Why the discrimination?


PRECIOUS HARVEST: Are they for the eyes only?

ONE of the attractions of the Malaysia Proposal as announced in February 1962 by Malayan Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman was the prospect of accelerated economic development for Sarawak and North Borneo. When the proposal took some definite shape a year later – equal partnership of former colonies of Britain in a federation – hordes of community leaders in the British colonies in Borneo were invited for a series of tours of the newly independent Malaya.

The visitors were impressed with the wide roads, tall buildings, brightly lit bazaars, and relatively cheap food and transport. Outside Kuala Lumpur and other big towns, they saw acres and acres of rubber and oil palm plantations. In the kampungs they noted there were durian trees. When they returned, they spread the word and the word was development. A new era had dawned for the Borneo states, and a bright future assured for their inhabitants.

For these community leaders from rural areas in North Borneo and Sarawak, agricultural development and good roads were an excellent selling point in the campaign for the Malaysia Plan. The British were pushing hard and fast for its acceptance; other considerations like Sukarno’s plan of One Flag for Borneo or Macapagal’s claim to North Borneo were not unimportant, either.

Felda in the West

In rural Malaya in the early 1950s, land development was the major economic focus, and the Malays in the old kampungs were the main target. Landless Chinese had been given land in a number of settlements dubbed New Villages similar to our own Operation Hammer Areas of Tapah, Beratok and Siburan, to keep them away from the influence of the communists. The Indians were kept as indentured workers in the European – and Chinese – owned rubber estates to make money for the owners; land ownership for these workers was out of the question.

The Malays were to be moved away from their old villages and resettled in new areas, given land planted with rubber or oil palm and provided with basic facilities including schools.

This was part of the early effort by the government since Merdeka in 1957 to eradicate hardcore poverty among the ordinary Malays. There were agricultural schemes run by each state or by Felcra (Federal Land and Consolidation Authority), but the creation of another statutory body, Felda (Federal Land Development Authority), in 1956, accelerated the pace of development of the rural area in Malaya.

And the man largely responsible for this pace was Tun Razak, then Deputy Prime Minister. At each district there was an operation room to which the minister made regular visits, sometimes unannounced to check his Red Book by which implementation of projects was monitored. This was the strategy that spurred accelerated development and the result is obvious – a success story that is Felda.

In the late 1970s, some taxpayers’ money was spent on me by the state government to study how Felda and Felcra operated with the view to introducing a practicable concept for the development of land in Sarawak, including land under Native Customary Rights. During my tours of the schemes in all the states, I heard stories about several young Sarawakians such as Wan Habib Tuanku Mahmud, Edwin Lau, Benedict Bunsin, Tay Choo Foo and Reduan to name a few. I’m sorry if I’ve missed some other names. I wonder if the federal or any of the state governments have recognised these men by granting some token of appreciation because they were among the pioneers in opening up Malayan jungle for plantations by Felda.

Hear them tell you how they were so scared in the beginning, not so much of the tigers, but of the booby traps and the land mines left in the jungle after the end of the Malayan Emergency (1948 to 1957). Most of them returned to Sarawak in the 1970s and pioneered the oil palm industry here. They were about the only Sarawakians other than Sabri Ali and Hollis Awell, both Sarawakians, working for the Commonwealth Development Corporation in Miri after their stint in Tawau, who had vast field experience and expertise in the plantation industry that many people in Sarawak are crazy about these days.

Felda in the East

When in 1987, the then Prime Minister Dr Mahathir, “broke the earth” at Senibong in Lundu to mark the entry of Felda into Sarawak, there was great hope among the Natives there that what the Malays had got in Malaya, the Natives here would also enjoy – participation in an oil palm scheme on alienated land with housing and other modern facilities provided with interest-free loans. There would be a lot of jobs. For the landless Chinese in the district, their hope lay in owning a smallish piece of property and doing a bit of trading.

Dr M has come and gone; a lot of water has gone under the bridge. Felda has since grown in size of several thousand hectares at Sampadi. Thanks to the good price of edible oils, of which palm oil is one, the schemes have made a lot of money out of the land partly claimed by the Natives as theirs. However, none of the people there is a participant (peneroka) of the project – a different deal from the normal Felda concept of development for the Malays in the peninsula. A raw deal for the locals.

News about the coming listing of the Felda Global Ventures Holdings (FG VH) on the KL Stock Exchange conjures up images of billions of ringgit worth of shares to be traded in the open market for buyers who are eligible or can afford to buy. The peneroka in Felda schemes in Semenanjung can buy blue chip shares while the Natives on the periphery of the Sampadi Felda projects are sucking their fingers. In local lingo, they are having putih mata (white eyes only), an opportunity missed.

That’s a great disappointment!

Why the discrimination?

However, hopes springs eternal in the human breast. Hear ye, good folks of Senibong, listen to what the great son of Razak said in Chuping, Perlis, recently: “Jagalah Felda dengan baik sebab saya memegang amanah Tun Razak. Saya pernah kata, saya tidak akan mengkhianati allahyarham ayahanda saya. Saya takkan buat sesuatu yang memudaratkan Felda dan masyarakatnya. Saya berpegang pada janji itu dan akan lakukan yang terbaik.”

(“Take good care of Felda because I hold the trust of Tun Razak. I have been saying that I am not going to betray my late father. I will never do anything that causes losses to Felda and its community. I’m holding on to that promise and will do anything that’s good.”)

Good. We have been waiting to hear this from the lips of the boss himself; now he has spoken.

Are the Natives of Senibong and Stunggang Nonya, being non-settlers but whose land was partly used for the Felda schemes eligible to buy the blue-chip shares when these are up for sale?