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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Felda doesn’t belong to Najib and Co


Najib has shown neither concern nor interest in making a clean breast of the mystery surrounding Omar’s agenda vis-à-vis the FGVH.
COMMENT
All is not well with the Federal Land Development Authority or Felda, which has been “infected” with the cronyism and nepotism viruses as evident from the appointment of Isa Abdul Samad, the former Negri Sembilan menteri besar, as Felda chairman two years ago.
If selecting Isa was not pathetic enough, Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak has invited trouble through his move to “hand over” Felda to ambitious “youngster” Omar Mustapha Ong.
Omar, who previously served as Najib’s special officer, is said to have played a role in the proposed listing of Felda Global Ventures Holdings (FGVH).
In getting the Omar Ong-FGVH jigsaw right, Malaysia Today editor Raja Petra Kamarudin in his Feb 21, 2012 posting alleged that the person close to Najib had the advantage of cashing in on FGVH’s going public.
According to Raja Petra, Omar advises Najib on his corporate moves and has been doing so even back in the days when Najib was still just the deputy prime minister.
“Omar Mustapha Ong is a member of Khairy Jamaluddin’s ‘Fourth Floor Boys’, the team that helped Abdullah Ahmad Badawi run the country when he was the prime minister. They not only ran the country. They ran it into the ground,” Raja Petra had written.
Omar, who is also an independent, non-executive director at Petronas, is the co-founder of Ethos, a management and strategic consulting firm.
Just as perturbed by Najib’s move is the opposition alliance of Pakatan Rakyat which wants the premier to come clean on the role played by Omar in the controversial listing of FGVH.
Saving Najib’s skin
Thus far, Najib has shown neither concern nor interest in making a clean breast of the mystery surrounding Omar’s agenda vis-à-vis the FGVH.
With the questions yet to be answered, Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of Felda matters, Ahmad Maslan, tried playing saviour by claiming that the listing would make FGVH a blue-chip company in global plantations.
This justification comes from a politician out to save his boss Najib’s skin. But as far as the PAS- aligned National Association of Settlers (Anak) is concerned, it objects to FGVH turning public, the worry being that the listing would shortchange some 200,000 settlers in Felda schemes across the nation.
Under the listing proposal, settlers would swap their 5% stake in Felda Holdings – which made RM760 million last year – for a 61% stake in FGVH.
These protesters were lucky as a temporary court order was issued on Feb 21, 2012, to block the transfer of shares from the co-operative to the Felda’s investment arm.
Najib’s silence on this issue is only going to worsen matters. The settlers in particular and the rakyat in general have every right to know who really is the mastermind behind FGVH going public.
The premier must also disclose his decision to allow Omar to treat Felda in any which way he so chooses. Is this not a classic act of cronyism being practised by Najib, the leader who claims to want nothing but the best for Malaysia?
Najib has failed the rakyat
If truth be told, the premier has, by his own misdeeds, revealed that he is no where being a leader of the people or for the people. Najib does not care two hoots about getting rid of cronyism.
But why?
(Felda is the world’s largest fully integrated oil-based plantation group owning over 90 factories worldwide. Felda is also Malaysia’s biggest plantation owner with estates covering some 853,000 hectares nationwide.)
A Petronas scholar, Omar, by the way, is a repeated scholarship defaulter and his constant job hopping had resulted in him defaulting on his loan agreement.
Concerning Omar’s “interest” in Felda, this Oxford graduate’s involvement was first raised by Opposition Leader and PKR de facto chief Anwar Ibrahim last year.
Anwar had demanded that Najib reveal the fees paid to Ethos Consultancy for its appointment as consultant.
Anwar also questioned as to how a firm like Ethos, with no expertise in the agriculture industry, had been appointed as consultant to Felda’s commercial arm whose international subsidiaries lost some RM500 million up to 2010.
However, as always, Najib remains cocky, believing that he has “immunity” in deciding the good of the nation. To all intents and purposes, allowing Omar, a person with zero experience and understanding in the field of agriculture, to meddle in Felda’s affairs is certainly not a move in the right direction.
Similar discontent has been voiced by PKR vice-president Tian Chua who said Omar’s presence in Felda through Ethos was proof enough of “Najib’s fingerprints” in the deal.
Tian, the Batu MP, concurred with PAS vice-president Mahfuz Omar that this act of cronyism by the country’s top leader shows that Putrajaya never had any intention to consult settlers on the decision. Tian said Omar’s involvement showed Najib wanted full control.
“We can see to what extent he (Najib) wants his people controlling the deal; it just shows how much he wants to cash in on this,” Tian had told FMT, adding that the prime minister must clarify the matter.
Premeditated plan
Mahfuz, Pokok Sena MP, wants Najib to explain the allegations, more so in the face of the rising anger over the proposal to list FGVH.
He alleges that the Omar-linked Ethos’ involvement exposed Putrajaya’s premeditated plan to exploit FGVH’s public listing and that too at the expense of the Felda settlers.
“The move was done without prior consultation with the stakeholders and without the consent of Kooperasi Permodalan Felda (KPF),” Mahfuz had said, referring to the rushed emergency meeting held by the body on Jan 5.
The meeting resulted in the appointment of Umno man Isa as KPF chairman.
Settlers protesting against FGHV’s listing saw it as Putrajaya’s way of forcing KPF’s consent with regard to the move.
Mahfuz wants the controversy surrounding the listing answered by Najib.
Is there something that we don’t know when it comes to the involvement of someone like Omar in this issue?
“Is this proof that the listing proposal is aimed at serving the interests of some people? Najib must explain,” Mahfuz said.
When in 2010 Anwar alleged that Felda was bankrupt, the land development authority fired back by slapping a defamation suit worth hundreds of millions of ringgit on several PKR leaders.
Two years later, Felda, it appears, is on the verge of collapse if nothing is done to stop Najib and his blue-eyed boy Omar’s scheming ways of taking over Felda, using one pretext or another.
Be it Mahfuz, Tian or Anwar, the premier has to start talking and speak the truth, albeit the extreme discomfort he faces in being frank.
Hiding the truth is only going to earn Najib the rakyat’s wrath and with the 13th general election looming, one is certain the premier will spare no room for error. But interfering in Felda’s affairs, by-passing the settlers’ welfare and trying to control Felda are major errors Najib has made.
Jeswan Kaur is a freelance writer and a FMT columnist.

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