Incentives futile as settlers’ debt too high, says association

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PETALING JAYA: Persatuan Anak Peneroka Felda Kebangsaan (Anak) today said the recent incentives announced by the federal government, including a RM5,000 debt waiver for every eligible settler, would not alleviate their “suffering and misery” as their actual debts are too high.

Mazlan Aliman, the chairman of the NGO which represents the second and third generations of Felda settlers, said the debts accumulated by each settler in opting to replant through the Federal Land Development Authority (Felda) was in many instances higher than RM100,000.

“In fact, Anak can prove that for some Felda settlers the debt is close to RM170,000,” he said.

“When the debt is very high, the repayment period takes up to 20 years,” he said in a statement.

“Sometimes, even before a settler can be relieved or freed of the burden of debt, the next replanting process begins where new debts are incurred,” he added.

Mazlan claimed that the loan for retirement itself caused a settler to make monthly payments of RM1,000 to RM1,500 for seven to eight years.

He said Felda chairman Shahrir Samad’s call for settlers to support and continue collaborating with Felda administrators would be meaningless as long as problems related to their debts and incomes were not resolved through a proper comprehensive mechanism.

“Was Shahrir informed that there was a case forwarded to me together with an attached (financial) statement that showed a settler being forced to bear the cost of interest on a loan, amounting to RM47,000?” he said.

On July 23, Prime Minister Najib Razak announced the incentive to dispose replanting debts amounting to RM5,000 for every settler who chose to replant through Felda, involving a total government allocation of RM519 million.

He also announced that part of their Felda Global Ventures Holdings Berhad (FGV) equity loan would also be disposed of.

“Some 77,934 settlers, who are still paying for the FGV equity loans, will have the balance of their loans disposed at a rate of ringgit to ringgit,” he said.

Najib also said 1,626 settlers, who had paid their loans, would receive a cash reward of RM1,820.

Mazlan said the government should waive settlers’ replanting debts by at least 50%, and abolish the 6.5% interest on loans.

The government should also review debts incurred by settlers in developing their plantations, including costs for fertilisers, upkeep and personal loans such as for home renovations.

He also called for the replanting process to be made faster with support given for felling, nursery lots, seed-planting and related maintenance works.

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