Cronyism has stunted FELDA's growth potential
FELDA settlers has been neglected for decades under the previous Barisan government who exploited them as a mere vote bank.
First generation FELDA settlers, who are mainly rural poor, sent to develop land around the countryside into cash crop plantation were never given any other training besides from being a farmer.
This is reminiscent of the British Colonial Administration policy of keeping the Malay farmers as farmers and only giving their children education to become a better farmers instead of diversifying their talent pool.
Because of this, it is rarely unheard of FELDA settlers having poor financial literacy skills, wasting away any bonuses that they received and continuing to depend on government allowance for a living.
Education neglect and cronyism has also stunted FELDA settlements’ potential of economic growth. Hence why we are seeing FELDA settlements nowadays being a plantation village with no other industrial activity at all.
I have also been informed by a son of a FELDA settler that any plans for settlers to expand beyond cash crop agricultures are practically barred by FELDA.
The settlers are not allowed to plant anything else or do other economic activities on the allocated land without permission, reducing their ability to diversify. Settlers have been asking FELDA for permissions to be allowed to farm other produce on part of their land as diversification plan to no avail.
As the land within the settlements are all owned by FELDA, industrial activities are also practically barred. Investors cannot go into the settlement areas to tap into the human capital due to the land monopoly. This has created a situation where the second generation of settlers having to either move out of FELDA in poverty or continue to be farmers if they receive the ownership of the plantation from their father.
Naturally one would think that government expenditure on helping the farmers in setting up their plantation would generate some secondary economic activities such as shops, farming machineries, workshops, and small enterprise supporting the local economic ecosystem.
But all of these failed to materialise due to FELDA’s management practice of subcontracting these services to Barisan’s cronies - limiting first and second generation settlers’ ability to partake in these economic endeavour.
Farming machinery maintenance services are monopolised by UMNO crony companies, which are brought from outside of the system with no intention or initiative of integrating with the local community. Competition is stifled as it would jeopardise the said crony’s monopoly.
The Barisan Nasional government did try to rectify this lack of talent diversity by giving some second-generation FELDA settlers scholarship to further their studies in multiple fields. But most of the scholarship failed to translate into jobs and secondary economic activities creation as they are tangentially related, compounded with the limitation above.
As part of its management reform for FELDA, the Pakatan Harapan government will liberalise the secondary economic market for FELDA settlers, in order to allow them to better participate and develop their communities, diversifying and creating a sustainable communities for everyone involved.
By removing cronyism and corruption within FELDA, we can finally realise the true potential of FELDA as a social program, intended to lift the rural poor out of the poverty cycle while at the same time creating a vibrant community.