Don't make Felda settlers pawns in political game

This is written by my boss.

UNFORTUNATELY, the planned flotation of Felda Global Ventures Holdings Sdn Bhd (FGV) on the stock exchange has entered the political realm, a murky environment where lines separating truths, half-truths and outright lies become blurred.

While the initial public offer (IPO) for FGV has now entered its final stages, the subject matter's entry into the political environment was made official when the president of the National Felda Settlers' Children Association (Anak), Mazlan Aliman, recently gave a veiled threat to the government by reminding Putrajaya that Felda settlers are a formidable voting force in at least 54 federal seats -- a threat no doubt, directed at a government that is close to facing the polls.

Anak has been outlining reasons it is against the planned listing of FGV, while attempting to create a perception that it is not politicising the subject and is trying to save Felda and the settlers from the lions.

That's a bit difficult to consume since Mazlan is also a member of opposition party Pas' central committee, a sworn enemy of the incumbent ruling coalition. But let us stop there.

The fact is Felda is not a political party. Although it was started by former prime minister, the late Tun Abdul Razak Hussein, in 1956, participants in its hugely successful land development schemes may well be members of any political parties making up the entire political spectrum in the country now.

That the political inclination of the settlers does not matter to Felda may well be the foundation upon which proponents of the IPO could start with if and when they decide to go to the ground, explaining their argument on why FGV should be listed.

Felda has a long history of which its settlers are proud. Starting as a group of rag-tag farmers in what was then a god-forsaken place called the Lurah Bilut land scheme, they have built a company with interests across the world.

More than half-a-century and scores of land schemes later, some of the following generations of Felda settlers have gone on to seek their fortunes elsewhere while many more stayed to own their plots of land. Their quality of life has improved to a level the early settlers could never have imagined.

As a company, Felda, too, has moved on from just buying and selling oil palm fruits to downstream activities and research and development. It has ventured overseas and into several sectors and has also collaborated with some of the bigger global names in the oleochemical, food and even the hospitality industries.

As Felda prospers, settlers, too, reap the gains as a majority of interest in the company is owned by Koperasi Permodalan Felda (KPF), a cooperative in which all settlers are members. In recent years, the cooperative has emerged as the most profitable in Malaysia.

More opportunity lies ahead for KPF. With the listing of FGV, doors will be opened for more collaboration between Felda and international players in the oleochemical, food and agriculture industries.

From the RM10 million set aside for its formation, Felda now wants to see the likes of Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland as its peers. If this comes to fruition, KPF and by extension the settlers, which by then would be holding a 35 per cent interest in the listed FGV, would stand to benefit handsomely.

Who knows what more opportunities can present themselves to KPF in the future, once it has even stronger financial muscle? Let's be reminded that the successful Dutch agriculture bank, Rabobank, is owned by a cooperative.

That should be the crowning glory for the early Felda settlers. From farmers who open up land with their bare hands, living in homes on high stilts for fear of wild animals, they are now presenting an opportunity for the next generations to be owners of global entities.

Let not the settlers and their future be made pawns in any political gambit.

One Response to Don't make Felda settlers pawns in political game

  1. i do agree with what's written in this article. The settlers are being made pawns it seems, but the sad thing is, the settlers themselves seem to allow stupidity rules over them that they allow themselves to be made the pawns of the game. So, who's to blame? I guess what they must learn first is to be thankful for what they have now.

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