The plight of fishermen and padi farmers in Malaysia

Speech by Lim kit Siang in the Dewan Rakyat on the 1974 Estimates for the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries on December 21, 1973

Call on the Malaysian government to have urgent discussions with Indonesian authorities to demarcate the international waters in the Straits of Malacca and to make arrangements to enable Malacca and other Malaysian fishermen to pursue their livelihood in the spirit of ASEAN fraternity and solidarity

Since August this year, the 600 Malacca fishermen of all races have faced great hardships, without governmental assistance or concern.

In August this year, 22 Malacca fishing boats in the high seas in the Straits of Malacca were captured by some Indonesian authorities, and held to ransom.

To secure the release of a boat, the relatives of the detained fishermen were required to pay a ransom of $3,000 per boat.

In the past, the ransom money per boat had only been a few hundred dollars. Then it began to rise, and recently, in keeping with world-wide inflation, it is shot up from $1,000 to $3,000. This means that over $60,000 were paid to secure the release of the 22 Malaysian fishing boats and about 50 men.

For fishermen whose total earnings a year do not exceed $3,000, this is a heavy blow for the fishermen will have go into heavy debt just to secure their release.

As a result, the 300 fishing vessels of Malacca had been couped up at the Malacca waterfront, for the 600 fishermen dared not go out into the high seas, for fear of capture, and having to raise the impossible sun of $3,000 to secure release.

This is a serious problem, as the number of people in Malacca dependent on fishing as a livelihood is easily in the region of 4,000. Apart from the sharp rise in the price of fish in the market as a result of the fear of Malacca fishermen to go out and fish in international waters in the Straits of Malacca, the more serious problem of the 4,000 people dependent on fishing to get the basic means to meet their daily needs for food, clothing, their children’s schooling expenses, is even more acute.

I call on the Ministry of Fisheries to send a team of officials to Malacca to meet the Malacca fishermen, understand their hardships and help solve their problems of livelihood.

At the same time, I call on the Ministry of Fisheries and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to ask for an urgent meeting with the Indonesian authorities to hold talks to demarcate clearly the international waters and work out arrangements whereby Malacca and other Malaysian fishermen can pursue their livelihood in the Straits of Malacca in peace and safety without constant fear of harassment and interference.

The Malaysian authorities should seek to work out this accord on fishing activities by Malaysian fishermen with the Indonesian authorities in the spirit of ASEAN fraternity, solidarity and co-operation, as Malaysia and Indonesia are both members of ASEAN which is formed as the first step to bring about closer regional co-operation in economic matters.

I am sure with sincerity and goodwill on both sides, a modus operandi can be worked out to enable Malacca and other Malaysian fishermen to pursue their livelihood in safety and security.

Call for stricter enforcement of Padi Cultivators (Security of Tenure) Act 1967 to protect the interests of tenant cultivators

One of the most exploited groups of Malaysians are the 400,000 padi farmers, as 80 per cent of rice farms in Peninsular Malaysia are not owned by the cultivators, while over 60 per cent of them are under 2 ¼ acres.

Although the Padi Cultivators (Rental Control and Security and Tenure) Act was passed in 1967, it is still to be fully enforced.

Until June 1973, after six years of enactment of the act to provide protection to the tenant operators, less than 4,000 agreements had been registered – constituting only some 3% of the tenant operators affected.

Furthermore, not all states in Malaya have implemented the Act.

It is thus clear that although legally and theoretically, the tenant operators have been given protection against the oppressiveness of the rapacious and unproductive absentee landlords, in actual fact, the tenant operators are still very much at the mercy of their landlords.

The Ministry must set up a special unit to ensure that all padi tenant operators are fully protected in practice by the Padi Cultivators (Rental Control and Security of Tenure) Act. There must be a renewed determination to ensure stricter enforcement of this Act.

I would like to know when the Ministry would be able to complete 100% coverage of tenancy agreements in accordance with the provisions of the Act.

I appreciate that one of the reasons for this deplorable state of affairs is the lack of staff. This is an area where, in the interest of the long suffering padi tenant operators, the Ministry should give priority whether in terms of finance or manpower to ensure that every tenant operator in the rice fields is personally benefited by the provisions of the Act concerned.

As landlessness is one of the basic causes of poverty among the tenant operators, I will urge the Ministry of Agriculture, in conjunction with the Minister of Land Development, to work out a land reform scheme whereby every padi farmer is an owner operator of 10 acres of rice farm by the end of this decade.

When launching the Kemubu Agricultural Development Authority in Kota Bahru on 2nd March 1973, the Prime Minister, Tun Abdul Razak, suggested that absentee landlords should sell their holdings to genuine farmers.

I suggest that the government abolish absentee landlordism in the padi sector, pay a small compensation to the absentee landlords and redistribute the land to the tenant-operators.

This will go a long way to eliminate rural poverty.

Call for as near self-sufficiency in meat and dairy products as possible

With the high food prices, and the serious problem of malnutrition among children of the poor, the government should aim at as near self-sufficiency in meat and dairy products as possible. To do this, the Lembaga Kemajuan Ternakan Negara must launch a crash programme to encourage the rapid development of the livestock industry.

Stepped up production in meat and dairy products will not only be able to save foreign exchange, but spearhead the attack on the problem of malnutrition among the Malaysian poor.

Research findings indicate that malnutrition during the foetal period and infancy is associated with the intellectual impairment. Severe malnutrition reduces brain size, decreases the number of brain cells, and is responsible for abnormalities of behavior. Recent studies showed that these changes might be irreversible and that severe malnutrition could be responsible for a permanent impairment in brain development and ultimate function.

I will like to know whether the government has any such plans to reduce reliance on imports of meat and dairy.