Startup’s components of a support system, govt incentives, market access – part 5, 6, 7


How components of a support system nurture nascent companies – part 5

Startups_IncubatingGeared up: A participants in the 1337 Accelerator programme demonstrating a gaming app, Agent RX — a single player top down stealth game. The app can be used on a desktop and be enhanced with the Oculus. Difference between Accelerator and Incubators: Infographic:  https://infogr.am/infographic-79580 via @infogram

Over the course of grooming startups, the industry has perhaps grown familiar with the terms “incubator” and more recently, “accelerator”.

These organisations, part of the modern support system for new entrepreneurs, have helped startups take shape in their early stages.

In almost all cases, participation in an incubator or accelerator programme has enabled entrepreneurs gain access to resources beyond their own to scale their business. Services such as regulatory and strategic expertise that otherwise may not be available to independent startups become more readily available.

And because of their seemingly similar functions and involvement with early-stage startups, incubators and accelerators are often mistaken to mean the same thing. But they are not.

An incubator is essentially a physical work space that hosts a new business with many other startup companies. Startups are usually allowed to stay in the space as long as they need to and mentorship is typically provided by the incubator or through peers at the facility.

An accelerator programme, on the other hand, is limited to a three- to four-month period intended to accelerate a startups’ business and the kick them out of the nest. Accelerators often make investments in the companies they support and provide a strong network of mentorship. These programmes typically culminate in a “pitch day” for startups to raise more funds from venture capitals.

In Malaysia, both private and government funded incubators have been set up in the Klang Valley over the past few years as the government pushes for the growth of more local entrepreneurs and startups.

But it may come as a surprise to some that there is only one proper accelerator model in Malaysia, known as 1337 Accelerator.

1337, pronounced “leet”, started in March last year with an initial government funding of RM5mil to invest in startups. The programme has two intakes a year where budding tech-entrepreneurs are given the opportunity to join the programme to develop their ideas and take them to market.

“We invest in the best minds in the country. The teams here have to earn their way into the programme. They have to go through a stringent panel to see if they have an investor-worthy idea and can contribute back to the ecosystem,” said Bikesh Lakhmichand, chief executive officer of 1337 Ventures Sdn Bhd.

He explained that accelerators are more mentor-driven and are directly involved with the development of the startup.

According to Bikesh, accelerators are the way of the future for startups, noting that the trend is growing globally to create a more vibrant startup community.

However, incubators, too, have their appeal.

As incubators do not invest in startups, entrepreneurs are able to maintain full ownership and control of their companies while tapping onto facilities provided by the incubators.

Among incubators in Malaysia, many would probably be familiar with Technology Park Malaysia (TPM) and MAD Incubator.

TPM spans some 650 acres of land in Bukit Jalil with total lettable business and incubation space of 725,000sq ft.

Its president and chief executive officer Datuk Mohd Azman Shahidin said the number of companies at TPM has grown to more than 200.

Companies that have been selected for TPM’s incubation programme will be guided through a hand-holding and business coaching programme over a duration of six to 18 months. Here, they will be equipped with knowledge on product development, marketing techniques, R&D and networking.

“Our main role is to accelerate the growth of small businesses. We are here to grow and be the catalyst for these companies. And we have seen some companies here that have grown to become listed companies,” Azman said.

MAD Incubator has also seen good traction with its facilities and had launched its third incubator in Malaysia in the middle of the year.

While different in nature, both incubators and accelerators play an important role in boosting early-stage venture. One model may not necessarily be better than the other. But interested startups should be clear on what they want out of these supporters to get the best out of these facilities

 

Govt incentives for startups - part 6

 

Startups_Govt support

Ample opportunity: Malaysia provides many initiatives to fund startups. Recently Axiata Group Bhd launched Axiata Digital Innovation Fund, a RM100mil venture capital fund, with Malaysia Venture Capital Management Bhd (Mavcap). Its group president and group chief executive officer Datuk Seri Jamaludin Ibrahim (right) is seen here exchanging document with Mavcap chief executive officer Jamaludin Bujang (left). Looking on are Khazanah Nasional Bhd managing director Tan Sri Azman Mokhtar and Prime Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Tun Abdul Razak.

Silicon Valley has long been known as a hub for high-tech innovation. The southern part of the Bay Area is home to many of the world’s largest companies and thousands of startups including Facebook, Google and eBay.

But Silicon Valley was not an overnight success story. It took decades of government funding and support to make it the vibrant tech cluster it is today.

Policymakers play an important role in supporting the growth of a startup ecosystem. Be it in funding research and technologies or in building infrastructure, government help create ideal conditions for innovation and commercialisation.

In Malaysia, the government has announced various initiatives, including financial allocations, over the years to groom entrepreneurship and support the startup ecosystem.

In the Budget 2015 speech, the Prime Minister noted the government’s aspiration to position Malaysia as a choice location for startups in the region.

And among its efforts to achieve this target is the establishment of Malaysian Global Innovation & Creative Centre (MaGIC) to create a more conducive ecosystem for startups.

Financial assistance

One of the most crucial ingredients for the development of startups is funding and several government agencies have been established to dispense pre-seed and seed funding to enable startups to transform ideas into commercially viable products and ventures.

These agencies include not-for-profit organisation Cradle Fund Sdn Bhd and venture capital company Malaysia Venture Capital Management Bhd (MAVCAP), both under the purview of the Finance Ministry.

As a VC, Mavcap makes direct investments with fund size ranging from RM1mil to RM20mil and participates actively in the management and operations of these companies.

Mavcap also invests through its Outsource Partners Programmes, whereby it allocates capital to other VC fund management companies to invest in high-growth businesses.

Cradle offers a maximum seed funding of up to RM500,000 to help technology companies attain commercialisation.

Tax incentives

The government has also introduced tax breaks to encourage private investments in startups as well as promote the setting up of high-tech companies in Malaysia.

For example, the Angel Tax Incentive allows angel investors who have invested in early-stage startups to qualify for tax exemption. This would indirectly see more fund flows to startups and also encourage eligible angels to participate in the ecosystem.

There are incentives for ventures that have obtained MSC Status including a 100% investment tax allowance and duty-free importation of multimedia equipment.

Building skills

Various programmes have also been initiated to build entrepreneurial and technical skills as well as encourage interest among the local community to venture into the startup scene.

MaGIC recently launched its partnership with Stanford University, which, among its programmes, would send entrepreneurs to Silicon Valley for a two-week immersion programme.

The partnership will also see an exchange programme whereby local entrepreneurs will be able to learn from the Stamford faculty on marketing and commercialising their ideas.

Another significant component of the partnership is the “Faculty Train Faculty” Programme where faculty members from 14 local universities will be sent to Stanford over the next three years to help them develop impactful and creative entrepreneurship programs in their respective universities.

Early this year, MDeC announced its MSC Malaysia Startup Accelerator Lite programme to help early-stage ICT startups map out and accelerate their goals.

MDeC is also working with partners such as JFDI Asia, a regional startup accelerator, to help mature and globalise the local startup community.

Government agencies are actively seeking partnerships with startup communities and small and medium companies in other countries to provide local startups with an opportunity to learn from and potentially partner with startups abroad as well as explore other markets.

Market access can be as important as funding for startups – part 7

 

Startups_market access

Sealing the deal: Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak with Malaysia Venture Capital Management Bhd Ceo Jamaludin Bujang (left) and Axiata chief executive officer Datuk Seri Jamaludin Ibrahim at the event announcing the RM100mil Axiata Digital Innovation Fund recently. The fund will focus on helping startups gain access to markets. — Bernamapic

BEYOND just starting a business, a startup company’s main purpose for being is to offer a product or innovation that addresses a problem.

As one investor puts it, a truly innovative product will solve a customer’s problem that has not been solved before.

But one of the challenges of introducing a new product or innovation is that it has not been tried or tested. Naturally, the market may be slow in embracing such an innovation.

Additionally, startups rarely have the capacity or network to tap into new markets to bring their products out.

As such, investing partners, with their strong networks and deep pockets, play an important role in the startup ecosystem by providing the kind of market access needed by startups to reach potential customers.

Corporations, investors and even the government are increasingly recognising this need and are providing platforms for startups to tap into, beyond just early and growth-stage funding.

For example, early last year, Telekom Malaysia, the Multimedia Development Corporation and StartupMalaysia.org collaborated on an accelerator programme focusing on getting startups to market quickly.

More recently, telco giant Axiata Group Bhd and Malaysia Venture Capital Management Bhd (Mavcap) recently signed an agreement to establish a RM100mil venture capital fund, the Axiata Digital Innovation Fund (ADIF), to help companies with innovative products in the digital-services space markettheir offerings.

ADIF will focus on revenue-generating companies that may still require support to grow in terms of funding, know-how and market access.

Axiata noted that digital-services entrepreneurs will have unprecedented access to regional partnership opportunities among other things, thanks to its extensive market reach of over 13 million customers in Malaysia and over 250 million across Asia.

Given Axiata’s many years of operations in the region, these startups are also able to leverage the telco’s in-depth knowledge of the regional market.

Likewise, Alliance Bank’s SME Innovation Challenge 2014 programme provides participating startups with an opportunity to be coached by corporate titans, a platform to network through, and access to markets.

When new products are launched, startups and their investors concentrate the bulk of their initial efforts on educating the market about what the products offer.

But entrepreneurs understand that having an innovation with little visibility and access to markets does no good.

Startups are now seeing the need for opportunities to tap into existing networks and markets, coaching, exposure and resources, offered by incubation and accelerator programmes.

In other markets where the startup ecosystems are more mature, the private sector and governments have introduced programmes to tackle market-access issues for startups.

These include the US Market Validation Program run by Silicon Valley-based tech accelerator, US Market Access Center, and the Market Access Grant administered by the Irish government to incentivise companies to develop viable and sustainable market entry strategies for new products and markets.

While such efforts have yet to become well established here, different players in the local ecosystem are becoming more aware of the need to provide startups with market access to ensure better chances of success.

By Joy Lee The Star/Asia News Network

■ This is the seventh instalment of MetroBiz’s tie-up with Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre (MaGIC) to explore startup ecosystems.

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OOI Boon Sheng, founder and chief executive officer of Web Bytes Sdn Bhd, was fortunate to have found a good

House buyers, learn your rights


I RECENTLY moved into our new house in Sungai Ramal Dalam. I bought the property back in 2012 and we received the vacant possession in January this year.

The journey towards moving into this property has not been a smooth one and I thought I should share some of the lessons.

When I first visited the site in 2012, only the show house was available for viewing. All the other units were blocked off because they were still under construction.

So the purchase was under the “sell-then-build” scheme. The developer sells a property that is not yet built, and the buyer pays for something depicted by the show unit, but in reality you don’t really know what you will get. The developer advertised it as a gated and guarded community of just 26 houses, and the show unit was quite decent.

We liked the concept and decided to go ahead anyway, despite a friend expressing doubts about the reliability of the developer because they are just a small company.

Skip forward to January this year: a letter arrived saying that the time had come for me to take the keys, or in jargon-speak, to take over the vacant possession. When I went to the developer’s office in Hulu Kelang, I was told to sign a letter confirming that I agreed to accept the property.

They also told me that the Certificate of Completion and Compliance (formerly called the CF) should be ready within two weeks and I should not do any renovation or move in before receiving it.

It was soon after this that problems started to occur. When I inspected the property more thoroughly, I discovered that the property was not yet satisfactorily completed.

Taps and doorknobs were missing. Some tiles were not properly fitted. The window frames were of different shades. Electrical sockets were not installed. The back garden slopes with a gradient that renders the area more or less unusable.

And the developer has not even applied for permission to build a gated and guarded community, despite advertising it in their sales brochure.

To make matters worse, the CCC did not arrive within the promised two weeks. I only received it last June. Throughout all this, I sent notice after notice to the developer asking them to rectify the defects.

They were extremely slow to respond. It was only then that I realised I should not have accepted the vacant possession without the CCC.

I then found the National House Buyers Association, and met with their secretary-general Chang Kim Loong who happens to be a fellow columnist in this newspaper. I learnt a tremendous amount from him and let me share some of the lessons here. If you are planning to buy a property and you don’t want to face the problems that I am having now, I suggest you read on.

Firstly when you buy a property, you should get the Sale and Purchase Agreement (S&P) checked by someone with proper knowledge, or appoint your own lawyer.

The two lawyers you deal with at the early stages represent your bank and the developer. They don’t represent you and they don’t have your interest at heart. You need your own lawyer.

Secondly, read the S&P yourself, carefully. With the benefit of hindsight, I am amazed at how I simply signed on the dotted line without reading the papers carefully first.

The document contains important information about your rights. And you should read it in greater detail if the developer says to you that the S&P is “just a formality”.

Thirdly, learn your rights as well as the procedures in the purchase.

If only I had taken some time to learn the ropes, I would have known that I should be extremely worried if a developer hands over vacant possession without a CCC (and promises you he will get it done within two weeks). Even more so when they start saying things like “we are all Malays and we should help each other”. Fourth, the sell-then-build scheme benefits mainly the developers and not necessarily the consumers. You are being asked to pay for something that is not even built yet and you never really know what you will eventually get. If the developer is rogue, then what you pay for is not necessarily what you will get.

In my case, the show unit has a concrete wall in the backyard, but my unit has just wire fencing. When I asked the developer, he responded that the S&P does not compel him to build a unit that is exactly the same as the show unit. Since it was a sell-then-build scheme, there is not much that I can do.

Recently Urban Wellbeing, Hou­sing and Local Government Minister Datuk Abdul Rahman Dahlan an­­­nounced that he wants to allow developers to choose between sell-then-build and build-then-sell. He is effectively doing a U-turn because the previous minister wanted to make build-then-sell compulsory.

Of course, developers love the sell-then-build scheme because they get the cash in advance. Risks are transferred to buyers.

Fifth, despite the U-turn policy, the Housing Ministry is actually quite effective in dealing with consumer complaints. I have had a very good experience in dealing with the National Housing Department and the Tribunal for Homebuyer’s Claims (TTPR). The processes to submit a claim through the TTPR are simple enough to understand even for a layperson like me. The TTPR is also very transparent.

My case hearing was conducted in public and if you go to the tribunal’s website, you can find information about the claim that I filed. This transparency allows everyone to learn from the experience of others.

Let me end by saying that buying a house is probably the most expensive purchase you will ever make. You really should learn your rights.

If you find yourself dealing with a situation like I am in now, then you must not let the developer off the hook. Get advice from the brilliant team at the National House Buyers’ Association. Take the developer to the TTPR. And report them to the National Housing Department.

You should not despair because there are mechanisms to help protect you, including those instituted by the Government, as long as you are willing to take the initiative.

Think Liberally by Wan Saiful Wan Jan

Wan Saiful Wan Jan is chief executive of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (www.ideas.org.my). The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.

 

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THE collapse of a…

Financial planning is all about investing


LOTS of people shy away from financial planning because they think they may be pressured into investing. And when you think investing, what comes to mind are horror stories of people who lost their life savings during the Asian financial crisis and Dot Com Bubble.

We hear tales of greed and chasing the hottest sexiest investment themes that has led them down the path of poverty and for some great debt due to leverage.

Admittedly, in the wealth management business, investments do form a large part of conversations that happen between ourselves and our clients.

For the most part, people speak to financial planners or wealth managers about how to make their money grow faster so they can meet their goals.

How much return can I get?
What can I get if I invest in equities?
How about properties?
How can I start investing in currencies?

When people engage in a conversation about investments, inevitably, we get seduced by the quest to find the highest yielding asset. We steer into instruments we are not familiar with, drawn by the allure of high headline returns.

Think dotcoms. Think gold investments. Think land investments. Think bitcoin. Not necessarily bad investments but the basic concept of risk and diversification fall by the wayside as we chase returns.

But, step back for a moment.

Are you asking the right question?
Is financial planning only about finding the next best investment?

While investing will likely play a key role in your financial plan, there are a lot more questions that need to be answered before you can choose the right investment, or if you even need to invest aggressively.

First question, how much do you need?
Second question, when will you need it?
Third question, how much have you set aside or are prepared to set aside?
Last question, what returns are you going to get?

So say, I would like to buy a property in five years, of which I plan to make a downpayment of RM50,000. I have currently set aside RM10,000. I can currently save RM500 monthly.

Investing_coin_hands Investing_house

Let’s assume I have no experience investing and decide to place it in fixed deposit at 3% per annum. Doing my maths, after five years, with interest compounded, all this adds up to only RM43,000. You are RM7,000 short.

In such an example, most people approach an adviser to find out what could yield them higher returns. In the above example, any misadventures in your investments could possibly set you back in your acquisition of your next property.

What if this was your children’s education? You may not want to risk your child entering university two years late. These are things your adviser needs to know as there other alternatives.

Financial management is very much about balancing between these four requirements. While getting higher returns so you can meet your goal is one way, it’s not the only way! You have other options. So, let’s go back to the four questions.

Firstly, you could buy a cheaper property with RM43,000.
Alternatively, you could wait another year to purchase that property, giving you more time to save up.
Or, you could increase your monthly savings to RM600 at 3% per annum.
Lastly, consider investing in something that yields you 7% per annum.
So, really, out of four options, only one is about investing.

For the most part, investing plays quite an essential role in most people’s portfolio. However, before you even have that discussion, think about the goals you want to achieve and whether investing is required and what kind of investment performance is needed.

By Ong Shi Jie

For the most part, investing plays quite an essential role in most people’s portfolio. However, before you even have that discussion, think about the goals you want to achieve and whether investing is required and what kind of investment performance is needed, says Ong.

Ong Shi Jie (CJ) is head of wealth management, OCBC Bank (M) Bhd.

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Startups vying for the attention of Venture capitalists (VCs) – part 4


OOI Boon Sheng, founder and chief executive officer of Web Bytes Sdn Bhd, was fortunate to have found a good match in Chok Kwee Bee, managing director of venture capital firm Teak Capital, when he set out to look for a partner to help his retail management services company grow to the next level.

Venture capitalists (VCs) play a unique role in the entrepreneurial ecosystem.Magic Logo_Small

They provide startups with funding in exchange for equity in the company. In addition, VCs are often given a say in how the company will operate and grow.

Ultimately, the goal of such partnerships is for VCs to make a profitable exit at a later date either through the sale of their stakes or an initial public offering.

Chok, who sits on the board of Web Bytes following Teak Capital’s investment in the startup, takes an active interest in helping Ooi develop the company’s product.

As Web Bytes grow with the guidance of Chok, so does its value, allowing Teak Capital the chance to make a profitable exit in the future.

Somewhat like angel investors, VCs have a wealth of resources, expertise and network that startups can tap into.

However, VCs tend to fund early-stage startups that have already gained some traction in user base and revenue, but are still new enough to be considered a risky investment for traditional banks and debt funding.

In identifying suitable startups to invest in, VCs are naturally drawn to early-stage companies with technologies that have the potential to generate high returns. Ideally, products developed by these startups are not in overly saturated markets.

VCs also analyse the market to ensure that it is robust enough to support the entry and growth of a startup.

The startup’s management team is also taken into consideration as VCs typically look for a team that is passionate, persistent, experienced, dedicated and organised.

According to Chok, having the right people is as important as having the right idea as the right people would be needed to make the ideas work.

“We have seen more than 1,000 companies since our formation in 2008 and only invested in less than 10, with an average investment of RM2mil to RM3mil.

We look at the team, the product and the market potential,” she said.

Startups are encouraged to build a good working relationship with VCs, not just for the funding element but also because investee companies will be spending a lot of time with mentors from their VC partners.

Many startups, like Web Bytes, have indeed benefited from the active participation of their VC investors. Among Teak Capital’s portfolio of startups, Web Bytes has seen tremendous growth after a year of active mentoring.

But the venture capitalism in Malaysia is still in its early days.

Malaysia Venture Capital Management Bhd (Mavcap) chief executive officer Jamaludin Bujang noted that while there is an increase in demand for capital, there are only a handful of VCs in the market.

Currently, about 60% of VC funds come from Government sources, with only nine private VC firms in the country.

Jamaludin says VC firms should look at pushing out more Series-A funding. Series-A is the first significant round of funding for startups that have progressed beyond the seed-funding stage and have started generating revenue of between RM200,000 and RM1mil. With things heating up in the local startup scene, both Jamaludin and Chok agree that more needs to be done to encourage more entrants into the field of venture capitalism.

“The startup scene is picking up. And a lot of them are actually going to Singapore for funding. So I think we need more Malaysian VCs in the market,” said Chok.

By Lim Wing Hooi
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Who is responsible: developer, contractor, local council or house-owner for the damages?


Slope management

Who is responsible for slope management? Does the responsibility come with the property bought by the purchaser?
IJM_BJ Cove Side_20141112_154129


THE collapse of a slope deep in the jungle does not concern house-owners, nor do landslides along our highways or roads. They just cause a bit of inconvenience to road users.

The Government deploys men, machinery and money to get the road cleared as quickly as possible so traffic can flow again.

It is different with the slope, which is (usually) at the back of a house. The house-owner did not build it. It came when he bought the house, designed by the developer with the approval of the local council. Because it is in his compound – or because he will be affected by it in the event of a collapse – the house-owner is responsible.

But in reality, is it as simple as that? It is more than a matter of money, it may also involve lives.

The Construction Industry Development Board (CIDB) in collaboration with the Urban Wellbeing, Housing and Local Government Ministry organised a seminar some months ago. Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam, adviser to SlopeWatch, a community-based organisation, highlighted his personal and distressing experience with the slope in his house compound. He needed to have it repaired and he was driven from pillar to post by government officers, the contractor was dilatory and the cost was high.

But who is responsible?

House-purchaser dilemma

When a house-purchaser takes his house from the developer, the latter does not certify that the slope is safe in terms of design, and “as built”, except that it is understood to have been approved.

Victim: “It had been built at the bottom of a nearly-vertical slope formed by excising the toe of a hill. Though he had no need for it, the developer would not sell the house without a part of the bottom of the slope; not only did it add to the cost of the house, it made him responsible for the upkeep of the slope.

As expected the slope collapsed, not once but twice. You see the rubble-wall collapsed with the soil when the pressure became too strong. This time, a strong wall was built together with weep holes to remove rain water that seeped into the soil so that it did not become too heavy. It held up for us but the same slope running into the neighbour’s side, collapsed.

“Are they lucky compared with the buyers of houses built on top of Bukit Setiawangsa, while they were at the bottom of the slope? The developer had apparently removed the earth from it to form the bed of the highway, the Duta-Ulu Kelang Expressway (Duke). With the entire slope removed, the houses are perched precariously at the top, as the cliché goes, like a disaster waiting to happen.

So who is responsible? Is it the developer? Where will he be after six years or if available, will he argue that the purchaser bought the house fully aware of the risks? What are the rights of a subsequent owner? Does he has any recourse against the first owner? What about the local council and professionals who approved the slope – which to an untrained eye – seems to be an unsafe construction?”

House-owners are not only innocent victims of a developer’s recklessness or the developer’s appointed professionals, be it an architect or engineer.

They may also be liable through no fault of theirs because of the way developers have disturbed the lie of the land and left it in an unsafe state for the house–owner to take care of it.

The most enduring memory is the Highland Towers episode about 20 years ago, of which there is still no satisfactory closure. The disaster should have been a wake-up call on the process of approvals and accountability.

Only a draughtsman was convicted for the design of the drainage which caused water to flow un-channelled into the ground under the condominiums causing it to turn into mud which, of course, flowed against the piles causing them to move and knocking the building off its supports. The Ampang Municipal Council (MPAJ), which approved the diversion of the drainage, was excused because of the statutory immunity it enjoyed under the law.

So, should it be more careful and conscientious? Have we not learned the right lessons from it?

There are many questions for which there are no answers.

Slope management – overcoming challenges

The question with regard to slope management brings to mind a slope management seminar held earlier this year which attracted about 400 participants. The speakers held top posts in the Public Works Department, Urban WellBeing, Housing and Local Government Ministry, SlopeWatch, head of hillslope development in MPAJ and geotechnical engineer Datuk Dr Gue See Sew. Participants attentively asked the panelists pertinent questions.

As we forge ahead, we ask ourselves, have we done enough? If not, what can we do more? What are some of the issues and challenges we are facing as residents, owners, consultants, planners, financiers and enforcers of the guidelines, managers of slopes and public safety?

And whose responsibility is it anyway? There were proposals, suggestions and recommendations for an action plan that will be adopted for its intended implementation. Some were for immediate application, while some were medium and long term in nature. Unanimous resolutions were made at the end of the seminar.

Resolutions

Some of the pertinent resolutions were:

> Improve and simplify the current guidelines on hill-site development with safety enhancement.

> Increase awareness of contractors on good slope construction practices

> Strengthen the enforcement of authorities to penalise errant slope owners

> Review the planning policies and determine the height and density of buildings to blend with the environment

> To immediately do an inventory and to gazette all remaining hill-slopes, including those that are still on state land under the Land Conservation Act, National Land Code and the Town and Country Planning Act.

> Review slope-related designs not only confined within the boundaries of the project, but within the surrounding areas.

> Make it compulsory under the law for a geotechnical accredited checker, as an independent checker, to check and verify that slope design and construction are safe and done to the best engineering practices.

> Major earthworks and slope strengthening need to be done first before construction of any buildings and structures in the development takes place

> Local authorities to collaborate with community monitoring groups (to be the eyes and ears)

> To make it compulsory for slope owners to appoint professional engineers to inspect slopes on a regular basis on high-risk slopes and to rectify any defects for slopes of certain categories

> New engineered slopes to have a maintenance schedule and manual, including drainage systems. Old slopes, in particular, should be under a maintenance programme by the local authorities

> Introduce a fund to cover long-term infrastructure maintenance of certain slopes that require high maintenance and are handed over to local authorities

But the most important of them is to set up a centralised body to support the 154 local authorities on new hillside developments. It should be modelled after the geotechnical engineering office in Hong Kong.

The Government and public will be hearing more of this proposed “centralised body” in due course from the Expert Standing Committee on Slope Safety initiated under CIDB.

HBA

By CHANG KIM LOONG – Buyers Beware The Star Nov 15 2014

Chang Kim Loong is the honorary secretary-general of the National House Buyers Association.

I RECENTLY moved into our new house in Sungai Ramal Dalam. I bought the property back in 2012 and we received the vacant possession in J…

Asia Pacific Economic Leadership Shifting from the US to China for Free Trade framework


Apec 2014 China_FTAAP roadmap

All together now: Apec leaders posing for a family picture at the International Convention Center at Yanqi Lake in Beijing. Front row from left, Indonesian President Joko Widodo, US President Barack Obama, Xi, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III, (backrow from left) Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Najib and New Zealand Prime Minister John Key. — EPA

The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit that just concluded in Beijing was no doubt China’s show. Beijing came out looking very much what it is touted to be — the world’s second-largest economy now leading the charge towards a free-trade region known as the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP). For a once-closed economy that was not even part of the global trading system, this is one giant leap. In doing so, China overshadowed and reduced a rival initiative by the United States — the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which excludes Beijing — to what is a subsidiary platform

Chinese President Xi Jinping has shown that the agenda of liberalising trade in the Asia-Pacific region cannot but take China into account; indeed, this agenda will be dictated by China from now on. To show how serious it is, the Beijing APEC Declaration came complete with a road map towards the realisation of the FTAAP, though a clear deadline was shelved for now.

With the US outmanoeuvred, the economic power game entered a second stage in Myanmar this week, where the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean) hosted the East Asia Summit, in which both China and the US are members (with Beijing represented by Prime Minister Li Keqiang).

Interestingly, Beijing saw the revival of APEC as a major platform for regional economic integration — led by China. APEC has actually been the vehicle for trade liberalisation in the Asia-Pacific region since it was formed in 1989. Indeed, the FTAAP is not a Chinese idea, as Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong made clear, but an APEC vision conceived in 2004 with its end-goal being a huge Asia-Pacific free-trade area.

But APEC lost its shine over time when no clear big-power champion emerged with the visionary leadership and commitment of then US President Bill Clinton, who hosted the first summit in Seattle in 1993.

During APEC’s downtime years, ASEAN fell back on its own trade liberalisation process, the Asean Free Trade Area (AFTA), and preached the message of trade liberalisation to the wider region. Two major platforms then emerged: One was the TPP, for which the US took leadership, with the exclusion of China. The other was the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), an outgrowth of the Asean Plus Three Summit comprising the association’s three North-east Asian trading partners, China, Japan and South Korea, as well as Australia, India and New Zealand.

China easily dominates the RCEP and insists that it be an East Asian platform — meaning it has no room for the US. This is partly the reason the US is eager to have the TPP as the key pathway to reach the FTAAP.

While the RCEP and the TPP evolve as competing platforms, both China and the US have, of late, downplayed this rivalry. This is just as well for Asean, whose members are divided between support for the RCEP and for the TPP. Only four of the 10 Asean members — Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam — are currently involved in the TPP negotiations, which demand a higher standard of trade liberalisation. The RCEP, on the other hand, sits better with many Asean members, virtually all of which benefit from huge trade with China.

The Asean dilemma

Apec 2014 China_ASEAN NUMBERSBut while Asean as a whole values China as a close economic partner, the group is also wary about Beijing as a security threat. This has resulted in a two-dimensional relationship — a duality, as some have called it — that Asean has with China: A growing economic relationship paradoxically matched by increasing political tension caused by Beijing’s aggressive claims to parts of the South China Sea.

How this two-dimensional relationship could be managed provided the backdrop for the Asean Summit this week in Myanmar and the East Asia Summit.

By stepping on the accelerator towards the FTAAP, China has virtually also quickened the pace of Asean’s own economic and political integration. The goal of an Asean Community — including a fully-integrated Asean Economic Community by December 31 next year — cannot be further delayed. At the moment, 80 per cent of its integration targets have been realised, with the remaining “hard part” set to be tackled after 2015.

But surely, the next lap cannot be only about tackling the unfinished business. If Asean Community 2015 is yet another pathway to the FTAAP, what is the vision of Asean after next year? This is where the group’s leaders must put on their thinking caps and collectively forge a road map to a new Asean that is a global player firmly situated in the 21st century.

This new vision must take into account the rapidly evolving economic and security architecture in the Asia-Pacific region. As displayed in Beijing this week, it will be a future in which China will not be shy to assert its economic leadership — in the same way it has staked its political dominance in the region.

As Asean leaders were convening for their summit in Naypyidaw, US President Barack Obama and Mr Xi in Beijing attempted to reforge the strategic relationship between the US and China, probing each other for a new calculus. Their major bilateral agreement on climate change was achieved in this context. But Mr Obama is a lame-duck President on his way out, while Mr Xi, who is only two years in office, will be around for a full decade to lead a rising superpower.

Asean’s dilemma is this: It appreciates the increasingly prosperous relationship that is blossoming with China under Mr Xi. Yet, Asean knows it is also entering a potentially tense future with Beijing under a leader who is prepared to flex China’s muscles — as seen in the resulting volatility regarding the South China Sea. Curiously, the tensions over the territorial disputes cooled down somewhat during the busy summit period.

Will Asean remain a mere bystander, watching from the wings as the power game continues to unfold between the two giants? Or will Asean do something to secure its pivotal position so it can shape the future regional balance in its favour? This key question must have preoccupied Asean leaders in Naypyidaw. ― Today

By Yang Razali Kassim, a senior fellow at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University.

Apec leaders all for free trade framework

BEIJING: The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Economic Leaders’ Meeting hosted by China endorsed the Beijing Roadmap for Apec to promote and realise the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP).

The roadmap details actions to be taken to achieve FTAAP – a trade liberalisation framework that China had pushed for – and includes undertaking a collective strategic study with results to be reported by 2016.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, during the summit held by the Yanqi Lake in the Huairou district, expressed Malaysia’s support on the roadmap.

“Malaysia sees the FTAAP as a natural progression for an overall trade arrangement across all economies in the region.

“What we have on the table now, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership and Pacific Alliance, are building blocks towards the larger FTAAP,” he said.

Najib also called on Apec members to find a way out of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) impasse and place the Bali decisions back on track.

It was reported that an impasse over a global pact hammered out in Bali last December to streamline Customs procedures had paralysed all negotiations in the WTO.

“If we do not find a way out of the impasse, it means that the WTO can no longer hold sway as a rule-making entity,” said Najib yesterday.

The Apec summit, attended by heads of states from 21 Pacific Rim economies, also adopted a Connec­tivity Blueprint to promote integration through physical, institutional and people-to-people connectivity.

Najib told Malaysian reporters here that Malaysia could play a role in enhancing connectivity in the Asia-Pacific region, citing bilateral projects such as the Malaysia-Singapore high-speed rail project as an example.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang had reportedly expressed China’s interest to help build the rail link during his meeting with Najib on Monday.

Commenting on this, Najib said it was a bilateral project between Malaysia and Singapore and both countries would call for international tenders.

Najib also said Malaysia welcomed the blueprint on connectivity and commended China for initiating the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

He left Beijing yesterday evening.

Commenting on the visit, Tan Sri Ong Ka Ting, who is the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy to China, said mutual trust between China and Malaysia was growing stronger, judging from Najib’s bilateral meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Li in the Chinese capital.

“Najib was given special treatment. At China’s initiatives, he met both Xi and Li on the sidelines of the Apec summit,” Ong noted.

He added that Xi called for mutual support as China strived to realise the Chinese Dream and Malaysia the goal of becoming a high-income nation by 2020.

By Tho Xin Yin The Star/Asia News Network

 

ASEAN SUMMIT: China pushes for code at South China Sea

 

Asean 214 plus Three

Standing united: Najib (fifth from right) posing for photographs with Thein Sein (centre) and other Asean leaders during the closing of the 25th Asean Summit at the Myanmar International Convention Centre.

Beijing pledges US$20b in loans to boost Southeast Asian connectivity

China will push for the implementation of a code of conduct for the South China Sea – a document that will lessen the risk of escalating tensions in the area-but experts said such an agreement faces obstacles, at least in the short term.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang reaffirmed China’s resolve to safeguard territorial sovereignty at a series of three regional meetings in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar, on Thursday, saying the country is willing to adhere to the code, which has been under discussion for more than a decade.

Leaders from the Philippines and Vietnam, countries that have seen maritime tensions with China rise, also attended the meetings.

“China and Southeast Asian countries are close neighbours with common interests and diversified concerns. It is inevitable-not strange at all-that differences emerge among us, but those differences will not affect the general stability in the South China Sea,” Li said at the East Asia summit.

“I believe that as long as we treat each other with sincerity and seek common ground while acknowledging differences, there will be no insurmountable obstacles that will stand in our way,” Li said.

Li said China’s policy of building partnerships with its neighbours is sincere and consistent, and the situation in the South China Sea has been stable as freedom and safety of navigation is ensured.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi said last year that the code should reflect “consensus through negotiations” and “elimination of interference”, indicating that maritime issues should be left to the parties directly involved to sort out through dialogue.

The declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea was signed in 2002, in which all signatories agreed to work out a code of conduct to guide future activities in the region. But limited progress has been made in drafting the code since then.

In a bid to reach long-lasting peace in the region, Li pledged to speed up negotiations on a cooperation treaty.

China also agreed to establish a hotline for joint search and rescue efforts at sea as well as a hotline for senior officials.

Wu Shicun, president of the National Institute for South China Sea Studies, said the negotiation of the code has gone on for more than 10 years because of different opinions regarding how the document will be drafted and whether it will allow third-party intervention.

Lu Jianren, the chief researcher of Sino-Asean relations at Guangxi University, said the importance of the code lies in the fact that it rules out the use of military force as a means to resolve issues and that no party is allowed to take further action to escalate tension.

Economic ties

Also at Thursday’s summit, China promised more loans and economic aid to Southeast Asia.

China will provide $10 billion in preferential loans to Asean countries and another development loan of $10 billion specifically for infrastructure.

China also started on projects for the second phase of the China-Asean Investment Cooperation Fund, which totals $3 billion.

Engineers have begun preliminary work on a rail network, which will start in Kunming, Yunnan province, and connect Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore.

Kavi Chongkittavorn, senior fellow at the Institute of Security and International Study in Thailand, said China and Asean were forging ever closer ties and despite differences there are areas of growing cooperation.

“Economic opportunities exist for each party,” he said.

8 million more houses needed in Malaysia


Houses needed_alantongtoonPDF

MY attention was captured by a news entitled “The only place where housing is easily affordable” when reading The Times, a UK paper recently.

While I had expected some light on affordable housing solutions, I was surprised to find out that Copeland is the only area in England where house prices are less than three times the average annual salary of its residents.

According to the same article that quoted a research by UK Trade Union Congress (TUC), the number of “easily affordable” local authority areas across England has fallen from 72 to just one over the last 16 years. In prime areas, house prices reach as high as 32 times the average earnings of their residents.

Frances O’ Grady, the General Secretary of TUC which represents 6.2 million working people in the UK, called for an “ambitious programme” to bring the prices of homebuilding under control.

This resonates with the earlier comments made by the governor of the Bank of England (BoE) Mark Carney who said in May that the only long-term way to effectively bring down home prices is to build more homes.

In the UK, 63.8 million people lived in 26.4 million homes in 2012. This works out to about 2.4 persons per house.

There were calls for more homes even with such healthy ratio. Australia, which has a population of 21.5 million in 2013, has 9.1 million occupied houses or 2.4 persons per house.

At the recent World Class Sustainable Cities 2014 Conference, Kerry Doss from Brisbane City Council showed a slide presentation of persons per household over the past century.

As far back as 1927, Australia was already four persons per household. These made me reflect on the situation of our home country, especially since we too aspire to be a developed nation.

According to National Property Information Centre (NAPIC), we have a total of 4.7 million homes in the fourth quarter of 2013. As NAPIC does not track rural homes, we assume that only urbanites were taken into account in the survey.

This accounts for 70% of our 30 million population or 21 million people. Therefore, on average, there are 4.4 to 6.4 persons per household in our country.

This is a poorer ratio compared with Australia in 1927. This means we need to build four million to 7.8 million more houses to match the same ratio as the UK or Australia.

While we are aware that the Government aims to build one million affordable homes over a five-year timeline since last year, we still have quite a fair bit to catch up.

This is because we have only managed to build about 73,000 residential units per year for the last three years.

Under Budget 2015, it is encouraging to note that the Government plans to build 80,000 units under PR1MA and 63,000 units under another housing programme. This will bring the total planned units to 143,000. This figure is still way too low and the Government should consider building at least 200,000 units a year to meet the vision of one million affordable homes.

There should be a constant effort to track the progress of home-building. It is important to realise the goal of housing the nation by ensuring yearly targets are met.

Some of the measures that the Government can consider were recommended in my earlier articles.

They included freeing up state land for housing, purchasing agriculture land for development, building houses in rural areas and connecting them to the cities via public transports, as well as expediting the approval process to supply more houses to the market.

In addition to supplying more affordable homes to bring down prices of homes, there are also other factors to ensure that the rakyat have a roof over their heads.

In the same-mentioned article in The Times, Frances O’ Grady commented that, “Housing affordability isn’t just about house prices; decent wages are just as important.” I think it makes good sense and generates more food for thought for our nation.

By DATUK ALAN TONG

FIABCI Asia-Pacific regional secretariat chairman Datuk Alan Tong has over 50 years of experience in property development. He is also the group chairman of Bukit Kiara Properties. For feedback, please email feedback@fiabci-asiapacific.com


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