PETALING JAYA: Transparency International Malaysia (TI-M) has declared 2017 as the “Felda Year”, referring to the government agency making the news across many months, mostly on issues of malpractice and alleged corruption.
TI-M president Akhbar Satar said the issue of Felda land valued at more than RM200 million being transferred in a “dubious” transaction, was just the latest to have caught the attention of average Malaysians.
“The year 2017 can perhaps be named as the ‘Felda Year’ for the seemingly endless saga on malpractice, corruption and breach of trust and duty cases reported throughout the year.
“It also appears that it is not only Felda investors (including the hard working settlers and planters) and the public who are unhappy over the issues. Discontent seems to be seen from even within Umno and Barisan Nasional circles, too,” Akhbar said in a statement today.
He added that this unhappiness among the public also stems from the fact that the GLC sector is the biggest source of threat to financial stability due to their being closely linked to political parties, and fraught with lack of good governance and transparency.
Akhbar then called for the federal government to appoint a forensic auditor to conduct a full forensic audit on both Felda and its subsidiaries to ensure that if any malpractices are found to have taken place, it should be looked into and punitive actions are taken against the officers who are involved.
According to him, the year 2017 had started with the hopeful appointment of Johor Bahru MP Shahrir Samad as the new chairman.
“The appointment was supposedly in line with the government’s desire to strengthen and solidify Felda’s leadership. However, such noble intentions were very quickly called into question.
“In April, Felda Investment Corporation Properties Sdn Bhd (FICP), a special purpose vehicle of Felda, acquired 37% of loss-making PT Eagle High Plantation in Indonesia.
“Settlers, analysts and investors showed their disapproval towards this acquisition, which was done at a very high premium with a price that lacked financial and commercial justification,” he said.
He also called into question an explanation from Shahrir a few months later that Felda only acted as an “intermediary” for the Malaysian government in the acquisition.
Akhbar then recalled how the management crisis which hit Felda subsidiary, Felda Global Ventures (FGV) in June led to some positive outcome, with the addition of more qualified people into the FGV board and senior management.
“FGV took drastic actions by appointing professional subject matter experts to strengthen the composition of the FGV board and senior management.
“But to actually make a change, there must be true and fearless intent to make sincerity and integrity an integral part of the corporate culture by setting the tone at the top,” he said.
Questionable track record
Akhbar said with the resignation of Isa Samad as FGV chairman shortly after the controversy erupted, the move to then appoint him acting Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) chairman was a surprise.
“His appointment has continued to raise eyebrows among the public bearing in mind his questionable track record in Felda,” he said.
He was alluding to the fact that Isa had been chairman of Felda, FGV as well as Felda Investment Corporation (FIC), which is now under investigation over the “dubious land deal” which may have cost Felda to lose RM200 million, based on the value of the land transferred to a developer in 2015.
He called for Prime Minister Najib Razak to also impose a deadline for the probe into the land transfer issue, saying it was very serious and had taken a long time to surface in the first place.
Akhbar also cited the other case involving FIC which had implicated Isa last year.
“In August, MACC arrested Isa in a corruption investigation into FIC’s purchases of two hotels in London and Kuching between 2013 and 2015, said to be above their market value. However, until today there is no decision made yet on this case.
“To be sure the rakyat are watching and will judge to see whether all these current cases will be allowed to proceed with due legal process, or will they take a sudden turn and end up like other lost cases which were announced with much fanfare, only to end with a whimper.
“If this happens the rakyat will surely suspect a ‘cover up’ and abuse of legal process and failure of the rule of law,” he said.
Akhbar added that no person should take advantage of their position in Felda and its subsidiaries to commit malpractices for their own benefit and be let free without any criminal charges against them and whoever they may be acting for.