Pahang durian fiasco: A series of missteps since Day One

It has been a series of missteps since Day One, raising the concern of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.

The Royal Pahang Durian Resources PKPP Sdn Bhd fiasco is a thorny one as it could offend the Pahang palace, the influential businessmen, the state government, some aggrieved farmers and even the so-called “cartel”.

Nevertheless, it has opened a can of worms.

It is understood Yang di-Pertuan Agong, Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah is not pleased.

“Of course, Tuanku is upset. Tuanku was in Kuantan recently and met the Menteri Besar and the Raub officials to get updates on the matter,” said a source.

It remains unclear what transpired during that meeting but the source added: “Tuanku has always been about safeguarding the people’s interest. The intention (to set up the company) is noble but the implementation is clearly questionable.”

Al-Sultan Abdullah’s 27-year-old daughter Tengku Puteri Iman Afzan Al-Sultan Abdullah is listed as the chairman on the company’s website while one of the directors, Col Azrin Iskandar, is his long-time special officer.

It is learnt the other director Datuk Mohan C. Sinnathamby and Datuk Albert Chang Si Fock – who played an instrumental role in setting up the company –have enjoyed a close relationship with the Pahang royal household for decades.

Royal Pahang Durian describes itself on its website as “strategically formed with distinguished shareholders to develop a durian fruit farm and durian fruit processing factory on a piece of 1000-acre land located within Tras, Raub – the famed durian-growing district in Pahang. The Tras area together with Sang Lee, Sungai Chetang, has long been considered the home of Musang King cultivation in Malaysia.”

It adds: “The company is driven by a group of passionate shareholders comprising the Pahang Royal Family, Dato Albert Chang Si Fock, Mr Tan Cheng Huat, Mr Lam Kar Keong and Dato Mohan Sinnathamby.”

The deal, on paper, seems to benefit the farmers and industry.

Also some farmers are unable to obtain the Malaysian Good Agricultural Practices (MyGAP) certification as they are deemed illegal and instead borrow MyGAP licenses from legal farms.

This is a threat to the nation’s durian industry and could see our durians banned from China, similar to what happened to Malaysia’s birds nest industry in 2011.

The Republic imposed the ban after harvested nests from Malaysia were tainted with high levels of nitrate. Only 19 local processing plants in Malaysia have, up until 2018, received the Chinese government’s approval to clean raw bird’s nests before exporting to the mainland.

Istana Negara officials are keeping mum over the durian fiasco as this is a state matter while the state palace has yet to issue any statement.

The issue has also turned political and even racial to a certain extent. The Malay community in the area has voiced displeasure over the “perks” the mostly Chinese farmers have enjoyed – on land they do not own – for decades.

However, the farmers say it is unfair to label them as “illegals” as they participated in the state government’s Rancangan Buku Hijau scheme in the 1970s which encouraged individuals to farm. Many had later applied for permits to continue working on the land but were rejected by the state government.

Politicians, including those from MCA and DAP, have jumped on the “justice-seeking” bandwagon while news website The Mole reported the involvement of a triad.

Several durian farmers in Raub, had during a recent gathering held up pictures of Al-Sultan Abdullah hoping the King would step in and help resolve the issue.

Some questions that have arisen are:

Why the name Royal Pahang Durian?

Who advised Tengku Iman to take up the chairmanship?

Was Al-Sultan Abdullah thoroughly briefed on this venture?

Was he ill-advised?

The company insists it engaged with the local farmers. If yes, was that engagement recorded on paper?

How many farmers agreed to Royal Pahang Durian’s deal?

Royal Pahang Durian had in a statement on Sept 2, claimed 300 farmers have registered with the company “of which 133 have confirmed and partially paid Earnest Money of RM1,000 per acre”. But Save Musang King Alliance (Samka) – a group representing the durian farmers – denied the claim yesterday. There are other farmers taking a wait-and-see approach.

Why haven’t any of the directors come out to address this thorny saga?

For the record, the Sept 2 statement was issued by “the management” of Royal Pahang Durian as it intended to set the record straight over “many untruths and/or claims” related to its legalisation scheme proposal.

The attention is also on the state government.

Farmers have been working on the state-owned land for decades. Why wasn’t action taken against them in the past?

Is the state government using Royal Pahang Durian to clean up the “illegal” farming mess?

Is it true that some farmers are being backed by investors from China, thus explaining why they are against Royal Pahang Durian?

It was widely reported in 2017 that Chinese nationals were aggressively hunting for land in Raub and Bentong to cash in on the lucrative durian market which is quite a hit in China.

Black and rotten durians were sent to Royal Pahang Durian’s office in Taman Seri Wawasan, Raub on Aug 22. A police report was lodged the following day. What is the outcome of the investigation?

Eyebrows were raised over Wilson Chang Yee Chin‘s role as Samka president, which even caught the attention of former Prime Minister and Pekan MP Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

Najib, on Facebook today, questioned what the DAP-appointed Kajang City councillor is doing in Raub.

With Malaysia boasting it has the best durian in the world, how many durian trees are there in Raub?

How much, in ringgit and sen, have the state government and Federal Government benefited from the durian business over the past 10 years? (Not estimation but exact figures).

Was there any accounting and auditing carried out on the durian industry in Raub? Or is it a black market?

Is a syndicate/cartel involved in the industry’s ecosystem in Raub? Will police investigate the triad links as reported?

Perhaps Pahang Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Wan Rosdy Wan Ismail could have a chat with his long-serving predecessor Datuk Seri Adnan Yaakob to find out if any initiative or action was taken during his time in office to address the “illegal” farming issue.

Adnan could also shed some light on land ownership in Fraser’s Hills and Cameron Highlands.

The Pahang royal family has been a hit among the rakyat, especially since Al-Sultan Abdullah was named Yang di Pertuan Agong last year, due to their down-to-earth and loving personalities.

The intention of setting up a company to legitimise the durian business is noble as taxes can be collected and the industry can be regulated to keep durian prices in check.

However, those intending to start such ventures should be mindful in safeguarding the royal institution’s interest and that of the people.

What’s the next best step?

An insider familiar with the matter suggested that in the best interest of Al-Sultan Abdullah and the Pahang royal household, it is best to do away with the existing company and start afresh. This will also dismiss any talk of monopoly.

“The powers that be must clearly explain to all – from farmers to state government officials –the need to legitimise our lucrative durian industry,” he added.

It is without doubt that Al-Sultan Abdullah, being the wise ruler he is, will make the best decision for the state and the country.