Penang exco man held in graft probe for abuse of power


 

 

Arrest linked to illegal operation of carbon filter factory in Bukit Mertajam

For 10 years, a factory has been illegally burning sawdust to produce carbon for filters, forcing villagers and schoolchildren in parts of Bukit Mertajam to breathe dust-laden smoke every day. The matter has now flared up with the arrest of Penang exco man Phee Boon Poh and two of the factory’s directors by the MACC. All three are set to be remanded today.

GEORGE TOWN: An illegal carbon filter processing factory has become a burning issue in Penang with the arrest of state executive councillor Phee Boon Poh and two factory di­­rectors by graft-busters from the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commis­­sion (MACC).

All three are expected to be remanded today.

The factory in Kampung Sungai Lembu in Bukit Mertajam was in the news on Wednesday when MACC officers raided its premises and seized several documents.

Yesterday, a team of five MACC officers raided Phee’s office at Level 53 in Komtar at about 11.30am and took away more documents.

Phee, who chairs the state Wel­­fare, Caring Society and Envi­­ron­­ment Committee, was asked to report to the Penang MACC headquarters in Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah. He was arrested at 3.30pm when he turned up at the MACC building.

MACC deputy chief commissioner (operations) Datuk Azam Baki said Phee was detained under Section 23 of the MACC Act for abuse of power.

The section provides for a jail term of up to 20 years and a fine of up to five times the value of the bribe or RM10,000, whichever is higher.

The 66-year-old Phee was brought back to his house in Butterworth at about 5pm in his car and escorted by two MACC vehicles. It is learnt that he packed some personal be­­longings from his house before lea­­ving for the state MACC headquarters at 7.05pm.

The MACC also arrested a 70-year-old man and his 37-year-old son, the manager and director of the factory, at 6.05pm and 6.35pm respectively.

The two were summoned to the state MACC headquarters to give their statements before they were detained.

Lawyer R.S.N. Rayer, who accompanied Phee to the Penang MACC headquarters, said the exco man was asked to meet MACC officers after 2pm.

“I was informed that they (MACC officers) went to his office and took some documents including letters that he wrote. They wanted to re­­cord his statement regarding the documents.

“He gave his full cooperation and presented himself at the MACC office. I am surprised that he was arrested,” he said before leaving the state MACC building at about 4.30pm.

Earlier, the five MACC officers spent more than an hour in Phee’s office.

Shortly after they left, Phee and four assistants walked out of the office.

Phee declined to comment on the raid.

He is the second member of the current Penang state administration to be arrested by the MACC.

Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng was arrested in June last year over the purchase of a RM2.8mil bungalow in Pinhorn Road.

He was subsequently charged with using his position as the Chief Minister of Penang to gain gratification for himself and his wife, Betty Chew Gek Cheng, by approving the application for conversion of agriculture land to a public housing zone in south-west Penang to the com­­pany, Magnificient Emblem Sdn Bhd.

He allegedly committed the of­­fence while chairing the Penang State Planning Committee meeting at the operations room in the Komtar building on July 18, 2014.

The charge under Section 23 of the MACC Act 2009 provides for imprisonment of up to 20 years and a fine of up to five times the sum or value of the bribe, or RM10,000, whichever is higher, upon conviction.

Lim faces a second charge of using his position to obtain a plot of land and a bungalow located at No 25 Jalan Pinhorn, George Town, on July 28, 2015, from businesswoman Phang Li Koon for RM2.8mil, a price which he allegedly knew did not commensurate with the property’s market value at the time of RM4.27mil.

The charge, under Section 165 of the Penal Code, provides for a jail term of up to two years or a fine, or both, upon conviction.

Late last night, Lim was among several DAP leaders and members who turned up outside the state MACC headquarters to stage a candlelight vigil in support of Phee.

Source: The Star by crystal chiam shiying, chong kah yuan, lo tern chern, andlogeiswary thevadass

10 years of smoke in the eyes for villagers

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BUKIT MERTAJAM: For about 10 years now, the villagers of Kampung Sungai Lembu have been forced to breathe air laden with pollutants. Children going to school at SJK(C) Kampung Sungai Lembu also have had to put up with the thick dust.

The air is thick with a burning smell from the processing activities at an illegal carbon filter processing factory, just 1km away from the school.

The 5,000sq-m factory, about the size of a football field, has piles upon piles of sawdust, much of it burning in deep pits.

The tall chimneys spout white pollutant-filled smoke into the air which is carried to the nearby villages by the slight breeze.

A source from the Department of Environment revealed that the factory also did not have an air pollution control system.

Kampung Sungai Lembu Deve­lop­ment and Security Committee chairman Tan Sing Lee, 58, said the factory also carried out open burning of sawdust to produce carbon.

“Every time the wind blows our way especially in December, the air is polluted. At night, the air is foggy and villagers complain about the smell,” he said.

“We reported the matter to Penanti assemblyman Dr Norlela Ariffin but no action was taken in the past two years,” he said.

The factory is also situated inside an oil palm estate, on land designated for agriculture.

Tan claimed a man in his 30s died in 2015 after he fell into one of the pits while filling it with sawdust.

A check by The Star at the factory yesterday found 20 pits, each measuring about 3m across. The pits were filled with burning sawdust and there was smoke everywhere. The sawdust is burnt to produce carbon which is then used in filters.

Permatang Pauh Umno chief Da­­tuk Mohd Zaidi Mohd Said claimed there may have been people in­­volved in covering up the issue before the raid on the factory by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commis­­sion (MACC) on Thursday.

“Several reports have been lodged against the factory.

It is impossible for the Seberang Prai Municipal Council to not be aware of it,” he said during a press conference in Kampung Sungai Lembu.

Also present was Parti Cinta Malaysia deputy president Datuk Huan Cheng Guan.

PKR rep Norlela glad over action against illegal factory

 

BUKIT MERTAJAM: Penan­ti’s PKR assemblyman Dr Norlela Ariffin (pic) is pleased that action is finally being taken by the MACC over an illegal factory in Kampung Sungai Lembu.

Dr Norlela said she raised the issue of the carbon filter processing factory more than two years ago. “The villagers told me about their concerns in February 2015. I raised the matter at the state assembly sitting but no ac­­tion was taken for two years,” she said.

It was in November that Dr Norlela broke down and sobbed uncontrollably at the assembly, clai­­ming the state government had failed to respond to her queries.

She lamented then that she had complained of many woes like illegal factories, frequent flooding and the lack of infrastructure like roads and proper jetties for fishermen.

“Early this year, before the state assembly sitting, villagers handed me an 18-page petition, appealing for the factory to be closed as they claimed it was affecting their health.

“It was also found that the factory was not operating according to guide­­­­lines,” she said yesterday.

In May, her allocation was withheld after she did not show up at the Yang di-Pertua Negri’s swearing-in ceremony.

Earlier this month, she complained that funds collected for flood mitigation had not been used to help her constituents.

“In Penanti alone, there are nine flood-prone areas that could greatly benefit from these funds,” she re­­portedly said, citing the Auditor Ge­­­ne­­ral’s Report 2016 Series 1 which revealed that the Seberang Prai Municipal Council had only used RM2.2mil of RM63.39mil collected from 2008 to June 2016.

Dr Norlela is among several as­­sem­­blymen who have been at loggerheads with the state leadership, often criticising it for not carrying out its duties or for not caring about the environment,

Last month, she praised the Sungai Buloh-Kajang MRT project and took a swipe at the Penang Transport Master Plan by comparing the construction cost of both projects in a video she posted on social media.


DAP’s lone ranger faces his biggest test

GEORGE TOWN: Two-term Pe­­nang executive councillor Phee Boon Poh, 66, gained fame as a vocal opposition leader when he took on 38 Barisan Nasional representatives in the state assembly when he was the sole DAP assemblyman from 2004 until 2008.

Despite being overwhelmed, the “lone ranger” raised many issues.

Although PAS was represented by Mohd Hamdan Abdul Rahman, it was Phee who questioned the policies of the state administration headed by Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon.

Phee began his political career by winning the Bagan Jermal state seat in 1990, only to lose it to Barisan’s Tan Sri Dr Sak Cheng Lum in 1995.

In 1999, he contested the Sungai Puyu seat but lost to Barisan’s Loo Ah Dee. In 2004, he wrested it from Loo with a 607-vote majority.

In 2008, he retained his state seat with a 9,201-vote majority and was appointed state Welfare and Caring Society chairman.

He later took over the environment portfolio from state exco member Chow Kon Yeow.

In the 2013 general election, he beat MCA’s Sum Yoo Keong by 16,207 votes.

Phee is a distant relative of businesswoman Phang Li Koon, who has been charged with abetment in the two corruption cases against Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng.


MACC probes Phee’s letters – Directing council to ‘stay away’ under investigation

Phee Boon Poh mobbed by the media after he was remanded in George Town. — ZAINUDIN AHAD and ZHAFARAN NASIB/The Star

PENANG: The Malaysian Anti-Corrup­tion Commission (MACC) is investigating two letters, which appear to have originated from state executive councillor Phee Boon Poh, asking that no action be taken against an illegal factory.

The letters, written in 2015 and 2016, directed the Seberang Prai Municipal Council from shutting down the carbon filter-processing factory which had been operating illegally for the past 10 years.

The MACC is also investigating whether Phee or his officials had authorised the letters telling the council to back off.

As Phee and two of the company’s directors were remanded yesterday, the MACC is expected to call up a DAP state assemblyman for questioning.

The MACC is believed to be investigating the role of this state assemblyman in the case.

It is understood that MACC is also probing the relationship between Phee and the factory owners.

It wants to find out how the factory could operate openly despite complaints from the villagers nearby.

“The illegal factory is on an agro-based land. (We want to know) why it has been able to operate without any action (taken against it),” a source told Sunday Star.

 

Too close for comfort: The illegal carbon filter-processing factory still operating and its proximity to Kampung Sungai Lembu and surrounding areas near Bukit Mertajam. 

When contacted, MACC deputy chief commissioner (operations) Datuk Azam Baki said the anti-graft body will carry out a thorough probe and look into all angles.

Azam said investigations will focus on the element of abuse of power.

“We have opened an investigation paper under Section 23 of the MACC Act.

“We will look into whether one of the suspects has given (any form of) protection to the illegal factory to enable it to continue operating the last 10 years,” he said.

He declined to elaborate further as investigations were ongoing.

Sources said anti-graft officers revisited the house of the state exco member in Sungai Puyu on the mainland to look for more evidence to assist in the probe.

It is not immediately known if documents were seized.

The homes and offices of two other suspects will also be revisited as part of the probe.

More arrests are expected in the coming days as investigations into the case widen.

Source: The Star by simon khoo, crystal chiam shiying, lo tern chern, akil yunus

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 The Penang government will not protect any of its officials … Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng says he believes state exco man Phee Boon … Phee, who is in charge of the welfare, caring society and environment portfolio, was arrested yesterday by the MACC over alleged misuse of power.

 

Phee and two others remanded for five days

 

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Wall and awning collapsed in house near construction site


Brought down: A view of the fallen backyard wall and awning of the house.

 

Penang MCA: Guan Eng must explain cause of incident in house near construction site

GEORGE TOWN: Penang MCA is seeking an explanation from Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng on the collapse of a perimeter wall and an awning of a house in Jalan Bagan Baru 1, Butterworth.

Its organising secretary Dr Tan Chuan Hong said the house owner believed the collapse could be due to nearby construction carried out by Penang Development Corpora-tion (PDC), of which Lim is the chairman.

The area is also under the Bagan parliamentary seat which Lim is the MP.

Dr Tan said the house owner had earlier complained to PDC after seeing cracks on the wall at his backyard about one year ago.

He said PDC was carrying out piling works then for its two affordable housing projects.

“Luckily, nobody was hurt in the incident but the authorities came forward only after the wall fell,” he said when contacted yesterday.

“That is against their ‘competency, accountability and transparency’ policy.”

Dr Tan urged the state to conduct a safety review on the projects.

When contacted, Sungai Puyu assemblyman Phee Boon Poh said the awning and wall collapsed due to soil movement during the construction of a drain at the projects.

He said that after being told of the incident, he went for a site inspection with Seberang Prai Municipal Council president Rozali Mohamud, representatives from PDC and the contractor.

“I told the house owner that the state would take full responsibility.He will be fully compensated and repairs will be done soon.”

He added that the council issued a stop-work order for the drain construction pending investigation.

“Our geo-technical expert will do a soil test while PDC and council safety officers will investigate the incident,” he said.

Source: The Star  by Crystal Chiam Shiying

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Mereka Rasuah Kita Bayar! 3J drive: Jangan Kautim, Jangan Hulur, Jangan Settle!



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Working together: Dzulkifli (third from left) and Wong (centre) sharing a light moment with The Star team after launching the 3J Campaign at Menara Star.

Star teams up with MACC for 3J drive

It is an arduous task but the battle against corruption involves all Malaysians.

For that reason, Star Media Group has partnered with the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) for the nationwide “Jangan Hulur, Jangan Kawtim, Jangan Settle” (Don’t Give and Don’t Settle) 3J Campaign.

“The battle is neither quick nor easy. But with public support, this fight will end with us winning and our integrity intact,” said Star Media Group managing director and chief executive officer Datuk Seri Wong Chun Wai.

The Star, he said, would be focusing on the youth as they were the “most crucial group”.

Speaking at the launch of the campaign at Menara Star yesterday, Wong cited an MACC study conducted last year among students which found that 16% of students in institutions of higher learning were willing to offer bribes.

The number was worrying as it had gone up from the 10.7% rate in 2015, he said.

To educate the next generation on values like integrity, The Star will be going all out to highlight the message of the campaign.

Other than spreading the word via Twitter and Facebook, Wong said it would be combining its media platforms such as The Star newspaper, The Star Online and StarTV as well as its Bahasa Malaysia news portal mStar and radio Suria FM.

Suria FM, which is part of the Star Media Radio Group, will broadcast the campaign message to the public via its road show team – the Suria FM Wheelers.

The month-long 3J Campaign came under the umbrella of the nationwide Gerakan Revolusi Anti-Rasuah or Gerah campaign, which was launched at the MACC headquarters in Putrajaya yesterday.

MACC chief commissioner Datuk Dzulkifli Ahmad said the battle against corruption and abuse of power would fail without a concerted effort.

“This is why I believe the fight should be our journey, our cause and our war together,” he said.

Dzulkifli voiced his hope for Malaysians to come together under the 3J Campaign and play an active role in battling the “cancer of corruption”.

He said the words “hulur, kawtim and settle” are synonymous with corruption and the MACC used these terms so that the people were aware of the aim of the campaign.

“We hope this will pave the way for the people to say no to corruption and to create a society that has the courage to stand up and fight not only against corruption but the corruptors too,” he said.

Dzulkifli said he made a bold promise to Malaysians earlier this year when he vowed that the MACC would make one arrest every week, but this had been delivered so far, he added.

He also commended the media for its role as “an important watchdog over corruption” and its effort in exposing such cases.

MACC – two campaigns and a swoop 

 

Ready for war: MACC chief commissioner Datuk Dzulkifli Ahmad (centre) and his officers pledging at their headquarters in Putrajaya to wipe out corruption.

PETALING JAYA: Two anti-corruption awareness campaigns were launched nationwide and, to show how serious the fight against corruption is, a swoop on corrupt Immigration officers was carried out too.

An aide of a chief minister, who is a Datuk, was also arrested and is expected to be charged today.

Sources said two senior immigration officers based in Complex ICQ Padang Besar, Perlis, were detained at about 11am yesterday under Ops Lavish.

The suspects, aged 35 and 37, were summoned to the Kedah Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commis­sion (MACC) office on suspicion of accepting bribes in relation to the approval of expatriate passes to hire skilled and professional workers. Also arrested was a 48-year-old contractor.

The contractor is believed to have abetted in the dealings since 2015 and acted as a middleman to transfer a huge sum of money into several bank accounts.

The amount involved was said to be over a million ringgit.

MACC deputy chief commissioner (operations) Datuk Azam Baki confirmed the arrests.

The anti-graft officers also seized four luxury cars, a high-powered bike, a fixed deposit account with RM1mil, 13 luxury bags and 13 watches worth RM130,000.

All three suspects will be investigated under Section 17(a) of the MACC Act 2009, which carries a jail term of up to 20 years and five times the amount of bribes involved.

It is learnt the 37-year-old suspect, while taking charge of the expatriate services division in the Putrajaya Immigration Depart­ment, carried out the dubious dealings.

He was the division head from Feb 2015 to Dec 2015 and tasked with supervising, approving and cross checking all applicants information in the data system.

Star Media Group managing director and chief executive officer Datuk Seri Wong Chun Wai and Dzulkifli go on a ride in the MACC FM mobile after launching the 3J Campaign at Menara Star in Petaling Jaya. — AZMAN GHANI/The Star

Within the short period there, he was said to have approved 339 applications involving 18,626 applicants.

“Some applicant companies were said to be non-existent.

“Initial investigations showed the suspect took a minimum of RM1,500 per applicant from agents as an inducement to approve their applications,” said a source.

Checks also showed that the suspect’s wife had played a role in the dealings by using her registered companies to issue cheques and to transfer money.

The latest move signalled a clean up of the Immigration Department by the anti-graft body.

Thumbs up: MACC enforcement officers meeting members of the public at various public places to spread the 3J anti-corruption campaign message of ‘Jangan hulur, jangan kawtim, jangan settle’ (Don’t give and don’t settle.

In March, at least 10 immigration officers who took up to RM5,000 each to allow illegals to enter Sarawak were nabbed. Six of them were women.

Early this year, four Selangor immigration officers were rounded-up to assist in investigations into dubious applications for international passports, causing losses of over RM1mil.

In Malacca, the former special officer to Malacca Historical City Council’s mayor implicated in a corruption case was arrested at 7.30pm yesterday at the Malacca MACC office.

The 56-year-old suspect faces 11 charges under the Anti-Money Laundering, Anti-Terrorism Finan­cing and Proceeds of Unlawful Activities Act and another four under the Penal Code.

On Nov 28, the officer was arrested to help with a probe over alleged corruption and money laundering.

The MACC also seized more than RM100mil from the officer, comprising cash, assets and several vehicles.

Source: The Star/ANN

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Penang to set up panel to monitor floods, mudflows, soil ersosion, siltation & pollution


Sabri (fourth left) presenting safety vests to Chow (middle) and Lim to symbolically launch the Ops Lumpur enforcement squad at Komtar.

Putting an end to mudflows

THE Penang government has set up a steering committee to launch ‘Ops Lumpur’ to monitor development activities that could contribute to floods and river pollution in the state.

State Local Government, Traffic Management and Flood Mitigation Committee chairman Chow Kon Yeow is the chairman, while his deputies are state exco members Phee Boon Poh and Lim Hock Seng.

The state Drainage and Irrigation Department (DID) is the secretariat, while committee members comprise those from the local governments, state Economic Planning Unit, state Public Works Department, Department of Environment and district engineers and officers.

Speaking at the launch of the Ops Lumpur enforcement squad yesterday, state DID deputy director S. Ratna Rajah said the committee would make monthly surprise checks at construction sites starting next month.

“Our aim is to ensure that all development comply with the erosion and sediment control plan (ESCP), which is reviewed and approved by the DID.

“The setup of the Ops Lumpur Steering Committee is meant to reduce the risk of flash floods, water pollution and siltation problem,” he said during a briefing at the state DID office in Komtar yesterday.

Ratna Rajah said one of the hotspots was in Paya Terubong, where mudflows and landslips were constantly reported during heavy rain.

He said action could be taken against unregulated project development operators under Section 34 (a) of the Environmental Quality Act, which carries a maximum RM100,000 fine, a jail term not more than five years, or both.

“The authorities can act against developers who have not been given the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Detailed Environmental Impact Assessment (DEIA) approval, or are caught violating the conditions,” he said.

Ratna Rajah said action could also be taken against the perpetrators under the Street, Drainage and Building Act 1974 (Act 133) by the local councils.

“Under Section 71 of the Act, those who failed to ensure the maintenance on the land, could be slapped with a maximum RM500,000 fine, or five years jail, or both,” he said.

Chow said the steering committee would act as adviser to two Implementation Committees spearheaded by Penang Island City Council mayor Datuk Patahiyah Ismail and Seberang Prai Municipal Council president Datuk Maimunah Mohd Sharif.

“We want to tackle problems like soil erosion and siltation at construction sites, which cause floods and river pollution.

“Our focus is to monitor those project developments with approved plans.

“The landowners, developers, engineers, consultants and contractors should play a role in ensuring they comply with ESCP.

“We need their cooperation so that there won’t be mudflows or river siltation whenever there are heavy rains.

“Sometimes, everything looks good on paper. We need to be at the sites to look for ourselves whether there is any violation of rules and regulations.

“We will visit any ongoing development projects,” he said.

Also present was state DID director Sabri Abdul Mulok.

Source: By Tan Sin Chow The Star/ANN

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Retrenchments ahead, says Malaysian Employers Federation


The Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) believes that more people will get the axe this year due to the current economic challenges.

Apart from the weak economy, contributing factors include the introduction of “disruptive technology” in some industries, it said.

According to its executive director Datuk Shamsuddin Bardan (pic), economic challenges would see bosses reviewing their workers’ requirements.

“I think slightly more workers will be retrenched this year,” he told a press conference after the Taxation and Employer seminar jointly hosted by the Inland Revenue Board and MEF yesterday.

Shamsuddin said in 2015, about 44,000 workers lost their jobs while up to September last year, about 40,000 workers were retrenched.

He said the complete data for 2016 has not been released by authorities yet, but the numbers could be higher than the previous year.

In 2015, said Shamsuddin, about 18,000 of those who lost their jobs were from the banking sector due to the introduction of what he termed as “disruptive technology”, where banks were increasingly adopting online transactions, for example.

Other industries that could be affected, said Shamsuddin, include insurance, manufacturing and construction.

He said for the insurance industry, many prefer dealing with the companies directly for their services, which makes the job of middlemen or agents, redundant.

“However, these agents are not really part of the retrenchment rate because they are considered to be self-employed,” he said.

Asked to comment on the E-kad (enforcement card) programme by the Immigration Department, Shamsuddin said the Government should consider widening the criteria.

He said the programme should be open to illegal workers who do not have permanent employers.

Currently, only illegal foreign workers with valid employers can register and legalise their work under the E-kad programme.

Shamsuddin said by including illegal foreign workers without employers, the source pool for workers can be widened.

By Hemananthani Vivanandam The Star/ANN

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Penang has confirmed the illegal hill clearing cases reported by Penang Forum


Land clearing in Penang is rampant with Civil liberties group, Penang Forum (PF) revealing only 7.4 per cent of the state is categorised as forested land. NSTP pix
Location : Near Lintang Bukit Jambul 1
Approximate Coordinates : 5°20’38.47″N,100°16’52.82″E
Report sent in August 2016. Photos taken in November 2016 and 2014. PHW Report 15 pix.

 

GEORGE TOWN: Penang has acknowledged that nine out of 29 hill clearing cases on the island, as reported by Penang Forum , were illegal.

Penang Forum representative Rexy Prakash Chacko said state Local Government Committee chairman Chow Kon Yeow and Penang Island City Council (MBPP) had a discussion with them last week.

This came about after the forum’s first Penang Hills Watch (PHW) report on hill clearing cases was submitted to the state on Jan 2.

“They investigated the report and concluded that only nine were illegal clearing activities while the rest were legally permitted land works (14) and natural slope failure (one). The other five cases are still being investigated by the relevant departments.

“The illegal clearing cases have been issued with stop work orders or are being followed up by court action,” he said on Saturday.

Chacko commended Penang’s concern and transparency in responding to the PHW report.

He urged for close monitoring on the nine illegal clearing cases and for mitigation action to be taken to rehabilitate the areas if necessary.

“For those with permits, the forum hopes that the clearing will strictly adhere to the state laws on land works and drainage.”

Chow, when met at Datuk Keramat assemblyman Jagdeep Singh Deo’s CNY open house in Taman Free School, said he had discussed with Penang Forum members about the report and answered their queries.

The public can view the PHW report as well as the response from the state government at the Penang Hills Watch Facebook page (@PenangHillsWatch) or the Penang Forum website, and see them interactively on a map at the Penang Hills Watch page.

PHW, a citizen-oriented initiative to provide a platform to monitor activities affecting the hills of Penang, was launched in October last year by Penang Forum, a loose coalition of non-political civil society groups often critical of the state government’s plans and policies. –  The Star

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High-rise living in below par, need professionalism in managing the property


Only 74 out of 7,325 high-rise residential properties in Peninsular Malaysia earned the top five-star ranking in an evaluation of their property management standards. And more than half are below par, earning only one and two stars.

IT is one thing to be a developed state by 2020. But it is another thing entirely to have a developed state of mind – and Malaysians have a long way to go to achieve that.

Take, for instance, condominium- and apartment-living.

Some of these properties may come with top notch facilities but when it comes to managing their upkeep, there is much to be desired.

Or so says the latest findings on the quality of managing stratified properties from a survey by the Urban Wellbeing, Housing and Local Government Ministry.

Every year, the ministry conducts its Strata Scheme Management Quality Evaluation, or “Star Rating”, which ranks the standards of joint management bodies (JMBs) or management corporations (MCs) of apartments and condominiums.

These bodies are ranked based on how they do in seven areas (see graphic below for details); five stars is the highest rank.

But, as it turns out, more than half – or 69% – of condominiums and apartments nationwide ranked “below par”, scoring only one and two stars in 2015. In 2014, a slightly smaller percentage, 65%, were ranked below par.

Only 1% – or 74 – out of 7,325 strata development schemes surveyed earned five stars in the 2015 ratings, made available to Sunday Star.

If such a trend continues, future residents will inherit poor standards of living amidst modern facilities.

Currently, almost six million Malaysians out of 20 million city folk are living in stratified buildings like apartments and condominiums.

“But this number is expected to rise in future as the country progresses and becomes more urbanised,” says Mohammad Ridzwan Abidin, Urban Wellbeing, Housing and Local Government Ministry urban service division under-secretary.

He says one of the major problems that condo dwellers continue to face is the refusal of other residents to pay maintenance fees. Other problems are building defects and matters involving enforcement.

“For now, about 70% of residents are at a level where they are merely aware of what needs to be done in managing their property. They are not yet at a level to appreciate the benefits of cooperating with each other and creating a better living culture,” he says.

Mohamad Ridzwan says there is a need to change the mindset of people to foster more civic-minded communities in high-rise buildings.

“Future generations will likely live in stratified buildings, so people should try to set a proper precedent for them,” he says.

He points out that there are also more people moving out of landed properties and into high-rise buildings.

“This group of people will have to learn to adapt to the culture of living in stratified buildings as it is different from living in houses.

“They will need to be more inclusive of and cooperative with their neighbours,” he says, adding that they would also have to learn to be more considerate when it comes to using shared facilities.

Stressing that it all boils down to the mindset of residents, Mohamad Ridzwan highlights the case of Rumah Pangsa Orkid, a low-cost flats property in Ulu Tiram, Johor, which made it into the Malaysia Book Of Records in 2014 for obtaining the ISO 9001:2008 standard for exemplary management.

“Until today, they remain the only low cost flat development to have achieved this,” he says, adding that there are yet to be any high-end condominiums accorded the same standard.

Mohamad Ridzwan says the ministry will continue to actively educate dwellers on proper management of their properties.

“We will embark on more education programmes to promote better practices through advertisements in the mass media,” he says.

On the Strata Management Tribunals to hear disputes, Mohamad Ridzwan says four such tribunals have been successfully set up to cover different zones in Peninsular Malaysia.

“Since their formation the tribunals have heard about 200 cases per month,” he says.

In March, Sunday Star reported that residents who do not pay maintenance fees and other charges were set to face the music, with the Government forming a team to strengthen the enforcement of the Strata Management Act.

The Act also enables residents to take their disputes to a Strata Management Tribunal to settle matters.

Building Managers Association of Malaysia committee member Richard Chan agrees that the “biggest and most critical” problem is the collection of fees, saying that it is rare that JMBs or MCs are able to collect payment from 80% of residents.

“It is more common for the collection rate to be at 40% or 50%,” he says.

Chan laments that petty excuses are often given by residents to defend their refusal to pay up.

“Some refuse because they don’t use the facilities.

“When people ask why they don’t want to pay, they simply say they don’t swim or play tennis,” he shares.

Chan adds that many unit owners live elsewhere or are based overseas and so are reluctant to pay.

“Some are not satisfied with services like garbage collection and defy orders to settle the fees,” he says.

He urges future condo owners to refrain from buying properties that come with all sorts of facilities if they are unwilling to pay up.

“Sometimes, it isn’t about whether they can afford the fees or service charges. It is about their attitude and mentality.

“Some don’t pay simply because their neighbours are not paying and are getting away with it,” Chan says, adding that such attitudes have resulted in some apartments owing up to RM200,000 in water and electricity bills.

The lack of money in the sinking fund also hinders JMBs and MCs from paying for major works like repairing lifts.

“It becomes a vicious cycle. Because people are not satisfied with the upkeep of the place, they do not pay the fees.

“But when they do not pay, there isn’t enough funds for upkeep,” he says.

Also, developers must do their part by informing all potential property buyers of the exact amount of all service charges, says Chan.

“Developers will try to promote their projects for more sales but they should also inform buyers of the fees they are expected to pay.

“Owners should also consider that, after a year, the fees may go up as warranty periods for equipment expire,” he says.

Federation of Malaysian Consumers Associations secretary-general Datuk Paul Selvaraj says many complaints against MCs have been made to the federation.

“High-end condominiums are generally better managed. We received a lot of complaints from people in medium cost apartments,” he says.

He says that consumers and the building management should both be more responsible.

“Consumers need to settle payments that they have agreed to. But they should also be receiving good service in return, like efficient rubbish collection,” he says.

Selvaraj highlights that the only way forward is for management bodies and residents to have a good working relationship.

“People should understand that managing their building is a collective responsibility.

“More dialogues should be held on how to improve the community to ensure good quality of life wherever we live,” he adds.

by Yuen Meikeng The Star/Asia News Network

More professionalism needed in managing high-rises

WITH more high-rises mushrooming, a Building Managers Board is urgently needed, according to Tan Sri Teo Chiang Kok, deputy president of the Building Managers Association of Malaysia (BMAM).

BMAM is an umbrella body comprising stakeholder organisations representing management corporations (MCs), joint management bodies (JMBs), chambers of commerce, developers, engineers, architects, shopping and high-rise complex managers, and managing agents.

Appealing to the Urban Wellbeing, Housing and Local Government Ministry to set up the board urgently, Teo says such a body is long overdue.

“Millions of stratified properties are coming up. Building management is becoming a very big industry. We have to start regulating. All building managers must be registered and regulated,” he says.

To date, some 600 building managers have voluntarily registered with the association, he shares, estimating that there are probably tens of thousands more.

Meanwhile, the BMAM is focused on educating its members and interested parties on good management via collaborations with institutions of higher learning.

Describing building management as a multitasking, multi­discipline function that attracts people from various backgrounds and with a variety of skills, Teo says that basic criteria for the role is needed. A Building Managers Board, once set up, will have guidelines and regulations to bring professionalism to the role.

Persons deregistered by the board cannot be hired as property managers, he suggests. This, he feels, will make hiring building managers cheaper while ensuring that they are monitored.

“So long as they fulfil the board’s requirements, anyone can be a building manager. The board will monitor and weed out the errant ones. JMBs and MCs can hire cheaper, smaller companies, even individuals, to manage their buildings if they don’t have the budget.”

Urban Wellbeing, Housing and Local Government Ministry urban service division undersecretary Mohammad Ridzwan Abidin acknowledges the proposal to set up a Building Managers Board.

“However, no decision can be made by the ministry yet as this matter is still being discussed,” he says.

He says the ministry issued a directive to Commissioners of Buildings nationwide last month to register all managing agents to protect residents from unscrupulous parties.

The BMAM would also like to see the country’s 150-plus Commissioners of Buildings (COB) given proper funding and staff. The role of the commissioner is mostly undertaken by local council heads or mayors, which isn’t right because they already have so much on their plate, he says.

The Commissioner of Buildings must be a dedicated, full-time position supported by an adequately funded department. Now, it’s mainly a one-man show, he observes.

“The Act is a good tool,” he says, referring to the Strata Management Act 2013, “But it’s for the COB to implement it efficiently. An effective COB can nip many things in the bud – the COB can call a unit owner, find out the grouses and give directives. If the COB can offer easy resolution, a lot of problems will be solved.”

Apart from supporting the position of COB, JMBs and MCs must familiarise themselves with the Strata Management Act, says Richard Chan, a committee member of the Building Managers Association of Malaysia and a past president of the Malaysian Association for Shopping and High-Rise Complex Management.

“For instance, many aren’t aware that money collected should go to JMBs and MCs – not the companies or individuals hired to manage the property. What if these companies don’t pay the service contractors?”

On Tuesday, a full-day strata management seminar will be held at Wisma Rehda in Petaling Jaya, Selangor, to explain the Act, he says, urging stakeholders to attend the event.

Teo feels that the Act is too harsh on JMB volunteers. Calling it a thankless job, he says it’s difficult getting residents to even attend AGMs, what more serve on the JMB.

“Despite not being paid, JMB members risk personal liability actions. It’s too onerous. It’s overkill because there are already laws like the Penal Code which imposes fines and jail terms.”

And he feels that the Act places too many obstacles in front of willing volunteers.

“The JMB chairman and members can only serve for two and three years respectively. Such restrictions will make things worse because as it is, no one wants the job. Our solution is to extend the chairman’s term to three years; but if at the AGM there’s no one else who wants the post, he or she should be allowed to stay on. And members should be permitted to stay on for as long as they want.” –  The Star

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