PH needs to speak up on Felda initiatives, says analyst

Many Felda settlers are struggling to cope with lower commodity prices and the rising cost of living. (Bernama pic)

PETALING JAYA: A political analyst has suggested that Pakatan Harapan (PH) consider a different approach to win the support of Felda settlers, who have been hit by the lower prices of commodities and rising cost of living.

Felda, or the Federal Land Development Authority, had announced 31 strategic initiatives as part of its intended transformation scheme, along with a turnaround plan which includes the sale of properties.

But Universiti Malaya’s Awang Azman Awang Pawi said this alone would not be enough. He told FMT that PH should also publicise the progress and achievements made on Felda since the coalition took federal power in the May 9 polls.

“The key performance indexes of the board also need to be made public because so far, things have been quiet. This raises questions on the direction and future of Felda under PH,” he said.

He cautioned that failure to properly handle the Felda issue could affect PH’s support among the Malays, which is reportedly low at the moment.

Awang Azman Awang Pawi.

“PH needs to boost the confidence of the settlers through policies which can help reduce their daily struggles,” he said. “Felda is a fortress for Malay votes and will have an impact on voters.”

He suggested that Economic Affairs Minister Mohamed Azmin Ali emulate former prime minister Abdul Razak Hussein by visiting Felda areas more frequently to see the situation for himself before making any announcements.

“He should not rely too much on reports from bureaucrats,” he added.

“His priority now is to show his ability as the economic affairs minister to resolve Felda’s issues.”

Universiti Tun Abdul Razak economist Barjoyai Bardai agreed that Felda should publicise in detail its 31 strategies and obtain feedback from the settlers before implementing any of them.

Barjoyai Bardai.

He noted that some 50% of settlers are second-generation settlers, many of whom he said are less inclined to continue in the agriculture sector and may want to capitalise on their land.

“There is a gap between the first and second-generation settlers. This difference has to be taken into account in the long run,” he said.

Barjoyai also suggested that Felda look beyond palm oil given the volatility of prices and future uncertainties as European countries distance themselves from the commodity.

Alternatively, he said, the government could dismantle FGV Holdings Bhd and put everything back under Felda.

He also urged the government to consider holding off on its plans to dispose of Felda’s properties, saying they had been bought at a premium and might not be able to fetch a good price in the present economic environment.

Instead, he recommended that these assets be put under a special purpose vehicle like Tabung Haji had done with non-performing assets, which would allow them to be retained and rehabilitated.