PRIME Minister Najib Razak should take notice: Felda settlers in his home state of Pahang are seething.
Their anger is over the latest scandal to hit Felda Global Ventures Holdings Bhd (FGV), the company that promised them a better life when it was set up with much fanfare in June 2012.
Instead, FGV has been mired in one controversy after another.
“Of course I am angry,” said Saali Talib, one of about 360 settlers of Felda Gelinggi Satu, when asked on what he thought of the ongoing feud between FGV’s top bosses.
Saali is one of the more than 112,000 settlers who opted to take out loans from FGV to buy 800 units of shares from the company in 2012.
His view and those The Malaysian Insight met in Pahang were in stark contrast to sentiments expressed in Felda Sayong in Johor, whose settlers thanked the government for the scheme.
Every month, RM50 is deducted from the earnings of settlers to pay for a RM3,600 loan which they took to buy their shares which debuted on the stock market at RM4.55 per share.
The share price is now RM1.66 after a leadership tussle which saw its president and chief executive officer Zakaria Arshad and Group Chief Financial Officer Ahmad Tifli Mohd Talha being told to go on leave.
FGV chairman Isa Samad said Zakaria has been suspended so that a probe can be carried out on FGV subsidiary Delima Oil Products Sdn Bhd.
But a defiant Zakaria has fought back and denied all charges of wrongdoing. He said he has clashed with Isa on how to run FGV and has alleged corruption at the highest levels of the company.
This latest controversy has second-generation settlers like Nazrul Fauzan worried about the future of the company which is in charge of paying them revenue from their oil palm trees.
The fear is that the management tussle could further drive down the company’s share price and have an impact on the way the plantation is run.
When they were still being managed by Felda, the company paid settlers twice a month for their harvests, said the 31-year-old, adding that they could earn an income of between RM3,000 and RM4,000 a month, depending on palm oil prices.
Ever since last year, under FGV’s management, payments have been reduced to once a month and this has cut their monthly income by half.
On top of that, Nazrul has to service the loan for the shares his parents bought four years ago.
“We didn’t even have a clear idea what we were getting into. They only took two days to explain to my parents what the share buy was,” he said.
“The whole agreement was in English and there was pressure for my mother to sign.”
Another second-generation settler, Mohd Tarmizi Mohd Salleh, said FGV’s latest conflict was further proof that FGV was not living up to its promises.
“When FGV was launched, they said it would make our lives better. That with these shares, we can earn more income,” said the 35-year-old of Felda Jengka 10.
“But instead we are seeing things getting worse for settlers. Now the management is fighting, there are all these dubious deals and we fear that FGV has no cash to pay us.”