Rubber tappers, smallholders rejoice as Anwar delivers on 49-year mission

24 Feb 2023 09:22pm
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim holds the file containing the Budget 2023 which he retabled in Parliament today. - BERNAMA
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim holds the file containing the Budget 2023 which he retabled in Parliament today. - BERNAMA

SHAH ALAM: Almost exactly a year ago, on Feb 20 last year, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim spoke at the Kampung Lalang public field in Baling, in an annual get-together with the people in commemoration of the 1974 Baling Demonstration and a people's uprising against the oppression of famine-struck poor farmers and smallholders.

At the gathering Anwar again noted the indelible mark the Baling Demonstration had left on his life, first a student leader at the forefront of activism and then as a politician, speaking before a crowd that included senior citizens, to many of whom Anwar's name bore more significance than any other famous person, as here was a man who went to jail for them.

Finally as Prime Minister oday, 49 years after the very demonstration that saw Anwar alongside a number of his allies sent to the Kamunting Prison under as Internal Security Act (ISA) detainees for the first time in their lives, that very mission that encapsulated his youth seeemed to have been finally addressed without hindrance as the Prime Minister stood before the Dewan Rakyat, retabling the Budget 2023 which he dubbed the 'Madani Budget'.

Almost hidden in the second half of swathes of aid and allocations spread across an RM388.1 billion budget text, was a section that must have struck a chord with the Baling folk and those in similar predicaments, to whom Anwar has long endeared himself.

En suite to his vow that hardcore poverty affecting over 130,000 people will be ended this year, came a plethora of goodies to lift farmers, smallholders and rubber tappers out of hardships that have affected them for far too long.

"There will be continuous aid to the people who earn their living as rice farmers and rubber smallholders. These are a section of the poor who are in a constant battle with uncertain weather, especially during the monsoon season, just to eanr a living," said Anwar, before announcing various subsidies and incentives in the form of price controls and fertiliser amounting to RM1.6 billion.

Then came cash injections of RM200 per month for three months to over 240,000 rice farmers with RM228 million allocated for that purpose.

"All this while the rich, the large conglomerates had enjoyed the spoils and left the poor to fend for themselves because we did nothing. But now we can show that if we engage and negotiate with them, such as what we did with Bernas, we can change this," said Anwar, thanking national rice trading cooperation Bernas for an RM60 million contribution towards aiding rice farmers severely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and weather damage.

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"Apart from the RM60 million contribution, Bernas also agreed to a 30 percent profit-sharing deal from the sale of imported rice with local rice farmers," Anwar added.

He then moved to the pressing issues of rubber smallholders, who have largely been affected by the rise in productions cost and the drop in the price of rubber, thus to increase the minimum income of rubber tappers, the government has agreed to increase the Price Activation Level Incentive for rubber production from RM2.50 per kilogram to RM2.70 with an allocation of RM350 million.

"With this, I urge the Malaysian Rubber Board to facilitate and ease the mechanisms for rubber tappers to claim these incentives, especially the smallholders, who need to travel long distances just to claim these incentives," said Anwar, relating to a personal experience in Pedu, Kedah, where he saw how rubber tappers had to travel all the way to Alor Star and back just to claim incentives, forcing them to take the day off and cover heavy costs of travel.

"This can no longer be the practice because it makes life difficult for the people. I want the MRB to be more responsive and go down to the ground to manage claims from smallholders and be more proactive in the disbursement of claims," he added.

An allocation of RM256 million, meanwhile, would go to providing cash aid of between RM600 and RM800 per month for four months to ease the burden faced by over 320,000 smallholders whose income would be severely affected during the monsoon season.

To increase the demand for rubber, which inadvertently would improve the income of smallholders and increase demand for rubber, the government has allocated RM50 million to for the use of Cuplump Modified Bitumin (CMB) for road maintenance work, which would also extend the lifespan of roads.

Alas throughout the budget speech, the consistent theme was the intent to address the plight of the poor and marginalised with mentions in every digression from the text, a subject that ran in tandem with Anwar's persistence and perseverence.