Spat may cast shadow on national politics

Malaysia's Federal Land Development Agency, or Felda, is the single largest shareholder in listed Felda Golden Ventures (FGV), with a 34 per cent stake.

FGV's other shareholders include tens of thousands of Malay settlers on Felda land, whose families form a large vote bank for the ruling Umno party in 54 federal constituencies out of a total of 222 parliamentary seats.

When FGV was listed in 2012, the 112,000 settlers had a windfall payment of RM15,000 a family.

Many also took up loans to buy FGV shares worth RM4.55 each in the initial public offer.

FGV shares closed at RM1.66 each yesterday, meaning many settlers will lose money if they sold their shares today.

A government audit last year found that Felda invested in dubious projects under the leadership of former chairman Mohd Isa Samad, an Umno warlord who was appointed to the post in 2011. These included forays into data management, broadband Internet and sturgeon farming, which collectively lost more than RM100 million (S$32.4 million).

The government in January replaced Tan Sri Isa with veteran lawmaker Shahrir Samad as Felda head. Mr Isa, who is still chairman of FGV, is now involved in a battle against chief executive officer Zakaria Arshad.

Datuk Zakaria is an "anak Felda" from Negeri Sembilan - literally a "son of Felda" as his father was among the 112,000 original settlers. If he is seen as being unfairly treated on the issue by the settlers and their multi-generational families - some 1.2 million people - the government could lose a big chunk of votes.

The government also needs to convince voters that despite multiple allegations of corruption, Felda continues to see to the welfare of the settlers.

When FGV was listed in 2012, it had a cash pile of more than RM5 billion, The Star newspaper reported yesterday.

Between 2013 and early 2016, FGV under former CEO Mohd Emir Mavani completed seven acquisitions, forking out RM4 billion. That cash pile is not there any more, the report said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 08, 2017, with the headline 'Spat may cast shadow on national politics'. Print Edition | Subscribe