My first experience in the civil service was of district administration, which covered rural development. This became useful when I joined FLDA because it had a similar function. I concluded in those early days that FLDA needed to look at two aspects: social engineering and estate development. The second was easier as our scheme managers were all ex-estate managers and already had the experience.
The first aspect of social engineering was tough. Early development paid insufficient attention to social content and the settlers were unable to absorb the drastic changes to their working regime and new economic and social environment. We came up with the concept of giving settlers a package deal: income, work and home security and a comfortable quality of life.
The early settlers came from rural areas where life was very leisurely and time was never of the essence. By and large their needs were small and limited. The need to work and strive hard was not in their psyche.
To get the Malay peasantry then to strive hard for success in order to be self-reliant was indeed a big endeavour. So my main objective was to persuade them to work hard in order to make progress for themselves and their families and for their community. I thought the best way to do this was to lead by example. It would be easy to just advise but there was no guarantee that the advice would be accepted and implemented. I believed that if I showed the way – worked very hard myself – chances were some if not all of them would notice, follow suit and begin the journey to strive hard for the betterment of their own welfare and for the good of the community. This was an on-going process and over time, decades even, a lot has been achieved.
When choosing the settlers, we were sometimes constrained by State’s requirements, but for the most part, the age, background and the land that the applicants already owned, were a large part of the point system in the selection procedure. More points were awarded to those with less capital or education. It was not necessary to have the best people, but it was important that they were trainable. Training was very important. FLDA had a settler development program that would organize the economic activities by groups of settlers.
Up until 1966 when I joined FLDA, the settlers had no role in development. I felt that it was time to give the settlers a stake in their own development. So I introduced the JKKR system, so that they would have self representation in their own communities and plantations. In 1975, the first settler leader was appointed to the board of directors of Felda and the Gabungan JKKR Nasional was formed so that settler leaders could participate in policy making, and be involved in strategies and activities for settlers development. Later in 1985, the Settler Consultative Committee was set up with selected members of the Gabungan JKKR Nasional. Their role was to plan settlers community need and monitor social economic attainments.
We also built up a Women’s side, with representation at village, regional and national level. Some of them sat on the boards of the corporations, especially in states where their representation was more prominent. We also looked into the welfare of youths by setting up of youth Pioneer Training corps centres in 1970.