Mariam Mokhtar on the Musang King farmers’ story

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Until we address the problem of the ordinary rakyat being bullied by the big guys, Malaysia will not progress.

The Musang King farmers’ story could easily be about you. It is about how the mighty think they are right.

Bernama

This Musang King is the unfinished story of the real Malaysia. The shambolic mess in Putrajaya, is not the real story of Malaysia because the tale that best reflects the true state of the nation is what is happening 100 km away, in Raub.

The mess in Putrajaya is the consequence of 52 years of manipulating the 4 Rs (race, religion, royalty, rasuah) to benefit a small minority; but the story of the Musang King (MK) farmers of Raub, is a story about “might is right”. Few people want to speak about this badly kept secret, probably because of the threat of sedition.

The run-ins between the MK farmers and the Pahang state authorities, are a reflection of how Malaysians have been treated by the authorities. Expand this story on a larger scale. and we find many common parallels. Malaysians are bullied by Putrajaya, in similar fashion to the state harassment of MK farmers.

1. Most importantly, Raub is a perfect illustration of the big boys who harass the small guys. It is about big businesses and the élite, muscling in on the little man. The big boys are the joint venture between the Royal Pahang Durian Resources (RPDR) and the state government (PKPP).

2. Did the “big people” break their backs tending the trees? Did they spend years experimenting with the different durian cultivars before finally settling on MK? Do they have the patience to wait, on average five years, for a tree to bear its first harvest?

3. Did the “big people” navigate the difficult terrain and clear the undergrowth to plant the saplings, build drainage channels, weed, and apply fertiliser to nurture the trees? Did they suffer snake and insect bites, wild boar, or endure harsh sun and driving rain?

With the MK popularity in mainland China, making it the new gold, the “big people” want to swoop in and steal what is not theirs.

4. Like the durian tree with roots that reach deep underground, the MK saga started in the 1970s. The authorities were still fighting the Communist Party of Malaysia (CPM), and Raub was known as a hotbed of communist terrorists.

The authorities urged farmers to report on the activities of the CPM and as an inducement, offered the villagers, both Malay and Chinese, resettlement nearer to Raub. As a sweetener, each farmer was promised two acres of land.

5. Are we not a nation where the state has often reneged on its many promises? The MK story is also about betrayal.

The villagers agreed to be resettled, but to this day, not all have been given the title deeds, as alleged by 80-year-old Mohamad Ali, who was the village headman in 1979. The offer was made by the then agricultural board, Lembaga Kemajuan Perusahaan Pertanian (LKPP), which is the precursor of the PKPP.

6. Last week, around 18 farmers and the Tras assembly man, Chow Yu Hui, were arrested when state officials stopped farmers from harvesting the durians. It transpired that the state had ignored a High Court order which prevented the eviction of the farmers, pending an appeal.

Both the Forestry Department and the Mentri Besar’s office claimed that the operation was over the illegal cultivation in a forest reserve and denied that the arrests had anything to do with the ongoing farmer’s dispute with RPDR-PKPP.

The MB’s office claimed they had acted on their own legal advice and had interpreted the laws as they saw fit. This is just another example of the insufferable arrogance of many of the government departments.

Similarly, isn’t this how stealing taxpayer’s money was interpreted as a donation by the convicted criminal, Najib Abdul Razak?

7. When the state cannot justify its actions, it will bring in the big guns. When the Pahang state realised that the villagers were united and standing their ground, the state and the IGP, ordered General Operations Force (GOF) personnel to patrol the area, ostensibly to restore order.

These menacing-looking men with covered faces, who are clad in army fatigues and armed with automatic weapons were meant to intimidate the villagers. The farmers are not terrorists but were treated as such.

8. In Raub and throughout the nation, the powerful know who to co-opt to their board of directors, to ensure that they will always have the upper hand in securing government contracts.

Remember how Najib tried to pull the wool over our eyes, by claiming that the stolen 1MDB money was a donation from an Arab prince. Why not an ordinary Arab? Did it have to be a prince? He knew that some of us are serf-like.

9. In Raub, like the rest of Malaysia, it is who you know, with the kebel-ke-atas (the right connections) that works like magic and opens many doors. With the right people, the impossible, like land grabs, become possible.

For example, in the construction industry, ordinary Ali, Ah Chong, and Arumugam, with the best civil engineering degrees, combined decades of experience, and a strong work ethic, will not get a look-in when tendering for a government contract. Add the ‘right’ fourth person, and hey-presto!

10. The Pahang MB, Wan Rosdy Wan Ismail, expressed fears that the MK saga may spill over into a racial issue. He has not been paying attention.

The people doing the land grabbing (RPDR-PKPP) comprises Malays and Chinese. The farmers whose lands are seized, are both Malay and Chinese. Perhaps, the MK saga is also about the nouveaux riches versus farmers.

For decades, the land office gave permission to the farmers to till the land, rather than leave it idle. Despite the farmer’s best efforts, their repeated requests to obtain temporary operating licences (TOL), or land deeds, were refused. Then, in 2019, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) developed an insatiable appetite for MKs. Sadly, a few greedy Malaysians saw a way of manipulating the MK farmers to make a fast buck.

The farmers resisted the attempts to turn them into “modern-day slaves”, and last week, the state destroyed around 200 mature trees, allegedly grown illegally in the forest reserve. This is revenge politics.

The Forestry Department claimed that illegal cultivation had been ongoing for over 20 years. Why was the encroachment not nipped in the bud before it could worsen? Similarly, in Putrajaya, dirty tactics, turncoats and money politics were not dealt with promptly decades ago and this is why Malaysian politics is a mess today.

What happens in Raub is replicated throughout Malaysia. Until we address the problem of the ordinary rakyat being bullied by the big guys, Malaysia will not progress. What happens in Raub and Putrajaya is also a case of the minority lording it over the majority.

So, are we prepared to start talking honestly and banish the divisive abuse of “identity politics”? Few people have the stomach for frank talking, or for doing the right thing for the rakyat. – Rebuilding Malaysia