Dr M: Govt aims to merge Felda’s lands to improve settlers’ income

However, it may be difficult to convince settlers to get onboard with the plan, especially first-generation settlers

by SHAHEERA AZNAM SHAH / pic by BERNAMA

SETTLERS can generate lucrative income when portions of the Federal Land Development Authority’s (Felda) land are consolidated into a substantial estate.

Prime Minister (PM) Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said more efficient and professional management will be practised in developing a new system to manage Felda’s lands.

These lands were utilised by big estates of the British colonial administration to gain profits even when their commodity value dropped.

“Back in the days, we saw (the) British colonial administration opening huge estates for rubber and oil palm, and they succeeded in getting a substantial revenue.

“But when the Malays tried to mimic (that) success, they started with smaller portions of land, about (0.8ha to 1.2ha), because they did not have the capacity to open huge estates,” he said at the National Felda Settler’s Day Celebration in Pahang yesterday.

However, it may be difficult to convince settlers to get onboard with the plan, especially the first-generation settlers, who may have gotten comfortable with their current long-established practices.

“They were already (Felda) settlers from the beginning and it will be difficult to change their mindset.

“But they are landowners, and if we can get a larger acreage to be managed for them professionally, we are confident of obtaining a higher yield.

“The profits can be distributed according to the size of the land that they contribute. They (settlers) can work with the management on how to run these estates and obtain income based on their land size,” Dr Mahathir said.

The PM said such practices should have been implemented when the development agency first started. Felda would have to merge about 404ha of land if the practice is implemented now.

Dr Mahathir commented that Felda should no longer depend solely on oil palm and rubber to diversify settlers’ income and protect them when the commodity values are low.

Commenting on the types of suitable crops for the new Felda model, Dr Mahathir said the management of Felda would be discussing with and obtaining the advice of the Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Ministry on the matter.

For example, he sees the planting of mangoes as suitable for Kedah and Perlis to yield lucrative income for entrepreneurs, apart from planting flowers, which are high in demand.

Speaking before thousands of Felda settlers, Dr Mahathir said the management of Felda should be reshuffled so that the agency is administered by professionals in order to reap higher profits.

“We see how plantations can give good returns when managed well. However, recently, there were several incidents which did not benefit Felda at all.

“Now, we are shouldering huge debts as many transactions made before this had deviated, and they even carried out projects that were not allowed,” he said.

Dr Mahathir said Felda, which had opened more than 404,685ha of land, is one of the largest plantations in the world even if it is unable to provide a high income to settlers, as the previous management was different from large estate management.

In this regard, Dr Mahathir gave his assurance that the government would try its best to increase settlers’ income via the programme to use larger acreages to improve yield with a variety of crops.

The PM also announced an allocation of RM637 million to implement three projects in Pahang: A 106 million litres-per-day water tank for the Gebeng industrial area valued at RM173 million and Phase 3 of the Semambu Water

Treatment Plant with a capacity of 145 million litres per day (RM446 million), both in Kuantan, as well as a project to overcome clean water supply disruption in Raub (RM18 million).

Meanwhile, Economic Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali said the recent appointment of Tan Sri Mohd Bakke Salleh as Felda’s new chairman will help to revive the agency with support from settlers.

“Unfortunately, over the past (few) years, we witnessed Felda’s top leadership — which comprised politicians — using their political power to manage the agency. They burdened settlers with major problems.

“After Tan Sri Megat Zaharuddin Megat Mohd Nor left his position in Felda, the government agreed to choose someone with integrity and (with) no political ties to helm Felda. With the PM’s approval, we appointed Mohd Bakke as the new chairman,” he said.

He added that the Settlers Development Programme (PPP), launched by the PM yesterday, is a testament to the government’s commitment to restore the glory of Felda.

Mohamed Azmin added that under the leadership of its founder, the late Tun Abdul Razak Hussein, Felda had managed to reduce the economic gap between Bumiputeras and other races, and allowed Malaysia to contribute as much as 25% to the global palm oil production.

PPP includes inter-cropping cultivation with the capability to deliver results in a short period and generate more income for settlers.

Mohamed Azmin said the government is aware of settlers’ burdens like high debt and abandoned housing projects for second-generation settlers.

In resolving them, he said the government had approved an allocation of RM250 million to complete the housing project, particularly those at 70% completion. Meanwhile, 1,400 home units have obtained their certificates of fitness and are expected to be handed over to their owners soon.

To date, Mohamed Azmin said the government had managed to wipe RM2 billion from settlers’ debts.