Political will: When the State champions the rich, ignores the poor (Part 2)

IN the last article, we looked at how by having the political will, the State could intervene on various matters and help the people even when the odds are stacked against them. 

This time around, let’s look at the Gatco issue in Negeri Sembilan, where the matter remains unresolved for decades due to lack of political will and having spineless leaders at helm.  

Gatco –a lack of political will   

When Pakatan Harapan took federal power in 2018, Prof Jomo Kwame Sundaram was one of those appointed to the Council of Eminent Persons by then Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.  

The nonagenarian had said that there were many 1Malaysia Development Board (1MDB) like issues plaguing the country, with Gatco being one of them.  

Touching on history in 1977, the Government started a FELDA-like scheme in Kampung Serampang Indah which is commonly called Kampung Gatco; located near Jempol, Negeri Sembilan. It is a rural location, just 60 kilometres south of the Pahang border. The nearest town is located 40km away at Bahau. 

This scheme is a copycat of a FELDA scheme, only that the majority of the settlers participating in this scheme are poor Malaysian Indians compared to FELDA schemes which are dominated by Malays. Therefore, Malaysian Indians have a strong sense of attachment to the plight of these settlers’ who were given a place dubbed the largest Indian land settlement.  

 Some even call this place “Indian FELDA” though out of the total 430 settlers, 280 settlers are Indians, 120 are Malays and 30 are Chinese. 

These settlers were allocated 10 acres each which is a standard in all FELDA schemes. Why 10 acres? Because it was the optimum land size needed for a settler to survive. This figure is critical because though we hear about scandals in FELDA shares but never have we heard anywhere in the country that FELDA settlers were told to reduce their 10-acre allotment.  

In the Gatco case, their land which was initially 10 acres which was later reduced to eight acres with the consent of the settlers and now they are forced to accept four acres per settler. This is a 50% rip-off! 

When heroes become worse than the villain! 

When the settlers asked the Pakatan Government to restore the status to eight acres, the state government, especially the state executive councillor S Veerapen said the state cannot do anything because their hands are tied by a court order. How convenient! 

 Now nobody is denying that there was mismanagement by Gatco and the company went bankrupt; and that the settlers lost the case in court. The court felt that Tamarai Holdings Sdn Bhd, a subsidiary of Lotus Group of Companies got the land in a legitimate way and therefore they are the owners of the land now. 

That was the outcome of the court of law. In the court of public opinion, it was injustice and immoral; baffling and outrageous. Now 4,700 acres of land which initially belonged to 430 settlers have now become the property of one company – Tamarai or Lotus.  

 Tamarai then gives back 1,206 acres of land to the state government for free. Everyone praised them for their goodwill but do not be fooled. Was it really free? In exchange, the land lease was extended to 99 years by the Negeri Sembilan State Development Corporation PKNNS. Plus, Lotus was given permission to log and cut all the runner trees which belonged to the settlers! 

Lotus bought the land from the liquidator for only RM16 mil (RM 4,000 per acre). This was the original price of land not taking into account the value of the rubber trees planted by the settlers there. The value of the rubber trees alone can fetch up to RM 6,000 per acre. By selling these rubber trees, Tamarai would be able to recover the cost of the land that they won in the auction. 

 Now what did the then- BN state government under former Negeri Sembilan MB Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan do with the 1,206 acres? He gave the settlers four acres each and buyers two acres. The BN government not only reduced the acres assigned to the settlers by half, they completely forgot the fact that four acres was not enough for survival for small holders.   

 And guess who opposed this and called the BN Government deal a fraud? Yes, the same Pakatan leaders who today have become the state speakers, menteri besar and excos! 

 The so-called leaders who “championing” Gatco settlers are now saying they can only give four acres for settlers and two acres for buyers – the same offer given by BN! Those who refused the offer are threatened and therefore many have taken it up as they do not have much choice. 

 So, there is only one winner here and Veerapen attacks me and PSM saying that we do not understand the law, as if he is the saviour of the legal system. He says we are politicking and giving false hope to the people.  

Class struggle  

He is also critical of DAP’s Ramasamy who wanted to bring the matter to PKR president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and the MB. Why is Veerapen so adamant to stick to the previous BN government’s position of only giving four acres to the settlers and two acres to buyers, while Tamarai Holdings plans to plant durians and has asked others to invest in this project. This is profit versus people. The Pakatan state government has to take a stand on this.  

Now when we say that the state government has a duty to the settlers and should use political will to get more land from Tamarai, these same leaders say the law does not allow that. This is the most ridiculous argument put forward by Veerapen, a lawyer in the profession.  

 In summary, in every struggle, it usually involves the rich and the poor. The state has to choose whose interest they want to champion and it has to decide if they have the political will and conviction to fight for justice. They cannot wash their hands away or use flimsy excuses and should never hide behind court decisions. The court never said the state government cannot give the settlers more land. It is up to the state government to correct past mistakes and to do what is right. 

When the Pakatan governments in Selangor and Penang, in the issues of Tanjung Pasir and Sungai Kecil can show political will to resolve the issue, what is stopping the Negeri Sembilan Pakatan government?  

 Anyways, the Negeri Sembilan MB had said on Nov 30 that he will meet the settlers who are demanding the eight acres.  Let’s see if he has the courage and the will to resolve this issue permanently. – Dec 6, 2021.  

 (Photo credit: New Straits Times) 

S Arutchelvan is the deputy chairperson of Parti Sosialis Malaysia.  

The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.

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