IT is being argued by some quarters that the Gatco settlers in Negeri Sembilan numbering over 400 people have no legal right to get eight acres of land each from the state government.
Since they have exhausted their legal avenues through the courts, they have no choice but to accept the four acres and two acres for buyers.
In this case, buyers refer to a group of settlers who had left the scheme as well as close relatives of the original settlers.
Two groups of settlers
There are two groups of settlers in the scheme, the first one, those loyal to the Barisan Nasional Government, have accepted four acres for each family and two acres for those wishing to purchase or buyers.
The remaining original settlers who have supported Pakatan Harapan in particular, consist of around 110 settlers, both settlers and those who are regarded as buyers.
In fact, the original agreement with Gatco was for 10 acres each settler. Later it was reduced to eight acres.
Refutation of rights
In fact, it is argued that the settlers who are demanding for eight acres have no right whatsoever to demand from the government.
Since they lost their case in preventing Thamarai Holdings Sdn Bhd (belonging to the Lotus Group of Companies) from buying the land, they have no rights whatsoever over the land.
As such, they have to accept the goodwill of the state government in accepting the four acres and two acres for those who want to buy the land.
But in my view, the argument that settlers have no right to the land is a complete horse manure. It is a terrible betrayal of the long years of struggle and suffering of the settlers.
Yes, they lost their case in preventing a private company, Thamarai, from buying the land, but have they lost their right to the eight acres land that was affirmed by the court in the 1980s? Those engaging in this nonsensical argument to deny the settlers their inherent right in the land scheme are not telling the truth.
They are trying to mislead the public as the Gatco settlers’ struggle has intensified over the years. It would be an insult to the settlers to say that some political parties are misguiding them in demanding the impossible.
If the present decision makers have done their job thoroughly to address the plight of the settlers, the matter would have been settled a few years ago, as soon as the Pakatan government came into power.
To say the provision of four acres is an act of goodwill on the part of the state government is nothing but a mischievous attempt to rob the settlers of their fundamental rights.
Long years of struggle
The struggle of the settlers began not today or yesterday, but more than 40 years ago. They were brought from all over the country by the National Union of Plantation Workers (NUPW) through its company, Gatco (Great Alioners Trading Company) to be settled in Kampung Gatco, Serting Ilir, Negeri Sembilan.
They were promised one acre land for a house and 10-acre land for agricultural cultivation. The Gatco scheme sought to emulate the FELDA scheme of land settlement. While the Felda scheme was initiated by the federal government, the Gatco scheme was begun by the NUPW, a plantation union, through its wholly owned subsidiary, Gatco.
Without the backing of the federal government, the scheme ran into problems. Insofar as the settlers are concerned, it was a case of mismanagement and the lack of consultation with the settlers that led to the collapse of Gatco.
Some have mischievously described the whole episode as a classic case of “Get and Go”! Gatco went into receivership after failing to settle loans borrowed from the banks.
Subsequently, the land comprising the scheme was sold without any transparency to Thamarai by then the BN state government. Why Thamarai would want to purchase the agricultural land in the scheme meant for the settlers despite the existence of land dispute is not made clear.
I am not sure what was really the deal between the BN state government and Thamarai but later, the company returned about 1,200 acres out of the total 4,000 acres to the state government to resolve the problem with the settlers.
But the major portion of the original land meant for settlement is still under the ownership of Thamarai. Those who are saying that settlers have no entitlement are the ones who once promised, not very long ago, that they would strive to get eight acres for them.
It was also promised that those settlers who had been loyal to the BN government would get four acres before they would be given eight acres. Despite the promise, there is a 180 degrees on the Gatco land matter.
Those acting at the behest of the state are saying that the settlers have no rights, there is no such thing as eight acres for them, they should just accept the goodwill offer of four acres to close the matter.
This is nothing but classic betrayal of the settlers. All the promises made and the way the settlers’ issue was used against BN in the by-elections seem to have been forgotten.
It is not about others manipulating the settlers for political purposes, but about how some self-serving politicians have used the settlers’ issue for their own political advancement. Having attained their political objective, the Gatco settlers’ matter is not just forgotten but given a new interpretation.
Essentially, the matter is about whether or not the state government has the political will to provide the eight acres that was promised. It is not about the settlers not having legal rights, it is about what the state government can do to address their long years of suffering.
So, let us not get stuck in the imagined legal argument to deny what rightfully belongs to the settlers. – Dec 6, 2021.
Ramasamy Palanisamy is the state assemblyman for Perai. He is also Deputy Chief Minister II of Penang.
The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.
Photo credit: Malaysiakini