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Killing the goose that lays the golden eggs

  • FGV's poor performance, along with the endless scandals have disenchanted many a Felda settler, causing them to lose their faith in the government.

Sin Chew Daily

Some joked that Isa Samad makes a perfect weapon for the opposition because the harm he has done to the ruling coalition has superseded that by Mahathir and Muhyiddin combined.

And probably Anwar, too.

The joke is not completely unfounded.

Umno remains largely unperturbed because it continues to enjoy the support of majority of Malays. It is yet to be known whether Mahathir, Muhyiddin, plus Anwar can snatch a sizable chunk of that support from it.

The powerful loyalty among the Malay electorate is something Mahathir, Muhyiddin and Anwar may find very difficult to break.

But, BN has committed a very serious mistake. It has overlooked its fundamental support base: the Felda settlers and their families.

Felda was the feather in Tun Razak's cap, perhaps one of the most successful social re-engineering projects the country has seen.

The government set up Felda in the 1970s to distribute land to impoverished families. Through rubber and oil palm cultivation, many rural Malays became smallholders with steady incomes and livelihoods.

With land, they could now establish a stable life and feed their families.

Indeed, the program has resolved the issue of rural poverty, as well as social unrest and political turmoil arising from it.

And also because of that, the beneficiaries of this project have since become die-hard supporters of BN. BN has managed to stay in power for six decades largely because of this policy of Tun Razak.

Even with structural changes in the population of Felda settlements whereby young generation Malays move in droves to the cities and towns, the number of rural constituencies has increased thanks to the redelineation exercise. The political significance of Felda settlements remains intact.

According to political analysts, there are around 60 parliamentary constituencies in the country which can be categorized as Felda constituencies. Even though not all the voters are settlers, there are substantial settler households which will determine the swing in electoral outcome.

Among these 60 constituencies, Umno won 54 in the last general election, constituting more than half of Umno's 88 seats. This was what kept Umno firmly in power!

But things began to change when the government set up FGV in 2013.

FGV took over all of Felda's assets, business and management to become one of the world's largest plantation companies. The size of its capitalization at IPO was second only to Facebook back then.

The reason for establishing FGV was simple enough: to improve efficiency through the public listing exercise for scale operation in a bid to maximize the returns for stakeholders.

The government made the pledge, and the settlers were brimming with hopes.

But for the following five years, their hopes began to shatter, as FGV performed way below anticipation. Its share price dived from a peak of RM5 to only around RM1.75 while profit slipped from RM980 million in 2013 to RM250 million last year.

Sure enough the share and business performance to a large extent depends on fluctuations in international palm oil prices. But, FGV's performance pales by comparison to other plantation companies. That brings to light the painful issue of management.

Former Negeri Sembilan MB Isa Samad was appointed Felda and FGV chairman. The power entrusted to him far outweighs his performance and competency.

Isa lacks the experience and professional qualifications in running massive business conglomerates. Even his political credentials have been tainted by his alleged involvement in vote buying, culminating in the freezing of his party membership.

Where integrity is concerned, he is not fit to lead a large company, more so for a government-linked company that warrants such an attribute.

FGV's poor performance, along with the endless scandals have disenchanted many a Felda settler, causing them to lose their faith in the government.

The PM only took out Isa after problems popped up one after another. But, the harm has already been done, and whether the successor will be able to revive Felda and FGV remains a daunting challenge.


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