Blacklist the errant and greedy developer who destroyed old building in Penang

What a shame: A file photo of the entrance to the Prai market in Butterworth before it was demolished.

Penang State govt wants firm which tore down market barred from building in Penang

GEORGE TOWN: The Penang state government wants the developer who demolished the Prai market barred from undertaking future projects in Penang as well as disciplinary action against the police officer and lawyer for allegedly colluding with the builder.

Deputy Chief Minister ll Dr P. Ramasamy said the developer must be blacklisted and prevented from building in Penang for tearing down the 76-year-old market.

He said action must also be taken against the police officer whom he alleged had colluded with the developer during the demolition on May 17.

“I have written to the Penang police chief (Senior Deputy Comm Datuk Wira Abdul Rahim Hanafi) and the Home Ministry to investigate and take action against the police officer.

“I personally want the developer prosecuted and jailed and disciplinary action taken against the police officer who abetted the demolition which is a ‘daylight aggression’ and a total disregard for the law,” Dr Ramasamy said yesterday.

On the action sought against the developer’s lawyer, Dr Ramasamy claimed that the court order was for only the eviction of the people and not for demolition of the market.

“The Bar Council must act on this.”

He said there were plans to conserve the market as a heritage building but the demolition ‘threw a spanner into the works’ to restore the building.

Three police reports had been filed against the developer over the demolition.

The Seberang Perai Municipal Council has now cordoned off the site.

The case against the developer for violating the Town and Country Planning Act 1976 was mentioned in the Bukit Mertajam magistrate’s court yesterday and would be brought up again on June 23

– Nu R. Sekaran The Star/Asia News Network

No getting off the hook – Greedy developer should be taught a lession, Says DCM II

Deplorable: A filepic taken in June last year of the rundown Prai Market that was flattened on Sunday.

GEORGE TOWN: The state government will hold talks with the Seberang Prai Municipal Council on action to be taken against the developer for demolishing the 76-year-old Prai market.

Deputy Chief Minister II Dr P. Ramasamy said they would look into all avenues, including getting the developer to restore the structure and arch.

“We don’t have many buildings with heritage value on the mainland so we need to go all out to preserve these buildings.

“This greedy developer should be taught a lesson. The council has taken legal action against the developer before and I will ask them to do it again,” he said when contacted yesterday.

It was reported on Monday that a developer had demolished part of the 76-year-old Prai market despite a stop-work order being issued. The developer had gone against the council’s orders for a second time.

Dr Ramasamy was earlier quoted as saying that although the company managed to obtain vacant possession from the court in June last year, it still needed the council’s approval to carry out demolition work.

He said the state had identified the buildings surrounding the Prai market with heritage value, although it had not been gazetted yet.

A check by The Star showed that the arch at the market entrance with the year ‘1938’ on it was also torn down.

Meanwhile, a reader said it was disgraceful to read about the demolition by a developer who could not be bothered about heritage.

Sanjay C.S. said back in the early 70s, his mother used to cycle from their house in Jalan Baru to the market.

“And today, it resembles as if earthquake had struck there.

“In Nepal, their heritage was ruined by nature, but here, it was selfishly destroyed by human greed.

“The nonchalant developer should be heavily punished!” he said, adding that the state needed to protect its heritage buildings outside George Town as well. – By Tan Sin Chow The Star/Asia News Network

Destroyed despite MPSP’s order – Prai market torn down, Penang govt wants action against developer

Destroyed: Workers demolishing the Prai market in Butterworth and (inset) the arch before it was torn down.

BUTTERWORTH: A developer has demolished part of the 76-year-old Prai market despite a stop-work order and the state government wants action taken against the firm.

What’s worse, the developer had gone against the Seberang Prai Municipal Council’s (MPSP) orders for a second time.

Deputy Chief Minister (II) Dr P. Ramasamy said the company managed to obtain vacant possession from the court in June last year but it still needed the council’s approval to carry out demolition work.

“I’ve instructed the council to take legal action against the company. The state government gazetted the buildings surrounding the Prai market, which have been identified as a building with heritage value.

“The workers moved in on Saturday morning and started to demolish the buildings during heavy rain when no one was around.

“This is the second time they’ve done this. They demolished three buildings the first time, and now four buildings,” he said yesterday.

Dr Ramasamy, who is also Prai assemblyman, said 50% of the compensation had been paid to the occupants and the rest would be paid when they move out.

“I would like to remind the company not to touch the Prai market as the council has listed it as a building with heritage value.”

Barber M. Thirunavakkarassu, 61, said he received a call from a friend at about 8am telling him that his shop was being demolished.

“I quickly rushed to my shop but it was too late. Someone could have gotten hurt as the electric supply was not disconnected,” he said.

A check by The Star showed that the arch at the market entrance with the year “1938’ on it was also torn down. MPSP president Datuk Maimunah Mohd Sharif said they would prepare the necessary documents so that the landowner-cum-developer could be charged in court for tearing down the buildings.

“This is the second time the developer had committed the offence without obtaining approval from us.

“The Town and Country Planning Act 1976 states that a planning approval is needed before a building is demolished,” she said at the council building in Bandar Perda, Bukit Mertajam.

– By M. SIVANANTHA SHARMA and CHRISTOPHER The Star/Asia News Network

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The Malaysian Education: bleak and bright side, a wake-up call


The bleak and bright side of Malaysian Education

Malaysia may be getting dismal marks for education but there are dedicated people making a difference to improve scores.

IT’S probably the best definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

The famous quote is often wrongly attributed to Albert Einstein but whoever said that, it makes sense, especially in the context of the Malaysian education system.

It’s madness to continue spending billions on education without seeing any improvements in quality.

The Education Ministry has been allocated RM56bil this year, RM1.4bil more than what it received last year.

Our expenditure on basic education is more than double that of other Asean countries and also South Korea and Japan.

Yet Malaysia remains stuck at the bottom third of the global schools league, as confirmed by the results from recent assessments such as the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS).

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s 2012 study, based on test scores in mathematics and science among 15-year-olds in 76 countries, shows that Malaysia is languishing at 52nd, way below top-ranked Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan.

Our students were out-performed by Vietnam (12), Thailand (47), Kazakhstan and Iran (51). In Asean, Malaysia only ranked higher than Indonesia (69).

In March, Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said he was shocked by Malaysia’s poor results in international education assessments and admitted that the standards were not good enough.

He said the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025 (Preschool to Secondary) and the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2015-2025 (Higher Education) were designed to improve the system, stressing that time was needed to see the changes.

The truth is, we don’t have the luxury of time and patience is wearing thin.

We inherited a solid education system after independence, just as Singapore did. But over the past three decades, successive ministers of education have made a mess of tinkering with the system, mostly for political motives.

Earlier this month, Johor Ruler Sultan Ibrahim Ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar suggested that Malaysia emulate Singapore’s education system with English as the sole medium of instruction.

Urging the people to be open-minded about the proposal, he said Singapore’s single-stream education system had not only helped to foster unity in the republic but also created a prosperous society.

It is still not too late to bring back the era of racial harmony and unity experienced by people of my generation, who are products of English schools during the 60s and 70s.

As the Johor Sultan has pointed out, there would always be a gap between the races in the country if our education system continues to be based on race and language, not to mention the increasing influence of religion.

But in spite of the weaknesses in the system, it is heartening to see committed parent-teacher associations and non-governmental organisations pushing fervently to get situations improved.

Last Saturday, I was at Sunway University where groups of eager teenagers were taking part in a Young Inventor Challenge, organised by the Association of Science, Technology and Innovation (ASTI), an NGO of volunteers who have been mentoring and encouraging students to excel in science.

ASTI is led by the unassuming Dr Mohamed Yunus Mohamed Yasin, who is credited with bringing about change in the attitude towards science and maths in Tamil schools across the country.

I wouldn’t have known about the quiet science revolution if not for blogger Syed Akbar Ali’s recent post about what Dr Yunus and his group of dedicated friends have been doing over the past 12 years.

As a result of participating in ASTI’s Science Fair for Young Children, Tamil schools are scoring top grades for science and maths in the UPSR.

Last year, SRJK (Tamil) Taman Tun Aminah, Johor Baru, emerged as the top school for the UPSR with 43 pupils scoring straight 7As while others scored 7Bs.

They are making headlines abroad too. In March, three students of SJK(T) Ramakrishna, Penang, beat 300 contestants from all over the world to win first prize at the 35th Beijing Youth Science Creation Competition.

Durgashini Srijayan, Kumurthashri Ponniah and Sugheson Ganeson won the gold medal under the Excellent Youth Science Creation category of the contest for their invention of an eco-friendly thermo container.

In October last year, SJK (T) Kulim’s R. Prevena, V Susheetha and former student R. Rasyikash won the Double Gold Award at the British Invention Show in London for their energy-saving drinks-dispensing machine.

Building on the successes of the science fairs, ASTI started the Young Inventors Challenge, which is open to all secondary schools, three years ago. From the initial 19, the number of schools has since increased to almost 200, including a team from Singapore.

ASTI also organises Creative and Critical Thinking Camps designed for primary schools up to tertiary level, and the ASTI Innovation Community Award to recognise the contributions of individuals or groups using science and technology for beneficial projects.

It also works with Germany’s Goethe Institute in organising the annual Science Film Fest to produce documentaries and teaching films about science.

And it has been doing all these with an annual budget of RM800,000, raised largely from well-wishers, including its 400 volunteers.

Dr Yunus’ philosophy is simple: “Stop complaining, get involved. As patriots, we can help the country do well too.”

By Veera Pandiyan

> Associate editor M. Veera Pandiyan likes William Butler Yeat’s definition of education: it is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire.

Take OECD education report as a wake-up call
The Star Says

ITS does not feel good to know that a new report by the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development places us at 52nd among 76 countries in terms of our students’ grasp of basic skills.

Singapore takes the top spot, thus reinforcing the recent call by Johor Ruler Sultan Ibrahim Ibni Sultan Iskandar that we emulate the island nation’s single-stream education system, which uses English as the medium of instruction.

He said having schools in only one stream would unite Malay­sians and boost their competitiveness.

These developments tell us that our education system can be a lot better. Then again, we all know that.

The fact that Malaysia has two education blueprints – one focusing on preschool education and primary and secondary schools, and the other on higher education – shows that the Government is already taking steps to transform our education system.

The blueprints’ plans stretch until 2025, which means we should not hope for many overnight improvements.

Meanwhile, it is wise for us to keep enhancing our understan­ding of exactly how our shared prosperity is built on education.

New ideas and insights in this area are valuable because they help us to shape and refine policies and practices relating to the education system. At the very least, they encourage us to see things in a different light.

It is clichéd to say education is the cornerstone of development, but what if somebody comes up with projections of how much economies can benefit if school enrolment and education quality go up?

In fact, the OECD has done just that in a report titled “Universal Basic Skills: What Countries Stand to Gain”. Published on Wednesday, it is the same report that has Malaysia in the bottom third of the class based on our teenagers’ mathematics and science scores in international tests.

Let us not get hung up on these rankings. The report is 116 pages long and has a lot more to offer than bragging rights and naming-and-shaming opportunities.

For instance, it makes abundantly clear that an underperforming education sector costs a country dearly. The OECD warns that poor education policies and practices will result in a loss of economic output amounting to a permanent state of economic recession.

The organisation also points out that high-income status does not automatically eliminate shortco­mings in education.

It is also interesting that the OECD argues that when there is universal achievement of basic skills in a country, its economic growth will be more inclusive.

The report suggests that there is still much to learn about how we can strengthen our education policies. We should be open to fresh thinking and approaches.

At the same time, we must not waver from the commitment and noble intentions reflected in the blueprints.

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05 Dec 2013
Malaysia, US, UK and Australia lag in global education rankings as China and Asian countries rise to the top. Chapter 1. What is PISA? Malaysia students score below global average.

Big homegrown successes in India from Sillicon Valley’s returning ‘fail fast’ engineers

India Startups

Taking failure as a norm would be a major cultural shift in India, where high-achieving children are expected to take steady jobs at recognised job

India learns to ‘fail fast’ with startups

Families that expect children to have respectable jobs may be beginning to accept failure as the tech industry starts to come of age.

After ping pong tables, motivational posters and casual dress codes, India’s tech startups are following Silicon Valley’s lead and embracing the “fail fast” culture credited with fuelling creativity and success in the United States.

Taking failure as a norm is a major cultural shift in India, where high-achieving children are typically expected to take steady jobs at recognised firms. A failed venture hurts family status and even marriage prospects.

But that nascent acceptance, fuelled by returning engineers and billions of dollars in venture fund investment, is for many observers a sign that India’s US$150bil tech industry is coming of age, moving from a back-office powerhouse to a creative force.

“There is obviously increased acceptance,” said Raghunandan G, co-founder of TaxiForSure, which was sold to rival Ola this year. He is now investing in other early stage ventures.

“My co-founder Aprameya (Radhakrishna) used to have lines of prospective brides to meet … the moment we started our own company, all those prospective alliances disappeared. No one wanted their daughters to marry a startup guy.”

Srikanth Chunduri returned to India after studying at Duke University in the US, and is now working on his second venture. “I think what’s encouraging is that acceptance of failure is increasing despite the very deep-rooted Asian culture where failure is a big no,” he said.


The shift has come about, executives say, as engineers began returning from Silicon Valley to cash in on India’s own boom, as hundreds of millions of Indians go online.

“Investors too want to find the next Flipkart, and most of them come from Silicon Valley backgrounds, so they bring that culture,” said Stewart Noakes, co-founder of TechHub, a global community and workspace for tech entrepreneurs. “That’s changing the Indian norms. It’s becoming ok to fail and try again.”

Big names like Flipkart can also mean the prospect of a lucrative exit for investors, covering a multitude of failures. To be sure, the pace of change is slow in altering a culture that has produced top software engineers for decades, but – as yet – no Google, Apple or Twitter.

Cheap engineering talent keeps startups afloat far longer than in Silicon Valley, where companies last less than two years on average. And the freedom to fail remains restricted to a small portion of India’s corporate fabric, booming tech cities like Bengaluru or Gurgaon outside New Delhi.

There is also still no revolving door with big corporates, whom one senior Bengaluru headhunter described as beating down salaries of executives who dared to risk – but then came back.


India Startups_Flipkart

India learns to ‘fail fast’ as tech startup culture takes root

But big homegrown successes like e-tailers Flipkart and Snapdeal or mobile advertising firm InMobi, as well as the multi-billion dollar firms set up by former executives from the likes of, Microsoft and Google, have created role models, encouraging graduates to take risks.

“With success stories, people accept it as a legitimate exercise,” said Ryan Valles, former CEO of coupon site DealsandYou and a former executive at Accel Partners, now working on a new project.

Meanwhile, billions in investor funding have fed the sector. External cash – as opposed to more traditional bank loans tied to individuals, or family savings – makes a difference. Failing there can involve walking away Silicon Valley-style, not years of court proceedings in a country with no formal bankruptcy law.

There has also been, to date, no major collapse.

“What’s happening is healthy: people recognising that some things will fail, that it’s largely a failure-based industry, in the same way that movies, music or pharmaceuticals are,” said Shikhar Ghosh, senior lecturer at Harvard Business School.

An estimated 70-90% of start-ups fail.

But the biggest test may be the first bust after the boom.

“That will be the test: whether people come back into the market and how they treat the people who lost their money,” said Ghosh. – Reuters

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Deterrent action for housing developers mooted

DEVELOPERS who carry out earthworks without approvals or permits from the Penang Island City Council (MBPP) could face the possibility of having their applications for future development projects frozen for five to 10 years.

Bukit Setiawangsa concrete embankment has collapsed due to soil erosion

Local Government Committee chairman Chow Kon Yeow (DAP – Padang Kota) suggested that stringent action be taken against such errant developers.

“The state government or the city council will freeze all future development applications of such developers between five and 10 years, if they are found to be carrying out illegal earthworks.

“Such action needs to be taken against these ‘environmental violators or sinners’ to curb illegal hill clearing,” Chow said during his winding-up speech at the state assembly yesterday.

He said if such measures were imposed, developers would be more concerned and serious about getting valid approval for earthworks.

Chow added that MBPP was also seriously looking into the hill clearing issue at Bukit Relau.

“MBPP has met General Accomplishment Sdn Bhd (GASB), which is responsible for the mitigation works on the hill, 13 times since April 26 last year.

“The city council has issued order notices to the company for more mitigation works .

“GASB has carried out hydro-seeding and close-turfing works to minimise the soil erosion on the hill.

“The company has also been ordered by MBPP to supervise the close-turfing, trench and sediment pond at the hill, so that the soil erosion can be controlled,” he added.

Besides that, Chow said a stop- work order had been issued to the developer who had been carrying out illegal earthworks near the Teluk Bahang Dam on Jan 12.


Erosion worsens on Bukit Relau despite slope repairs

This was confirmed during a site inspection by the Penang Island Municipal Council (MPPP) on Nov 2 after the scars on its slopes had appeared to worsen despite the landowner having been convicted by the courts.

The Penang government has however denied that the controversial clearing activity has continued, saying that new damage to the hill are due to landslips and erosion.

A gully at the damaged site on Bukit Relau.Chow Kon Yeow, the state executive councillor for local government, today refuted allegations that the earthworks activity has expanded.

He explained that the apparent increase in the hill’s scarring is due to landslips that happened following mitigation works on the slopes.

“The earlier mitigation has not been effective,” he said. “The grass did not grow well. And the rainy season in September and October caused erosion and landslips.”

He added that MPPP engineers together with MPPP secretary Ang Aing Thye and representatives of landowner General Accomplishment Sdn Bhd (GASB) were present at the site visit on Nov 2 to inspect the conditions.

GASB has since been asked to engage a landscape consultant to improve the situation.

“The landowner must then submit an earthworks plan to the MPPP to approve the mitigation works,” he said.

Chow said this during a visit to the site of the Briksa community park in Farlim where the MPPP is expected to complete landscaping and building of recreational facilities by next month at a cost of RM649,930.

Deep gullies seen at site

Meanwhile, MPPP councillor Dr Lim Mah Hui expressed alarm at photographs of deep gullies taken by a group of hikers and nature lovers at the site last week.

“From the pictures they took, one can see that the erosion is bad,” he said. “It is so clear that they are not just landslips. There are gullies that are about six and seven feet deep.”

“I have raised this matter before in MPPP but nothing is being done. I am a lone voice in the wilderness,” he said. “The media should do its part to highlight this matter.”

Lim lamented that six months have passed since the general election and nothing significant has happened on the site even though Batu Uban assemblyman Dr T Jayabalan and Seri Delima assemblyman RSN Rayer have brought this matter up with the state.

About six acres cleared

When contacted, Tan Sri Tan Kok Ping, one of the four directors of GASB, said the mitigation work done following the stop-work order by MPPP was only to cover the exposed soil with white and blue plastics but that was not adequate.

“Due to the sun, rain and wind, the plastic covering came off and withered. We stopped covering the soil in September to submit the rectification plan,” he said

“I know the erosion is bad because the covers came off. But every time it rains, about six to seven workers are there daily to check on the condition and make sure the lower parts of the area are not badly affected,” he stressed.

He added that the cleared land spans about six acres but the remedial works would involve 30 per cent of the land.

“This will ensure erosion and soil run-off do not occur in future. We will listen to the consultant’s advice on whether to plant grass or trees and spend as much money as needed to repair the damage caused by the clearing,” he added.

The controversy over the clearing, which can be seen from many parts of Penang, blew up in April.

On July 11, GASB was sentenced to a fine of RM30,000, in default of three years jail, by the Penang Sessions Court.

The maximum sentence for the offence is jail term not exceeding five years or a fine of not more than RM50,000, or both.

The deputy public prosecutor has since filed an appeal so that a heavier sentence can be meted out.

by Himanshu Bhatt and Sangeetha Amarthalingam The Nation Malaysian Insider

 State govt takes steps to ensure housing developers deliver

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Getting titles right in the engineering field in Malaysia

RECENTLY, the Institution of Engineers Malaysia (IEM) received an enquiry on the usage of the title “Engr.” for members of the institution.

The title “Ir” was first introduced by IEM in the early 1970s for both the graduate and corporate members of the Institution. The amendment to the Registration of Engineers Act in 1987 provided for the use of the title “Ir” to registered professional engineers only.

With this development, IEM had to amend its constitution to disallow the use of the said title. Hence, the title “Ir” which once signified the membership of the Institution was taken away.

Since then, IEM has strongly felt that there was a need to provide an identity for the members of the Institution. Many suggestions and calls were made for the institution to look into the issue of a suitable title for its graduate and corporate members who are qualified engineers with accredited and recognised engineering degrees.

Therefore in 2006, the use of the pre-nominal “Engr” for the graduate and corporate members was introduced with the aim of not only giving due recognition and honour to the engineers, but also encouraging the younger generation to take up engineering.

However, in 2009, IEM further amended the constitution to allow only graduate members and corporate members, who are not professional engineers, to use the title “Engr” before their names. This will clearly distinguish between the title “Ir” for professional engineers and “Engr” for IEM members who are not professional engineers.

Moreover, the usage of the title “Engr” shall be used in conjunction with the post-nominal of “FIEM”, “MIEM” or “Grad IEM”, whichever is appropriate. As such, the use of pre-nominal “Engr” shall not be construed to imply that the person is a professional engineer.

With the progress of society and the Government’s aspiration for Malaysia to achieve the status of a developed nation by 2020, IEM shall always support the Government’s vision to produce more qualified engineers who will play a very important role in nation-building.

IEM graduate members can use the title “Engr” with pride and confidence as their degrees have been vetted and recognised by the Institution.

The admission as graduate members of IEM is only accorded to the holders of engineering degrees accredited under the Washington Accord. In so far as the approving authorities are concerned, the title “Engr” does not pose any confusion because all submission of plans need to have the stamp of a professional engineer (P.Eng.) with the title “Ir” as required by the Board of Engineers Malaysia (BEM).

“Engr” is now a title where members of the institution who are not professional engineers can be addressed.

This will give high recognition and honour to the engineers and promote the growth of the engineering profession for the progress of the nation.

Currently, there are more than 10,500 members of IEM who are entitled to use the title “Engr”

By IR YAM TEONG SIAN Secretary Institution of Engineers, Malaysia


Good practice at construction site  – IEM

Report on collapses ready

THE open investigation into two civil structures that collapsed in June 2013 has been completed and the report submitted to the Penang government, said Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng.

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China says: we can build High Speed Rail by 2020; Malaysia and Singapore push back deadline

Making connections: Liow (left) speaking with Liu Yunshan, secretary of the Secretariat of the Communist Party of China Central Committee. – By Patrick Lee The Star/Asia News Network

KUALA LUMPUR: China is confident that it can build the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High-Speed Rail (HSR) line by 2020.

China embassy’s economic and commercial counsellor Wu Zhengping expressed confidence that the original target date could be met – within certain parameters.

“Technically, it’s possible if Chinese companies are awarded the contract. We will be able to achieve that by 2020. We’ve still got five years,” he told The Star in an interview.

He was commenting on reports that the HSR line would not meet its original target date.

Wu pointed out that it took a mere three years to build the 1,318km Beijing-Shanghai HSR line, which was completed in 2010. It opened to the public in June 2011.

The 350km Kuala Lumpur-Singapore line is expected to cost about RM40bil while there are matters between Malaysia and Singapore which are expected to be ironed out by year end.

Wu said China was determined to build the line, adding that it would fall in with its plans to link Kunming to Singapore via some 2,700km of rail.

Calling it the “Pan-Asian Railway”, he indicated that this would cut through Laos, Thailand and Malaysia.

He added that not all of this railway might be high-speed lines, especially in Laos, which has rough, mountainous terrain.

Wu said the HSR traffic might not be enough to justify building such a line but spoke of an economic “spillover effect” if it were to happen.

Chinese companies here, he added, might even start to develop areas near the Singapore-Kuala Lumpur line.

“If China is awarded the contract (in Malaysia), we’ll encourage Chinese companies to locate their factories and firms along the railway line,” he said.

He also said there were plans to build high-speed train cars in Malaysia should China be given the contract.

Asked what would China do if Chinese companies were unable to win the HSR bid, Wu said Malaysia had given assurance that this would be “open, fair and transparent”.

Transport Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai, who is in Beijing on an official visit, said while he welcomed the offer from China, the open tender would only be called after details of the project had been thrashed out between Malaysia and Singapore.

He said a memorandum bet­ween the two countries would be signed by end of this year, adding that it would then take another year to complete the technical study.

“By then, only we would know what is the actual period (needed to build the line).

“It is too early to say that the project can be completed by 2020 when we do not have the details yet,” he said.

Tell us: Which country would you like to get your fast rail from? 

Singapore, Malaysia push back deadline for high-speed rail link –Reauters

SINGAPORE – Singapore and Malaysia have decided to push back an initial deadline of 2020 for the completion of a high-speed rail link between the wealthy city state and Kuala Lumpur, their prime ministers said on Tuesday, citing the complexity of the project.

The Southeast Asian neighbours said they hoped to reach agreement by the end of the year on a new timeline for the railway link, which will cut travel time between the cities to 90 minutes.

“We looked at the original timeline of 2020, and think it is not really realistic,” Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told a news conference, adding that the project was very challenging to carry out.

“We have to take a bit more time to do it well, but to do it without delay.”

Singapore and Malaysia set a completion date of 2020 when they announced plans for the high-speed rail link in February 2013, but gave no estimate of the project cost.

Hailed at the time as a major breakthrough by some analysts, the announcement reflected an improvement in ties between the neighbours. Singapore was once part of Malaysia but they separated acrimoniously in 1965, clouding diplomatic and economic dealings for decades.

On Tuesday, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said construction of the link with the Malaysian capital would take five years, design one year and the tendering process another year. “We both decided that bilateral issues pertaining to the high-speed rail project will be settled by the end of the year,” Najib said.

Can Malaysia’s household debt at 87.9% in 2014 be reduced to 54% ?

BEING a teenager, my granddaughter started to pick up interest on how the economy works, what are the real assets and liabilities in one’s financial planning. As the topic itself can be slightly “dry”, I made an attempt to discuss it in a way that was easier for her to digest.

“Our national household debt to GDP ratio edged up to 87.9% last year. Is the number alarming?” she asked one day.

“It depends. We have good debts and bad debts in life. For example, 10 years later, our new cars may have depreciated more than 80% and our new clothes would have been worn out. Those are liabilities. On the other hand, houses are assets as they will appreciate in the long run. Debts which are backed by appreciating assets are considered good debts,” I said.

As she nodded in agreement with my simple explanation of good debts and bad debts, her question has piqued my curiosity to look into the details of our household debt.

Overall, is our nation having more good debts or bad debts?

Bank Negara report shows that our household debt was at RM940.4bil or 87.9% of GDP as at end of 2014. Residential housing loans accounted for 45.7% (RM429.7bil) of total debts, hire purchase at 16.6%, personal financing stood at 15.7%, non-residential loans were 7.7%, securities at 6.5%, followed by credit cards and other items at 3.9% respectively.

At first glance, our residential housing loans were the highest among all types of household debts. However, a recent McKinsey Global Institute Report highlighted that in advanced countries, mortgages or housing loans comprise 74% of total household debt on average. As a country that aspires to be a developed nation by 2020, our housing loans that stand at 45.7% is considered low. In other words, we are spending too much on other depreciating items instead of appreciating assets like houses.

If advanced economies, which are usually consumer nations, have only 26% debts on non-housing loans, we shouldn’t have as high as 54% loans on items such as hire-purchase (which are mostly cars), personal loans, credit cards and others.

If we were to follow the household debt ratio of advanced economies, our housing loans of RM429.7bil should be at 74% of total household debts, and other loans should be reduced from 54% to 26%, i.e. from RM510.7bil to RM150.9bil. With such reduction, total household debt would be slashed significantly from RM940.4bil to RM580.6bil (existing housing loans plus reduced non-housing loans), the amount would be at 54.2% of GDP instead of 87.9%.

I am wondering why we can’t have a household debt to GDP ratio of 54.2% as illustrated above. Are we spending too much on depreciating items?

Non-housing loans comprise mainly borrowings for cars, personal loans and credit cards. Car value depreciates about 10% to 20% per year based on insurance calculation and accounting practice. Borrowings for personal loans and credit card are also likely to depreciate over time which can be dubbed as “bad debt”.

Perhaps it is time for the Government to introduce massive cooling off measures for non-housing loans in order to curb bad debt in our household debt.

According to our Deputy Urban Wellbeing, Housing and Local Government Minister, our homeownership rate currently stands at 50% and the Government strives to increase the number with more affordable homes. As a comparison, almost 85% of Singaporeans are homeowners.

We can expedite the above vision if more stringent measures are imposed on non-housing loans, it will free up more resources for household financial planning. The rakyat should be encouraged to secure a roof over their heads with effective execution of affordable housing policy by the Government.

It is time to re-look our debt categories and reallocate our resources appropriately. If we are willing to cut back on cars, clothes, shoes and other depreciating items, reducing a household debt to GDP ratio of 54.2% is not only an aspiration, but an achievable reality.

By ALAN TONG Food for Thought

And the more beneficial effect is, more rakyat will have the financial resources to own a house, which is both a shelter and an appreciating asset.

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


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