According to the former information minister, Lim’s criticism had shown that the Penang Chief Minister views the Malays as incapable of managing international hotel chains, believing that only the Chinese deserve to do so.
“In Guan Eng’s opinion, Felda should only focus its business in agricultural fields only,” Zainuddin wrote in his blog, Zam Kata.
“This opinion reveals how low and contemptible Guan Eng’s perception is against the Malays and Malay organisations.
“They only deserve to stay as farmers, fishermen and village workers. They cannot join the global trade.”
In Parliament last month, Lim had demanded answers from Putrajaya on how it planned to turn Felda’s RM500 million London hotel foray into a lucrative investment, alleging that the land authority had overpaid for the property by RM100 million.
Citing a media report, the DAP secretary-general noted that real-estate agents Savills and Knight Frank had valued the 198-unit Grand Plaza service apartments in Bayswater, London, at £80 million (RM408 million), when Felda had paid the inflated price of £97.9 million.
Adding salt to the wound, the Bagan MP pointed out that Felda, with its core business in commodity plantation, had neither the prior expertise nor intricate knowledge in running hotels.
“No Malay individual can afford to enter the high-cost real estate market in London alone except through Malay-dominated organisations, bodies or financial institutions but there are a lot of non-Malays especially Chinese who can do so,” said Zainuddin.
“If this is not wrong to be done by Chinese individuals then why are Malay farmers and fishermen, who took decades to build up their financial might with their own sweat, counted as guilty in buying London properties and entering the London market?” he asked.
He also accused Lim of trying to garner support among the Malays by using “cheap slander” to sow seeds of discord among Felda settlers and the ethnic community.
On Monday, Felda chairman Tan Sri Isa Samad said that its ownership of eight other hotels had given it enough experience to ensure its latest investment in London would turn profits.
Isa dismissed criticism that the state plantation giant was risking taxpayers’ money by investing outside its core businesses, insisting that Felda’s investment in the property sector was a sound business decision.
Residential Land sold the freehold of Grand Plaza Serviced Apartments for £98 million (RM500 million) to FIC UK Properties, a subsidiary of Felda Investment Corporation (FIC) Sdn Bhd in early September 2013.
The serviced apartment is one of the biggest in London, has 198 apartments across 13 period stucco-fronted buildings over 105,044 square feet, near the Bayswater subway station.
In September, Lim had asked Isa to own up to the “real reasons” behind Felda’s decision to invest some RM700 million in the hospitality and information technology sectors.
Chided by Isa for being a busybody, the opposition lawmaker retorted that the Felda chairman owed an explanation to the one-million-plus Felda settlers the reason for the land authority’s decision to spend nearly RM600 million to buy two hotels and a further RM110 million to acquire a 25 per cent stake in public-listed Iris Corp instead of parking their money in a field related to agriculture.