By Patrick Lee and Jamilah Kamarudin
FMT EXCLUSIVE PETALING JAYA: PKR supreme council member Tan Kee Kwong was recently thrust into the political spotlight after posting an open letter to Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak in early June.
In his letter, the former deputy minister of land and cooperatives accused Najib and the government of mismanaging Federal Land Development Authority (Felda) funds.
The former Segambut MP and WP Gerakan chief alleged that Felda's cash reserves had dropped by more than RM4 billion to about RM200 million this year.
Tan also questioned the need for the government-linked company to invest RM660 million in a “five-star” office building.
Government reaction to the allegation was both swift and heavy-handed. Former Felda liaison director and Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister's Department, Ahmad Maslan, announced that Felda was going to sue Suara Keadilan and several PKR party leaders, including Tan, for RM200 million.
Several hours later, the party organ was summoned to the Home Ministry in Putrajaya. But the meeting was to no avail, as Suara Keadilan found its printing licence suspended.
However, no PKR party leader to date has received a letter from Felda. In a two-part interview, Tan talks to FMT about his grievances with the Najib administration.
FMT: Tell us about your time as deputy minister of land and cooperatives.
Tan: In 1999, I was given the task of answering questions about Felda. That's why I know so much about Felda. I was the only one in the administration who answered questions. We also looked after strata titles as well.
You said you're the only one who answered questions about Felda?
Yes, my minister gave me the sole responsibility.
Who was your minister at the time?
What was happening to Felda during your time as deputy minister?
Actually, Felda was a shining example of giving land to the landless. It was a scheme where they built a house, planted rubber trees and oil palm for them... 10-acre lots. And slowly over the years, they paid back. That's fine. Very, very successful.
Until about 1993, with the original settlers getting old, they (Felda) realised they cannot work on the ladang kecil anymore. So they changed their plan, and any new land opened after 1993 became Felda plantations, what they call Felda corporate.
So what did you notice?
At that time, Felda was a very fine organisation. Its chairman for many years was Raja Muhammad Alias. So we just left it alone, and it was fine.
So you just let it go on, because it obviously gave returns.
Well, you know the figures. In 2001, the assets of Felda were RM7 billion. Cash in the bank, RM4.5 billion. Loans, zero. Not one sen. How can an entity with this type of balance sheet go so wrong?
And how is it that with the record price of oil palm recently, other companies such as IOI are recording profits while Felda's cash reserves are going down? It doesn't make sense! You don't need to be an oil palm expert. What happened to the reserves?
So you think the cash reserves should be going up.
Of course! Definitely! My advice to Najib and gang is: stick to your core business. You don't need Felda Global Ventures and all that rubbish. How can you justify your six-star building? How is it going to help the settlers? Felda is about the settlers, not for making money!
Najib said that the cash reserves went down, but the assets went up.
Assets, what are the assets? Don't forget: if tomorrow India doesn't want to buy your palm oil, you've got no cash flow. How are you going to run the company? And also loans from EPF. Felda is so big, why does it need loans from anybody?
Felda borrowed money from EPF?
Yes. Felda Global Ventures (borrowed money)... Felda Glocal, as they say. You just stick to oil palm, day and night it will make profit for you. Why on earth do you need to go Felda Global?
How do you justify the RM500 million spent in Boston and Cincinnati? Tell us! What is Twin Rivers Technology?
But from an outsider's point of view, it would appear Felda is doing very well...
Was! Was doing very well, until Najib took upon himself to run Felda (in 2004), (when he was) a very busy deputy prime minister, and was also minister of defence at the time; why did he want to jaga Felda? Has he got nothing to do? Why?
But you also know a few weeks ago, some Felda settlers came over to Suara Keadilan office, and burnt some Suara Keadilan newspapers, condemning it. Do you think some settlers do not agree with what you are saying?
There are 113,000 Felda settlers. Surely you don't expect all of them to agree with you. In any organisation, there is no way everybody is going to agree with you.
But we are asking some basic questions here. Tell us the rationale of not building on your own land, where the land cost is zero. Not so far away from KLCC, you plan on building a six-star office on the land that is the most expensive in the country.
How is the building going to help the settlers? Felda has never been five or six-star. Never! Why suddenly the change in direction?
(I also want to ask) what is the special relationship between Najib and Naza TTDI? How come Naza got the job of building Matrade? Matrade should have gone for an international tender.
If you compare Naza to the big-time developers in the country, such as Ho Hup, Gamuda, and all the others, Naza is a recent entry, isn't it? They're experts in cars, what do they have to do with buildings?
You've met a lot of Felda settlers. What have they told you?
Obviously they're not very happy. Many of them are taking action. They are short-changed. A group of settlers are going to court in Negri Sembilan, while one in Kelantan went to court and won.
Some of them have called me about the RM2 billion for the replanting fund. They are asking, is our money still intact or not!? The hundreds of millions that have been deducted, is there any money left? Is the replanting fund which belongs to the settlers all directed to Felda Global Ventures?
Do you find it funny that Felda hasn't published an annual report since 2007?
Felda is supposed to be a government-linked company (GLC). As a GLC, it belongs to the people, like Petronas. Petronas also doesn't publish their accounts, so it's left for us to grope (in the dark). Those who want to know real information, can't. Why?
You don't have a proper report. You don't let us look at your accounts. All secret. Why?
You've known about all this for a long time.
No. I minded my own business until two months ago, when somebody came up to me and told me that only RM200 million was left in the cash reserves!
Was this man a settler?
That one I cannot tell. Obviously he was someone in the know.
But Husam Musa (PAS vice-president) also said that Felda lost about RM8 billion, a number far more than your own. What are your comments on that?
Government, please come out with all the figures for the past 10 years. What happened before Najib, and what happened after Najib? Give us the details. What about the RM600 million for the cattle farm?
About Ahmad Maslan (Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister's Department) and the debate.
Yes, Mazlan Aliman (president of National Association of Felda Settlers' Children) challenged Ahmad to an open debate. Ahmad said, “No problem, just name the date.” Then he backed off. Why? Have a debate at Angkasapuri on all the channels, no problem!
Mazlan knows everything because he was brought up in a Felda scheme since he was two years old! So come and debate lah! If you are so smart in all the figures and everything, you should be able to tear up Mazlan to bits! Why you dare not?
Do you know why they (the government) are very upset? It is very obvious. About 45 parliamentary seats are in the settlements. Prime Minister, Felda settlers are waking up. Your fixed deposit is not so fixed.
Can you tell us what was the difference between Dr Mahathir (Mohamad) and Najib when it comes to Felda?
The politicians never campur tangan in Felda up to 2004. Never!
Not even Mahathir?
No! Because Raja Alias would not allow anyone to interfere with Felda.
So Mahathir wasn't interested in Felda?
Not to say not interested. He didn't steal from Felda. He just let Felda run on its own, like a car would run on its own. So if it's running on its own, why do you want to jaga Felda?