PETALING JAYA: PKR vice-president Rafizi Ramli has called for the government to reveal the source of RM1.42 billion in aid for Felda settlers as announced by Prime Minister Najib Razak.
On Sunday, addressing tens of thousands of farmers and small landowners in Putrajaya, Najib said 94,956 eligible families will be given RM5,000 each, amounting to a total outlay of RM475 million by the government.
Additional funds amounting to over RM950 million would be used to erase the debts of the farmers by among other things, reimbursing a portion of loans taken to buy shares in Felda Global Ventures (FGV), a listed unit of Felda, Najib said.
“Putrajaya would not have existed without the Felda settlers.
“The presence of more than 25,000 settlers here reflects the support of Felda settlers for the government in which they are the hard core supporters of the government in the land schemes,” Najib said in his speech.
Referring to the six incentives announced by Najib, Rafizi especially questioned where the government could come up with the money for four of them.
“Four of the new incentives add up to RM1.42 billion and both Putrajaya and Felda just don’t have that kind of money.
“Najib should specify where his government found the money so that the Felda settlers do not fall victim to propaganda of the Barisan Nasional,” he said in a statement released last night.
The incentives that raised the red flag for Rafizi are as follows: 1) A cash incentive of RM5,000 to each settler, amounting to RM475 million; 2) Debt settlement amounting to RM128 million for settlers who took out Felda Global Ventures (FGV) equity loans; 3) Debt write-off totalling RM519 million, or up to RM5,000, for each settler that had taken part in Felda’s scheme to replant unproductive oil palms; and 4) A special fund of RM300 million to be set up for 2017 to 2021, to help with replanting operational debts of RM40,000 or more.
The entire package of the six incentives for the Felda settlers amounted to RM1.6 billion.
According to Rafizi, Felda had debts of RM10 billion with interest payments of at least RM400 million a year. He said this was based on the plantation agencies’ 2014 audit report.
“The truth is that Felda does not have enough money to give out. This year, it has also bought shares in a plantation company in Indonesia, but paid twice the going rate of RM2.2 billion,” he said.
Rafizi, who is also Pandan MP, added the failure of the FGV public listing in 2012 and its declining price over the past five years is the source of most of Felda’s woes.
“If Najib had listened to expert opinion asking him not to list FGV, this problem would not have happened,” he said.
He also alleged the oil palm plantation project had failed due to the appointment of contractors being done in a biased manner.
“If the contractor appointment process had been well-managed without high tender prices to elected contractors, the settlers will not be burdened by this debt,” Rafizi said.
Solid vote bank
Felda settlers, who are Malays, are the majority voters in at least 54 of the 222 parliamentary seats.
They have been a solid vote bank for Umno and Barisan Nasional (BN) as urban Malays have poured into the opposition camp in recent years.
BN lost the popular vote in the last general election in 2013, but still won a majority of seats.
Getting settlers’ votes in the next general election (GE14) is therefore, critical for Umno.
A management crisis at FGV has also frustrated settlers, who are already disappointed by the near 70% plunge in the company’s shares, as many of them had taken loans to buy shares in FGV following its US$3 billion listing in 2012.
The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) is currently investigating officials at FGV, with Felda chairman Shahrir Samad, who took up the position in January, himself raising questions about what happened to the proceeds from the IPO, which was touted as the biggest in the world for the year.
Meanwhile, Pressure group Suara Generasi Ke-2 Felda said yesterday that the government’s incentives would not be enough to help settle the overall debts which Felda settlers have had to take on.
Group adviser Zulkefli Nordin said that the debt write-off and financial assistance would not be enough due to the large debts now burdening many settlers.
“The real problems are not resolved, yet what we get is a lot of ‘wow’ factor. Every year, there is a ‘wow’ factor,” Zulkefli said, adding that Najib has failed to address the poor management of Felda’s palm oil plantations.