A soul and spirit breaking tragedy


THERE’S a wooden house which looks forlorn and forgotten in the Lake Gardens area. It is a model of a Felda settler’s home in the 1960/70s.

The house is an exact replica of a Felda settlement’s “standard issue”, with a classic motorcycle and bicycle under a zinc-roofed shed.

It is part of the Tun Razak Memorial complex. It sits at the rear end of the former residence of the second Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak Hussein.

Tun Razak has always been accepted by most Malaysians as the “Father of Development” and his purposeful affection and attention to Felda and its settlers is legendary, hence the choice of having the Felda home in the vicinity is not surprising given how close the land development scheme is to his heart.

Though he was an aristocrat, Tun Razak seemed to be able to resonate with the common Malays and knew what needed to be done to take them out of the vicious cycle of poverty.

For those familiar with Felda settlements, the settlers and their children, their collective existence is a story of hardship, struggle, determination, failures, rebounding and sometimes, falling again.

Theirs is also a story of hope, dreams and ambition. Prior to becoming settlers, they were among the poorer segment of the community, without land and at best, farm hands without much opportunity of raising their bar.

Much as there are horror stories of drugs and social maladies within settlements, some of their children and grandchildren have also become part of Malaysia’s success stories — impressive academic achievements and securing important positions in the private and public sectors. Some even scaled the political ladders and ranked among the elites.

In short, Felda settlers and settlements were to showcase the ability of the Malays to work hard and rise to level undreamt of, when given the opportunity.

At one point, the Felda concept was sought by other third-world countries, to be replicated and modelled as their own land schemes for their landless and poor.

One African country leader, struggling to appease veterans of the struggle for independence who were forcefully reclaiming land owned by former colonialists, seriously considered the Felda model. Alas, the nation and leader crumbled under pressure and opted for the easier and populist move, fast-tracking land transfers to their war veterans.

Another African country, with its gum Arabic gaining demand from the western world, also sought to model plantations after Felda.

Such is the pride Felda shared with the nation that what it has been subjected to in the past decade is indeed repugnant.

The unravelling of the shenanigans within, as revealed by the White Paper on Felda that was tabled in Parliament last week, detailed how it was “robbed in broad daylight”, in the words of the National Centre for Governance, Integrity and Anti-Corruption DG Tan Sri Abu Kassim Mohamed.

The government now has to inject RM6.2 billion into Felda to help it overcome the damage caused by the “daylight robbery”.

While the billions that Felda lost are horrifying, it is the psychological damage to the institution that has wide-ranging repercussions and may take a long time to remedy.

That it happened under the watch of Tun Razak’s son, Datuk Seri Mohd Najib, is anything but tragic.

Firstly, the Malay-dominated land scheme is now only a shell, if not a walking dead, dependent solely on the government aid to survive this round of disaster.

Of course, it may be argued that not all the settlers were a screaming success, but Felda as an entity was cash-rich and the fact that it was robbed by the billions in broad daylight is a testimony of its financial standing then.

Secondly, it was built from the blood, sweat and tears of settlers, especially the first and second generations, and the very people entrusted to protect their interest betrayed them.

A betrayal of such magnitude can break the spirit and the soul. It took a long time for the first settlers to place their trust in the leaders and for years, they plodded and slogged to build a small plot that they could call home.

They were considered the pioneering Malays who went against the nuances of the lazy and laidback “natives”. They challenged the notion of being satisfied with what little that God had graced them.

There have been dramas and plays, novels and narratives depicting their struggles and determination, their hardships and failures, but most of all, a symbol of perseverance.

That is what they built their hopes on and by extension, the hopes of other Malays outside the settlements’ community.

They remain faceless and unnamed most times, just a part of a collective entity without much frills or pomp. They do not need it though.

They are after all Felda settlers — an institution in their own right.

Shamsul Akmar is the editor at The Malaysian Reserve.