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Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Let’s respect Razak’s legacy and build houses for estate workers

Owning a house has been a major problem for present and former estate workers.
The recent protest outside Parliament to demand a house ownership law for estate workers illustrates the lack of progress on the matter.
This is despite the fact that the second prime minister of Malaysia, Abdul Razak Hussein, had mooted the idea of house ownership for estate workers in 1973 itself.
Despite the passage of time, only about 5% of estates have implemented this scheme.
The first estate house ownership scheme was introduced in Tennamaram estate, Kuala Selangor.
Lack of political will on the part of state governments, the absence of mandatory legislation, the indifference of employers and not the least, the high number of foreign estate workers, have militated against the introduction of a house ownership scheme for estate workers.
I believe even if there is no legislation in the pipeline, low-cost house ownership schemes can be introduced, especially in areas that were once plantations, where former workers and their families are still living in the old estate quarters.
Some of the lands have been sold to private owners and some have been acquired by the state.
In places where the estate workers housing needs have yet to be solved, state governments can do a number of things.
On land held by the state, state governments can ask private developers to build low-cost houses by way of asking them to fulfil their low-cost mandatory quota.
This quota can be transferable from one area to another, something of an incentive for developers.
Many developers who find it difficult to build low-cost houses in certain areas can transfer their quota in terms of building houses for estate workers.
The case of Ladang Caledonia in Penang is a good example where the developer transferred the quota from some other housing areas to this place.
There is no one model in the introduction of this scheme for workers.
In urban areas, where plantations have ceased to exist, state governments can acquire land for housing not only to cater for estate workers but other poor families.
Once land is acquired, then developers can be identified to build the houses by way of transferring their mandatory low-cost quota.
Estate owners should not wash their hands of responsibility towards their workers.
If they had taken a greater interest in this matter, workers in the country might not be suffering from the lack of a roof over their heads.
State governments must make it a policy to encourage estate employers to set aside land for house ownership programmes.
It would be more effective to have legislation to enforce the policy.
Every state must set up a task force to give effect to this noble policy of a house ownership programme for estate workers mooted by Razak about 46 years ago.
In giving effect to this scheme, let us remember the legacy of Razak.
P Ramasamy is a DAP central executive committee member and Penang deputy chief minister II - FMT

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