Felda suits spark Umno-PAS row in Parliament

By Clara Chooi, The Malaysian Insider

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 19 – Lawmakers faced off in Parliament today when Umno deputy minister Datuk Ahmad Maslan refused to admit that Felda had lost two lawsuits in which it had been ordered to pay millions in damages to settlers.

Ahmad Maslan insisted that Felda had lost the case involving Felda Kemahang settlement in Kelantan in January last year only because its defence lawyer had failed to turn up for the trial.

“The case was set for two days – on January 13, a Sunday, and on January 14. However, the trial went on without the presence of the defence lawyer on January 13.

“The court convicted Felda without hearing the defence,” he told the House.

 Ahmad Maslan was however repeatedly cut off by opposition lawmakers who reminded him that the Felda lawyer had already resigned in December 2007.

“In 2008, you could have found a new lawyer,” Datuk Mahfuz Omar (PAS-Pokok Sena) told the deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Department.

Ahmad Maslan also continued to insist that in the case involving Felda Sungai Koyan 2 and 3 in Kuantan in September this year, Felda had not lost despite being ordered to pay 10 settlers RM1,700 each.

“In this case, Felda’s defence team was present. But if Felda lost, Felda would have filed an appeal. Felda did not appeal the decision because the court decision said that it has to pay settlers RM1,700 per acre for replanting, if they follow Felda’s guidelines,” he said.

He inisted that the decision merely upheld Felda’s policies on its replanting schemes and this meant that Felda had not lost the case.

Despite this, Mahfuz stood up to interject, referring again to the absence of Felda’s lawyers in the Kelantan case, involving Felda Kemahang.

His jibes triggered pandemonium in the House from backbenchers from both sides.

Dewan Rakyat Speaker Tan Sri Pandikar Amin Mulia stepped into the fray and in his attempt to restore order, told the warring politicians to take their fight outside.

 “Later, you can discuss it during the Galas by-election,” he said.

Mahfuz continued to charge that in the Kelantan case, Felda had been given ample time to appoint a new lawyer.

“Yang Berhormat, your antics are what is embarassing. Felda did not lose in the Sungai Koyan case,” Ahmad Maslan insisted.

Both Mahfuz and Ahmad Maslan brought their arguments outside the House later in back-to-back press conferences.

Mahfuz slammed Ahmad Maslan for refusing to admit defeat in both cases, accusing the latter of attempting to lay the blame on the absence of the defence lawyer in the Kelantan case.

“The lawyer resigned in December 2007. In January 2008, the case went to the High Court. If they knew it earlier, why couldn’t they have hired a replacement lawyer?

“This shows the weakness of the administration and this deputy minister,” he said.

Ahmad Maslan acknowledged that the lawyer for the Felda case in Kelantan had resigned from the case for personal reasons.

“His father was sick. When he left, he did not write the hearing dates for January in the firm’s diary. No one realised this.

“It was a purely technical issue,” he said.