The Asian financial crisis – 20 years later




East Asian Economies Remain Diverse

 

It is useful to reflect on whether lessons have been learnt and if the countries are vulnerable to new crises.

IT’S been 20 years since the Asian financial crisis struck in July 1997. Since then, there has been an even bigger global financial crisis, starting in 2008. Will there be another crisis?

The Asian crisis began when speculators brought down the Thai baht. Within months, the currencies of Indonesia, South Korea and Malaysia were also affected. The East Asian Miracle turned into an Asian Financial Nightmare.

Despite the affected countries receiving only praise before the crisis, weaknesses had built up, including current account deficits, low foreign reserves and high external debt.

In particular, the countries had recently liberalised their financial system in line with international advice. This enabled local private companies to freely borrow from abroad, mainly in US dollars. Companies and banks in Korea, Indonesia and Thailand had in each country rapidly accumulated over a hundred billion dollars of external loans. This was the Achilles heel that led their countries to crisis.

These weaknesses made the countries ripe for speculators to bet against their currencies. When the governments used up their reserves in a vain attempt to stem the currency fall, three of the countries ran out of foreign exchange.

They went to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for bailout loans that carried draconian conditions that worsened their economic situation.

Malaysia was fortunate. It did not seek IMF loans. The foreign reserves had become dangerously low but were just about adequate. If the ringgit had fallen a bit further, the danger line would have been breached.

After a year of self-imposed austerity measures, Malaysia dramatically switched course and introduced a set of unorthodox policies.

These included pegging the ringgit to the dollar, selective capital controls to prevent short-term funds from exiting, lowering interest rates, increasing government spending and rescuing failing companies and banks.

This was the opposite of orthodoxy and the IMF policies. The global establishment predicted the sure collapse of the Malaysian economy.

But surprisingly, the economy recovered even faster and with fewer losses than the other countries. Today, the Malaysian measures are often cited as a successful anti-crisis strategy.

The IMF itself has changed a little. It now includes some capital controls as part of legitimate policy measures.

The Asian countries, vowing never to go to the IMF again, built up strong current account surpluses and foreign reserves to protect against bad years and keep off speculators. The economies recovered, but never back to the spectacular 7% to 10% pre-crisis growth rates.

Then in 2008, the global financial crisis erupted with the United States as its epicentre. The tip of the iceberg was the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the massive loans given out to non-credit-worthy house-buyers.

The underlying cause was the deregulation of US finance and the freedom with which financial institutions could devise all kinds of manipulative schemes and “financial products” to draw in unsuspecting customers. They made billions of dollars but the house of cards came tumbling down.

To fight the crisis, the US, under President Barack Obama, embarked first on expanding government spending and then on financial policies of near-zero interest rates and “quantitative easing”, with the Federal Reserve pumping trillions of dollars into the US banks.

It was hoped the cheap credit would get consumers and businesses to spend and lift the economy. But instead, a significant portion of the trillions went via investors into speculative activities, including abroad to emerging economies.

Europe, on the verge of recession, followed the US with near zero interest rates and large quantitative easing, with limited results.

The US-Europe financial crisis affected Asian countries in a limited way through declines in export growth and commodity prices. The large foreign reserves built up after the Asian crisis, plus the current account surplus situation, acted as buffers against external debt problems and kept speculators at bay.

Just as important, hundreds of billions of funds from the US and Europe poured into Asia yearly in search of higher yields. These massive capital inflows helped to boost Asian countries’ growth, but could cause their own problems.

First, they led to asset bubbles or rapid price increases of houses and the stock markets, and the bubbles may burst when they are over-ripe.

Second, many of the portfolio investors are short-term funds looking for quick profit, and they can be expected to leave when conditions change.

Third, the countries receiving capital inflows become vulnerable to financial volatility and economic instability.

If and when investors pull some or a lot of their money out, there may be price declines, inadequate replenishment of bonds, and a fall in the levels of currency and foreign reserves.

A few countries may face a new financial crisis.

A new vulnerability in many emerging economies is the rapid build-up of external debt in the form of bonds denominated in the local currency.

The Asian crisis two decades ago taught that over-borrowing in foreign currency can create difficulties in debt repayment should the local currency level fall.

To avoid this, many countries sold bonds denominated in the local currency to foreign investors.

However, if the bonds held by foreigners are large in value, the country will still be vulnerable to the effects of a withdrawal.

As an example, almost half of Malaysian government securities, denominated in ringgit, are held by foreigners.

Though the country does not face the risk of having to pay more in ringgit if there is a fall in the local currency, it may have other difficulties if foreigners withdraw their bonds.

What is the state of the world economy, what are the chances of a new financial crisis, and how would the Asian countries like Malaysia fare?

These are big and relevant questions to ponder 20 years after the start of the Asian crisis and nine years after the global crisis.

But we will have to consider them in another article.

By Martin Khor Global Trend

Martin Khor (director@southcentre.org) is executive director of the South Centre. The views expressed here are entirely his own.
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Invest in the future



IT has always interested me to see how the different selection of words sent varied messages to readers and listeners.

Of late, I’m intrigued with the use of oxymorons, a combination of words that have opposite meanings and which usually produces an incongruous, seemingly self-contradictory effect.

Some daily expressions such as “open secret”, “seriously funny”, “deafening silence” and “pretty ugly”, are good examples on how the completely opposite meanings of words create dramatic effect.

Among other oxymorons come an expression often heard among condominium owners to their management corporations (MCs) and management offices: “We want you to lower costs and improve quality.”

Just like any other oxymoron phrases, the statement above makes me puzzle and ponder. It is prudent to manage costs, but unrealistic cost cutting over the long run will lead to decline in the quality of facilities and services.

Based on my experience, quality always comes with cost especially in property management. It is impossible to achieve higher quality standards by reducing expenditure.

I have heard of occasions where homeowners’ representatives in MC set high benchmark for the property management team, but expect them to cut down on the number of workers and cleaners in order to reduce spending. Needless to say, we can imagine what the outcome would be without looking at the property itself.

In reality, MC and homeowners must invest, not spend less for better quality. While developers and property managers play the important role of ensuring the upkeep of properties, the property owners themselves are the main stakeholders in deciding the fate of their properties. They are the party who can approve the budget and usage of their service charge and sinking funds.

In my previous article, I mentioned it is important for homeowners to participate in property management, such as attending AGMs and EGMs to exercise their right to raise concerns and approve the budget during such meetings.

In addition, homeowners and MCs must be bold in making decisions to invest in their properties with the reserved funds they have in their account.

Hence, while it is important to manage cost, it is also important to spend wisely for the future. Inflation is a fact of life, so MCs and homeowners should factor the inflation rate into their service charges, and use the real inflation rate, typically higher than the officially sanctioned rate anywhere in the world.

Typically, service charge is used for the general maintenance of the building. Sinking fund, on the other hand, can be used for the painting and the repainting of the common property, acquisition of movable property, the replacement of any fixture or fitting, the upgrading and refurbishment of the common property, and any other capital expenditure deemed necessary.

Managing a strata property is like maintaining a car. We must service our car regularly and replace its parts when they are due for change according to mileage. If a car is serviced less often, it gets more expensive to fix later when the equipment falls apart, and sometimes it may be too late to change.

Hence, when we reduce spending on maintaining a property, the decline of quality may be slow but sure. It takes time and additional cost when homeowners want to re-invest to restore the property later.

Invest in the future is just like doing exercise. It is hard to do, but if done regularly it will build health, strength and happiness.

To invest in a strata property means to increase, not cut down services such as cleaning, maintenance, security and landscaping. It also means to spend the sinking fund regularly not just on replacements, but also on upgrades, as the world doesn’t stand still. New projects would make existing projects old and even obsolete if we don’t manage our property well.

Investor’s nightmare

How well a property is managed can make or break the value of the property. A quality property management will allow the value to increase; while poor management could translate into an investor’s nightmare.

Active management and upgrading of properties is an important approach to protect our homes and investments. As such, whenever homeowners or property management companies tell me they are able to increase quality and cut cost at the same time, I would wonder whether, “Is this a short-term gain at the detriment of long-term benefits?”

By Alan Tong

Datuk Alan Tong was the world president of FIABCI International for 2005/2006 and awarded the Property Man of the Year 2010 at FIABCI Malaysia Property Award. He is also the group chairman of Bukit Kiara Properties. For feedback, please email feedback@fiabci-asiapacific.com.

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One Belt One Road paving the way to success


In 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping proposed building the Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road, which became known as the Belt and Road Initiative.

Countries along the Belt and Road have their own resource advantages, and their economies are mutually complementary. This means there is a great potential and space for cooperation.

Connecting facilities is a priority in implementing the initiative. On the basis of respecting each other’s sovereignty and security concerns, countries along the Belt and Road are improving the connectivity of their infrastructure construction plans and technical standard systems, jointly pushing forward the construction of international passageways, and forming an infrastructure network connecting all sub-regions in Asia, and between Asia, Europe and Africa.

At the same time, China and countries along the way are making efforts to promote green and low-carbon infrastructure construction and operation management, taking into full account the impact of climate change on any construction.

With regard to transport infrastructure construction, they are focusing on key passageways, junctions and projects, and giving priority to linking up unconnected road sections, removing transport bottlenecks, advancing road safety facilities and traffic management facilities and equipment, and improving road network connectivity.

Countries along the Belt and Road are building a unified coordination mechanism for whole-course transportation, increasing connectivity in customs clearance, reloading and multimodal transport, and gradually formulating compatible and standard transport rules, in order to facilitate international transport.

China suggests pushing forward port infrastructure construction, building smooth land-water transportation channels, and advancing port cooperation, increasing sea routes and the number of voyages, and enhancing information technology cooperation in maritime logistics. We should expand and build platforms and mechanisms for comprehensive civil aviation cooperation, and quicken our pace in improving aviation infrastructure.

In this episode, we will see how Belt and Road helps close the distance between people around the world.

The Belt and Road:

http://watchthis.chinadaily.com.cn/video/column/belt-and-road/

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Bitcoin, digital currencies rally, caution prevails; virtual currency in property


Bitcoins As Digital Currency's Rally Crushed Every Other Currency in 2016
A collection of bitcoin tokens. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Digital currencies rally, but caution prevails

While investing in the future is the way to go, it comes with risks and rewards. The best strategy would be to not be in a rush. Do your homework.

THIS week, the rally in crypto currencies is at its all-time high.

Bitcoin, the pioneer in digital currency, surged to over US$1,700 per coin in
anticipation of a reversal in United States financial regulators’ ruling to allow for an exchange-traded fund for Bitcoin and other factors.

Bitcoin was trading at US$935 on March 24. It rose 82%, pushing its market capitalisation to over US$28bil.

Ether, another such currency, surged from US$8 on Jan 1 to US$90 this week, gaining 1,125% in five months.

The market capitalisation of the 700-over currencies is over US$50bil. The promoters believe it is the currency of the future, hence the rise, but the naysayers believe it is entering a speculative bubble.

But there are some who are ditching gold to mine Bitcoins.

It is a fact that crypto currencies are gaining traction from their inception in 2009. Now, at least 150 organisations including Apple, Walmart, Sears, eBay, Overstock.com,  Microsoft, Steam, Expedia and even Subway accept them in exchange for goods.

So, what is Bitcoin then?

It is a form of digital currency, created and held electronically, not blocked by any nation or government, not printed like dollars and ringgit but produced by people. Crypto currencies are digital currencies that use encryption to secure transactions and control how new coins are made.

You and I can get Bitcoins by “mining” computers that validate blocks of transactions using software to solve mathematical puzzles every 10 minutes. If you solve it first, you are rewarded with new Bitcoins.

Bitcoin is the mother of all crypto currencies – also known as virtual currencies, digital currencies and private currencies.

Other than Bitcoin and Ether, there is also Dogecoin, Augur, Chinacoin, Litecon, Dash, Waves and Zcash. There are over 40 exchanges globally to trade in Bitcoins.

All this came about because of fintech, the financial services technology that is  disrupting the financial services sector with faster, cheaper and so-called “reliable”
transactions for money transfers, bank exchange rates and other money-related transactions. The average clearance is a 12-hour period, which apparently the banks cannot match.

In Brazil, people use Zcash to pay for their taxes, electricity bills and purchases.

This week, Australia said there would be no double taxation for crypto currencies and to treat it just like other currencies from July 1, paving the way for greater usage.

Many are betting on crypto currencies because of the lure that they are the currency of the future. Would you?

Since 2009, there have been gainers and losers, so you decide.

All these digital currencies came about because of the Internet and data.  The value of data and digital services is becoming more apparent, and in the digital era, data is the new currency.

Amid all this is blockchain, which is simply a digital ledger that keeps track of Bitcoin transactions and transfers it globally. It boasts of instantaneous transactions, transparent and cheaper than the traditional ways. This is why banks are hurriedly getting their acts together in the area of fintech so as to not miss the boat.

There is a growing number of mergers and acquisitions and crowdfunding for blockchains. Last month, music-podcast-video streaming service Spotify  bought over blockchain technology company Mediachain Labs to help reward  online content owners with royalty payments.

Other telcos and IT firms are getting into blockchain because they don’t want to miss out on anything. Other payment companies are getting into the act too. There is just too much interest in this new wave of doing things.

The journey of crypto currencies, however, is not without hurdles, and there are plenty out there that cannot be ignored. Even blockchain’s growth cannot be ignored, especially since it is being positioned by those championing it as the de facto technology of the future.

But will it really be all that or will it just add another layer to the overall cost?

All these transfers do not need regulation as yet, something that central bankers don’t like. In fact, Bank Negara is already in the thick of things where fintech is concerned.

While investing in the future is the way to go, it comes with risks and rewards. The best
strategy would be to not be in a rush. Do your homework, as there is also the other side of Bitcoin – fake websites, fake online gaming sites, trading, etc.

I bet you would know of someone who has lost money mining Bitcoin or Ether. You honestly wouldn’t want to be put in a spot like those caught up in the recent forex scam and the earlier gold scam.

It would be good too to bear in mind that the sweet spot of crypto currencies has been linked to terrorism financing, money laundering, tax evasion and fraud.

Trust and transparency have been the bedrock of financial institutions all these years. Ensure your bedrock is solid, but at the same time, remember what the former US Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke had said in a letter to US senators about virtual currencies, that they “may hold long-term promise, particularly if the innovations promote a faster, more secure, and more efficient payment system”.

Do you think blockchain will bring trust and transparency to the world of crypto currency? Share your thoughts with me at bksidhu@thestar

Source: The Star by b.k. sidhu

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Property in a digital era

WITH digital technology all the rage and taking the world by storm, we look at how science and automation has managed to change and revolutionise the way we do things, in this section, property.

While the internet has changed the way we receive information and connect with others and the smart phone transformed the whole concept of a phone, we now look at the evolution of finance and how purchasing items, including a house, is going through reform with the introduction of bitcoin.

Introducing bitcoin

When people hear terms like “bitcoin” and “blockchain”, many are vague while some may not even be familiar with these words. But for the technology industry adept, bitcoin and blockchain is common as these new-age technology concepts and modus operandi have been around, perhaps less widely known in Southeast Asia as it is in the West and China.

For the uninformed and in the dark, bitcoin is a technology that has established a new electronic payment method using “digitised money” made with digital cryptography, otherwise known as cryptocurrency.

This system of payment is carried out when a user uses “bitcoin currency” (or cryptocurrency) to pay for goods by transferring the currency to another user (seller) within the bitcoin community.

Each transaction is recorded in a public data ledger known as “blockchain” and it is here where all the transactions that have taken place within the bitcoin community are stored.

The amazing thing about this system is that anyone in the bitcoin community is able to validate transactions that take place without the need of an intermediary.

Sound too good to be true and a little risky? Well, the reason there is no intermediate party necessary is due to the network bitcoin technology is regulated on.


Modus operandi and more

The bitcoin network is founded on a “peer-to-peer network system (P2P network)” which is explained as “a network of computers/ mobile configured to allow certain files and folders to be shared with everyone or with selected users”.

As a result, the “participants” are in control of their transactions, making everyone equal within the bitcoin community, which is also transparent.

It is said that bitcoin technology was first created in 2008 by a person or a group of persons under the pseudonym “Satoshi Nakamoto” in a research paper. The research stated that there was need for a new electronic payment method, one using digitised money. The analysis also included the future of bitcoin, its benefits, capabilities and potential.

The system was implemented on Jan 3, 2009. And after just a few years, bitcoin grew to become a whopping US$12 billion (RM52.7 billion) globalised economy.

Bitcoin attributes

While not much has been said about bitcoin in this part of the region, the system has been around, slowly developing and growing. Like many things that are cloudy and not often talked about, people are weary hence, there will be sceptics who dissuade others about the system they themselves are unclear about.

With that, theSun’s Brian Chung shares what he learnt of this new method of transaction and currency when he attended a talk by renowned entrepreneur, author and expert on bitcoin Andreas M. Antonopoulos.

Below, Antonopolous shares important information on bitcoin.

1) Bitcoin is an open system of payment: It is a system that anyone can access, participate and innovate, and does not require permission. Bitcoin allows anyone to join in and use the system, validate the transaction and create different kinds of cryptocurrency.

2) Bitcoin is borderless: Like the internet, bitcoin is not restricted to a country’s rules and regulations as it has its own protocol with no distinction across countries.

3) Bitcoin is neutral: Bitcoin does not take the identity of the participant into any consideration. It only validates the transaction that takes place between participants. This attribute also allows participants to remain anonymous.

4) Bitcoin is censorship resistant: Every transaction in the bitcoin network cannot be frozen, censored or canceled. Like the internet, the bitcoin system is a global digital economy with one currency.

5) Bitcoin is a decentralised system: The bitcoin network has no central institution or centre point of control. This trait ensures that there is no one major target for hackers to concentrate their attacks on. Instead, hackers have to create attacks on every single participant’s software with different forms of virus and codes to hack into one computer.

6) Bitcoin is scarce and limited: Bitcoin is a system of value like gold but in digital form. This makes it a system that is not based on credit and debit. It also makes bitcoin a singular global currency with no exchange rate between countries.

7) Every bitcoin transaction is permanent and immutable: The transaction of everyone in the community is verified by everyone in the system. Once it is verified, the transaction will be permanently recorded in the blockchain.

8) Bitcoin is a constantly innovative technology: The open source nature of the bitcoin technology allows other people to further improve on it. There are many other cryptocurrencies based on the bitcoin technology. Moreover, the bitcoin technology is dependent on the internet, which makes improvement and innovation necessary.

Bitcoin transactions can be done via smart phones and computers by downloading the application and software. Users do not need to register themselves to be part of the bitcoin network as all “participants” are referred to by codes and “signature of one’s device”.

However, iPhone users need to remember their iTunes password to download the application. In addition, the device that one has downloaded the bitcoin software on must remain connected to the internet in order for one to use the bitcoin method of payment.

Follow our column next week on the application of bitcoin in property.

[Note: All charts courtesy of Bitcoin Malaysia.]

 

The application of bitcoin in property

 

WHILE last week, we introduced the term bitcoin to those oblivious of this new age cryptocurrency and system of payment, this week, we share bitcoin whiz Andreas M. Antonopoulus’ insights on how this technology is applied in property. Here is what he had to say:

Permanent records

“One very common application is the registration of assets or ownership of tangible and
non-tangible things like the registration of title over land and the ownership of assets
like homes.

When you record something on blockchain, it cannot be modified … it is immutable. Once recorded on the blockchain, the system of trust prevents anyone from reversing or overwriting it. That makes a record on blockchain permanent, an immutable record which is really important in real estate transaction as it allows one to pass the title of a piece of land from person to person independently with no one being able to falsify the record or steal land through paper,” Antonopoulos said.

Moreover, he mentioned that this technology can benefit the industry tremendously as it is able to resolve a huge problem in real estate and property transactions – the falsification of strata titles and property documents.

His view is further enhanced with the emergence of another bitcoin-based system, ethereum. Like bitcoin, ethereum has its own cryptocurrency known as ether. However, ethereum adopts a different technology that is based on the blockchain public ledger system known as Smart Contract.

According to Antonopoulos, a smart contract is an electronic contract with all the contractual obligations of the buyer and seller. The contract is written and coded into an application, which will ensure both parties fulfill their obligations.

Like blockchain technology that is built on trust and verification, these contracts are encoded in a public ledger in the ethereum community. If anyone tries to forge the contract, the ledger will reject it. As such, this smart contract cannot be rewritten and altered as it is a permanent and immutable contract.


Direct transactions

Besides the use of a contract, the technology will make transactions direct, fast and secure.

Antonopoulos also shared about the removal of third parties and its altered role. He said, “Another example relevant to real estate application is the function of escrow. In order to do make transactions for real estate today, people have to use a third party agent, an escrow agent. This escrow agent charges a significant amount of money in most countries. During the process, that agent holds custody of the entire fund, which is dangerous. This means that the escrow agent has to be carefully vetted and have foresight.

Bitcoin can replace all of this by using multi-signature, which allows the seller and buyer to transact escrow programmatically, with the third party acting as mediator only in the case of a dispute.

Buyer and seller will be able to execute a transaction on their own without the need of an escrow agent and without any of the parties having custody of the entire fund. Through bitcoin, you do not need to spend that additional one percent of the sale of the house – the escrow agent is no longer necessary.

It can also change the speed of escrow by doing it in hours instead of a month and changes the security because no one of the three parties can run away with the money. It is faster, cheaper and secure. It can be done in other industries related to real estates like purchasing assets, corporation, mergers and acquisitions.

International property purchase

With the use of decentralised digital currency, one can assume that purchasing items and properties is a little easier, and it is.

The chance of purchasing international property is further reinforced by the fact that bitcoin is not controlled by anyone, not even political and banking institutions. This attribute of bitcoin makes it easier for people buying property from another country. Although each country has its regulations, the use of bitcoin to purchase property abroad saves time and money as one does not need to change currency.

The Australia Real Estate website has stated that there are properties in the United States and Latin America being sold using bitcoin. The Wall Street Journal wrote an article in 2014 regarding a Lake Tahoe property, which was sold for US$1 million in bitcoin.

Follow our column next week for more interesting information on bitcoin, its challenges and how stable a cryptocurrency it is.

By rian Chung

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More big corrupt officials nabbed: Datuk among those busted for graft & mismanagement


Sitting in the lap of luxury: A Mercedes Benz belonging to one of the suspects

https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/LYHqhmC5oeknocookie.com/embed/Hap2yFzhxG0 https://youtu.be/LYHqhmC5oek

Five people, including two former senior officers of Felda, are in remand for seven days from today for investigations into alleged misappropriation in connection with a sturgeon fish rearing project worth RM47.6 million. — Bernama

Five Felda officials linked to Felda, one of them a ‘Datuk’ have been arrested in a sting operation dubbed ‘Ops Caviar’ , as the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission zeroes in on a RM47.6 million sturgeon farming project which failed to take off in Pahang.

PETALING JAYA: Felda is the latest government-linked company (GLC) to be investigated by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), which saw three current and two former officers, one of them a Datuk, being arrested for alleged corruption over a project worth RM47.6mil.

Three of them were former senior executives, who held positions of power when they were still with the GLC.

They are the GLC’s former director-general, ex-deputy director-general (strategic resources), and the former operations officer in charge of the sturgeon project.

Two others detained were its head of London Properties and an assistant administration officer.

All five were picked up in a sting operation, dubbed Ops Caviar, by officers from the anti-graft body between 11.30am and 6pm in several locations around Klang Valley yesterday.

Many valuable items were seized during the raids, including a luxury car and jewellery, estimated to be worth millions of ringgit.

More items are expected to be seized as anti-graft officers visit their homes and obtain details of their assets and personal accounts of their immediate family members to be frozen as part of investigations.

They are being investigated for alleged corruption, abuse of positions and using the GLC for personal gain.

It is learnt that the investigation was zeroing in on the implementation of technology transfer in relation to the sturgeon fish rearing project with a Korean firm.

“We believe all the five suspects are directly involved in the project worth US$10mil (RM47.6mil) since 2014.

Penchant for bling bling: Some of the jewellery seized from the suspects.
Major haul: Some of the items sized by MACC

“Checks showed that in early 2013, a meeting was held to discuss the project.

“But the Felda board of directors told the 53-year-old suspect to first come up with a detailed report and a proposal on the amount of investments for the project before making a decision,” said a source.

But unknown to the Felda directors, financial and legal divisions, a company – Felda Carviative Sdn Bhd (FCSB) – was set up in January 2014.

An agreement, worth US$45mil (RM146.25mil), was then signed between the company and a Korean firm, in relation to sturgeon rearing deal.

Checks by the MACC showed the project did not receive accreditation from the Pahang Department of Environment as per the SOP.

“We found payment made to the Korean firm about one week after the FCSB was set up.

“This was despite no approval being obtained from the Felda directors,” added the source.

So far, funds amounting to RM47.6mil from Felda have been disbursed by the suspects.

It is learnt the deal with the foreign firm involved technology transfer, service agreement and design and construction agreement.

The agreement was said to have been inked by the Datuk and the 53-year-old suspect, both of whom were former directors of FCSB.

Then, the financial division was also under the purview of both suspects.

MACC director of investigations Datuk Simi Abd Ghani confirmed the arrests of the five.

Simi said stacks of documents relating to the project had been seized to assist in the probe.

“The investigation is still in the initial stage. We will need time to sift through the documents and call in more witnesses to gather evidence. Give us some time to work on the case,” he said.

All the five suspects, held overnight at the MACC Putrajaya headquarters, will be remanded today.

Source: The Star/ANN

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Auditor General Ambrin: Losses in publicly funded projects due to graft

Tan Sri Ambrin Buang

KUALA LUMPUR: Mismanage­ment and corruption in publicly funded construction projects have caused potential losses of up to 30% of a project’s investment value, according to the Auditor-General (pic).

Tan Sri Ambrin Buang said a study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the World Bank showed how corruption in the infrastructure and extractive sectors had led to misallocation of public funds and services that were substandard and insufficient.

“It is difficult to measure the exact cost, but it has been estimated that between 10% and 30% of the investment in publicly funded construction projects may be lost through mismanagement, and about 20% to 30% of project value is lost through corruption,” he said at the Combating Procurement Fraud in the Public and Private Sectors Forum 2017 yesterday.

The forum highlighted the issues in public procurements in Malaysia – a process where the government obtains works, goods or services from companies and one that Ambrin said is most vulnerable to corruption.

Ambrin’s speech was read out by the National Audit Department’s research, corporate and international relations division director Roslan Abu Bakar.

Ambrin also observed that procurement fraud in the public sector is a complex issue, covering a wide range of illegal activities from bid-rigging during the pre-contract award phase through to false invoicing in the post-contract award phase.

He noted that last year, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Com­mission had opened up a series of investigations involving government procurements.

“One of these involved senior government officials making false claims and fraud amounting to RM20mil last year, and this was followed by a case involving a senior Youth and Sports Ministry official amounting to RM107mil.

“Another case involved a Sabah Water Department official for fraud amounting to RM153mil, and the latest arrest involved a federal ministry secretary-general,” he said.

The Auditor-General added that based on experience, he could not entirely dismiss the existence of bid-rigging in Malaysia’s public procurement.

“One of the signs is when an equipment price is quoted higher than market value.

“If procurement officers do not research market prices, they will believe that the given price is reasonable.

“For example, in the Audit Report, we highlighted significant differences in prices of certain equipment, ranging from RM1,000 to RM7,200 additional cost for the same types and specifications,” he said.

Post-contract fraud is also a common problem, and Ambrin said the department had identified cases where payment control systems were bypassed to allow for fraud to occur.

Source: The Star/ANN



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China tops global fintech rankings


China’s financial technology (fintech) firms continue to lead globally, securing four positions in the top five in a recent industrial ranking.[Photo: mindai.com]

 

China’s financial technology (fintech) firms continue to lead globally, securing four positions in the top five in a recent industrial ranking.

Alibaba’s third-party payment platform Ant Financial tops the global ranking for the 100 best performing fintech companies, with micro-loan firm Qudian, wealth management company Lufax and insurance enterprise Zhong An entering the top five, according to a report by international accounting firm KPMG and investment firm H2 Ventures.

The firms are rated according to their capital raising volume and ratio, geographic and sector diversity, and consumer and marketplace traction.

“It is no surprise to see four Chinese companies in the top five. Fintech in China has seen rapid development, fuelled by the demand to address domestic needs,” said James McKeogh, Partner with KPMG China. “It is likely that we will see more of these players move to the international markets in the future.”

A total of eight Chinese fintech companies are on the list, a remarkable rise from just one company in the top 100 in the 2014 ranking.

“We have seen significant investment in China’s fintech sector in recent years, and an increasing appetite for innovative products, supported by the rapid pace of technology development,” according to Raymond Cheong, another KPMG China Partner.

China pledged in October to improve supervision in online finance, including peer-to-peer platforms, to contain risks, improve competitiveness and increase risk awareness.

Companies related to lending and insurance are gaining larger share in the full Fintech 100 list, while the creation of value in new sub-sectors such as regulatory technology as well as data and analytics make the fintech sector more diverse, according to the report.

Source:

 

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World doubts the leadership of Uncle Sam: expert


The culture of guns

As the US has lost more international status and influence since the global financial crisis in 2008, the international community is raising doubts about its leadership and ability to contribute to the world, an expert said, analyzing that such a decline of influence can be attributed to some deep-seated reasons, including its self-willed overseas military operations.

Since the financial crisis, the US can neither provide effective solutions to a host of global challenges, nor sustain its control over other countries, Zhang Ruizhuang, Director of the Center of American Studies at Nankai University, wrote in an article published in the People’s Daily on Sunday.

In the commentary titled “The City upon a Hill is not there any more,” he gave an in-depth analysis on the reasons of such changes.

Zhang says that “A City upon a Hill,” often cited by American politicians as their political creed, verified the self-labelling of the arrogant Americans as “God’s Chosen Ones” to lead the world. After the Cold War, the preaching about the superiority of its values brought US much popularity and pulled the country to a commanding stage.

But it over-consumed its accumulated political capital during the last quarter of the 20th century, which resulted in a decline in its global influence, Zhang said, adding that the most destructive threat to its dropping status can be attributed to overseas military operations.

After the Soviet Union collapsed with the end of the Cold War, the US dominated the world and launched a series of capricious measures. With the excuse of protecting democracy, human rights and the world order, Uncle Sam trampled on the post-war international law based on the UN Charter and norms governing global relations by bringing the flames of war to many parts of the world.

Panama, Somalia, Haiti and Kosovo are all victims of such wars waged by the superpower. With a made-up excuse, it pulled Iraq into a war and this political farce finally brought the latter millions of civilian casualties, endless terrorist attacks and ceaseless disturbance.

What the US gained, after it paid a price of trillions of dollars for the war, was a hotbed for terrorist organizations which in turn threatened the security of itself and other Western countries. The war against Iraq ultimately turned out to be a foolish one that not only crumbled its diplomatic morality, but undermined its own strategic interests, Zhang concluded.

Despite the lessons, the US never gave up every opportunity to start “color revolutions.” Its attacks on Libya and Syria, once again, dragged these nations into raging wars. What’s worse, as a result of the wars, a number of regulation vacuums provided ISIS and other religious extremist organizations a bed in which to grow stronger.

The US, its Western allies, as well as the whole world, are now swallowing the sour fruits resulted from its self-willed deed, he added.

According to the scholar, apart from its frequent diplomatic mistakes, its economy, politics and society, in which the Americans once took pride, are all in a predicament, arising more doubts over the superiority of the US system.

The global financial crisis breaking out in 2008 exposed the defects of capitalism once again. It brought to light not only the failure of Keynesian policy to narrow the wealth gap and boost effective demand, but the greed and corruption of financial executives, the ineffectiveness of financial supervision, plus the government’s shielding of tycoons.

The US public felt shock, despair and anger towards such defects, and the ensuing “Occupy Wall Street” movement is one of their ways to express dissatisfaction. The protest wave later spilled to other part of the world, triggering worldwide query over the US system and its values.

Zhang also criticized US domestic politics, citing its notorious presidential election system as an example.

Manipulated by capital, the “winner takes all” election system in many states gives no chance to other newborn parties besides the two major parties. The American elections of the past two to three decades have been more like technical games.

The candidates now focus more on technical details for the sake of more votes rather than their political ideas and governance philosophies, and the whole process has fallen into personal attacks between the two candidates, he added.

Coupled with some other faults, the US and even the whole world began to question on the effectiveness of US democracy, as well as its leader selected in such a flawed way.

The article analyzed that one key reason for its flopping election lies in a lack of innovative governing ideas.

Barely stimulated by major crisis, US society tends to be mediocre and conservative about its ideas, the commentary further explained, adding that the prevailing philosophy of so-called “political correctness” also created an unfavorable environment for the candidates to come up with new ideas acceptable to the public.

Lack of foresighted candidates with outstanding capability is another reason for its unsuccessful election, Zhang wrote.

He explained that some capable politicians are not willing to embarrass themselves on the election stage at the cost of their privacy and that of their family as the butt of jokes.

“As a result, the world was presented with an election farce performed by the two unqualified and big-mouth candidates selected by the two parties,” the author concluded.

“It is obvious that the US is seeing a decline in terms of both prestige and influence, but such a drop is not so eye-catching as it has no strong competitors yet. It would be a complicated historic path,” the scholar said, calling for more attention to the course of the world pattern.

(People’s Daily)

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