Fernando Fong 

Pahang’s new policy to replace TOL a case of ‘out of the frying pan, into the fire’ due to unreasonable terms

ARE the woes of vegetable farmers in Cameron Highlands over? Or is the new arrangement by the Pahang government an indirect takeover of agricultural land?

These are the nagging questions which have arisen after vegetable farmers reluctantly agreed after years of tug-of-war with the state, politicians and middlemen.

Cameron Highlands farmers have, for a long time, cried out for security of their farming land tenure. They are the ones who grow and harvest most of the vegetables for local consumption, but they remain deprived of land rights in perpetuity – no matter how long they have used the land. For decades, the farmers had been victims – almost a bondage – to the Temporary Occupation Licence (TOL) system which was held in some cases, by middlemen.

The TOL needs to be renewed annually and farmers were at the mercy of politicians and middlemen who had links with land office officials who had the authority to approve or reject their applications for TOL renewals.

The renewal was discretionary and hence, the farmers always claimed they got the short end of the stick, prompting reports to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC).

Besides fundamental issues of law, justice and integrity, there were reported cases of encroachment, land clearance and intimidation.

Allegations of widespread bribery were common, and the banks in Cameron Highlands are said to have the highest amount of cash deposits in the country. Smallholders are said to be the most vulnerable as they are hard-pressed to make under-table payments.

In March, the Pahang government introduced a new land policy which it said would end misgivings over land grab by farmers, which had previously led to crackdowns by the National Security Council.

It announced a cause of action which it claimed would be beneficial to all parties. Like the issues faced by the durian farmers in Raub, it involved a third party – the state-owned Pahang Corporation Sdn Bhd (PCSB).

Pahang Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Wan Rosdy Wan Ismail announced the TOL system would no longer be applicable. It would be replaced with a new policy and the 1,018 farmers would be allowed to work their land under an arrangement.

All farming land in Cameron Highlands will be leased to farmers via Pahang Corp in a 3+2 years deal, involving 5,526,219ha. The land has been allotted into 78 parcels across three sub-districts – Ulu Telom (58) Ringlet (14) and Tanah Rata.

The farmers initially thought it would be the path to release and relief, but it turned out to be a case of “out of the frying pan into the fire” due to unreasonable terms. First is the fee. While previously, the farmers paid about RM880 per acre, they now will need to fork out RM4,500 per acre annually – an increase of 500% under the new arrangement.

Then, there is PCBS’s regulatory unit – MyGap, which will issue certification to ensure that farmers adhere to “advanced and responsible farming methods”.

No one told the farmers what “responsible” and “advanced” is. Hence, the propensity and the discretionary powers accorded could lead to abuse and misuse.

For original article please click here! http://ipaper.thesundaily.my/epaper/viewer.aspx?publication=The%20Sun%20Daily&date=02_02_2021#page/4