FGVH to add more foreign workers by year-end

by ALIFAH ZAINUDDIN

FELDA Global Ventures Holdings Bhd (FGVH) is looking to push the company’s earnings upwards with the addition of between 7,000 and 8,000 foreign workers by year-end.

The lack of manpower at the plantation firm’s estates has resulted in losses of about RM2 million a day and over RM600 million on average per annum, said FGVH acting chairman Tan Sri Dr Sulaiman Mahbob.

“Moving forward, we will look at operational matters such as decreasing revenue, due to decrease in employment of foreign workers that has led to a shortage (at our plantations). The losses are critical and we have to address this,” Sulaiman told reporters at a media briefing in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.

He added that the company would intensify its replantation efforts to improve the age profile of its estates — spanning across 450,000ha of land around Malaysia — which will lead to an increase in yields.

“When the company was listed in 2012, the age profile of the estates was not too good. A large percentage of them were above 25 years. That is something we are doing now, we want to intensify our replantation efforts so that the age profile improves and there is greater productivity,” Sulaiman said.

Shares of the troubled plantations firm have been trading downwards since its promising debut on the local exchange. On the opening day, the counter closed on a premium to end at RM5.30, 16.5% higher than its RM4.55 initial public offering (IPO) reference price.

However, weak crude palm oil prices and allegations of corporate misconduct have since hammered shares down to new lows. Yesterday, the stock closed at a six-month low of RM1.58, giving the company a valuation of RM5.8 billion.

Earlier this month, Reuters reported FGVH had suspended talks with two Indonesian billionaires — both of whom had planned to purchase equity stakes in the world’s third-largest plantation group.

The success of the deal is expected to prop up FGVH’s capital and see its share price regain a substantial portion of its share price losses since its IPO five years ago.

When asked about the prospect of the deal, Sulaiman said FGVH will continue to keep its options open.

“Whatever we do, the interest of the shareholders is paramount. If there is interest and it is good, it builds value of the shares, we may consider and we will call for a general meeting,” he said.

Meanwhile, on the status of suspended CEO Datuk Zakaria Arshad, CFO Ahmad Tifli Mohd Talha and two other senior FGVH officials, Sulaiman said the probe is an “internal exercise” between employer and employee, adding that he expects the inquiry to conclude on Aug 14.

He said Zakaria and Ahmad Tifli will be given the chance to defend themselves and have sufficient time to respond to the investigation.

In a filing exchange to Bursa Malaysia on July 3, FGVH noted that it had established a domestic inquiry panel to evaluate the replies submitted by Zakaria and Ahmad Tifli to their show-cause letters on the outstanding debt between Safitex Trading LLC and Delima Oil Products Sdn Bhd.

Sulaiman said the panel comprises three independent members who are not linked to FGVH in any manner. Once the panel has presented its findings to the board and a resolution has been reached, an appropriate announcement will be made.

When asked about the possibility of the officials making a return to the company, Sulaiman said: “Yes, of course, they will come back if they are found not guilty.”