades for the government exams like UPSR,PMR and SPM.
Three-hundered and seventy schools which consist of 100 secondary schools and 270 primary schools have been provided for the convenience of Felda settlers’ children. Subsequently the government provides certificate courses (6 to 24 months), diploma courses (2 1/2 to 3 years) and major courses like Licensed Aircraft Maintenance Engineer (LAME), Trainees Junior Technician (TJT), cadet pilot etc.
Felda scholars also get to enroll in top varsities of the world. With just a minimum grade of at least 2A’s in the SPM examination, they may be able to get scholarships from Felda/PSD/MARA/Petronas to do degree courses in medicine, dentistry, actuary, computer science, engineering and accounting.
Felda management also has started the Felda Entrepreneurship Incentive Scheme (SIUF) whereby the younger generation of Felda settlers are encouraged to get involved in non-farm activities such as processing or manufacturing poultry, seafood, fruits or vegetable businesses so that they can become future leaders and entrepreneurs.
Some of these settlers claim they lead a very comfortable life, earning more than RM5,000 salaries per month which is even more than what junior doctors and lawyers earn in the government. In terms of housing, hundreds of millions of ringgit has been earmarked under the Felda Family Housing Scheme (PWF), with its aim to provide the new generation of settlers a chance to own affordable and comfortable homes costing around RM35,000-42,000 for a three-room unit, where loans are easily available.
Even with all these existing benefits, the PR Election Manifesto sees the need for ‘Justice for Felda Settlers’. It goes on to state that PR will defend the dignity, performance and reputation of Felda to ensure the economic position and land ownership of the settlers. PR will also review all compensation claims as a result of the Grade Extraction Rate (GER) and pay compensation to affected Felda settlers.
The Hindraf blueprint which is based on social justice as the foundation, had proposed specific pointed and targeted programme of rehabilitation measures to a specific group of community, Displaced Estate Workers (DEW).
An independent study from the Centre for Policy Studies concluded in 2000, that 600,000 estate workers had been forcibly displaced. This massive forced displacement is a direct result of state development programmes operating in the milieu of Institutional Racism. It is the spurious outcome of the Malaysian socio-economic political system. That number of DEW is estimated to be more than 800,000 today.
In being displaced, these estate workers lost everything from their jobs, homes, schools, communities, temples, social system, and opportunity for ancillary income. They now constitute a significant section of the urban poor. It is no wonder that the DEW who constitute the poorest section of the Indian community primarily, have the lowest demographic index in the country.
The measures advocated in the Hindraf blueprint are:
1 Displaced Estate Workers land allocated farming programme
2 Displaced Estate Workers housing Programme
3 Rebuilding Displaced Estate Workers youth through retraining and reskilling
4 Displaced Estate Workers places of worship and burial grounds.
The Hindraf blueprint was submitted to PR leaders who had agreed in ‘principal’ to it but it is rather surprising that they had not made a mention of it in their Election Manifesto. It is even more distressing to note that PR can openly support the multi billion ringgit existing Felda settlers programme for more assistance but cannot even begin a Displaced Estate Workers programme from scratch for the needier marginalised Indians. How could one accept that the PR Election Manifesto transcends racial groups where else in the Displaced Estate Workers issue it very clearly does not?