The facility in Gemas appears to have fallen short of its target of rearing 60,000 head of cattle by a staggering 59,980,The Malaysian Insider revealed in an expose of a failed agricultural plan that has been mired in corruption.
“Far from its ambitious plan to be Malaysia's premier beef exporter, the farm at the National Feedlot Centre (NFC) is today a picture of desolation with cows wandering amid overgrown grass and dilapidated buildings,” MI revealed.
“The farm… has only some 10 to 20 cows, a handful of staff and a suit hanging over its management for failing to repay a MYR250m [US$72m] government loan.”
The NFC was set up by the Malaysian government as a “concept zone for commercial and integrated cattle feedlot farming; to establish a beef production system through contract farming with a sustainable and integrated chain; and to establish an integrated supply chain for beef production,” according to its web site.
It is currently embroiled in a scandal involving the former Malaysian women, family and community development minister and current leader of the women’s wing of Malaysia’s biggest political party, Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, her husband, Mohamed Salieh Ismail, and their two children, who were all directors of the corporation.
Opening in 2008, the farm found its funds had been frozen by the Account-General’s department just a year later, after NFC was found to have missed its target of 8,000 head by 2010. In spite of this, the deputy prime minister hailed the farm in June 2011, saying that it would not only meet local demand for beef, but would also penetrate overseas markets.
"The NFC project will make Malaysia a beef exporter. We expect there would not be any problems with supply although Malaysia's population is increasing at an average of 5% annually,” said Muhyiddin Yassin on a tour of the farm.
It was later alleged by a senior opposition figure that a MYR250m federal loan it had been given had been spent on the purchase of high-end properties in fashionable areas of Kuala Lumpur.
For this, Salieh has been charged with a criminal breach of trust and his trial is pending. Shahrizat, meanwhile, was forced to resign her high-profile cabinet position in the wake of the scandal being unearthed, though after investigation by the Malaysian Anti-corruption Commission (MACC) she was cleared very quickly of any misdealings, as often happens in Malaysia when senior figures in the government are involved.
Only MYR35m has been paid on the MYR250m loan in two instalments in 2012 and 2013, though opposition MP Rafizi Ramli said he believes the interest alone on the loan should amount to MYR50m by now.
A quick glance at the NFC home page shows its highly politicised nature, with the company continuing to issue releases to slam the claims of Shahrizat’s political opponents, although the company makes little attempt to answer the allegations they have made.
The reaction to MI’s story has mostly been of resignation, weariness and some gallows humour by Malaysian over yet another agricultural grand plan that has been tainted by alleged corruption. “Congrats Malaysia for producing the most expensive cows in the world,” wrote one commentator.
Another said: “This is one example of how the taxpayer's money being plundered under the disguise of empowering the community in business. The real crook usually gets away rich, [while the] the community gets the bad name and bad reputation.”
Earlier this year, the prime minister was forced to place an undercover MACC officer at the agriculture ministry to root out corrupt practices in a segment that is often alleged to be riven by graft.
In a survey last year, Ernst & Young identified Malaysia as the most corrupt nation out of China, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia and South Korea.
As is so often the case in Malaysian government, hundreds of millions of public ringgits have gone missing and so far nobody is accountable. But aside from the fortunes individuals can gain from this sort of cynical and self-benefiting mismanagement, it’s worth considering how Malaysia—along with the rest of Asia—has a role to play in helping stave off the terrifying impact of food insecurity.
To spend so much money on what now amounts to just 20 cattle bodes badly for a time when every head will matter.