Planting seeds to a new Felda


New beginnings: The new Felda aims to be run as a well-functioning corporation with better internal controls.

New beginnings: The new Felda aims to be run as a well-functioning corporation with better internal controls.

THE scale of malfeasance was staggering. The White Paper on the goings-on in Felda and its subsidiaries read like a litany of wrongdoings that breached proper governance standards that most companies have to prescribe to.

There were many reasons why the checks and balances within Felda failed, largely because there was none. The concentration of authority within the hands of a few individuals, with little exercise of fiduciary duty by other members of the board, meant a free hand for the few.

The forensic audit conducted by Ernst & Young detailed the collapse of internal controls and oversight in a number of deals done by Felda. Overpriced deals were made and in the end, it was the settlers that bore the brunt of the consequences.

Charges have been filed against former Felda chairman Tan Sri Mohd Isa Abdul Samad, and given the scale of alleged fraud that had taken place, more police reports are about to be lodged in the days and weeks ahead. And more people are expected to face charges.

All of that will mean that justice to what had happened at Felda will be sought. That process will take time, but in the meantime, the main thrust of the White Paper, apart from detailing the cocktail of crimes, was what to do with Felda next.

The key take-away from the report was that there will be a new Felda. The old one, with its own legacy problems, meant that it will be best to start over again with a new focus.

The financial performance of Felda warrants the change as it has been losing money since its unit FGV Holdings Bhd was floated on Bursa Malaysia and its debt ballooned from RM1.2bil in 2007 to RM14.4bil in 2017. And its assets just about doubled. From those numbers alone, it was imperative that financial assistance from the government be extended to rehabi­litate Felda.

The government will inject RM6.23bil into Felda in stages in the form of grants, loans and guarantees and much of that money will actually go towards reworking Felda.

The agency’s debt will be taken care of and so will the settlers’ loans. Housing for second-generation Felda settlers will be built and RM480mil will be given to help pay for their living cost.

In changing Felda from what it is now to what it should morph into, the government will inject RM1bil for the settlers to plant new cash crops.

Relying on palm oil and rubber alone has been good, and the settlers and Felda benefited from that. But in today’s world, other cash crops have gained prominence over the golden crop of Malaysia.

With the price of food, which includes fruits and vegetables, along with livestock, having increasing value, the shift towards these crops is understandable and inevitable.

Settlers will be able to get more income from cultivating such crops and rearing livestock to go along with the lease agreement they can get by agreeing to allot their rights to their oil palm estates to Felda for a steady monthly return.

Felda can then use the economies of scale from the amalgamated lands and better productivity to generate higher returns. The use of modern technology in farming Felda land is also in the right direction.

The other steps put forward by Economic Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali is to have better infrastructure in the areas within the scheme, improve development of human capital and a host of other measures that seek to revitalise the prospects of the settlers and their next generation.

The new Felda aims to be run as a well-functioning corporation. Governance, transparency and all the other buzzwords that mean better internal controls and eliminating corruption needed to be done.

Having professionals run Felda is the correct move and with all of this, it is hoped that Felda will shed its sordid past and return the agency to what the settlers and their kin have sacrificed for.

The overarching intention of the revamped Felda is to make sure that only the welfare of the settlers and the agency are taken care of.

It is also a political move to ensure that a key vote bank that helped swing the tide of the last general election remains intact. But beyond the politics, the revamp of Felda is a much-needed move that will only serve to benefit those involved in the scheme and the country.

It is the right thing to do.THE scale of malfeasance was staggering. The White Paper on the goings-on in Felda and its subsidiaries read like a litany of wrongdoings that breached proper governance standards that most companies have to prescribe to.

There were many reasons why the checks and balances within Felda failed, largely because there was none. The concentration of authority within the hands of a few individuals, with little exercise of fiduciary duty by other members of the board, meant a free hand for the few.

The forensic audit conducted by Ernst & Young detailed the collapse of internal controls and oversight in a number of deals done by Felda. Overpriced deals were made and in the end, it was the settlers that bore the brunt of the consequences.

Charges have been filed against former Felda chairman Tan Sri Mohd Isa Abdul Samad, and given the scale of alleged fraud that had taken place, more police reports are about to be lodged in the days and weeks ahead. And more people are expected to face charges.

All of that will mean that justice to what had happened at Felda will be sought. That process will take time, but in the meantime, the main thrust of the White Paper, apart from detailing the cocktail of crimes, was what to do with Felda next.

The key take-away from the report was that there will be a new Felda. The old one, with its own legacy problems, meant that it will be best to start over again with a new focus. The financial performance of Felda warrants the change as it has been losing money since its unit FGV Holdings Bhd was floated on Bursa Malaysia and its debt ballooned from RM1.2bil in 2007 to RM14.4bil in 2017. And its assets just about doubled. From those numbers alone, it was imperative that financial assistance from the government be extended to rehabilitate Felda.

The government will inject RM6.23bil into Felda in stages in the form of grants, loans and guarantees and much of that money will actually go towards reworking Felda.

The agency’s debt will be taken care of and so will the settlers’ loans. Housing for second-generation Felda settlers will be built and RM480mil will be given to help pay for their living cost.

In changing Felda from what it is now to what it should morph into, the government will inject RM1bil for the settlers to plant new cash crops.

Relying on palm oil and rubber alone has been good and the settlers and Felda benefited from that. But in today’s world, other cash crops have gained prominence than the golden crop of Malaysia.

With the price of food, which includes fruits and vegetables, along with livestock, having increasing value, the shift towards these crops is understandable and inevitable.

Settlers will be able to get more income from cultivating such crops and rearing livestock to go along with the lease agreement they can get by agreeing to allot their rights to their oil palm estates to Felda for a steady monthly return. Felda can then use the economies of scale from the amalgamated lands and better productivity to generate higher returns. The use of modern technology in farming Felda’s land is also in the right direction.

The other steps put forward by Economic Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali is to have better infrastructure in the areas within the scheme, improve development of human capital and a host of other measures that seek to revitalise the prospects of the settlers and their next generation.

The new Felda aims to be run as a well-functioning corporation. Governance, transparency and all the other buzzwords that mean better internal controls and eliminating corruption needed to be done. Having professionals run Felda is the correct move and with all of this, it is hoped that Felda will shed its sordid past and return the agency to what the settlers and their kin have sacrificed for.

The overarching intention of the revamped Felda is to make sure that only the welfare of the settlers and the agency are taken care of. It is also a political move to ensure that a key vote bank that helped swing the tide of the last general election remains intact. But beyond the politics, the revamp of Felda is a much-needed move that will only serve to benefit those involved in the scheme and the country.

It is the right thing to do.