Chapter 4  Other Unpleasant Episodes

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1. With RISDA

In early 2001 when I started replanting in our plantation, RISDA, the Rubber Industry Smallholders Development Authority announced in the press that existing rubber smallholders would be entitled to a replanting grant to replant their lands with either rubber or oil palm.

The timing was perfect. About 85 acres of our plantation was originally planted with rubber and therefore it could be considered as a rubber small holding and not an estate, which is one that exceeds 100 acres. I wasted no time in submitting our application to RISDA which already had our records.

As there was a Muar RISDA Branch Office in Pagoh, I submitted our application to this office and got to know the officer in charge. The RISDA’s Branch Office in Pagoh, after processing the application, submitted it to its main office in Muar. Though I did not know anybody in RISDA’s office in Muar, I used to check with the officer in Pagoh on the progress of our application. Months passed and one day I was told that the application had been forwarded to the head office in Kuala Lumpur.

I was glad that our application was being considered in RISDA’s head office as I could now easily go there to make enquiries from my home in Petaling Jaya. Having obtained the name of the officer dealing with our application, I dropped in one day to RISDA’s office in Jalan Ampang, Kuala Lumpur and introduced myself to the officer in charge who promised to deal promptly with our application.

Subsequently, RISDA requested further particulars of the landowners and information about our plantation which I promptly provided. In mid November, 2001 I got a shock when I received a letter from RISDA informing me that our application was rejected! Upon enquiry, I was told that our plantation had more than a hundred acres and therefore it could not be considered as a small holding. But I explained that our application was only for an area which was slightly over 85 acres and was originally planted with rubber trees, now being replanted with oil palm. My explanation was rejected as RISDA was adamant that the other adjoining lots of about 25 acres were owned by the same two landowners, i.e. by my second brother and my realty company.

The only solution RISDA suggested was to include another person as a co-owner to some of the lots so that my brother and my realty company would be seen to own less than a hundred acres. I accepted their suggestion and proceeded to include one of my second brother’s sons as a co-owner for three smaller lots.

The documentation for the transfers was prepared by our Lawyer in Muar in December 2001. The three new titles consisting of three co-owners were issued in April 2002. By then I was told that the RISDA had closed all applications for replanting grant! What a waste of my time and energy!

However, all was not lost. In April 2001, Malaysia Oil Palm Board (MPOB) also announced an incentive scheme for oil palm replanting in existing oil palm holdings. MPOB was encouraging replanting of oil palm because the price of CPO was at its lowest and it was not economical to maintain old oil palm holdings. Though the incentive payment was only RM1,000 per hectare, half of that offered by RISDA, and the total acreage qualified for the incentive payment was just for over 10 hectare in our plantation, I nevertheless submitted our application to MPOB in May 2001.

MPOB’s response to our application was excellent. After submitting further documents as requested by them and a site inspection of the area involved by a couple their officers from Johor Baru, our application was subsequently approved in September 2001. In February 2002 I received a cheque for RM10,240 in full payment of the incentive. MPOB’s efficient action was a sharp contrast to that of RISDA!

After the fiasco with RISDA ended in early 2002, though I had no more dealing with them, I was still in contact with its officer whom I first met in the Pagoh office. In early 2003, the officer in Pagoh telephoned and told me to see him in his office as RISDA had come out with another replanting scheme. When I met him in his office later he explained to me the new incentive for rubber replanting for smallholders and told me that I was qualified to apply for this scheme even though our plantation was already fully planted with oil palm for more than two years. My first impression of this replanting scheme was nothing but a scam! But politely I told him that I would consider it and would let him know later. I could not believe that there would be such an easy scheme to get money from RISDA after what I had gone through with them earlier. I was therefore not keen to apply because I did not wish to be involved in any dubious scheme which was designed to cheat the Government.

When I did not report to the officer after a couple of weeks, he telephoned me again and told me to apply early. When I said to him that I had doubts about this scheme he told me not to be “bodoh” and asked me to see him again so he could explain in more details to me.

When I next went to see the officer again, he showed me all the relevant circulars issued by RISDA and the many approvals already given to small holders in Pagoh. He emphasized that the incentive scheme was basically meant to supplement the income of smallholders whose lands could have already been planted with other crops. Also, the acreage of rubber plantations had been depleting and this replanting scheme was an attempt to arrest the situation. The scheme only required the planting of two rows of rubber saplings along the boundary of the land. The first row should be planted five feet from the boundary and the second row nine feet from the first. It was as simple as that! The subsidy would be RM7.000 per hectare payable in six yearly installments. The first installment amounting to RM2,300 per hectare would be given after completion of preliminary works, like setting out of boundary, pegging and ordering of saplings and commencement of planting. The second installment would be RM1,200, the third to fifth RM900 and the final RM800.

I further learnt from some farmers who were given this incentive scheme that one could discontinue the scheme at any stage after the first approval. I thought it over for sometime and decided to go along as, in my earlier abortive dealing with RISDA, I had already spent a lot of my time and effort and took the trouble to turn our plantation into a smallholding. If I could get something out of it, though unbelievably easy, why not?

In May 2003 I submitted my application for the replanting scheme in three lots totaling more than 30 hectares. Approval was given promptly for two lots with a condition that preliminary works for replanting were to be ready by end of November 2003. I had a lot of time to get a local land surveyor to peg out some of the boundaries and waited for RISDA to tell me when to expect their officers to come for inspection.

In early January, 2004 I was told to get ready for inspection. Without much ado, I pegged out, with the assistance of one of our foreign workers, the planting positions along a couple of boundaries which were easily accessible from the main road. I then, through the assistance of the office of RISDA in Pagoh, ordered two hundred rubber saplings which were approved by the Malaysian Rubber Board.

A day before the visit by RISDA’s officers, I asked two foreign workers to start planting the rubber saplings. The next morning a number of RISDA’s officers came and I showed them the pegs along boundaries I had installed and the saplings that had been and were being planted. After less than an hour’s visit, the officers left and were visibly happy that I was on the right track.

In April 2004, I received a total payment for nearly RM50,000 with a small amount deducted to pay for Rock Phosphate and Ammonia Nitrate to be used to fertilise the rubber saplings.

I discontinued planting the rubber saplings after the inspection by the RISDA officers. I was of the opinion that for this scheme to be successful, sufficient space along the boundary of the land would have to be reserved before the rest of the area was planted with the main crop, like oil palms. For our plantation which was already planted with oil palms for nearly three years with little space left vacant along the boundary with the neighboring lots, only one row of rubber trees could be grown at most. Also our plantation consists of seven adjoining lots already planted fully with oil palms; it would not be possible to plant other crops along the adjoining boundaries.

I might have taken advantage of this scheme and got away scotch free just like many others I happened to know; but on hindsight, I feel that the scheme had being conceived in a haste without a thorough think-through on its effective implementation and monitoring. This must be one of many failures of policies that have been swept under the carpet as nothing was heard after the first installment of incentive was received.

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