Barking up the wrong tree !!


Malaysia’s problem isn’t Bahasa Malaysia but English, and it is incredible that so many of us have refused to acknowledge this or even want to address it.

Barking at wrong tree_EducationTHERE have been so many silly remarks and statements by some Malaysian politicians and one-man show non-governmental organisations that it is becoming impossible to keep track of their comedy acts.

There is a saying: “There are people who are only good at making the news but cannot make a difference to the wellbeing of society.”

Well, in Malaysia, there are certainly many of them.

Last week, Johor state assemblyman Datuk Dr Shahruddin Salleh suggested that students who fail to master the national language be stripped of their citizen­ship. Yes, revoke, lucut, tarik balik, batal!

The Barisan Nasional representative for Jorak alleged that many students were not able to master the language, and this was even prevalent among the Malays. He didn’t say how many. Like one, 10, 20, hundreds or thousands, but was quoted as saying “many”.

“Even my own neighbour, whose father and mother are Malays, but because their child goes to international school, the child is unable to converse in Malay,” he said, adding that students were now more interested in mastering English and do not take the learning of Malay seriously.

The situation was prevalent in the vernacular schools, he added, because the use of Mandarin and Tamil made the students weak in the Malay language, which was further compounded by the fact that many of the teachers there are also not well-versed in Malay.

We’d like to think that Dr Shahruddin has a sense of humour but, seriously, what does he really mean when he said students who do not master the Malay language should be stripped of their citizenship?

How does one define mastery at the school level? Is it by the grades they score at the public examinations, like the UPSR, PMR or SPM? We know that these are just examination grades. A student can score a distinction or even fail miserably, but that in itself does not reflect his language proficiency in the real world.

To take an extreme example, some foreign workers who are in the country for just a few months can speak like a Malay, but do you think they will be able to pass the BM paper at SPM level? Or that they should therefore be accorded citizenship because they have mastered our national language?

We are not sure if Dr Shahruddin is having a bad patch with his neighbours because I do not think that his neighbours, who would have read his remarks by now, would be amused.

The reality is that there are many Malay households where English is prominently used because of a variety of reasons.

The children of diplomats, for example, because they are schooled in international schools, will definitely be more comfortable in English.

What about the children of politicians, especially those who send their children for better education overseas and then make a lot of noise about our local education system?

The assemblyman may want to project his nationalistic credentials ahead of his party general assembly, and he has conveniently used his whip at English and, of course, vernacular schools, the current flavour of the month.

There are enough statistics to show that many of our students and teachers are struggling with English in schools, especially those in the rural areas. Just Google.

The Malaysian Employers Federation secretary Datuk Shamsudin Bardan reportedly said that a survey a few years ago among its members found that 60% of them identified low English proficiency as the main problem with young recruits.

A similar survey in September last year by online recruitment agency

JobStreet.com found that 55% of senior managers and companies considered poor command of the English language among graduates to be the main reason for their difficulty in finding employment.

Sabah Tourism, Environment and Culture Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun had said that 70% of Malaysian graduates are having a hard time finding jobs in the private sector due to poor command of English.

Citing his past work experience with a multinational company in peninsular Malaysia, Masidi said 70% of those interviewed did not make it through to the second round as they could not converse well in English.

Second Education Minister Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh had said that about two-thirds of English Language teachers in the country have been classified as “incapable” or “unfit” to teach the subject in schools. These teachers, he said, have been sent for courses to improve their proficiency in the language.

It has also been reported that about 70% of the 60,000 English Language teachers who sat for the English Language Cambridge Placement Test performed poorly.

Granted that there are students who fare badly in Bahasa Malaysia, but we do not think the numbers are big. Instead of making such a generalisation, we expect the Jorak assemblyman to back up his claim with more substantial findings and figures.

Neither has he been able to support this pathetic claim that “the use of Mandarin and Tamil by teachers in vernacular schools is another reason for students being weak in Malay, adding that the teachers are also not well-versed in Malay.”

Our real problem isn’t Bahasa Malaysia but English. It is incredible that so many of us have refused to acknowledge this problem or even want to address it, lacking the political will, unfortunately.

There is no point in deceiving ourselves by allowing our children to easily pass the English tests in schools and in public examinations.

There may be a huge number of students scoring distinctions in English at the SPM level but their real ability is revealed when they enter tertiary education and, later, the working world.

The MEF’s Shamsudin told a news portal in April that there are those with As and Bs in English at the SPM level who cannot even hold a conversation in English.

“Which is why we were excited when the government decided to teach Mathematics and Science in English (PPSMI), as we felt this could boost their command of English. Unfortunately, it was cancelled after seven years when we should have allowed it to continue for 14 to 15 years to see the results.

“The inability to converse and understand English (among young school-leavers) is a constant complaint among our members,” said Shamsudin. The MEF has 4,800 direct members and 21 affiliated trade associations.

In the end, it will be the rural students who will suffer the most. These are the very people that our elected representatives claim to represent and fight for their rights and interests.

Do we need to check how many of our Honourable Members are sending their children to private and international schools even as they wax eloquence about the importance of the national schools?

Actually, we should all be concerned about proficiency in English, an issue that has also been recently taken up by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, who can see the value of the English language without undermining the stature of the national language.

As Dr Mahathir rightly pointed out, the rich go to private schools while the poor go to national schools at home, adding that “I must confess that although my children all went to national schools, my grandchildren all go to private schools in the country and abroad. They do speak the national language but their kind of schooling widens the gap between races as well as between the rich and the poor.”

Well, it looks like the only thing that we have fared consistently well in is the comic relief provided by some of our politicians. And we can be sure the curtains will never come down on these comedians as they continue to seek out non-issues to put themselves in the spotlight.

The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.

By Wong Chun Wai on the beat focus

Wong Chun Wai began his career as a journalist in Penang, and has served The Star for over 27 years in various capacities and roles. He is now the group’s managing director/chief executive officer and formerly the group chief editor.

On The Beat made its debut on Feb 23 1997 and Chun Wai has penned the column weekly without a break, except for the occasional press holiday when the paper was not published. In May 2011, a compilation of selected articles of On The Beat was published as a book and launched in conjunction with his 50th birthday. Chun Wai also comments on current issues in The Star.

 

Malaysian Chinese National-type Schools

Bark-Up-The-Wrong-Tree_Bad relationship

DON’T bark up the wrong tree. That is the message many would like to convey to Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Razali Ibrahim who has opposed the approval for building new Chinese national-type schools (SJKC).

The deputy minister was quoted as saying, “As long as approval is given, the relationship between the different races shall be further deteriorate, and shall be like throwing a spanner into the works of nurturing national harmony.”

This is clearly a statement made without having researched the functions of SJKCs in fostering mutual understanding between the races. For the record, Chinese national-type primary schools (SRJK) have more non-Chinese students than boarding schools and religious schools have non-Malay students.

There are at present approximately 80,000 Malay students in the so-called “unity-harming” SJKCs. Thus, I humbly ask Datuk Razali if the opinions of parents of these Malay students have been sought.

These parents appear to be sending their children to Chinese national-type schools not to “de-Malaysian-ise” them but to Malaysian-ise them.

In Malaysia, it common knowledge that most Malays are fluent in just two languages, namely English and Bahasa Malaysia while, most Chinese and Indians know at least three languages. Knowing one more language certainly gives children a cutting edge.

There is also, at present, growing pessimism over the way education in national schools is handled. Teaching science and mathematics in English which reverted to the teaching science and mathematics in Bahasa Malaysia as well as the ever-changing format of national level examinations are just a few areas of concern.

There is also the perception that certain races are favoured by the national school system. It is due to this perception that many, who want a level-playing field, choose the Chinese national-type school system.

Furthermore, perhaps China’s emergence as a world political and economic power has persuaded pragmatic Malay and Indian parents to try to get their children to learn Mandarin, the second most widely spoken language in the world after English.

How exactly do Chinese national-type schools affect national unity?

Children in Chinese schools still sing Negaraku. Bahasa Malaysia is still being taught there. There is no difference in syllabus taught in national schools. In fact, all children in Chinese schools are taught to love and respect Malaysia.

So Datuk Razali, I humbly ask just what are the problems which affect national unity?

SJKCs schools have been around for decades, so why is the question of unity being brought up?

In my opinion, educators who use words like “pendatang” and tell students to “balik Cina” and “balik India’ are the real threats racial harmony.

I believe that racial harmony has actually been disrupted due to political figures who’ve made use of race as propaganda to score political points and win votes. The exaggeration of petty issues and the manipulation of these issues via social media have made these politicians heroes in the eyes of supporters. However, what it has really done is instil hatred among the races.

If, and it’s a big if, Chinese national-type schools do contribute to disharmony, the better option would be for the Education Ministry to form a special taskforce, and conduct periodic audits of the schools and their syllabuses. That would be better than denying parents an option with regard where they wish to educate their children.

Eye of the Tiger by by mike chong yew chuan

Mike Chong Yew Chuan is Press Secretary to Minister in the Prime
Minister’s Department YB Datuk Dr. Ir. Wee Ka Siong. He is also
currently MCA National Youth BN Youth Affairs Bureau Deputy Chairman.

It’s not news if it’s good, the Western news


The success story of regional integration in Latin America today is seldom heard elsewhere in the world, even as people there experience it daily.

LATIN America has been experiencing a progressive, historic but silent revolution for 10 years now. However, few people in the rest of the world seem aware of it.

The silence is not because these countries had sought to avoid world attention. Rather, the international media dominated by Western news agencies seem to have other priorities.

Often enough significant events and key issues are neglected, bypassed by the saucy, the sensational and the scandalous – all that glitters is not gold, much that matters may never be told.
CNBC
Without exception, Western news agencies have doggedly promoted the so-called Arab Spring to the point of tedium.

The standard bogeymen of Western storytelling – Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi, Bashar Assad – are going or gone, so jubilation in Occidental newsrooms may be expected. But there should be limits and other (news) priorities too.

Elsewhere, countries that succeed outside Western norms, dictates and development models may seem unimportant or “politically incorrect”. So they are routinely ignored or underrated.

Worse, the changes said to be wrought by “Arab Spring” uprisings are said to be positive when the exact opposite is happening.

In virtually all these countries, living conditions have deteriorated rather than improved.

But the nine countries of Latin America and the Caribbean that came together in 2004 as the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (Alba) have been making great strides in every critical area of national development.

Antigua and Barbuda, Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Venezuela have raised standards of living for their people in social, economic and political terms.

Standards in housing, health care, education and employment have risen. These countries have also scored a high 0.721 in the UN Human Development Index, which measures national achievements beyond economic growth and material development.

On Dec 14, 2004, Venezuela and Cuba signed the joint declaration for the establishment of Alba. The alliance is based on humanist principles that place the citizen rather than the state or the corporation at the centre of national policymaking.

This people-centred alliance soon attracted the interest of other countries. Next to join were Bolivia, then Nicaragua, and Dominica, with Ecuador, Antigua and Barbuda as well as St Vincent and the Grenadines joining together – followed by St Lucia.

Grenada and St Kitts and Nevis will be the next members. Other countries attending Alba summits as Participants are Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Paraguay, St Kitts and Nevis, and Uruguay.

With a proud record of a decade’s achievements under its belt, Alba marked the passage of its first decade at a forum in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday.

Ambassador Lourdes Puma Puma of Ecuador explained Alba’s background and objectives, including the use of the Sucre (Unified System for Regional Compensation) as a virtual currency in trade among member nations.

There is also a Bank of Alba with regional integration as its core purpose. The bank encourages and offers financial support for projects that promote the social development of all the peoples of the continent regardless of race, religion, politics or other background.

The areas that Alba covers in promoting regional integration are comprehensive and ambitious. There are medical schools and a health sciences university with scholarships, and a pharmaceutical company and a drugs regulatory centre with free access to medication.

There are plans for a new financial architecture and an emphasis on science and technology, without neglecting the arts.

There are also awards and scholarships for literature, culture, research and cinematography.

Alba is also working with the People’s Trade Agreement that lobbies for the social, cultural and environmental rights of the region’s peoples. It also works with Petrocaribe, an alliance of nations over oil purchases, as well as Mercosur, a regional customs union for advancing free trade and the movement of goods, people and currency.

The guest speaker at the Kuala Lumpur forum was Dr Chandra Muzaffar, president of the Interna­tional Movement for a Just World.

Dr Chandra identified the significant distinction between Alba and other regional organisations in the way it places priority on the human being, the individual person, in public policymaking.

This humanist aspect of a caring regional society that Alba seeks to build is widely cherished by the national leaders of its member countries. And despite a priority on economic development, Alba is also conscious of environmental needs and emphasises sustainable development.

In pursuing technology, Alba also seeks independence of telecommunications content in programming. Telecoms and broadcasting community services will also be provided to rural and other marginal areas.

Despite their achievements, Alba countries are still developing nations with much to do to achieve full development status. In the meantime basic needs have not been forgotten, with a food fund that has cut malnourishment to under 5% in four Alba countries and eliminated illiteracy in five countries.

More broadly, Alba seeks a more multipolar world that avoids war as a matter of policy. It much prefers human development that addresses the real needs of real people, particularly the most disadvantaged members of society.

Alba is named after the great 18th-19th century Venezuelan leader and liberator Simon Bolivar, hailed as a Latin American independence hero and a regional beacon of progress and development.

Bolivar is the only person in history to have two countries named after him: Bolivia, and the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

Bolivar’s goals for Venezuela and its neighbouring countries labouring under the Spanish colonial yoke may be summed up in four basic priorities: a popular and participatory democracy for the people, economic independence for real development, fairer wealth distribution and elimination of corruption.

In the Latin America of his time, Bolivar led territories that included Bolivia, Colombia (then including Panama), Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela. As a political and military leader he fought many private and public battles against slavery and for the liberation of his people.

Bolivar died in 1830 at the age of 47. He had paved the way for democracy in many countries in Latin America, but much else remains to be done.

After an era of cruel dictatorships, Latin America is again ready to embrace its history of decency and human achievement. But obstacles remain in the way of Alba countries, particularly when they seek their own way to development.

They prefer a more direct way that impacts positively on the people, particularly the most vulnerable in society such as the poor and the weak. Thus they avoid the customary assistance from powerful transnational institutions that comes with strings, cables and levers attached.

And yet when the UN established the Bretton Woods aid organisations the World Bank and the IMF, they were also supposed to help the poorest without encumbering them. But a problem with institutions is that their practices become institutionalised and worse.

Alba has been established with much goodwill and its achievements have been impressive.

Alba countries deserve support and admiration for their record so far, and encouragement on their promise.

Alba emerged from Venezuela’s rejection of the proposed Free Trade Area for the Americas, which would heighten inequality by enhancing the power of transnational corporations at the expense of the poor.

Neither the World Bank nor the IMF may want to call Alba’s achievements a “miracle”, but they are miraculous nonetheless.

Holding court: Chinese President Xi Jinping's (centre, right) meeting with members of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Some have argued that anxieties about China's dominance of the new bank would be dispelled with more founding members. - EPARelated article:

Sound policies require maturity – The Star Online

 Oct 26, 2014 – When major international policies are based on short-sighted self-interests and emotive impulses, problems are never far away.

Behind The Headlines By Bunn Narara

Bunn Nagara is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia. The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.

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Crude oil prices fall: subsidy needless, ringgit weaken, fiscal health affected


Oil_Petronas

Malaysia’s iconic Twin Towers are seen in the background of the Malaysian oil and gas company Petronas logo at a petrol station in Kuala Lumpur

DESPITE the geopolitical uncertainties in recent months – Islamic State of Iraq terrorism, Russian-Ukraine tension,Israel-Gaza conflict – Brent crude oil price has fallen to a new four-year low on Nov 13 at US$77.9 per barrel.

This is a significant drop from the average price of US$112 per barrel in June 2014. The floor price support is still not yet in sight and the downward spiral of prices seems likely to persist into 2015.

The key factors contributing to the recent drop in prices are large crude oil supply from American shale oil production, weakening demand from a subdued global economic growth outlook and also a stronger US dollar in the recent months.

Malaysia’s economy is very much dependent on the oil and gas sector. From the federal government budget revenue to the country’s exports of crude oil and petroleum products, the issue of falling crude oil prices warrants a closer inspection.

Government estimates gone awry

The Government’s projection of its fiscal position and overall economy in Budget 2015 is based on the assumption that the average Brent crude oil price would be US$105 per barrel in 2014 and US$100 per barrel in 2015. Given the substantial differences from the current market prices, the Government’s projections may no longer be in sync with the economic reality.

Budget net loss from oil prices downtrend

One notable impact of falling crude oil prices is on the government’s budget finances. On one hand, the oil and gas sector has been contributing a third to the government’s budget revenue since 2005. At the same time, the Government spends a substantial amount of its operating expenditure on fuel subsidies – an estimated of 8.5% of budget operating expenditure in 2014. Therefore, sliding crude oil prices is a double-edge sword to the country’s fiscal health.

To put the issue in perspective, the estimated budget revenue contribution from the oil and gas sector is around 6% of gross domestic product (GDP)in recent years while fuel subsidy costs the government around 1.7% of GDP in 2014. As such, the impact of lower budget revenue will outweigh expenditure savings from lower fuel subsidy cost.

Therefore, if the current blanket fuel subsidy mechanism is left status quo in light of falling crude oil prices, the circumstances would risk our nation’s fiscal deficit targets. Keep in mind that the government has committed to reduce the current fiscal deficit to GDP estimate of 3.5% in 2014 to 3% in 2015 and ultimately achieve a balanced budget by 2020.

Timely goods and services tax

No doubt the heavy dependency on the volatile oil and gas sector for budget revenue is beginning to show signs of cracks. The issue is even more pressing now that budget revenue is squeezed from falling crude oil prices.

Therefore, the broad-based goods and services tax (GST), which will enhance tax revenue collection, is considered timely at this juncture. However, the implementation of GST is only part of the long term solution to fiscal sustainability. The government must also look into the expenditure side of the budget finance to manage its fiscal prudence.

New subsidy mechanism or market prices?
Based on the current crude oil prices, the government is only subsidising RM0.13 per litre for RON95 and RM0.12 per litre for diesel in November, compared to RM0.47 per litre subsidy for RON95 and RM0.59 per litre subsidy for diesel in September – before the October RM0.20 per litre fuel price hike.

According to the Finance Ministry, if global crude oil prices fall to a low of between US$70 and US$75 per barrel, the Government would not be providing any subsidy for fuel at the current fixed price of RM2.30 per litre for RON95 and RM2.20 per litre for diesel.

Since the market pump prices are approaching a level that would require no subsidy at all, there is an urgent concern to review the sustainability of the current blanket fuel subsidy approach.Although the government has proposed to initiate a new targeted fuel subsidy rationalisation programme based on individual income thresholds, the circumstances demand a review of subsidy provisions.

Ultimately, fuel subsidy is not sustainable in the long run. Whether the government initiates a tiered fuel subsidy provision or not, the reality is that fuel subsidy should not be entrenched indefinitely.

To plan ahead for fiscal prudence, the government’s initiative to move towards a managed float pump prices is appropriate at this juncture.

When global crude oil prices are depressed, consumers would certainly rejoice. However, when there is a reversal of crude oil prices, the government could then step in to provide targeted assistance to the low-income households. As the government would be sensitive to the impact of rising cost to the low-income group, savings from fuel subsidy expenditure could be channelled to the targeted needy households.

The Bantuan Rakyat 1Malaysia (BR1M) provisions for eligible households and single individuals amount to around RM4.9bil in 2015, benefitting around 7 million recipients. Therefore, the low-income group has already been identified through the BR1M database. The government can consider to top up on BR1M with a supplementary monetary provisions equivalent to a cost of living allowance to compensate for the upside volatility of market fuel prices.

If the government would consider providing an additional RM250 to its BR1M provision for each eligible households and single individuals as the supplementary allowance, total BR1M payment for eligible recipients in 2015 would amount to around RM6.7bil.

Therefore, from the perspective of fiscal management, doing away with fuel subsidies would greatly assist the government to meet its fiscal objectives. From Budget 2015, the Government has allocated around RM37.7bil for subsidy expenditures. Based on historical trend, around 55% of total subsidy allocated is for fuel subsidies.

If the government considers abolishing subsidies for fuel in 2015, it could save up to RM20.7bil from the operating expenditure. Given that the projected fiscal deficit is around RM35.7bil for 2015, the savings from fuel subsidy will assist the government to meet its fiscal deficit targets. Furthermore, the government can also save billions of ringgit for money not spent on upgrading petrol pumps to accommodate the proposed tiered fuel subsidy mechanism.

As long as the provision for the additional supplementary allowance to BR1M does not exceed the savings from fuel subsidy expenditure, subsidies would be channelled to the targeted group while narrowing the fiscal deficit along the way.The cost of living allowance can be claimed through the BR1M distribution channel. This will assist the government to meet its fiscal deficit to GDP targets.

One way or another, it is still monetary subsidy provisions by the government. However, a more targeted approach to distributing provisions and also doing away with the heavy dependency on subsidies are the right approach moving forward not only for the fiscal health but also to the fundamental competitiveness of the economy.

By Manokaran Mottain, chief economist at Alliance Bank Malaysia Bhd.

Ringgit Falls for Sixth Week in Longest Stretch This Year on Oil

Malaysia’s ringgit fell for a sixth week, the longest losing streak this year, as a slump in crude oil prices threatens to crimp government revenue in a nation that’s a net exporter of the fuel.

The ringgit is Southeast Asia’s worst-performing currency in the second half as Brent crude lost 29 percent since the end of June. Oil-related industries account for 30 percent of government revenue. While a weaker exchange rate helps lower export prices it makes imports more expensive. A report today showed inflation quickened to 2.8 percent in October from a year earlier, compared with 2.6 percent the previous month.

“The drop in commodity prices, especially crude oil, is to be blamed for the ringgit weakness,” said Wong Chee Seng, a foreign-exchange strategist at AmBank Group in Kuala Lumpur. “The fact that the ringgit is a high-beta currency also didn’t help,” he said, referring to a measure of volatility.

The ringgit depreciated 0.3 percent from Nov. 14 to 3.3555 per dollar in Kuala Lumpur, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. It touched 3.3681 yesterday, the weakest level since March 2010, and has lost 4.3 percent since June 30.

One-month implied volatility, a measure of expected moves in the exchange rate used to price options and a gauge of risk, increased 16 basis points, or 0.16 percentage point, to 7.15 percent this week.

Subsidy Announcement

The ringgit led gains among Asian currencies today, rising 0.3 percent, after the government said in a statement that it will remove subsidies for fuel and diesel from Dec. 1 and as Brent rebounded.

“The ringgit strengthened today because of the increase in crude oil prices,” said Saktiandi Supaat, the Singapore-based head of foreign-exchange research at Malayan Banking Bhd. “The announcement on the subsidy removal gave further support.”

Malaysia’s 10-year government notes fell for a second week. The yield on the 4.181 percent securities maturing in July 2024 rose three basis points to 3.9 percent, data compiled by Bloomberg show. The yield dropped three basis points today. – Bloomberg
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China’s revival of 600-year-old links in Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas


 Malaysia and China have great plans for a 21st century version of an ancient trade route from China that reached as far as Europe and the Americas

China Maritine Silk Road_ Asean

Maritime trade between China and other countries dates back to the Qin and Han dynasties.

Merchant ships that departed from China sailed into the South China Sea carrying silk, porcelain ware, tea and other commodities.

The ancient trade route reached as far as Europe and the Americas, forging friendships and exchanges.

Today, China has a grand vision: to revive a 21st century version of this ancient maritime corridor by inviting countries from Asia, Africa, the Americas and Europe to come on board the present-day route.

According to an article in the Asia Weekly of China Daily, an English-language newspaper, the proposed 21st century Maritime Silk Road (MSR) begins in Quanzhou in Fujian province, moves on to Guangzhou in Guangdong province and Beihai in Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, and then heads south to Hanoi, Vietnam.

Continuing south to Kuala Lumpur on the Strait of Malacca, the MSR joins Jakarta, Indonesia, crosses the Indian Ocean to Nairobi, Kenya, and then links with Colombo, Sri Lanka and Male, the Maldives.

China has taken many initiatives to promote the 21st century MSR since its president Xi Jinping first brought up the idea during his visit to Indonesia in October last year.

One of the most recent efforts was the Guangdong 21st Century Maritime Silk Road International Expo, which brought together more than 40 countries and regions to seek cooperation in the fields of economy, trade, tourism and culture.

Guangdong party secretary Hu Chunhua, during the opening ­ceremony of the expo in Dongguan, touted the 21st century MSR as a road of peace and friendship that brings about mutual cooperation and benefits.

He said Guangdong is a convenient transportation hub linking China with countries along the MSR.

“The inland provinces join the MSR and venture out to the world through Guangdong, while Guangdong is also the entry point for resources to come into China from the outside world,” he said of the strategic location of Guangdong.

In the past, Guangzhou, the capital of the southern province, was a major stop on the ancient trade route. Records show that close to 90 per cent of the merchant ships from the West docked at its Huangpu Port from 1685 to 1757.

The glory remains today, with Guangdong ranking first among all provinces in China in terms of economic output, trade volume and population.

Last year, both its gross domestic product and total imports and exports exceeded US$1 trillion.

Trade between Guangdong and Malaysia, China’s largest trading partner in Asean, stood at US$26.81 billion.

Tourism Malaysia chairman Dr Ng Yen Yen said Malaysia’s participation at the expo, the ­largest among all countries, reflected our readiness for greater collaboration and cooperation with countries along the MSR.

In her speech at a forum held ­during the expo, she said ties between both countries can be traced back to 600 years ago when Admiral Cheng Ho visited Malacca during his seven naval expeditions to the Western Ocean.

On the tourism front, Dr Ng proposed a multiple-destination cruise route along the 21st-MSR that will provide vast opportunities for multi­lateral economic cooperation.

Meanwhile, an Institute of Maritime Silk Road Tourism and Culture was established during the expo.

A collaboration between the Guangdong Tourism Board and the South China Normal University, the institute will be a platform for academic research and exchange on topics related to the Maritime Silk Road, such as tourism, culture, education and regional development.

By Tho XIn Yi The Star/Asia News Network

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  • along the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road were mostly regions with abundant…said China could strengthen the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road concept by shortening the expression to “MSR,” and promote organized structure…

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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.

Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting China 2014


Magnificent fireworks showed at APEC grand banquet
  • China needs to be at the top of the global value chain: expert

BEIJING, November 11 (People’s Daily Online) – To better adapt to interconnectivity of Asia-Pacific area, China needs to step forward to higher level in global value chains, an expert with APEC said after a high level forum.

The 2014 Beijing APEC meetings focus on interconnectivity in Asia-Pacific region, infrastructure and Free Trade Area of Asia-Pacific. According to Zhang Lijun, Director of China APEC Development Council, it is of high importance for China to have a clear conception about its role in value chains and supply chains.

To promote interconnectivity in the region is to connect Chinese economy with that of the world. “If not cooperate with supply chains, China may not have a clear mind of its economic role in the market,” said Zhang.

China has long been regarded as the workshop of the world. However, China is shifting its focus to knowledge-intensive industries as well as protection of intellectual property by changing the mode of growth. Only in this way can China realize its updated version of economy, Zhang said.

Besides, according to Zhang, the establishment of Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) is beneficial to advanced Chinese enterprises to seek fortune abroad. Zhang mentioned that China would play a major role in AIIB. Therefore, Chinese preeminence and voice in cooperation will be valued and guaranteed.

In view of the declining export, investment in foreign infrastructure provides good opportunity for China to make up losses from export, Zhang said.

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