Smallholders feeling the pinch


  • Nation
  • Tuesday, 04 Dec 2018

Centre stage: Dr Wee addressing party members at the 65th MCA’s Annual General Assembly.

DING wakes up at 6am and heads to his oil palm smallholding before joining his friends for breakfast at the coffeeshop in Ayer Tawar, Sitiawan.

This is the routine of thousands of smallholders in the country.

In his 70s, he takes pride in referring to the trees in his three-acre smallholding as his “fixed deposits”.

Income from the sale of the fruits is the interest earned, and it comes up to about RM1,200 a month after deducting costs like labour, transportation, weedkiller and fertiliser.

It was his and his wife’s livelihood and their “coffin money” as well.

But he is not so sure anymore.

“I only get a few hundred ringgit a month now,” he said, lamenting that the falling price of the commodity and lack of demand were badly affecting him and the other smallholders.

“We really do not know what to do,” he said.

There are some 500,000 smallholders in the country.

In Sitiawan, for instance, the usually packed coffeeshops in the morning are now quiet – a sign of the bad economy.

It’s the same in Yong Peng in the Ayer Hitam constituency, a predominantly agricultural area.

MP Datuk Seri Dr Wee Ka Siong said food outlet operators in Yong Peng informed him that business had gone down by half.

Yong Peng (which means forever peace in Chinese) was a bustling place with packed eateries from sunrise till late night – until recently.

On Sunday, Dr Wee, who is the MCA president, said some oil palm smallholders told him that they were suffering losses.

A few days ago, he shared a video on Facebook that showed lorries loaded with oil palm fruits lined up by the roadside.

From low to no demand for oil palm, it has come to a point where factories are not taking the fruits, Dr Wee said.

He spoke at length about the plight of the people against the backdrop of a flagging economy under the Pakatan Harapan government at Sunday’s MCA annual general assembly.

“Half a year is gone and our pockets are now empty. Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng, an accountant, has yet to prove his ability or make magic,” Dr Wee said.

He said while Pakatan leaders, especially those in the Cabinet continued to give excuses for not performing and blaming the previous regime, the people were at a loss over what to do.

One delegate at the assembly was overheard describing the current scenario as “using paper to wrap fire”.

“People are crying – not just the smallholders and businessmen. The cost of living is so high and meeting daily expenses is a struggle,” he said.

Saying that the government had lost its way, Dr Wee said the people were not only suffering, they also had no one to turn to.

“In times like this, we need to reach out to the people, especially the smallholders and listen to their grouses.

“We must first of all know the situation they are in, speak on their behalf and find ways to help them,” he advised the delegates in his opening speech.

As an opposition, MCA faced constraints in resources and machinery but Dr Wee said this would not stop the party from helping the people.

“Unlike Pakatan, we do not find excuses,” he said.

The slowing down of the economy is just one of the problems plaguing the people six months after the 14th General Election.

It looks like the aftermath of MCA’s huge defeat in GE14 is not confined to the 69-year-old party.

Its people-oriented projects on education and the economy for the low- and middle-income groups, especially the Chinese, is also at stake.

Its 50-year-old Tunku Abdul Rahman University College may have to struggle hard to keep its tuition fees low from now on.

Lim had announced zero matching grants for TAR UC in Budget 2019.

Matching grants were used for its operating expenses annually and it helped keep its fees low since 1969.

The last sum was RM30mil under Budget 2018. Many see Lim as dealing a big blow not only to the MCA, but also the Chinese community with 95% of the 200,000 graduates from TAR UC being Chinese.

Set up by MCA as Tunku Abdul Rahman College (TARC) in 1968 before it was upgraded to a university college in 2013, it is known for its “doors always stay open for deserving Malaysians” policy.

Lim had told TAR UC to cut ties with MCA before he could give it the RM30mil in matching grants.

Describing the DAP secretary-­general’s threat as absurd, Dr Wee said there was no way Lim could change history or derail MCA’s efforts to continue help the people.

But the irony is that Lim was using his new-found power to wage war against the Chinese, although 95% of Chinese supported DAP and its allies in GE14.

On Sunday morning, Dr Wee received yet another shocking news – the Finance Ministry’s cancellation of the RM50mil allocation to MCA-linked cooperative Kojadi.

The fund provides soft loans for small- and medium-scale entrepreneurs, disregarding the fact that the amount was approved by Parlia­ment under Budget 2018.

The slowing economy and lack of financial help for business people to stay afloat is set to trigger a host of other problems and uncertainties.

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