WHILE it is enshrined in the Federal Constitution that Malaysians can prosper equally by doing business on the land, the National Land Code does not seem to tango with the land laws of Sarawak and Sabah at some point.
Agriculture is an integral part of the Malaysian economy in rural areas. People are cultivating food crops such as rice, tapioca, kangkong, etc. Others, like the Orang Asli, also forage for natural resources from the forest besides planting their own crops. Integration of food crops with livestock is also an important activity for people in rural areas.
With the availability of land and knowledge of planting practices, tree crops such as rubber, coconut and oil palm have been planted. These have contributed significantly to the Malaysian economy.
But the pursuit of these people to escape poverty may be hampered if the government continues to create regulations without consultation with them.
The oil palm industry, for instance, has flourished immensely and contributed significantly towards the country’s export revenue. Palm oil currently accounts for about 8% of gross national income (GNI).
The complete supply chain of the oil palm industry provides employment to about two million Malaysians throughout the country. Both public and private sector companies, big and small, including many cooperatives, associations and smallholders, are involved in the cultivation of oil palm.
To some extent, even the government has direct interest in oil palm businesses through certain agencies, state governments and government-incorporated private companies.
The Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) Act 1998 was introduced to, among others, enhance the livelihoods of many Orang Asal (natives).
However, unlike other sectors, the oil palm industry is subjected to a number of taxes, levies, duties and cess by the government. These taxes contribute tremendously to the coffers of the federal as well as state governments, including Sarawak and Sabah. All sorts of legal framework and mechanisms have been invented to tap the lucrative businesses of the palm oil production industry.
Almost all levels of the government structure are burdening the industry in this aspect. In the
peninsula, for instance, even the local municipalities are finding ways to encroach into the estates by imposing “cukai pintu” on workers’ quarters. This has never been done in the past.
Recently, the Human Resources Ministry unilaterally decided to spread the Human Resource Development Fund (HRDF) levy on the plantation sector. Our dedicated Plantation Industries and Commodities Ministry (MPIC), which was primarily established to safeguard and protect the industry, is so difficult to reach. Planters on the ground are in dire need of assistance and fair treatment from the demanding forces circling around them.
On the international front, the oil palm industry is facing a number of adverse criticisms due to alleged non-conformity to sustainable practices, non-satisfactory end products, treatment of workers, etc. The industry is also struggling to meet the demand for high-quality end products. There is an urgent need to enhance best practices on food safety during preparation.
Hence, stringent regulations and control are indeed necessary. All these call for more money to be forked out. The authorities must therefore help to protect the industry.
DATUK DAUD AMATZIN
A smallholder professional planter