HIGHLIGHTS

  • As Group Chairman of the Federal Land Development Authority (FELDA), he guided its programs to see results. When providing infrastructure to new settlements was not enough to spur productive farming, he tried a “systems approach.” As each resettlement project was planned and prepared, the settlers assigned to each of the projects were supported through a stipend to tend the eight or ten acres. Eventually, settlers’ shares were allotted in jointly managed plantation blocks.
  • Nearly 60,000 families, resettled on approximately 1.3 million acres, are repaying most capital costs with interest over 20 years. Settler family monthly incomes frequently equal US$245 to US$300 or more. Increasingly, farm leaders share in FELDA’s management of marketing, and operation of oil palm mills and rubber factories, as they have done in recent expansion into production of sugar and cocoa.
  • Raja ALIAS has recognized the initiative of settlers to build more self-reliant communities. He has demonstrated that even once-indigent families can create productive agriculture and contribute to community and national well-being.
  • The RMAF board of trustees recognizes “his steadfast, principled administration in translating Malaysia’s “land for the landless” schemes into prosperous realities.”

 CITATION

Like some of its neighbors in Southeast Asia, Malaysia is endowed with substantial areas of little used or unused land, some left from slash and burn and others logged over or still in virgin jungle. For these countries such land areas offer both a potential human “safety valve” as populations increase, and an opportunity to expand production of crops increasingly demanded at home or in the world market.

Yet, for most of Southeast Asia resettlement often has remained a distant goal. Repeatedly, landless families from overcrowded communities have migrated to the frontier, only to fail as pioneering farmers. They have been defeated by lack of transportation and ineffective law and order, or they were without the means and skills to bring appropriate crops into production and to market. Individual families in particular have foundered, where effective cooperation among neighbors might have saved them all.

Even before Malaysian independence in 1957, leaders of the emerging nation studied how to transform landless laborers into productive planters. The Emergency, resulting from communist insurrection, and racial tensions, arising from economic and cultural differences among Malays, Indians and Chinese, demanded basic solutions. Over 116,000 unprocessed land applications had accumulated, and land hunger was compounded by rural unemployment and poverty.

Initially, the federal government relied upon providing an infrastructure of roads, schools, public health facilities and mosques, leaving much of the actual land development to individual states. When this proved inadequate, the Federal Land Development Authority (FELDA) shifted to a “systems approach.” Each resettlement project was planned in advance; contractors built roads, houses and other facilities, cleared land and planted rubber and oil palm trees. As selected families moved in they earned a subsistence allowance tending the eight or ten acres assigned to them, meanwhile starting orchards and gardens on their two-acre home sites. More recently FELDA shifted to allotting settlers shares in jointly managed plantation blocks.

Nearly 60,000 families, resettled on approximately 1.3 million acres, are repaying most capital costs with interest over 20 years. Settler family monthly incomes frequently equal US$245 to US$300 or more. Increasingly, farm leaders share in FELDA’s management of marketing, and operation of oil palm mills and rubber factories, as they have done in recent expansion into production of sugar and cocoa.

More than anyone else, the modest public servant who has made a success of FELDA is Raja MUHAMMAD ALIAS. Born in Negri Sembilan in 1932, he entered the Malayan Civil Service in 1958, serving with distinction as District Officer. He was appointed Deputy Chairman of FELDA in 1966 and was elevated to Group Chairman in 1979.

Raja ALIAS has steadily shaped FELDA as a more human-oriented enterprise. By recognizing and mobilizing the initiative of settlers, he is fostering new communities with a growing sense of self-reliance. A thorough planner who has resisted political pressures by insisting FELDA must follow rules, he has quietly organized a high-caliber staff. His own working hours are longest. He refuses fees from the many FELDA-connected enterprises he helps direct. His schoolteacher wife shares family costs. With this quality of commitment he has been able to demonstrate that even on some of Malaysia’s less fertile lateritic soils, once-indigent families can create productive agriculture and contribute to community and national well-being.

In electing Raja MUHAMMAD ALIAS to receive the 1980 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service, the Board of Trustees recognizes his steadfast, principled administration in translating Malaysia’s “land for the landless” schemes into prosperous realities.

 RESPONSE

I would like to express my most sincere gratitude to the Chairman and Trustees of the Magsaysay Award Foundation for having bestowed upon me such a great honor. As an employee of the Government of Malaysia, I believe that this honor properly belongs to the government. When I joined the Malaysian Civil Service in 1958 I was told by my superior that, as a newly-independent nation, our country needed hard work and dedication from its civil servants. We had a big task ahead of us, particularly in rural development. Ever since I have tried to do my duty to the government and the people. For doing my duty I have been honored with this Award. It was a real surprise to me. I do not think I have done anything exceptional. I have only carried out what is expected of me.

This Award is not so much for me as for my organization—the Federal Land Development Authority, or FELDA for short. Earlier this year FELDA was honored with a similar award by the Malaysian Tun Razak Foundation. Now another award—a most coveted one—has come its way. 1980 is, therefore, a very auspicious year for FELDA.

What FELDA has been doing and trying to do in the last 23 years is nothing novel or new. It has been organizing land settlement projects for the many landless rural people in Malaysia. Our objective is not different from that of the late President Magsaysay. His efforts in rural reform and helping the poor will be long remembered. His untimely demise deprived the people of Asia of a dedicated leader and a statesman. Nevertheless the flame that he lit continues to burn, not only in the hearts of the Filipino people, but all over Asia. The creation of the Ramon Magsaysay Award is fitting tribute to a great leader, who made the eradication of human poverty his obsession in the service of his people. It is no exaggeration to say that I am overawed on this occasion. To be able to bask in some of the glory of this great leader is something that I have never dreamed of.

To the Chairman and Trustees of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation, I thank you once again for this honor which I will always treasure. This Award cuts across national boundaries and through the artificial barriers that humans build; such contribution to mankind will always be cherished. To the people of the Philippines, I wish to say thank you for your hospitality.

 BIOGRAPHY

Raja MUHAMMAD ALIAS’ lifetime dedication to the Malaysian government and people is the natural outcome of his childhood. His father, Raja Muhammad Ali, was a subordinate officer in the government district office near the family’s home in Kuala Pilah in the State of Negri Sembilan, Malaysia (then the British protectorate of Malaya). As a small boy by the side of his mother, Wan Su, ALIAS used to watch the British district of’ficer—the senior government official in the area— walk to and from work and dreamed of becoming a district officer himself one day, even though at that time the position was open primarily to Europeans.

Born on August 10, 1932 ALIAS was the second of nine children and the first son. This position in the family gave him a strong sense of responsibility and a desire for achievement. He remained at the top of his class throughout his primary school years in the Malay-language schools in Kuala Pilah, Dangi (1937-1938) and Kuala Pilah (1939-1942), as well as in the Japanese School in Kuala Pilah which he attended throughout the World War II occupation of Malaya (1943-1945).

During the war the boy frequently helped his father who retained his position in the district office under the Japanese. He often rode his bicycle out to the kampongs (villages) to deliver letters and there came to know the rural people. Farmers also came to their home to discuss their problems with his father and the boy became interested in their welfare. At this point he began to see government service as a means of helping his fellowman, not just as the most desirable position available.

(For the complete biography, please email biographies@rmaf.org.ph)