By Salahuddin bin Hisham
January 27, 2018
MANY may have heard this quote before, but not many know that it is by Alexei Navalny, a Yale alumnus Russian lawyer, financial and political activist.
“Stupidity is not a crime’ aptly describes the recent controversy over the development of Felda Jalan Semarak land.
It is wrong but not stupid to focus on the problem on the land because it is a joint venture (JV) property development between Felda as landowner and Synergy Promenade Sdn Bhd (SGSD) as developer.
The focus could only be expected since Berita Harian broke the story with a front-paged sensational headline that Felda land was missing.
No one seemed to be taking responsibility for this misleading news report. The blame was levelled at Felda Chairman Tan Sri Shahrir Samad and some blame went higher up in government.
The buck should have stopped with the news editors. The stupidity of this part is that many held the belief that an exposè of this nature needed clearance from “upstairs”. While there could be some truth there, the news editors could have been cleverer.
That headline made an immediate impact to arouse public anger. Who would not get angry when land belonging to a government agency dedicated to a programme to help landless farmers went missing?
However, it is rather stupid. The land is still there. Construction is still on-going. Land cannot go missing but only in Felda book and it is complicated. Maybe it is difficult to phrase in a simple language that is understandable and not misleading to the common folks.
Do not buy the stupid spin claiming that the land belonged to the poor Felda settlers. The land does not belong to them but to Felda proper. And themajority of the settlers are not poor anymore.
Frankly, the venture is not out of the ordinary. The landowner goes into a JV on terms agreed with the developer. Subsequently, the landowner assigned a Power of Attorney (PA) to the developer thus allowing the land to be pledged with banks to raise financing for the JV.
Before anyone makes any stupid statement to say the developer should have the money and not resort to pledging the land, think first. Is the landowner bankable? They usually aren’t. Felda is bankable but can they still borrow?
More important, does Felda have the expertise to undertake such development?
They could not even carry out the housing development for second generation settlers sensibly. Now that they couldn’t do it, Felda needed a developer partner that was bankable and had expertise within the organisation and management.
Practically all development companies live off bank financing. Even if they had the money, it is risky and stupid to throw all their financial resources in a project that it does not wholly own. The smart move is OPM, other people’s money!
The opposition leader who raised that issue is either naïve of property development or on self-stupidity mode to influence voters to resent the ruling party.
The stupidity on the part of Felda’s management then was to give an irrevocable PA. It does happen to individual landowners naïve on the technicality of JV property development. Developers do push their luck to sneak in this clause but for Felda to miss that?
If it is not a case of stupidity, is there foul play?
Is there foul play on the part of SPSB to abuse their irrevocable PA to transfer the land from Felda to their own?
Subsequently, is there foul play and collusion on the part of relevant federal government committee, Kuala Lumpur City Hall and other related agencies to approve the transfer?
Bearing in mind, the developer could be doing it with the intention to speed up matters. What it is we may not know yet. Matters involving government land usually undergo cumbersome procedures and a costly long wait.
Suspicious perhaps but do not accuse.
After all, upon completion of development, the land title will be converted to strata titles for buyers. Furthermore, the agreed return to Felda remained. Felda is guaranteed a return of RM500 million or 10 per cent of the Gross Development Value (GDV), which is higher.
The GDV figure for the Kuala Lumpur Vertical City is said to be about RM1 billion. Property experts believed it could be as much as RM5 billion. If that is so, 10 per cent of RM5 billion is RM500 million. Is there room for any suspicion there?
These are among the issues for the police to investigate from the police report made by Felda. Be mindful of another saying similar to Alexei Navalny’s — “mismanagement is not a crime”.
On that matter, it is highly probable that mismanagement has developed into a corporate culture within Felda and has deteriorated beyond lapses in governance.
Decisions may not be made based on Board of Directors’ decision or consensus, but on the chairman’s final say after the director-general’s five-minute brief or the chairman’s five-minute God-knows-what briefing after a meeting with the Prime Minister.
This deal could be a case of do first and rectify later. If there are criminal elements in the terms of the JV Agreement, delayed rectification does not absolve decision makers from offences committed.
As far as the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) is concerned, Commissioner Datuk Azam Baki has cleared Felda of any wrongdoing under the MACC Act. However, there will always be a “for now” caveat in any law enforcement officer statement.
Both the police and MACC must heed another quote by Alexei Navalny who is an anti-corruption critic — “everyone says corruption is everywhere, but for me, it seems strange to say that and then not try to put the people guilty of that crime away”.
As of now, Shahrir announced recently that the Jalan Semarak JV development matter is as good as over and almost done with.
The developer had willingly cooperated to return the land to Felda. Only a matter of sorting out details undergoing the due process.
Unfortunately, it cannot sink in with a cynical segment of the public and opposition leaders. It looked scripted to boost the government image. How could a sensational exposè by pro-government media get settled in a short time?
The cynics must be stupid and illiterate. From the onset, it was revealed that Felda initiated legal action in April 2017 to put a caveat on the land and has since, undertaken many steps to get back the land.
As Forest Gump would say, “stupid is as stupid does”. So go buy some Bubba shrimp.