By Doreenn Leong
The recent controversy on the Royal Pahang Durian Resources PKPP Sdn Bhd (RPD) scheme has brought to light a questionable deal approved by the Pahang government. Amidst these challenging times, state governments should emulate the Federal Govt in helping businessmen and workers, not antagonise them.
RPD has been accused of initiating an exploitative agreement with Musang King durian farmers to legitimise those on state-owned encroached land.
The Save Musang King Alliance (SAMKA), a group formed by durian farmers who have no permits, said RPD had adopted inhumane and merciless measures against the farmers, such as setting up control posts to limit farmers’ entry and forcing them to sign an unequal and exploitative contract.
Under the contract, SAMKA alleged farmers are imposed an exorbitant levy and forced to sell their harvests to RPD at a significantly lower than the average market price.
They are also not permitted to trade freely nor hoard their harvests, and this includes saving harvests to be shared with friends and families. An entry permit is required for the farmers to go to their durian farms and the farmers could even be forced to make reparation if they choose to stop farming.
According to SAMKA, the accusation whereby the farmers had occupied the land without license was misleading because they had been constantly applying for land titles and licenses from the relevant authorities through propel channels.
However, the farmers were left in a bind when the state government announced that the land will be leased to RPD in the name of “legalising the land”.
RPDG had denied such allegations, saying that its objective is to stop the growing influence of foreign-backed players here.
Whatever the reasons, the state government has to be transparent on such land deals. Was there really a need to alienate the land since it was already planted with durians? Why did the state deny the farmers licences previously? Did it even bother to have a dialogue with them?
The Pahang government seems to be prone to controversies. In the past, it has been criticised for allowing illegal bauxite mining, , illegal vegetable farming in Cameron Highlands, illegal logging and approving the Lynas rare earth plant, just to name a few.
In this case, RPD will benefit immensely from the deal. Wouldn’t it have been fairer to allow the farmers to benefit, since they have been toiling on the land for some time? Isn’t that being business friendly?
SAMKA said the state government’s move to lease the land to a private corporation clearly proved the fact that illegal farms can actually be legalised. The state government was also seen as favouring an inexperienced corporation over the experienced farmers in managing the durian plantation.
RPDG is reportedly one half of a joint venture with state entity Perbadanan Kemajuan Pertanian Negeri Pahang (PKPP), forming RPD Produce-PKPP, or RPDP-PKPP Sdn Bhd.
RPDP-PKPP was formed in March to operate the country’s largest durian-processing centre at a cost of RM40 mil. The centre was slated for completion by June 2021.
In June, the Pahang state government awarded RPDP-PKPP the lease and rights to 5,357 acres of land in Raub for 30 plus 30 years, of which up to 30% was alleged to have been encroached.
Following the award, RPDP-PKPP then offered the farmers on the encroached land a means of legitimising their plots through the legalisation scheme, as the rightful lease holders of these plots.
Those on illegally occupied land operating without permits, under the agreement, would be signed on as RPDP-PKPP’s subcontracted farmers; hence “legalising” their land.
Such a deal is not healthy for the development of the state. Raub is known as the ‘Musang King hub’ as it is the main producer of the durian variant.
The farmers have long been harvesting the fruit and built a strong brand as one of the best in the world.
The state government should be cognizant of this fact and not instead victimise the farmers who play an important role in the ecosystem and state economy.