Comprehensive benefits for Felda settlers will improve their quality of life - Analysts

08 Jul 2023 09:51am
Image for illustrative purposes only. – FILE PIX
Image for illustrative purposes only. – FILE PIX

KUALA LUMPUR - The provision of benefits for the Federal Land Development Authority (Felda) settlers through several initiatives and incentives announced by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim is aimed at improving their quality of life and to protect their welfare.

The incentives include the provision of infrastructure, healthcare and housing as well as enabling digital transformation.

Among the announcements made by Anwar were the Rahmah Health Contribution (SKR) which involves an allocation of RM21.21 million, the construction of hemodialysis centres with an allocation of RM21 million, expenditure for street lightings with a financial implication of RM7.7 million per year, and a diesel subsidy of RM36 million a year for three Felda settlements in Sabah.

He also announced the Digital Madani programme would be implemented in cooperation with the Malaysian Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) at 30 digital economy centres (Pedi) identified nationwide to make Felda a leader in digital transformation.

Economic Studies programme director at Jeffrey Cheah Institute on Southeast Asia, Sunway University, Prof Yeah Kim Leng said these measures will raise income, improve living standards and lighten the debt burden of the Felda community nationwide.

He said, most importantly, the digital transformation initiative, the Felda debt restructuring programme and debt cancellation for settlers would enable the organisation and settlers to forge a new beginning.

"It is hoped that the rejuvenation of Felda at a sizeable fiscal cost to the government, will strengthen the role and contribution of Felda and its settlers to the overall economy in general and the palm oil sector in particular,” he told Bernama.

Meanwhile, an economist at Tun Abdul Razak University, Prof Barjoyai Bardai is of the view that the Digital Madani initiative that was announced is a 'seed' to encourage the growth of a new industry which is based on the digital economy and a migration to the Fourth Industrial Revolution (IR4.0).

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"This can be used as a basis in the future to develop this industry and this is a great initiative because it is introduced with the focus on the Felda new generation.

"So hopefully this will be continued and improved from year to year until the objectives are achieved," he said.

In lauding the initiatives and incentives announced by Anwar, Barjoyai also proposed the establishment of a special institution to deal with issues related to health, safety, social protection and so forth that are faced by Felda settlers and their families.

He said the institution needs to generate income annually using the endowment system where the funds will be able to cover the costs of service facilities and social protection for the settlers and subsequently to other groups in need.

In addition, he said in order to ensure their quality of life is improved and the settlers’ welfare is protected, the initiatives and incentives channeled by the government must be continued and should be included in the annual budget.

"This means that it is not just a one-time expenditure... this budget must be increased from time to time, taking into account the growing number of Felda settlers and their family members.

""Establishing a sustainable system that can continuously cover the costs of providing this facility for Felda settlers and their family members requires (government) attention," he said.

Anwar, who is also the Minister of Finance, also assured that the government will focus specifically on the Felda issue in the Madani 2024 Budget this October as an effort to elevate Felda and protect the settlers’ welfare.

Malaysian Institute of Economic Research (MIER) senior research fellow, Dr Shankaran Nambiar described the announcement made by the Prime Minister as a major initiative to uplift the well-being of Felda settlers as it covers all aspects of their lives.

He also proposed that the government look into modernising agriculture and upgrade the technology made available to the Felda settlers, as this could take agriculture to the next level for them.

Yesterday, at the Felda Settlers’ Day celebration, Anwar said the government has approved an annual allocation of up to RM1 billion for 10 years starting this year, to ensure Felda survival and stated the Unity Government's commitment to write off a portion of settlers’ loans amounting to RM8.3 billion.

On June 28, the government announced an agreement involving a government guarantee to restructure the agency's loan via the issuance of sukuk and revolving credit as part of efforts to restore Felda's financial position.

The major part of the restructuring of Felda's loans is to reduce the principal of Felda's debt to financial institutions by RM7.9 billion and it would also enable Felda to write off 80 per cent of the RM8.3 billion settlers' debt.

Nambiar said the move to reduce Felda's debt to financial institutions and reducing the interest rate due will give Felda more room to breathe.

"The key question is to cancel settlers' debt because if that can't be done the settlers have a grave situation and so has Felda. This agreement will be a great relief for the settlers; it will allow them to get back on track. It will also take the burden off Felda. It was a necessary solution,” he said.

Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) Centre of Media & Information Warfare Studies' security and political analyst, Dr. Noor Nirwandy Mat Noordin said the government's commitment to make Felda a leader in digital transformation through the Madani Digital Programme is much welcome as a catalyst for economic development in this era of digitalisation.

He said this will trigger a chain reaction showing the government's recognition in strategically empowering the gig economy while also ensuring that the community's economic security is strengthened.

"The involvement of the Felda settlers with the matching strategy as a result of the government's digital transformation efforts will be able to create new job opportunities segmentation and ownership of the gig economy, in particular among the Felda new generation.

"The government is also advised to establish a unit and support system to ensure that the Felda generation is involved and monitored regularly so that they can dominate certain gig economy sectors to strategically improve the value of the gig economy," he said. - BERNAMA