Feb 24 demo is on, says Felda NGO
Terence Netto Feb 21, 10 4:11pm
Anak, the non-governmental body representing second and third generation children of Felda settlers, are going ahead with plans to demonstrate their plight at Suhakam headquarters in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday.
Anak president Mazlan Aliman (far right in photo) appealed to the 1,000-odd Felda settlers who attended a one-day national convention, organised by PKR at Jerantut yesterday, to turn up in force for the Feb 24 demonstration.
“The police have discouraged us from taking our plight to Suhakam but we are determined to do so,” Mazlan told Malaysiakini on the sidelines of the convention where he presented a paper on 'Felda's new generation: Between dream and reality'.
At the convention, Mazlan called for the abolition of the Group Settlement Act 1960 which he claimed was the chief instrument for the perversion of Felda's original goal of reducing poverty among farmers of small and uneconomic plots by enabling them to clear, plant and gradually own more viable 10-acre plots.
He said the cumulative effects of this perversion have seen up to 80 percent of land originally cleared and cultivated by settlers ending up under the ownership of Felda Plantations. Felda was set up as a federal agency in 1956, launching its first scheme two years later in Bentong.
With the passing of the Group Settlement Act 1960, the agency took a turn away from poverty alleviation towards profit optimisation. Mazlan said this turn had the effect of converting the settlers into tenant farmers, earning between RM800 to RM1,500 in monthly wages, depending on the prevailing market prices for oil palm or rubber.
“A scheme meant to reduce poverty among small farmers became, in time, one that increased the debt burden on settlers and blighted the prospects of their children and grandchildren of ever getting out of the poverty trap,” explained Mazlan.
He said that instead of making the farmers gradual owners of the land they had cleared and cultivated, the corporatisation of Felda - while dangling the prospect of shareholding before settlers - had the effect of turning them into tenant farmers.
He cited statistics purporting to show that the bloat in bureaucracy stemming from the corporatisation of Felda only served to underscore the marginalisation of settlers who number 1.3 million, inhabiting 317 schemes.Mazlan said 800,000 of the 1.3 million original settlers are now second and third generation settlers.
He claimed that of the 23,000 employed by the Felda group of companies, only 5,400 employees were from among the children and grandchildren of settlers and that too, only about 100 occupy upper echelon posts.
“The rest are daily rated labourers and ordinary employees,” he said.
Mazlan added that inadequate low-cost housing and poor intake into vocational schools set up to train children of settlers in agriculture and management have contributed to the growing incidence of social ills among Felda citizenry. Among these ills are drug abuse, gambling, sexual permissiveness, and the mat rempit phenomenon.
“Our problems are multiplying and worsening, so we have to bring them to national attention. We are not prepared to accept our fate passively,” he said.