KUALA LUMPUR, April 20 — The cost of living allowance and advance loan payments for Felda settlers will not be slashed down to RM1,000 as proposed by the body’s board of directors, said Datuk Seri Azmin Ali.
The Economic Affairs Minister told a press conference in Jempol, Negri Sembilan today that Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad had rejected the proposal due to economic situation faced by the nation and in particular the settlers themselves.
At the same time he also defended the board’s decision saying that the proposal was a responsible one looking at the organisation’s own dire finances.
As a responsible management they (the board of directors) made a proposal based on Felda’s financial capabilities at the time.
“However as a government that cares for the settlers, the deputy minister, Felda’s board of directors and I met with the Prime Minister four times before the white paper was tabled.
“The Prime Minister did not agree with the proposal to cut down the cost of living allowance seeing that the economic situation has burdened the Felda settlers.
“So the Prime Minister has instructed to prepare a sum of money for Felda to ensure that the advance loan and allowance is maintained at the current rate,” said Azmin.
He also pointed out that the previous Barisan Nasional (BN) administration had passed the bulk of Felda’s interest loan repayment worth RM7.7 billion to the settlers at a 3.8 per cent interest rate.
The current Pakatan Harapan (PH) is doing away from forcing the settlers to pay the 3.8 per cent interest rate which will costs them more than RM2 billion over the next seven years.
The Gombak lawmaker had earlier met with the settlers there to explain the contents of Felda’s white paper which was tabled in Parliament recently.
When asked regarding the settlers feedback on the white paper, Azmin told reporters that prior to the finalising the document, the government had engaged with the settlers, NGOs, Felda cooperatives and Felda youths to receive their input and thoughts.
Part of the proposal in the white paper include utilising technology for smart farming, where the settlers can make gains in six months time while waiting for the palm oil to mature after seven years.
“I have decided that a meeting involving the Agriculture and Agro-based Ministry, Fama, Felda, Felcra, Risda and Mardi will be held on May 3 to discuss (the plan). They will have the expertise and the latest technology to increase Felda settlers’ income as quickly as possible.
“To obtain revenue from a mature palm oil will take seven or eight years. But with the new technologies involving cash crop, smart farming and through technology the settlers can obtain high income in six months.
“We will discuss this because we want to implement this as soon as possible to lighten the burden faced by the settlers,” he said.
The government has allocated RM1 billion for this effort, with the first tranche of RM250 million to be utilised over the next four years.
At the same time, any repair and maintenance projects for Felda homes that is 70 per cent completed will continue.
“For development projects that have reached 70 per cent completion or more, we will complete it by this year with the costs of RM250 million,” said Azmin.
He added that the settlements in Jempol which has 839 units above 70 per cent completion will be ready by year end and will costs Felda around RM90 million.