Twenty -Year neglect of the 750,000 new villages

The House is asked to approve $1,334 million for next year’s development expenditure. We are told that the development allocations are well balanced and realistic and will contribute to the implementation of the Second Five-Year Plan.

However, to one great group of Malaysians, all these propaganda do not make any impression. In fact, for them, the last one year’s ceaseless propaganda and publicity avalanche by the Government through the press, radio and television about the Second Five-Year Plan, how it would change the economy of the country, abolish poverty, create jobs, and give a new hope and better life to the poor and downtrodden, had failed to make any impact whatsoever. These are the 750,000 new villagers in Malaysia. For the last twenty years, after their compulsory resettlement by the British colonialists, they have seen economic development and progress passed them by. For two decades, the new villagers have been excluded from the mainstream of economic development and progress.

Five years ago, in 1966, when the Government launched the First Five-Year Plan, Malaysians were also promised that the poor and the needy will be able to lead a better and more fulfilling life at the end of the Plan period in 1970. During the First Five-Year Plan, $9,000 million were spent in public and private development of the economy and half a million acres of new land developed. But these data and figures meant nothing to the 750,000 new villagers, and the country’s 400-odd new villages did not receive any significant development funds under the First Five-Year Plan.

The new villages continued their economic decay, with a high rate of unemployment, low productivity and incomes, very backward social amenities as many of them do not even have piped water and electricity. The population in the new villages multiplied over the last twenty years, without corresponding enlargement of the territory of the new villages, as the Government consistently refused to give land to the landless in the adjoining new village for them to eke out a living. Unemployment in the new villages was particularly acute, as they could not attract new forms of economic activities such as industries. In these twenty years, the majority of the new villagers were not even given titles to the land they occupied. As a result of this long-standing neglect of the wellbeing of the new villagers, the 750,000 new villagers have become skeptical of the Government’s promises of development.

This is why, to them, the development estimates of $1,334 million asked for next year, the Second Malaysia Plan which is to involve a total expenditure of $14,000 million, and the opening of one million acres of land, have no meaning, for they have not benefitted from Government development programmes.

It is imperative the Government should immediately put a stop to its policy of treating new villages as step-children, of its economic neglect of new villages to check their economic drift, decay and death.

As land is the biggest problem, I suggest that this should be boldly tackled, under a two-pronged approach. Firstly, land titles should be expeditiously granted to all new villagers. Secondly, as the populations in the new villages have outgrown their limited geographical boundaries set by demands of the first Emergency 20 years ago, coupled with the total lack of new economic opportunities or employment in the new villages, I call on the Government to set aside 400,000 acres of land under the Second Malaysia Plan for distribution to the new village unemployed and underemployed to solve their economic difficulties.

Recently, the Perak Mentri Besar said that the overwhelming majority of the new villagers in Perak’s 96 new villages do not want to convert their TOL (Temporary Occupation Licenses) into permanent titles as TOL is cheaper, costing only $10 a year, while the premium payable for a qualified title ranges from several hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars, depending on each State. The economic reasons which made new villagers prefer the $10 a year TOL than a title with an expensive premium are valid, and should not be disregarded by the Government. Every villager would like to acquire title to the land he occupies. But if the premium payable for such title is too high beyond their limited means, then however much they want to acquire title, they do not have the means to do so.

To dispossess new villagers and demolish their houses, as has been threatened, because they do not have the financial means to raise the premium is socially inequitable and economically unjust, and is not the action of a Government which really wants to uplift the lot of the have-nots of all races, and eliminate poverty. The Federal and State Governments have a special responsibility to the 750,000 new villagers in Malaysia to give them title to their land and confer them security, because 20 years ago they were forcibly uprooted from their homes and farms and relocated in the present new villages by the authorities. It will be the height of Government irresponsibility if any new villager is dispossessed of his land, his house demolished, because he is poor and does not have the financial means to find the money to pay the premium to acquire title for his land.

I suggest to the Government three guidelines to be adopted in the granting of titles to new villagers:

(1) Permanency and security: The Government, in granting titles, should confer on the new villagers a sense of security and permanence so that they could wholeheartedly develop their land. For this purpose, the Government should not give short titles, like 21-year or 33-year leases as in the case of Johore and Perak, but 99-year leases.

(2) Low premium for titles: The Government should not impose high premiums for titles which are beyond the means of the new villagers, whose incomes are very low. Some States like Johore are demanding a few thousand dollars, for the granting of qualified titles. This is exorbitant and exploitation of the poor. New villagers should be allowed to pay the premium by instalments.

(3) Special Government loan to help poor, needy new villagers to acquire titles: The Central Government, together with the State Governments, should set up a special Government loan to help poor and needy new villagers to acquire titles. The loan should be repayable over 10 or 20 years on easy terms. This is what the Government is doing in the case of Felda schemes, where settlers are given Government loans not only to open and develop their land, but to acquire their titles as well.

We have so far spoken only about the problem of land titles. The other areas of new village problems, namely, unemployment, poverty, low incomes and productivities, poor social amenities as schooling, medical services, housing, electricity, community services are also very great and acute. Only a major Government effort on all fronts can lift the new villagers out of their trap of poverty and misery. This is why we in the DAP had pressed on the Government to draw up a blueprint to revive the economy of the new villages, and develop them into flourishing new growth centres by modernising their economy, the raising of their productivity and incomes, the generation of new employment opportunities, through dispersal of industries to new villages, allocation of land for the landless, and the provision of modern social services as public housing, electricity, water, medical services, improved educational opportunities and recreational and community services.

To do this seriously and efficiently, the Government should set up a special Government department or agency to be in charge of the formulation of policies and programmes which will transform the new villages into a genuine dynamic force for agricultural and economic development.

I regret very much the indifferent attitude that has been shown by the Government and the Prime Minister to the problems and plight of the 750,000 new villagers, especially from his reply to my question last Wednesday on whether the Government would set up a special department or agency to formulate and implement policies and programmes to promote the economic growth and development of new villages. The Prime Minister said there was no need for such a special department as the State Governments, Ministries and departments concerned were now carrying out the job. We know, the country knows, the 750,000 new villagers know, that the State Governments, Ministries and departments concerned were not carrying out their jobs. This is why the lot of the new villagers have been neglected and deteriorated to such a sorry state. The Prime Minister announced that the Government has set up a special committee under the National Security Council to study all aspects of life in the new villages.

This is most unsatisfactory. Firstly, what is urgently needed now is not study but the formulation and implementation of policies and programmes to promote the economic growth and development of new villages. Secondly, is a special committee under the National Security Council an appropriate body to make any study into the problems and plight of the 750,000 new villagers in Malaysia? My colleagues and I in the DAP cannot help having the impression that this National Security Council Committee on New Villages will be more interested in looking into the purely security aspect of new villages, whether they are inherent security threats, rather than into the total socio-economic problems of the 750,000 new villagers. A more appropriate instrument would have been a Ministerial committee on development of new villages, or a public inquiry comprising eminent economists, educationists and public personalities, Thirdly, what are the terms of reference of the National Security Council Special Committee on New Villages, who are the members, what are their powers? Has this Committee been formed, when is it expected to finish its study and will its report be made public? Unless the Government can give satisfactory answers to these questions, the 750,000 new villagers will be justified in thinking that this is just another one of those delaying tactics of the Government to shirk from its responsibility and do nothing. The Prime Minister’s reply to the supplementary questions is even more regrettable, as it is characteristic of the favourite Alliance pastime of “passing the buck”.

When the Prime Minister was asked whether he would expedite the issue of land titles and advance loans from Central Government funds to help needy new villagers to acquire title as in the case of Felda settlers, the Prime Minister deftly replied that these are State matters.

We know the division of subjects between the Federal and State Governments, but we also know that if the Government wants to do a thing, it could do so with despatch even if it is a State matter. Thus, although land is a State matter, it did not prevent the Federal Government from planning and implementing the opening up of 500,000 acres of land under the First Malaysia Plan. After all, except for Kelantan and Penang, where new villages are negligible, all the other States are under Alliance Party control. Just as the Federal agency, the Felda, could open up thousands of acres of land, and advance loans to Felda settlers despite the fact that land is a State matter, there is no reason why the Federal Government could not step in and help the new villagers to acquire land and advance loans for them to do so, if the Federal Government is really sincere in wanting to solve the problem of the 750,000 new villagers in Malaysia. Apart from land, however, the Federal Government has a direct responsibility for the future of the 400 new villages, as the other equally important problems of economic development, creation of job opportunities, provision of basic social amenities must come directly within the province of the Central Government.

I therefore urge the Central Government to stop “passing the buck”, and take upon itself the responsibility to work for the economic upliftment of the new villagers, in conjunction with the State Governments.

If the Federal Government will take this initiative, then the problem will be very much easier to solve. The Federal Government should seriously reconsider the whole problem, and draw up a blueprint to revive new village economy, and set up a special department to implement this blueprint. As most of the State Assemblies are now in Session, or will be in Session shortly, I would take this opportunity to urge them to declare their commitment to do their utmost to uplift the economic lot of the new villagers. It is time that the 20-year economic neglect of the 750,000 new villagers should be ended. I have introduced a motion in this Session of Parliament, which reads:

“That this House expresses its deep concern at the continued 20-year neglect of the socio-economic development of the 400 new villages in the country and their economic drift, decline and death; and calls on the Government to take immediate action to plan the social and economic reconstruction of the new villages to give the 750,000 new villagers in West Malaysia a new hope and an equal stake in the socio-economic development of the country.”

I know that whether this motion will be debated or not will depend on whether the Government will allocate parliamentary time for it. I urge the Government to do so, for two reasons:

(1) Let the House have an opportunity to express its deep concern at this long-standing problem of poverty and neglect of the 750,000 new villagers; and

(2) Demonstrate the Government’s sincerity that it is truly dedicated to the objective in the Second Malaysia Plan to abolish poverty irrespective of race.

(Parliamentary speech by DAP Member of Parliament for Bandar Melaka, Mr. Lim Kit Siang, at the Dewan Ra’ayat on the 1972 Development Estimates on December 13, 1971)