Foremost, the Sarawak Oil Palm Plantation Owners Association (SOPPOA) congratulates all involved in securing the release of the 47 Malaysians detainees in Cambodia recently. It is heartening to note that all were safely returned to their families and this episode should serve as a warning to all on the dangers of working overseas without proper checks and questionable middlemen involved.
Unfortunately, out of this happy reunion story an NGO has issued a statement condemning the palm oil industry here of land grab and low pay while employing foreign labor without even considering the numerous positive returns the industry brings to the state and nation. Isolated cases of land disputes between companies and native groups do not reflect the palm oi industry here as majority are operating soundly without any dispute over land with our indigenous groups. Furthermore, the palm oil industry pays competitive wages to employ various professionals involved in many levels of management in the complex industry which involves estates, mills and refineries as well as related aspects of logistics, accounting, human resource and sales, etc. It was also conveniently not mentioned the huge capital outlay for all aspects of these operations like land clearing, planting, transporting, mills and refinery constructions with loans from the banks. On top of all these, the industry is labor intensive and hence capital intensive as well; majority of these laborers are foreigners because locals shun working in the industry mainly due to the hard work and less than glamorous jobs even with competitive pay.
There is another side of the palm oil industry which is also not mentioned by the NGO in its statement and that is the industry contributes substantial revenue to the state through sales tax (regardless of the price for palm oil sold, the state gets 5% tax) and also corporate tax (24%) to our national coffer. In fact, the palm oil industry is one of the leading revenue earners for the state and nation through employments of professionals, job creation and sales of the commodity. For the NGO to paint such negative aspects of the industry without inferring to the many positive attributes the palm oil industry brings to the state and nation is both petty and ignorant of facts while refusing to acknowledge that the huge capital outlay are secured loans which have to be serviced and further contributes to the nation’s incomes. It is a pity that there are still critics who refuses to understand the other side of the palm oil industry here and its reach internationally; by intentionally taking the negative side criticizing the palm oil industry is akin to treachery of the nation and its people.
Currently the palm oil industry is facing numerous challengers including European discriminatory policies for exclusion in their biofuel subsidies as well as low prices and activists on sustainable cultivation; certainly the industry does not need Malaysians to further downgrade the industry which supports more than 650,000 smallholders apart from the millions of jobs related to the industry. With the industry now targeting to achieve certification based on the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) this year, the direction of the industry is well charted to enable it to be accountable and also sustainable for the foreseeable future. Let us work together for the good of the state, nation and people as the palm oil industry is all about improving living conditions for everyone involved, either directly or indirectly, and for the world as it is the most productive, cheapest and safest edible oil for consumption and production of food, products and other by-products.