WHEN allegations of misconduct and corruption in Felda Global Ventures Holdings Berhad (FGV) surfaced this week, it just confirmed what Opposition leaders have long suspected.

Decision-making and governance issues often get mangled in any business when there are Umno politicians at the apex. Often in these enterprises, politicians masquerade as corporate figures and political considerations trump business acumen.

Whispers of wrongdoing in FGV which many believe have caused shares of the world’s biggest plantation company to slump from a high of RM5.55 per share to a mere RM1.66 over the past two years, reached a peak this week when the company suspended its Chief Executive Officer Zakaria Arshad.

Zakaria and FGV chairman Isa Samad, a veteran Umno leader, have since launched a war of words in the media, with both sides accusing the other party of wrongdoing.

 Putrajaya announced on Wednesday that the government has appointed Idris Jala to take on the task of sorting out the company’s problems, as the Malaysian Anti-Coruption Commission (MACC) raided the Felda head office and seized FGV documents as part of its probe into the company.

“The problem with Najib is he’s surrounded by people who are not qualified, but who claim to be experts in financial and economic matters,” said DAP’s Kluang Member of Parliament Liew Chin Tong.

“These people will squeeze out whatever they can from the country’s coffers,” he told The Malaysian Insight.

Liew said that Felda had started out as a social enterprise with good management, but the decision to trade Felda land for shares was a “foolish” move.

“When FGV was set up, Felda was exposed to speculation, manipulation and the ups-and-downs of the stock market.

“Felda is very dependent on palm oil, a commodity that is traded internationally and which faces price uncertainty. This alone is already a challenging situation to manage,” he said.

Najib destroying Tun Razak’s legacy

Amanah’s Director of Strategy Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad said the FGV case was an example of how Prime Minister Najib Razak’s decision-making had left the Felda settlers wanting.

“The people still remember how settlers were only allocated RM91 milllion, or 2.5%, of FGV shares while Umno cronies who were given the title ‘Bumiputera investors validated by the Ministry of International Trade and Industry’ were  allocated 420 million shares, or as much as 11.5%,” he said.

“Divide this number by the 112,635 families of settlers, and each person only gets 810 shares compared to 28,368 shares that was meant to be allocated to each Felda worker.

Bersatu’s Policy and Strategic Bureau Chief Dr Rais Hussin, said that before the setting up of FGV, Felda was making money and had large amount in savings.

“FGV was flaunted as the second largest IPO after Facebook, but today it is left in a state of near-demise.

“All parties with interests in it; from the settlers, to government agencies and the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) have suffered great losses,” he told The Malaysian Insight.

Rais said it was high time the government allowed GLC’s such as FGV to be managed by professionals, and not politicians, so that their focus would be on the business.

“More revelations are expected to be made known, as FGV’s suspended CEO doesn’t look like he intends to stay silent.

“He is fighting back and as a child of a Felda settler himself, he is in the best place to save Felda.

“Hopefully, Felda or FGV do not have to be ‘bailed out’ using taxpayers money, or worse still, to be sold to a foreign company.”

Answerable to Parliament

Several opposition lawmakers insist that Najib should be held responsible for any mismanagement and losses at FGV.

“Felda is under him, ” said PAS Pokok Sena MP Mahfuz Omar.

PKR vice president Nurul Izzah Anwar said that in order to determine the parties responsible for the company’s current troubled state, promises made during the listing of FGV and subsequent dealings by the company need to be revealed.

“If the failures are more than the successes, then the listing was fated to fail from the beginning.

“Najib needs to reveal this information to Parliament immediately,” she said.