Property gain tax won’t hurt genuine buyers


Budget 2014_RGPT

Banning DIBS is the right move

FOR many years, the National House Buyers Association (HBA) has been urging the Government to take measures to stem the steep rise in property prices to avoid a “homeless generation” as current property prices are far beyond the reach of many low and middle-income families in urban and suburban areas.This is a ticking time bomb that will result in many social problems if left unchecked.

Real Property Gains Tax (RPGT)

The announcement of the revised rate of tax on gains made in the disposal of properties, namely, the Real Property Gains Tax (RPGT), formerly known as the Anti Speculation Act, under Budget 2014 is far more superior to what had been proposed under Budget 2013 (See table above)

This is because, typically, if the property is purchased directly from the developer, it takes two years (for landed properties) and three years (for strata properties) to be completed.

Hence, under the previous RPGT, speculators could purchase properties from property developers upon their launch and then flip these properties on completion (after two years) and having to pay 10% (i.e. within the 3rd to 5th year).

It is hoped that the revised RPGT rate will deter speculators and, at the same time, not punish genuine house buyers who buy for their own stay or long-term investment. It is worth noting that buyers of residential property could seek a once-in-a-lifetime exemption from the tax.

Budget 2014 is best described as an “excellent mathematical formula” to curb the unbridled escalation of house prices, which has in the last three years skyrocketed. The Government has taken a step in the right direction with measures to slow down the steep rise in property prices due to false demand caused by excessive speculation fuelled by easy housing loans and the previously low RPGT.

Foreign purchasers to pay more

HBA applauds the move to increase the minimum price of property that can be purchased by foreigners from RM500,000 to RM1mil. Foreigners must be prevented from “snapping up” property meant for the lower and middle income.

This artificially inflates prices and creates a domino effect which can result in higher property prices across the industry. This is especially true for development corridors such as Iskandar Malaysia which has seen foreign purchasers arriving in droves and scooping up properties with their advantageous exchange rate.

Banning the Developer Interest-Bearing Scheme (DIBS) 

DIBS is popular with speculators as they pay nothing to make a profit. Their initial down-payments and deposits are sometimes factored into the purchase price by the collusive developers, and some unethical financial institutions do not even require that the developer collect the deposit that has to be paid by the so-called purchaser.

This is one of the factors which induces “bogus” house buyers (which I have written about in this column on Aug 31 entitled: Of Speculators and bogus house buyers) who merely flip the property at the right time.

Kudos to Bank Negara for heeding our call and banning DIBS. It may be worth noting that Singapore banned DIBS in 2009.

Considering the deep pockets of property speculators, the effectiveness of these measures remain to be seen. However, they are expected to make speculation unworthwhile. HBA praises the Prime Minister for putting a stop to DIBS, which is one of the reasons attributed to the steep increase in property prices for three reasons:

1. DIBS encourages speculation as the house buyer does not need to “service” any interest/instalment during the construction stage. This will “lure” and tempt many house buyers to speculate and buy into DIBS projects hoping to flip on completion and make a quick profit with little or no capital upfront. Connivingly, the interest element is “serviced” by the participating developers.

2. DIBS artificially inflates prices as all interests borne by the developer are ultimately imputed into the property price. This in turn creates a domino effect which pulls up property prices in surrounding locations.

3. Bank and financial institution staff conniving with developers using the DIBS model should be investigated on their “modus operandi” in financing those artificially inflated prices (DIBS + sales price) and ignoring guidelines on prudent lending.

Banks and financial institutions are to be prudent and only provide mortgage financing up to the fair value/market value of the property. In this respect, a benchmark of fair value or market value is the current properties available. Somehow, properties sold under DIBS are always priced much higher; 15% to 20% higher compared with those without DIBS.

For standard condominiums costing RM500,000 without DIBS, should the developer market such properties under DIBS, the selling price could be as high as RM650,000. This creates a potential property bubble should the developer default in “servicing” the interest and the borrower/purchaser also defaults. The bank would only be able to recover up to RM500,000 if the said property is auctioned at market value.

In the event of an economic downturn, banks saddled with too much DIBS end-financing could collapse as the losses from such DIBS end-financing will erode the banks’ capital.

The collapse of just one bank/financial institution could cause a systemic collapse of the entire financial industry.

Bank Negara should take action against such bank and financial institution staff who have provided both project financing and end-financing to DIBS projects under the newly-minted Financial Services Act, 2013.

With the RPGT increase, banning of the DIBS and the Government’s aspiration to supply more ‘ownership housing schemes’ at affordable pricing, it is hoped that speculative demand for properties will stabilise to a more realistic level. I have heard that many businessmen do not do business anymore but indulge in property speculation as a livelihood and for income.

It is akin to the stock market dealings that were rampant during a ‘bull run’. Certain things have to be stopped before they become worse like the sub-prime crisis in the US.

If readers were to take a drive around completed projects, they will find signboards advertising units for sale upon the delivery of keys. If the purchaser is purchasing for his own occupation, why is there this need to put up these signboards or appoint estate agents to dispose of the units? It goes to show that some purchasers are merely speculators (not investors) from day one and the banks and financial institutions choose to “close one eye” despite knowing this.

Have the banks ever gone to the ground to check whether the units purchased and financed are actually “owner occupied”? If the property is “owner occupied”, the risk rating is lower and thus, he enjoys a lower interest rate. But if it is non-owner occupied, it should have higher interest rates. Borrowers of “owner occupied” properties are normally required to make a declaration to that effect to enjoy a lower interest rate.

But does the bank participate in this booking of credit risk?

If the property is non-owner occupied, the lending will fall under ‘real estate classification’ and not ‘housing’.

So, there may even be misreporting to Bank Negara and subsequent national statistics.

This column continues next week.

- Contributed by Chang Kim Loong

CHANG KIM LOONG is the honorary secretary-general of the National House Buyers Association (www.hba.org.my), a non-profit, non-governmental organisation (NGO) manned by volunteers. He is also an NGO Councillor at the Subang Jaya Municipality Council.

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China fights corruption, Bo Xilai sentenced to life in prison


Bo's SentencedBo Xilai (sitting on the defendant’s seat), former secretary of the Chongqing Municipal Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and a former member of the CPC Central Committee Political Bureau, is sentenced to life imprisonment for bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power at the Jinan Intermediate People’s Court in Jinan City, capital of east China’s Shandong Province, Sept. 22, 2013. He was deprived of political rights for life. The court announced the verdict. (Xinhua/Xie Huanchi) 
Bo's Sentenced1Bo Xilai (C), former secretary of the Chongqing Municipal Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and a former member of the CPC Central Committee Political Bureau, is sentenced to life imprisonment for bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power, at the Jinan Intermediate People’s Court in Jinan City, capital of east China’s Shandong Province, Sept. 22, 2013. He was deprived of political rights for life. The court announced the verdict. (Xinhua/Xie Huanchi) 

Bo Xilai, former secretary of the Chongqing Municipal Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and a former member of the CPC Central Committee Political Bureau, was sentenced to life imprisonment on Sunday for bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power.

He was deprived of political rights for life, and his personal assets were also confiscated.

The Jinan Intermediate People’s Court in east China’s Shandong Province announced the verdict.

Bo was found guilty of taking bribes totaling 20.44 million yuan (about $3.3 million), either personally or through his family members, between 1999 and 2012.

Bo’s position had been rising during this period, from the mayor of the Dalian in northeast Liaoning province, to the CPC secretary of the city, to the governor of Liaoning and Commerce Minister.

In return, Bo helped Dalian International Development Co. Ltd., of which Tang Xiaolin was general manager, in taking over the Dalian City liaison office in Shenzhen and also helped Tang obtain quota licenses for importing cars, the court said.

According to court findings, Bo granted Xu Ming, chairman of Dalian Shide Group Co. Ltd., favors in the company’s introduction of a football-like sightseeing hot-air balloon and in its bid for a petrochemical project.

The court found that Bo directly accepted cash totaling 1.1 million yuan from Tang. He was aware of and showed no objection to the fact that his wife Bogu Kailai and their son, Bo Guagua, accepted monetary gains and properties worth 19.33 million yuan from Xu.

According to the verdict, Bo Xilai, while Party chief Dalian in 2000, assigned Wang Zhenggang, then urban planning chief of the city, to take charge of a project to be built by Dalian for an unidentified higher authority.

In March 2002, after the project was completed, the higher authority allocated 5 million yuan to refund the project. Wang proposed that Bo, who had moved to become the governor of Liaoning, use money to cover the expenses of his family. Bo consented and asked Wang to approach his wife Bogu Kailai for the matter.

The 5 million yuan was eventually transferred to an account designated by Bogu.

The court’s judgement said on Nov. 13, 2011, Bogu and Zhang Xiaojun murdered British citizen Neil Heywood by poisoning him at the Lucky Holiday Hotel in Chongqing. Heywood’s body was found on Nov. 15.

Guo Weiguo, then deputy police chief of Chongqing, was in charge of the Heywood case, but he failed to pursue the case to protect Bogu, the court said.

On Jan. 28, 2012, Wang Lijun, then Chongqing’s police chief and vice mayor, told Bo Xilai, then Chongqing’s Party chief and member of the CPC Central Committee Political Bureau that Bogu was the suspect.

Bo later lashed out at Wang for framing a murder accusation against Bogu, slapping Wang’s face and smashing a cup.

At the request of Bogu, Bo asked Wu Wenkang, then deputy secretary general of Chongqing’s Party committee, to launch an investigation against Wang Zhi and Wang Pengfei.

The two had been involved in the investigation of the Heywood case but had then handed over a resignation letter in order to expose the murder case.

Bo asked Chongqing’s Public Security Bureau to interrogate Wang Pengfei. Bo proposed and approved the withdrawal of the nomination of Wang Pengfei as a candidate for deputy head of Yubei District of Chongqing.

In his bid to prevent a review of the Heywood case, Bo also violated the organizational procedures and convened a Standing Committee meeting of the CPC Chongqing Municipal Committee to remove Wang Lijun from his position as Chongqing’s police chief.

After Wang Lijun’s defection to the US Consulate General in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province on Feb. 6, Bo allowed his wife to take part in official meetings to deal with the impact, and sanctioned her suggestion of asking a hospital to fake a diagnosis that Wang suffered from mental illness. Bo also approved the release of the false information that Wang was receiving a “vacation-style treatment.”

The verdict said Bo’s these actions were important reasons behind Wang’s defection and why the Heywood case was not handled in a timely and legal manner.

All these had created an extremely adverse social impact and greatly hurt the interests of the country and its people, the court said.

The court found Bo guilty of bribe-taking, in that as a public servant, he used his power to seek benefits for others and illegally took money and properties from others.

Also as a public servant, Bo took advantage of his position and embezzled public funds with other accomplices, the facts of which constituted the crime of embezzlement.

The court said Bo’s abuse of power is extremely serious and has led to huge losses to the state and the people.

The court held that there are sufficient and authentic evidences to support prosecutors’ charges against Bo: accepting bribes worth 20.44 million yuan (about $3.3 million), embezzling public funds of 5 million yuan and abusing his power.

Though Bo himself and his lawyer had denied all three charges, the court said these charges are supported by testimonies by several witnesses including Tang Xiaolin, Xu Ming, Bogu Kailai, Wang Zhenggang, Wang Lijun and others, as well as other evidence such as photographs of physical evidence, documentary evidence and electronic data.

In addition, Bo himself has also confessed to part of the facts, and his confession corroborated with those facts.

The court did, however, exclude 1.34 million yuan from the bribery accepted by Bo, saying that there are not enough evidence to support the charge that Xu Ming paid the amount in air tickets for Bogu Kailai and Bo Guagua and that Bo was aware of this.

The illicit money and goods that Bo accepted as bribes or embezzled have been recovered or compensated, the court said.

The Jinan Intermediate People’s Court said its verdict was based on the facts, the nature and the circumstances of Bo’s crimes and their harm to the society.

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China’s content-rich microblogs

Weibo brings public confidence in Bo Xilai’s trial openness; Bo contradicts wife made up evidence


Bo-xilai-mobile-microblog
A mobile phone held by the photographer shows a photo from a court’s microblog page of disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai standing trial (Reuters)

The widely watched trial of former senior official Bo Xilai was broadcast live on Weibo over the past two days, a surprise for many people at both home and abroad.

Pictures and video clips were shown. Transcripts from both the defense and prosecution were also released, including parts where Bo denied evidence presented by prosecutors.

This degree of transparency has not happened before. This will create a precedent that will bring lasting impact to the future trials of sensitive cases.

This Weibo live feed has served as an important guarantee of a fair trial for Bo in accordance with the law. The live show has addressed various doubts and rumors in and outside China. It demonstrated that the authorities are ready to receive more public scrutiny.

This is not a political trial, nor a moral one. This will only be a trial by law. Even if someone might have personal goals, before the public eye, there is no way to achieve anything in this trial, anything that is not tolerated by the law.

Besides assuring a fair trial for Bo’s case, the Weibo live feed has also convinced more people about China’s sincere desire to improve the rule of law.

For a while, the Chinese public has been complaining about injustice in constant news reports of scandals or social issues.

The open and transparent trial of Bo provided a different picture to the public, which will significantly change the image of the judicial system.

The most important thing now is to have a fair trial for Bo’s case, which will naturally boost the public’s confidence.

We have seen a very good opening of this trial, with widespread applause and support from various walks of life.

Of course, the Weibo live feed is not without risks. Breaking news about Bo’s scandal had already become a sensation. People have been expressing all kinds of opinions online, no matter how much they know of China’s legal system. Foreign media have also shown great interest in covering this.

No matter what ruling the court eventually gives, there must be some different opinions from the public. The Weibo live feed provided great details of the trial, which will only add fuel to the public discussion about this case.

The development of the rule of law needs both the judicial authorities’ hard work in each case and public support.

Major cases will not only avoid “political judgment,” but also “public opinion judgment.”

A fair trial needs to follow strict legal procedures, while under public scrutiny.

But in the end, it is the court that is responsible for giving a ruling according to the law.

Contributed by By Global Times

Bo Contradicts Wife as Chinese Media Stress Trial’s Transparency

Ousted Politburo member Bo Xilai suggested his wife made up evidence to avoid a death sentence and denied covering up a British man’s murder at a trial that state media said was proof no one’s above the law in China.

“I feel there are big discrepancies in the charges I have been accused of,” Bo said yesterday of the claim that he tried to hide his wife Gu Kailai’s involvement in Neil Heywood’s murder, according to a transcript released by the court. Gu was given a suspended death sentence last year for killing Heywood, and Bo is accused of bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power.

Bo Xilai's Wife Gu Kailai People watch a recorded testimony by Gu Kailai, wife of former Chinese Politburo member Bo Xilai, broadcast at a hotel near the Jinan Intermediate People’s Court in Jinan on Aug. 23, 2013. Photographer: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images.
Bo Xilai Is a Scapegoat in `Show Trial,' Howie Says
Aug. 22 (Bloomberg) — Fraser Howie, a director at Newedge Singapore and co-author of “Red Capitalism: The Fragile Financial Foundation of China’s Extraordinary Rise,” talks about former Politburo member Bo Xilai’s trial. Bo went on trial today for bribery and embezzlement with China’s judiciary as much in the spotlight as the man at the center of the country’s most politically charged case in 30 years. Howie speaks from Singapore with Angie Lau on Bloomberg Television’s “Asia Edge.” (Source: Bloomberg).
Bo Xilai Denied Taking Bribes
Aug. 23 (Bloomberg) –- Bloomberg’s Stephen Engle reports on the start of day two of the Bo Xilai trial on Bloomberg Television’s “First Up.” (Source: Bloomberg) .  
Lam: Trial Is a Choreographed Show
Aug. 23 (Bloomberg) –- Chinese University Of Hong Kong Adjunct Professor Willy Lam discusses the Bo Xilai trial with Rishaad Salamat on Bloomberg Television’s “On The Move Asia.” (Source: Bloomberg)

Bo, 64, mounted a defense that did an effective job of exposing gaps in the case against him, even though the Communist Party remains in control and a guilty verdict is almost certain, according toNicholas Bequelin, a Hong Kong-based researcher for Human Rights Watch. The case has broken with past political trials because the court is releasing live updates and detailed transcripts of the proceedings.

“It’s clear that the party is trying to give maximum legitimacy to the judiciary proceedings that will put an end to the Bo Xilai affair,’ Bequelin said. ‘‘But I think that the effect has been somewhat unexpected for the authorities. Bo is coming out looking pretty good.”

Party Secretary

Bo, a former commerce minister and party secretary of Chongqing municipality, was once considered a rising star in the Communist Party. His downfall in March of last year upended a once-a-decade leadership transition and shone a spotlight on corruption at the party’s highest levels.

Along with bribery and embezzlement charges that had been the focus since the trial began Aug. 22, Bo is charged with abuse of power for allegedly trying to cover up Gu’s role in Heywood’s 2011 murder. The court came to that charge yesterday, and the trial continues today.

Bo was removed as Chongqing party secretary and ousted from the Politburo last year after his former police chief in the city, Wang Lijun, fled to a U.S. consulate with evidence about his wife’s alleged involvement in Heywood’s death. Wang testified yesterday that Bo slapped him in the face when confronted with the possibility that Gu was responsible for the murder.

“My body twitched, and when he was done hitting me, he went back to sit at the table,” Wang testified yesterday. “I noticed my mouth was bleeding, and something was flowing out of my ear.”

Wang was convicted of “bending the law for selfish ends” and sentenced to 15 years in prison last year.

Central Part

Testimony by Gu has been a central part of the prosecution’s case, and included claims yesterday that Bo knew about a 5 million-yuan ($817,000) “consulting fee” given to the family by Wang Zhenggang, a former urban planning official in Dalian when Bo was the city mayor.

“I have feelings for Gu Kailai — she is a relatively weak woman,” Bo said yesterday, according to the transcript. “By telling on someone else she could soon get out of the death penalty. Who could she accuse? All the accusations against me come from Gu Kailai.”

Police cordoned off the streets around the courthouse with metal barricades and yellow plastic tape, emptying out an area about the size of two football fields in what’s normally a crowded city center. The only people on the streets nearby were police in blue uniforms, while black sedans and white vans occasionally came and went from the court building.

Bo’s testimony gave details about his life with Gu, and why she and their son, Bo Guagua, moved abroad. Guagua went to the elite British boarding school Harrow and later to Oxford University, and then graduated from Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Had Affairs

“I did have extramarital affairs — she was very angry about that,” Bo said, adding that he had no need to embezzle money because his wife had made millions of yuan as a lawyer. “So her bringing Guagua abroad was out of anger.”

In a country where the Communist Party maintains strict control of sensitive political trials, the state-run Global Times newspaper said in an editorial the decision to release updates on Weibo, Sina Corp.’s Twitter-like microblogging platform, “served as an important guarantee of a fair trial for Bo in accordance with the law.”

“This degree of transparency has not happened before,” the editorial said. “This will create a precedent that will bring lasting impact to the future trials of sensitive cases.”

The details revealed in the trial demonstrate that “no one is above the law,” the party’s flagship People’s Daily newspaper said. “In the fight against corruption we are after both flies and tigers.”

Hailed Openness

The official Xinhua News Agency said both domestic and foreign media have “hailed the openness and transparency” of the live blogging.

“The public also generally believe that this showcases the Communist Party of China’s resolve in combating corruption and that the move represents historic progress for the rule of law in China,” Xinhua said.

Allowing so much of Bo’s trial to be aired publicly is risky for the Communist Party because it may garner Bo new support from people impressed by his vigorous defense, according to Randy Peerenboom, a law professor at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. That, in turn, may backfire on Bo because the party is still in control, he said.

“If it is the case that Bo Xilai has once again wandered off-script, and the leadership is worried that his cool performance under pressure has won him new admirers, then it is possible that he will receive a much harsher punishment than originally planned,” Peerenboom wrote in an e-mail. 

- Contributed by

Wife and police chief ‘in love triangle’

The most spectacular trial that China has ever witnessed closed with its biggest shock of all as Bo Xilai revealed a tragic love affair between his wife and his city Chongqing’s police chief.

Defiant until the end of his trial on charges of corruption and abuse of power, the 64-year-old fallen leader brushed his lawyers aside to make a final oration that displayed all the bravura that made him such a magnetic figure, and caused China’s other leaders such anxiety.

Behind the biggest drama to hit China‘s Communist Party since the protests in Tiananmen Square, Mr Bo said, was a story of how Chongqing’s police chief, Wang Lijun, had fallen inexorably in love with his wife, Gu Kailai.


 Gu Kailai, wife of ousted Chinese Communist Party Politburo member Bo Xilai
When Mr Bo caught the pair, he claimed, the police chief of the city he ruled had fled his wrath, running to the safety of the United States consulate in a city 160 miles away, a treason which led to their mutual downfall.

“Wang was secretly in love with Gu Kailai for a long time,” Mr Bo told the court, adding that the police chief had declared his passion in a love letter. “In the letter it said he had always had feelings for Kailai and he could not help himself. He even slapped himself in the face eight times.”

“You are acting crazily,” Gu told her suitor, according to Mr Bo. “No, I used to be crazy, but now I am sane,” Wang allegedly replied.

   Former police chief Wang Lijun (Reuters) >>
Mr Bo said Wang had visited his home every day because he was drawn to his wife, and suggested the relationship did not go unrequited.

“They had an extremely special relationship. I was fed up with it,” said Mr Bo. “Gu Kailai even brought Wang’s shoes into my house. I told Zhang Xiaojun (an aide) to get rid of them immediately”.

But when Mr Bo uncovered the relationship, his city’s police chief knew he had made a potentially fatal mistake. “He knew my character. He hurt my family. He hurt my feelings,” Mr Bo said.

There had long been rumours in Chongqing that the previously close bond between Mr Bo and Wang was shattered when they became tangled in a love triangle.

But the allegations by Mr Bo raise new and intriguing questions about the planning of, and the motive for, the murder of Neil Heywood. Wang had previously confessed that he helped Gu plan Mr Heywood’s killing.

Mr Bo’s tale of mad passion caused an instant sensation on the Chinese internet, with one popular post suggesting that the lovers were doomed from the start: Gu was a Scorpio while Wang was a Capricorn and therefore incompatible.

Before revealing the drama in his household, Mr Bo had earlier ridiculed the prosecution’s closing statement, saying: “Even the lowest level television soap cannot have this kind of plot,” he said.

Responding to accusations that he must have been aware of the luxurious lifestyle his family was living, under his nose, Mr Bo asked: “Is Gu Kailai a civilised woman or not?

“Did she want me to love her or not? Would she have come and bothered me with these trifles every day? I was the governor of Liaoning province,” he added.

To accusations that his 25-year-old son, Guagua, spent huge sums travelling the world and carousing, Mr Bo said: “If Guagua kept asking for money for fancy watches and cars and international travel, if he wanted us to pay for his friends and owed the bank huge sums of money, would I have loved such a son?”.

Instead, Mr Bo said, his family was so frugal that he was still wore padded winter trousers that his mother had bought for him in the 1960s.

Mr Bo also repeated that much of the evidence against him had been coerced.

“All of the written confessions I signed before were made against my will,” he said, adding that he had hoped, by confessing, to win rehabilitation.

“I had a hope deep in my heart that I would not be expelled from the Party, I would keep membership and I would keep my political life.”

It was unclear whether Mr Bo’s impressive rhetoric would win him more public support, with hundreds of thousands of people reading his statement on the live-feed from court.

But it did little to help his legal case, and his lawyers even admitted that it was only after 2005, when Mr Bo was promoted to higher office, that corruption had stopped. “He woke up,” they said.

Mr Bo’s defiance may also cost him dearly, in the form of a tougher sentence.

“He not only denied crimes that have been fully backed up with solid evidence, but he also recanted his earlier testimony,” the prosecutors said. “His attitude is to refuse to confess wrongdoing… he should receive harsh punishment.”

If convicted, Mr Bo technically faces the death penalty, although a member of China’s Communist Politburo has never been executed.

As he made his final statement, perhaps the last statement he will ever make in public, Mr Bo said: “I know I am not a perfect man, I am subjective and easily angered. I have made some serious mistakes and problems. I failed to manage my family.”

The court will reconvene at a later date to reveal the verdict.

- Contributed by Malcolm Moore, Jinan  Telegraph UK

It’s not about rights or peace


There are many reasons why crimes happen, but let us not get befuddled by the view that we have to sacrifice our rights in order to live in peace.

Sungai Nibong_04 gang members killedMurder victims: Police personnel bringing out the bodies of the five men who were gunned down at an apartment in Sungai Nibong.

It is quite nice to hear the Prime Minister declare that any future development in criminal laws will not infringe upon human rights. Well, let’s hope that is true.

The thing is, by this statement there is an unsaid implication that human rights and crime are something that are somehow related. One retiree for example said that the price for more freedom is higher crime.

I wondered if this is true. After all, in our country, we respect the old, so perhaps there is some wisdom in this octogenarian’s statement.

So, I decided to poke around the information superhighway (Hah! Bet you haven’t hear that term for a while), and I chanced upon a study done by the United Nations office on drugs and crime in 2012. The study was a comprehensive survey of homicides around the world.

If greater freedom equates with greater crime (here the crime in question is murder), then we should see countries with the greatest civil liberties leading the pack. Crickey, a place like Denmark should, theoretically, be littered with dead bodies everywhere. You shouldn’t be able to walk to your corner shop to buy your poached cod or whatever is eaten in those parts, without having to step over cadavers riddled with bullet holes.

After all, they have ratified about thirty human rights treaties (including one against the death penalty); their criminals must be running around high on Carlsberg and whacking every Thor, Dag and Hagen that they come across.

But, this is not the case. They have one of the lowest murder rates in the world. 0.9 per every 100,000 people. To give that some sense of perspective, our murder rate is 2.3 per every 100,000 people. In fact, looking at the study, we see that there is simply no correlation between civil liberties and crime. The regions with the highest homicide rate tend to be those which are desperately poor.

Now this is of course a cursory amble of the Internet on my part and not some serious academic study, but it seems to me that it is very clear that to equate more human rights to more crime is simply not supported by the facts.

The reason I raise this is that we are often faced with the argument that it is one or the other. Rights or peace. This is simply not the case.

In the light of the recent spate of high profile and horrific crimes that we have faced and the police force’s “war” on gangsters, let us not get befuddled by the view that we have to sacrifice our rights in order to live in peace.

There are a myriad of reasons why crimes happen and these must be examined and studied so that any “war” on crime has to be fought on the correct “battlefield”.

For example, poverty and the vast disparity of wealth between the haves and the have not’s seem to be one of the things that the world’s most murder ridden nations have in common.

It sure as heck is not their observance of human rights principles.

So, yes, let us make all efforts to ensure that this country of ours has the least crime possible, but leave our rights (what little of them we have) well enough alone.

 Brave New World by AZMI SHAROM
Azmi Sharom (azmisharom@yahoo.co.uk) is a law teacher. The views expressed here are entirely his own.

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Texting dilutes relationships


Text
In our fast-paced world, texting is taking the place of face-to-face social encounters and devaluing our relationships. – AFP Photo
When people communicate with gadgets, rather than face-to-face; we increase the quantity, but perhaps not the quality, of our interactions.

I DON’T want to say something that is so painfully apparent that I get labelled as Captain Obvious, or even worse, as Admiral Apparent; but technology is changing the way we live.

Thank you, Ensign Evident.

Specifically, the way we socially interact is changing, and I’m not talking about our friendships on your favourite social media network. A recent study in the United States showed that more and more people are using their phones not to actually talk to anyone but to text.

The ratio of texts to phone calls was 5-1. In fact, texting is becoming the preferred method to ask someone out. That should come as no surprise, as the alternatives of the awkward phone call, or worse – the sweaty, white-knuckled face-to-face ask-out – are just terrible options; so terrible that it’s a wonder humans could even reproduce prior to the text message.

About one third of those surveyed said that they prefer to ask the person they are interested in to meet in a group setting, rather than meeting for a one-on-one traditional date.

The rationale, besides the obviousness of it being less awkward, is that if they don’t click, they will waste less time, as opposed to several hours on a date.

Which makes it seem that people are like paperbacks which should be judged by their synopsis before one commits to spend time with that person.

But why is texting becoming the way that we socially interact? It seems like the refuge of the introvert, but it’s so widespread that it can’t just be introverts who are choosing this method of communication. Extroverts – those assertive bold individuals that crave and seem to thrive off human interaction – must also be texting, even if it seems to go against their nature.

Why is this? The advantage to texting, even if you’re an extrovert, is that you engage others on your own time and pace. The great thing about texts is you can take the time to get it right, whereas in a face-to-face encounter, the right words may only come at the end of the conversation.

Also, phone calls and speaking face-to-face have the problem where you actually have to listen to the other person, you know … talk. Even that takes time.

In a text message, first off, most people won’t send you a life story via text. Secondly, if you see a message more than a sentence long, you can simply skim it, or not read it at all and fire back an emoticon.

Not sure what to say? Or didn’t even bother reading? Send that smiley with the grimace, it’s emotionally ambiguous.

If people were telling a happy story, this Swiss army knife of emoticons looks sufficiently pleasant that they’ll think you get it; if the story was tragic, it looks dissatisfied enough that they’ll think you empathise with them. Emoticons are the inauthentic, ineffectual, pre-packaged greeting cards of text messaging.

Does this mean texting is making us all into self-centered introverts? Yes it does.

There’s no other way around it. If texting takes the edge off asking people for dates and conversing, it also takes the edge off rejecting people.

It’s hard to say “no” to someone face-to-face, but over a text message, it’s easy. That’s why there’re so many confrontational people in online forums and message boards on the Internet.

How many people do you argue with in real life? And how many people do you argue with online? If you’re sucked into actually commenting on the Internet, you’ll probably end up arguing with everyone!

If texting makes it easier to interact because the weight of interaction is reduced, it also makes our relationships more fleeting. Take for instance an interaction I had the other night on Steam, a gaming platform. I logged on with a couple of friends to get some online gaming going on. One of them introduced me to a friend, and we added him to our party.

Now when I say introduced, I mean he typed “My friend wants to play”, and he then popped up on the messaging service and said, “Hi”. That was it. He was in.

One of my friends just disappeared – went AFK or “Away From Keyboard” – something that probably wouldn’t happen in real life. It’s not like we’d agree to play squash and then somebody just walked away without telling us, that would be rude. But online, it was accepted.

Then my other friend had trouble with his computer and had to reboot. I ended up playing with the friend of a friend, who I didn’t know at all, except that we’d said hello.

Now that is the great thing about the Internet and texting. We started playing and it was fine, communicating like we knew each other, polite laughter and all. Halfway through the game, I started having trouble with my connection, and thinking it might be a sign (to perhaps go off and write this article!), I exited the game without bothering to sign back in and give an explanation to my new “friend”.

I too had just walked out of the squash game with no explanation, because I knew it wouldn’t really bother the stranger I’d been playing with, and I’m sure it didn’t bother him.

Communicating via text is great, it’s easy, it puts things on our own terms. But maybe human relations were never meant to be that simple, and ultimately, relationships are reciprocal – we get out of them what we put in, and if all we put in are text messages … then that’s really all we’ll get back.

Big Smile No Teeth by JASON GODFREY
Jason Godfrey can be seen hosting The LINK on Life Inspired (Astro B.yond Ch 728).

Related post:

Technologies: Life like video games?

 

Life is not meant to be lived alone


care groupAunty is not just talking about any Tom, Dick or Harry. It’s husband material she’s looking for!
 
– Life is not meant to be lived alone. No matter how many friends and relatives you have, there is nothing like someone to grow old with.

MY daughter just changed jobs. I called her at the end of her first day to enquire how it went. She started telling me about how pleased she was with her new office and her immediate supervisor.

I couldn’t contain myself and interrupted her: “Okay good, but are there any nice guys around?”

That stopped her in mid-sentence and after a moment of silence, she sighed and said, “Oh Mum, give it up, will you?”

Yes, I was more concerned about my daughter’s dating prospects than her job prospects.

Why am I worried? Because she’s 25, single and not dating. As my friend intoned: “If they don’t meet the right guy in college or university, it will be very hard for them to do so later on.”

This may be true once but it is now debatable since women overwhelmingly make up the number of undergraduates in our public universities.

So London mayor Boris Johnson couldn’t be more wrong when he said Malaysian women were entering university in droves because “they have got to find men to marry”.

He made the quip upon hearing Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak say women make up 68% of the latest public university intake at the launch of the World Islamic Economic Forum.

And that is really the biggest obstacle to the dating-mating game – this changed power structure between men and women.

As I have said before, thanks to education, job opportunities and contraceptives, women have the means to shape and control their own destiny.

They are on the rise and taking over in many fields. I attended a meeting recently at a top local bank to discuss a project and in the room were representatives from the bank, the advertising agency, a TV station and my own media company – all women except for one chap who didn’t say a word throughout the meeting. I never found out who he is and what he was doing at the meeting.

That meeting wasn’t the only one I have attended that was dominated by women; it happens all the time.

Women are so high-achieving at a relatively young age – VPs or senior managers before they are 35 – that they are leaving the guys in the dust, both in the career and marriage stakes.

A dear friend who is very pretty, has a great personality and just turned 40 is a top manager in her company. She is single and, over coffee, she agreed that dating in the 21st century is complicated for this very reason.

Because she is able to more than provide for herself, she isn’t willing to settle for just any guy. And she doesn’t think it’s worth the effort.

And really, where have all the men gone? They can’t all be chefs or mobile phone salesmen and repairmen, can they?

According to a 2011 report, globally, attitudes to sex and marriage have changed under the pressures of wealth and modernisation.

In Western society, it has led to divorce and illegitimacy; in Asia “later marriage, less marriage and (to some extent) more divorce”.

The Economist goes on to say that in Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and Hong Kong, women were marrying later (at 29-30 years old) and more and more are simply not marrying at all. In 2010, it was found that one-third of Japanese women in their 30s were single.

Not only that: 37% of all women in Taiwan aged 30-34 were single, as were 21% of 35 to 39-year-olds.

“If women are unmarried entering their 40s, they will almost certainly neither marry nor have a child,” said the report.

It went to say that the “Asian avoidance of marriage is new, and striking” because 30 years ago, just 2% of women were single in most Asian countries. Now it’s closer to 25% among women in their 30s.

Basically, Asian women are quite content to stay single because they don’t see a lot of benefits in getting hitched. They seem to take quite well to the celibate life too. At least that’s what the Economist says.

And it shows no sign of levelling off, according to Prof Gavin W. Jones of the National University of Singapore. In an April 2013 report, he says this East Asian trend in singlehood has accelerated in Japan and South Korea over the past decade, leaving the governments “nonplussed” as to how to reverse it.

In Malaysia, the situation may not be so dire but I am anxious for my daughters (my other daughter is 22 and not dating either) who, I think, are just not trying hard enough. They would rather chill at home than party or go clubbing.

I thoroughly irritate them with my attempts at match-making but I persist. After much prodding and telling them they were getting fat and unhealthy, they both joined a gym. It hasn’t helped in getting them dates though. Maybe most of the guys who love working out are not into girls.

Why do I persist? It’s not because I have no faith in my girls to take care of themselves; they are well educated and already hold decent jobs.

It’s because I believe life is not meant to be lived alone. No matter how many friends and relatives you have, there is nothing like having someone to grow old with and to be there for you no matter what.

True, marriage may not be for everyone and it doesn’t always work out. But I want my kids to have a shot at it. Like the wife of the protagonist in the movie, Shall We Dance?, says: We need a witness to our lives. There are a billion people on the planet … I mean, what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage … You’re saying ‘Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go un-witnessed because I will be your witness.’”

Where have all the young men gone? 

SO AUNTY , SO WHAT? BY JUNE H.L.WON

> The writer confesses she would be a much better witness to her own spouse if she didn’t spend so much time at work. Feedback to junewong@thestar.com.my or tweet #JuneHLWong

The mind-set: how the rich get richer, the poor get poorer? You need more money …


The rich may get richer while the poor may get poorer, but it doesn’t have to be that way. It requires a change of mind-set.

Mindset

 

I ONCE overheard someone lament that “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer”, which made me think if indeed that statement is true.

The rich do get richer only because they have sound financial concepts required to stay rich. They focus on their net worth, working on their appreciating rather than depreciating assets.

They know how much is required to keep their lifestyle. They don’t necessarily need to be debt-free because they know what good leveraging can do to enhance their wealth. They employ financial strategies which are contrarian to common ones – taking on investment opportunities when others would stay away and having the purpose driven portfolios.

They consciously inject capital into their portfolios rather than on an ad hoc or timing basis. They know the impact of inflation on their money and insurance coverage because they review their financial life regularly. Their financial data is maintained and accessible anytime they want.

The poor do get poorer only because they continue to adopt a poverty mind-set. They focus on their expenses too much either being overly frugal or overly spendthrift.

Frugality means overprotective of your money which prevents risk-taking while overspending means financial leakages and unnecessary bad debts.

Their financial life has no planning and they have never taken a conscious effort to straighten it out. Their finances are all lumped into a “pot” which is meant to be used for everything.

They do invest but usually due to either lack of knowledge or fear of losing their capital, the amount is too small to be financially significant. Their insurance coverage depletes as medical costs rise, unsure what and for how much they are insured for.

It really doesn’t have to be this way. There is a way to change your financial situation. The first step is to decide to be financially responsible yourself. Acquire the right financial knowledge and make that change. Find a financial buddy to help you get started.

- Financial Snacks by Joyce Chuah, CEO of Success Concepts Life Planners

So you need more money … 

The problem always starts when you owe more than what you can earn, financial experts say.

When it comes to money, Adrienne Wong (not her real name) believes she is a reasonable spender.

An assistant communications manager, Wong, 31, earns about RM8,000 a month, but says her debts take up a sizeable chunk of her monthly income.

The two biggest items in her list, her housing and car loans, amount to about RM3,000.

“My credit card bills usually come up to another RM1,000 plus, so that’s more than half of my salary gone. With utility bills, that’s another RM600. The rest goes into savings, pocket money for my parents and a bit of shopping.

“With property and car prices as high as they are now, it’s no wonder our loan amounts are so big. But what choice do we have?” Wong asks.

Indeed, the rising rate of household debts is a pressing concern – as of March, this year, the Malaysian household debt ratio against the GDP reached an all-time high of 83%.

Last week, Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) announced a three-prong approach to curb the rising trend of household debts:

> Maximum tenure of property financing is now fixed at 35 years;

> Maximum tenure of personal loans is fixed at 10 years;

> Prohibition on the offering of pre-approved personal financing products.

BNM Governor Tan Sri Dr Zeti Akhtar Aziz had said that Malaysia currently has the highest household debt to GDP for a developing country in the region. In comparison, Thailand’s household debt ratio stands at 30%, Indonesia at 15.8%, Hong Kong at 58%, Taiwan at 82%, Japan at 75% and Singapore at 67%.

Countries that have higher household debt to GDP are the United States at 91.7%, United Kingdom at 114%, Australia at 113%, New Zealand at 91%, and South Korea at 91%.

RAM Holdings Bhd group chief economist Dr Yeah Kim Leng says BNM’s move is a “prudent one”.

“A financial crisis can always be traced back to excessive borrowing or leveraging, and the problem is that we never know we are in a credit bubble until that bubble bursts.

“The higher this figure is, the more vulnerable the household sector will be to economic shocks, which can come in the form of an economic downturn,” he says.

The concern, he says, is when people owe more than what they can earn, which is not sustainable.

According to BNM figures, the three biggest contributors to Malaysian household debt are the housing, car and personal loans (refer to chart).

Personal loans can be used for a variety of reasons.

Teacher Siti Norsharmi Fateh Mohamad, 28, says she took a RM35,000 personal loan three years ago to fund her wedding.

“We wanted our wedding to be special, with everything done up nicely. It didn’t feel like much then, but now that we have more commitments (a daughter and a housing loan), it’s definitely an additional burden for us.

“On hindsight, we shouldn’t have taken the personal loan … it wasn’t a necessity,” she says.

But personal loans are popular lately and there’s a reason for it.

“Banks aggressively push personal loans because it’s one of the most profitable products for them. Interest rates for personal loans can be anywhere from 3% to 12%,” says a former local bank manager who declined to be named.

Spending trends have also changed, says Dr Yeah.

“Previously, people only spend what they can afford, but practices have changed. Today, many people don’t mind spending money they don’t have.

“Taking a personal loan is not necessarily a bad thing, but it depends on why you’re doing it. Taking a personal loan for education, for example, is fine, because you’re improving your skills … or for medical purposes to enhance one’s health. But to take a loan for conspicuous consumption, or to make speculative ‘investments’… I think that should be discouraged,” he says.

Credit Counselling and Debt Management Agency (AKPK) chief executive officer Koid Swee Lian agrees.

“It is quite common now for people to take personal loans prior to a festivity because they want to buy new furniture, change their curtains, do a bit of renovation.

“Consumers must be discerning and responsible in their borrowings, just as credit providers must be responsible in their lending. Earn before you spend, not spend then earn! Use the debit card and not the credit card if you cannot pay in full each month,” she says.

Before taking a loan, Koid says consumers should ask themselves:

> Do you really need the personal loan?

> Is it for a productive purpose or can you forgo it?

> Can you afford to pay the loan instalments? If the interest rate increases, can you still pay the increased loan instalments?

> If the loan is for a productive purpose, would you generate enough income to repay the loan and leave some income for yourself?

If taking up a personal loan is absolutely necessary, Koid advises potential borrowers to do their homework and compare the different bank rates.

“Go to bankinginfo.com.my where you can make a comparison of all the rates. Don’t take a loan just because it’s offered. Also, understand what you’re signing up for. Find out whether the bank is charging you a flat rate, a reducing rate or a floating rate,” she says.

Koid gives an example of a loan with these terms – a RM10,000 loan to be paid over five years at 4% interest rate per annum.

“A flat rate of 4% for a five years may not sound like a lot, but what it actually means is that you’re essentially paying 20% interest for the five-year loan. The amount of interest you pay doesn’t change regardless of how much you’ve repaid,” she says.

“Compare this to a reducing rate. If you’ve paid RM1,000, that means the interest should only be on the remaining RM9,000.”

Those who have trouble managing their cashflow can also seek help at AKPK or call its toll-free line at 1800-88-2575.

“People who have a debt problem often feel very embarrassed, but I think they need to be realistic. You’re in that situation, you have to solve it. Come to us, we will do our best to help you,” Koid says.

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