KUALA LUMPUR: Second-generation settlers under the Federal Land Development Authority (Felda) want Prime Minister Najib Razak to do more to address the problems faced by smallholders, they said on Monday (Jul 24).
They said the six initiatives unveiled by Najib on Sunday in conjunction with Settlers' Day, including a RM5,000 (S$1,589) handout, left much to be desired.
Incentives unveiled include debt disposal, incentive payments, the setting up of a special fund and grant, as well as a housing incentive.
Felda communities, home to predominantly ethnic Malays who work for the national palm plantation operator, are among the beneficiaries of the government's affirmative action programme for indigenous people known collectively as sons of the soil, or bumiputera.
The communities are increasingly being targeted by the opposition as the general election draws closer. Fifty-four of 222 parliamentary seats are considered Felda constituencies, seen as the traditional vote bank of Najib's Barisan Nasional government.
"The government is not addressing the underlying problems faced by Felda settlers," says Dzulkelfi Nordin, adviser to Voice of Felda Second Generation, a pressure group that represents abour 66,000 of almost 120,000 Felda settlers.
At a news conference in Kuala Lumpur, the Voice of Felda Second Generation executive committee outlined demands for the ruling BN government to improve the management of the palm oil and rubber plantations, including regular updates on financial statements.
They said there had been complaints that the land has been poorly managed after it was leased to Felda Technoplant and that its yield has plunged as a result, leaving some saddled with debt.
"The debt is created because our plantation land was badly managed, resulting in overgrowth and low yield. Yet, they bill us for every single expense they incurred," said Zainudin Zainal, executive committee member of Voice of Felda Second Generation.
The group said it hopes the government would regularly update them on financial accounts - as opposed to once every 10 years currently - as well as help them restructure their debt.
GROUP WANTS FELDA GLOBAL VENTURES' BOARD TO BE REMOVED
Separately, the group also called for the removal of the existing board of directors at Felda Global Ventures (FGV). Felda owns about 33 per cent of FGV shares, which have lost more than half their value since its listing in 2012.
The company is the world's third-largest palm oil company and is currently embroiled in allegations of corruption and abuse of power.
The group said many have lost confidence with the existing board following the management crisis that resulted in the suspension of its CEO Zakaria Arshad and the subsequent resignation of chairman Mohd Isa Abdul Samad.
Zakaria is facing a domestic inquiry over alleged impropriety in one of FGV's subsidiaries, Delima Oil Products, with the outcome expected in mid-August.
"The problem in FGV is there is no separation of powers between the board of directors and the executive. This is the main reason why investors hesitate to invest in the company," said Zainudin.