JPMorgan CEO warns he will fire any employee trading Bitcoin for being “stupid.”


 
Tough stand: Dimon has warned that he will fire JPMorgan traders who traded in bitcoin ‘in a second. For two reasons: It’s against our rules, and they’re stupid. And both are dangerous.’ — AFP

NEW YORK: JPMorgan Chase & Co chief executive officer Jamie Dimon said he will fire any employee trading bitcoin for being “stupid.”

The cryptocurrency “won’t end well,” he told an investor conference in New York on Tuesday, predicting it will eventually blow up. “It’s a fraud” and “worse than tulip bulbs.”

If a JPMorgan trader began trading in bitcoin, he said: “I’d fire them in a second. For two reasons: It’s against our rules, and they’re stupid. And both are dangerous.”

Bitcoin has soared in recent months, spurred by greater acceptance of the blockchain technology that underpins the exchange method and optimism that faster transaction times will encourage broader use of the cryptocurrency.

Prices have climbed more than four-fold this year – a run that has drawn debate over whether that’s a bubble.

Bitcoin initially slipped after Dimon’s remarks. It was down as much as 2.7% before recovering.

Last week, it slumped after reports that China plans to ban trading of virtual currencies on domestic exchanges, dealing another blow to the US$150bil cryptocurrency market.

Tulips are a reference to the mania that swept Holland in the 17th century, with speculators driving up prices of virtually worthless tulip bulbs to exorbitant levels.

That didn’t end well.

In bitcoin’s case, Dimon said he’s sceptical authorities will allow a currency to exist without state oversight, especially if something goes wrong.

“Someone’s going to get killed and then the government’s going to come down,” he said.

“You just saw in China, governments like to control their money supply.”

Dimon differentiated between the bitcoin currency and the underlying blockchain technology, which he said can be useful.

Still, he said banks’ application of blockchain “won’t be overnight.”

The bank chief said he wouldn’t short bitcoin because there’s no telling how high it will go before it collapses.

The best argument he’s heard, he said, is that it can be useful to people in places with no other options – so long as the supply of coins doesn’t surge.

“If you were in Venezuela or Ecuador or North Korea or a bunch of parts like that, or if you were a drug dealer, a murderer, stuff like that, you are better off doing it in bitcoin than US dollars,” he said.

“So there may be a market for that, but it’d be a limited market.”— Bloomberg

 

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Too good to be true? Think twice


 

HAVE you ever grabbed an offer without any hesitation, simply because the price is too cheap to resist?

Many of us have this experience especially during sales or promotional campaigns. We tend to spend more at the end or buy things which we are uncertain of their quality when the deal seems too good to say no.

It may be harmless if the amount involved is insignificant. However, when we apply the same approach to big ticket items, it can cause vast implications.

Recently, I heard a case which reinforces this belief.

A friend shared that a property project which was selling for RM300,000 a few years ago is now stuck. Although the whole project was sold out, the developer has problem delivering the units on time.

The developer is calling all purchasers to renegotiate the liquidated and ascertained damages (LAD), a compensation for late delivery.

One of the homeowners said he is owed RM50,000 of LAD, which means the project is 1½ years late. When we chatted, we found that he purchased the unit solely due to its cheap pricing without doing much research in the first place.

The incident is a real-life example of paying too low for an item which can leave us as losers, especially when it involves huge sum of investment, such as property.

To many, buying a house maybe a once-in-a-lifetime experience, a decision made can make or break the happiness of a family.

A good decision ensures a roof over the head and a great living environment, while an imprudent move may incur long-term financial woes if the house is left uncompleted.

Nowadays, it is common to see people do research when they plan to buy a phone, household item, or other smaller ticket items.

Looking at the amount involved and implication of buying a house, we should apply the same discretion if not more.

It is always important for house buyers to study the background of a developer and project, consult experienced homeowners regarding the good and bad of a project before committing.

I have seen many people buy a house merely based on price consideration.

In fact, there are more to be deliberated when we commit for a roof over our heads. The location, project type, reputation of a developer, the workmanship, the future maintenance of the property etc, are all important factors for a good decision as they would affect the future value of a project.

Beware when a discount or a rebate sounds too good to be true, it may be just too good to be true and never materialised. If the collection or revenue of a housing project is not sufficient to fund the building cost, the developer may not be able to complete the project or deliver the house as per promised terms. At the end of the day, the “price” paid by homeowners would be far more expensive.

In general, the same principle applies elsewhere. It is a known fact that when we pay a premium for a quality product from a reliable producer, we have a peace of mind that the product could last longer and end up saving us money. Some lucky ones will end up gaining much more.

For instance, when we purchase a car, we should consider its resale value as some cars hold up well, while others collapse after a short period. Other determining factors include the specifications of the car, the after sales service, and the availability of spare parts.

Quality products always come with a higher price tag due to the research, effort, materials and services involved.

In addition to buying a house or big ticket items, other incidents that can tantamount to losing huge sums are like money games, get-rich-quick scheme, or the purchase of stolen cars or houses with caveats.

When an offer or a rebate sounds dodgy, the “good deal” can be a scam.

Years of experience tells me that when what is too good to be true, we should think twice. I always remind myself with a quote from John Ruskin (1819-1900) who was an art critic, an artist, an architect and a philosopher. “It’s unwise to pay too much, but it’s worse to pay too little. When you pay too much, you lose a little money – that’s all. When you pay too little, you sometimes lose everything, because the thing you bought was incapable of doing the thing it was bought to do.

“The common law of business balance prohibits paying a little and getting a lot – it can’t be done. If you deal with the lowest bidder, it is well to add something for the risk you run, and if you do that you will have enough to pay for something better.”

Food for thought by Alan Tong

Datuk Alan Tong has over 50 years of experience in property development. He 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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Malaysia must retool education, skills to adapt to knowledge economy


KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia needs to reinvent its education system to adapt to the knowledge economy, which has led to a sharp reduction in unskilled jobs and spike in demand for data analysts.

Tan Sri Andrew Sheng, Distinguished Fellow of Asia Global Institute, University of Hong Kong, said Malaysia needs to retool its education and skills, and experiment across the spectrum, in positioning itself in the new economy.

“Formal education is outdated because of the speed of new knowledge. Companies do not spend on ‘on the job’ training, because of cost cuts and staff turnover,” he said during his presentation at the NCCIM Economic Forum 2017 yesterday.

Between 2007 and 2015, the loss of unskilled jobs was 55% relative to other jobs while demand for data analysts over the last five years has increased 372%.

In the global supply chain, old economy companies are quickly losing their edge as digitisation moves faster than physical goods while unskilled jobs will be quickly replaced by robotics due to the fast adoption of artificial intelligence (AI).

“Moving up the global value chain is about moving up knowledge intensity. If you don’t get smarter you won’t get the business.

“We are already plugged into the global value chain. We are very successful in that area but we cannot stay where we are. Remaining still is no longer an option. We need to move from tasks to value added growth to high value added production. In order to do that, we need to learn to learn.”

Sheng said the Malaysian economy is doing well but faces many challenges, including subdued energy prices, growing trade protectionism, geopolitical tensions and is still very reliant on foreign labour.

“Are we ready for the new economy? The way trade is growing is phenomenal but the new economy’s challenges are great and very complicated politically because technology is great for us as it gives us whatever we want but at the cost of our jobs,” he said.

When education fails to keep pace with technology, the result is inequality, populism and major political upheaval.

“What the new economy tells us is that robotics or AI (artificial intelligence) calls for Education 4.0, which means that we have to learn for life,” he said.

Sheng noted that Malaysia has successfully moved quietly into education services, medical tourism, higher quality foods, all through upgrading skills, branding and marketing.

“But formal education has become bureaucratised, whereas we are not spending enough on upgrading our labour force, prefering to hire imported labour,” he said.

Although Malaysia cannot compete in terms of scale and speed, especially against giants such as China, it can compete in terms of scope with strength in diversity, soft skills and adaptability.

“We are winners … but have we got the mindset?” Sheng questioned.

He said Malaysia must upgrade its physical technology through research and development, harness its unique social technology and digitise its business model in order to create wealth.

While the government can help, he added, true success comes from community self-help irrespective of race or creed, and retired baby boomers who have wealth of experience must mentor the youth to start thinking about the new economy.

Eva Yeong, sunbiz@thesundaily.com
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 Andrew Sheng – Institute for New Economic Thinking

Andrew Sheng
is a distinguished fellow at Fung Global Institute, chief adviser …
member of Khazanah Nasional Berhad, the sovereign wealth fund of Malaysia.

MALAYSIA should leverage on social technology, which is its true strength, … Tan Sri Andrew Sheng, who is a distinguished fellow at Asia Global Institute, … the new economy as it involves lifelong learning to adapt, innovate and create. … To enhance the skills of the civil service, he pointed out Singapore’s …

Andrew Sheng – Project Syndicate

Andrew Sheng, Distinguished Fellow of the Asia Global Institute at the University of Hong Kong and a member of the UNEP Advisory Council on Sustainable …

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Bitcoin must not in your retirement financial planning portfolio


Bitcoin investments have undeniably become a trend among savvy investors in search of the golden goose, but one financial planner is against the use of it as part of the financial planning portfolio for retirement.

Max Growth Wealth Education Sdn Bhd managing director Nicholas Chu said one should not use bitcoin as part of the retirement portfolio and the public must be well aware of the risk in bitcoin trading before getting in.

“It is not asset-backed, it is very unsecure. It is, basically, you want to participate in the future changes. It’s not a proper financial planning way. It is just an experimental thing that you want to go through in this era, but it is not a proper investment product,” he told SunBiz.

“I definitely don’t agree if they use this for their financial planning. But for those who are able to try new ventures, they can go ahead provided they have extra money. If this doesn’t affect their existing financial planning, then I’ll leave it to them. We need to tell them the pros and cons of this investment. It’s up to the clients to do the final decision,” he said.

Chu cautioned on the uncertainties of bitcoin trading, which is driven by market forces.
“It is beyond anybody’s control, all the participants contribute to the bitcoin value. From that, I can say that there are a lot of uncertainties in the future,” he said.

Nonetheless, with the setting up of a few bitcoin exchanges, Chu noted that there will be demand and supply with tradeable markets available.

Bitcoin was the best-performing currency in 2015 and 2016, with a rise of 35.8% and 126.2% respectively.

Year to date, bitcoin prices have leaped more than three times. It stood at US$2,840 (RM12,140) as at 5pm last Friday.

Bitcoins are by the far the most popular cryptocurrency, which exists almost wholly in the digital realm and has no asset backing it. Bitcoin generation, known as mining, while open to anyone with a “mining application” on their computer, needs a great deal of computing power to solve complex algorithms which are later verified with the entire bitcoin network.

Colbert Low, founder of bitcoinmalaysia.com, said the recent spike in bitcoin prices could be partly due to the legalisation of bitcoin by the Japanese government.

He is unsure if the sharp rise in bitcoin prices will create a price bubble, but stressed that one cannot judge its price movement based on the “old economic theory”.

“This is a new economy based on a different model. It’s very hard to say,” Low opined, noting that there has been a growing number of retail outlets that accept bitcoin.

He foresees the usage of bitcoin propagating, especially in different types of payment methods.

However, Low opined that there will not be any “big movement” in the local market if the regulators do not regulate bitcoin.

“Our new Bank Negara governor is forward thinking and he is very much into fintech, technology and innovation. So there would definitely be improvement,” Low said.

The positive development of blockchain will be a catalyst for the growth of bitcoin, he added.

“Blockchain is a real thing that will change the way the IP system is architectured. We need to go down to a deeper level to see how blockchain can change the current problem and solve it.

“There are a lot of projects right now, over 500 companies are looking at this (blockchain) right now. Even IBM, HP and Microsoft are looking at it.”

Blockchain refers to distributed database that maintains a continuously growing list of records, called blocks, secure from tampering and revision. Bitcoin is just an application or software that runs on blockchain technology.

“If you look at blockchain technology, government agencies like the United Nations, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund are looking at it. This is the best way to secure your data,” Low said, noting that the usage of bitcoin will help reduce operating cost.

Currently, there are about 16 million bitcoins in the market and the number is capped at 21 million.

Bank Negara has said that it does not regulate the cryptocurrency and advised the public to be cautious of the risks associated with the usage of such digital currency.

Source: By Lee Weng Khuen sunbiz@thesundaily.com

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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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Recalling Bank Negara’s massive forex losses in 1990s


The government is moving ahead to investigate whether there were any wrongdoings in the massive foreign exchange losses suffered by Bank Negara some 25 years ago. Many people today may not have a good recollection of what happened, while many others probably had no knowledge of it until it became news again recently as the sitting government took aim at this nasty episode under Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s rule.

I was a reporter with Reuters then and had covered the losses that surfaced when the central bank released its annual reports for 1992 and 1993 in March 1993 and March 1994, respectively. I recall that those losses first puzzled me and others because bank officials did not come forward to talk about them at the press conference nor was the information contained in the press release. They were, however, disclosed in the last few pages of the 1992 report on the bank’s financial statement, which normally do not attract attention, as reporters would focus on the earlier parts that touched on the performance of the economy and banking sector.

But that year, we took a cursory look at those back pages and spotted something odd. Bank Negara’s financial statement showed its Other Reserves had plunged from RM10.1 billion in 1991 to RM743 million in 1992, or a loss of RM9.3 billion. There was also a Contingent Liability of RM2.7 billion.

When we asked about this, I recall that both then Bank Negara governor, the late Tan Sri Jaafar Hussein, and his deputy, Tan Sri Dr Lin See Yan, said it was nothing serious, as they were mere paper losses that could be recovered later. We were not convinced, but we were unable to challenge them, as we did not under stand the manner in which Bank Negara presented its accounts.

The next day, however, the market was abuzz with talk that the bank had lost billions in foreign exchange transactions and I remember writing stories on this for the next week or so. But nothing more came of it, although opposition MPs led by Lim Kit Siang continued to press the Ministry of Finance and Bank Negara for answers.

The matter really blew up a year later when Bank Negara tabled its 1993 report and disclosed another forex loss of RM5.7 billion. Here is what Jaafar said:

“In the Bank’s 1993 accounts, a net deficiency in foreign exchange transactions of RM5.7 billion is reported, an amount which will be written off against the Bank’s future profits. This loss reflected errors in judgment involving commitments made with the best intentions to protect the national interest prior to the publication of the Bank’s 1992 accounts towards the end of March 1993. As these forward transactions were unwound, losses unfolded in the course of 1993. In this regard, global developments over the past year had not been easy for the Bank; indeed, they made it increasingly difficult for the Bank to unwind these positions without some losses. For the most part, time was not on the Bank’s side. Nevertheless, this exercise is now complete — there is at this time no more contingent liabi lity on the Bank’s forward foreign exchange transactions on this account. An unfortunate chapter in the Bank’s history is now closed.”

Jaafar took responsibility for what happened and resigned, as did the bank official directly responsible for its foreign exchange operations, Tan Sri Nor Mohamed Yakcop.

How did Bank Negara lose the billions?

Jaafar said the losses were owing to commitments made to protect the nation’s interests. He was referring to the bank’s operations in the global forex market to manage the country’s foreign reserves and, obviously, something went wrong in a big way.

Forex traders and journalists who covered financial markets in the late 1980s knew that Bank Negara had a reputation for taking aggressive positions to influence the value of the ringgit against the major currencies. When the bank is not happy with the direction of the ringgit, up or down, it makes its intentions known by either selling or buying ringgit.

One question I had always asked forex dealers when writing market reports for Reuters was, “Is Negara in the market today?”

Bank Negara has always maintained that its market operations were to prevent volatility and undue speculation. Its critics, on the other hand, said it also did so for profits, which it enjoyed for years.


What went wrong in 1992?

That was the year George Soros and other hedge funds bet heavily against the British pound on the basis that it was overvalued. The Bank of England (BOE) fought back by buying billions of sterling while Soros and gang shorted the battered currency.

As it did not want to deplete too much of its reserves to defend the fixed rate of the pound within the European Exchange Rate Mechanism, BOE capitulated by withdrawing from the ERM on Sept 16, 1992, since called Black Wednesday.

It was widely believed then that Bank Negara had bet on the wrong side of the fight between BOE and the hedge funds. It never thought that central banks could lose against specu lators, but BOE lost and Soros was said to have pocketed at least US$1 billion.

Bank Negara has never confirmed nor denied that this was indeed what happened but the evidence, although circumstantial, points to this as the reason for the loss of RM9.3 billion in its 1992 accounts and the subse quent loss of another RM5.7 billion in 1993, bringing its total loss to RM15 billion.

Was the loss more than RM15~30 bil?

Former Bank Negara assistant governor Datuk Abdul Murad Khalid was reported as saying recently that the losses were actually US$10 billion. That would work out to RM25 billion at the then exchange rate of RM2.50 to a dollar. Murad also alleged that there were no proper investigations into the matter.

Following his allegations, the Cabinet has now set up a task force led by former chief secretary to the government, Tan Sri Sidek Hassan, to investigate whether there were wrongdoings that caused the losses, whether there was a cover-up on the size of the losses, and whether Parliament was misled.

So, who should the task force call up as part of its probe? I am guessing the following:

  1. Tun Mahathir, who was the prime minister then;
  2. Tun Daim Zainuddin, who was the minister of finance from 1984 to 1991 when Bank Negara was active in the forex market;
  3. Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, who was the minister of finance when the losses surfaced in 1992 and 1993;
  4. Dr Lin, who was deputy governor of the central bank then;
  5. Tan Sri Ahmad Don, who succeeded Jaafar as governor;
  6. Murad, who made the allegations; and
  7. Nor Mohamed, who was head of forex operations.


Who is Nor Mohamed?

Nor Mohamed is the man who lost billions for Bank Negara and resigned along with Jaafar in 1993. He then kept a low profile with short spells at RHB Research Institute and Mun Loong Bhd.

In an ironic twist, the man who lost billions for the country was later credited with helping save the ringgit from currency speculators in 1998.

Frustrated by the year-long failure of governments and central banks to fight off speculators, who had devalued Asian currencies (the ringgit plunged to as low as 4.80 to the dollar), Tun Mahathir turned to Nor Mohamed for help. The doctor did not understand how the currency market worked and Nor Mohamed took him through it in great detail. The two men then confidentially devised the plan that shocked the world — the imposition of controls on Sept 1, 1998.

Widely criticised at the time (Ahmad Don and his deputy Datuk Fong Weng Phak resigned in protest), some now say the move helped bring an end to the crisis, as speculators feared other affected countries would do the same.

Nor Mohamed’s star shone again and he later became Minister of Finance 2 under Tun Mahathir and Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. He is now deputy chairman of Khazanah Nasional.

But now, a ghost from his past has been dug up as fodder for the political contest between Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and his biggest nemesis, Tun Mahathir. The objective is obvious. Tun Mahathir has attacked Najib incessantly over 1Malaysia Development Bhd. The current administration is fighting back by saying billions were also lost under Tun Mahathir’s watch. Tun Mahathir says there is a 1MDB cover-up and his foes are accusing him of doing the same.


Will the task force unearth anything that is not already known?

The task force needs three months to complete its work, so we will just have to wait for the full picture before we can come to any conclusion that can bring closure to something that happened 25 years ago.

Perhaps, one day, we will be lucky enough to also have the full picture of the affairs of 1MDB. Current Minister of Finance 2 Datuk Seri Johari Abdul Ghani did say this month that no action had been taken against anyone in Malaysia over 1MDB because we have only “half the story” so far.

In that case, should we not have a task force on 1MDB as well so Malaysians can have the full picture?

By: Ho Kay Tat

Ho Kay Tat is publisher and group CEO of The Edge Media Group

This article appears in Issue 772 (March 27) of The Edge Singapore which is on sale now.

RCI can shed more light on forex losses

 Figures could be even greater than what had been disclosed, says STF chairman

KUALA LUMPUR: A Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) can reveal more details on the foreign exchange (forex) losses suffered by Bank Negara (BNM) in the 1980s and 1990s, said Tan Sri Mohd Sidek Hassan.

The chairman of the Special Task Force (STF) to probe the forex losses said the figure was greater than what was disclosed.

However, the STF was unable to scrutinise further due to the limitations that it had, he said in an interview on Friday.

“As a task force, we have limitations. We were established on an administrative basis and not under any legislation.

“As such, the STF had no power to coerce anyone to come forward for any discussion or to give any information,” he said, adding that it only had access to documents that were available to the public, such as BNM’s annual reports and consultations between the central bank and the International Monetary Fund.

“We also cannot compel anyone to come forward. Even if you ask them to come and they don’t want to come, there is no issue about it.

“And even if they came and we questioned them, and they refused to answer, we cannot do anything about it.

“And it was not under oath. Even if they answered, we don’t know if that was the truth.

“So, that is why the RCI is better, although it is safe to say that the STF has reason to believe that the actual loss is different and much more than the figures given earlier,” said Sidek, a former Chief Secretary to the Government.

He added that the RCI could have access to documents relating to the forex losses, for instance from the Finance Ministry or BNM.

On Jan 26, former BNM assistant governor Datuk Abdul Murad Khalid revealed that the central bank suffered US$10bil (RM42.9bil) in forex losses in the early 1990s, much higher than the figure of RM9bil disclosed by BNM.

Subsequently, a seven-member STF headed by Sidek was formed in February.

Sidek, who is Petronas chairman, said the STF focused on the three points in the terms of reference, one of which was conducting preliminary investigations into losses by BNM related to its speculative fo­­reign currency transactions.

It also investigated whether there was any action to cover up the losses and whether the Cabinet and Parliament were misled and it had to submit to the Government recom­mendations for further action, including the establishment of an RCI.

On June 21, the STF submitted its findings, concluding that it found that a prima facie case to merit in-depth investigations by establishing an RCI.

Explaining the process of the investigation, Sidek said 12 people, including former BNM governor Tan Sri Zeti Akhtar Aziz, were interviewed by the STF, and all coopera­ted well.

Among the others who were summoned by the STF were PKR adviser Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, DAP adviser Lim Kit Siang, and former Finance Minister II and BNM assistant governor at the time Tan Sri Nor Mohamed Yakcop.

Asked on the need to investigate something that happened about two decades ago, Sidek said though it took place a long time ago, it had been revealed that the losses were huge.

“I feel that the people need an explanation on the matter, and the Government had decided to conduct an investigation.

“Therefore, an RCI is the only way for a complete understanding. If this is not done now, the matter will prolong.

“Five or 10 years from now it will crop up again.

“With a full investigation through an RCI, there could be closure to this,” Sidek said. — Bernama

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What concerns Malaysians most ?


Supermarket shopping food

THE biggest concern among Malaysians, as we head towards the general election, is the cost of living. It’s as simple as that.

There have been plenty of political and religious side shows, but for many Malaysians, regardless of race, settling the many bills each month is what worries them the most.

Although Malaysia remains one of the cheapest countries to live in, its citizens have been spoilt for too long.

We are so used to having so many food items subsidised, including sugar, at one time, to the point that some of us have had difficulties adjusting ourselves.

Our neighbours still come to Malaysia to buy petrol, because ours is still cheaper than theirs.

But, as in any elections, politicians will always promise the heavens to get our votes. One of the promises, we have already heard, is the abolishment of the Goods and Services Tax.

No doubt that doing away with GST would appeal to voters, but seriously, even the opposition politicians calling for this are aware that it is a counter-productive move.

In the words of Tan Sri Mohd Sheriff Mohd Kassim, a highly-respected retired government servant, “it is too much of a fairy tale.”

The danger, of course, is that populist electoral pledges are always appealing, even if they are not rational.

Malaysia cannot depend on just about two million tax payers to foot the bill in a country of over 30 million people. It is unfair and unsustainable.

Taxing consumption gives more stability to revenue because income tax is regarded as highly volatile, as it depends very much on the ups and downs of businesses, according to Mohd Sheriff. When the market is soft, revenue collection always sees a dip.

For the government, which has already been criticised for having such a huge civil service, without GST, it could even mean its workers may not get paid when there is a downturn in the economy.

In the case of Malaysia, we have lost a substantial amount of revenue following the drop in oil price.

So, when politicians make promises, claiming plugging leakages is sufficient to end GST, it is really far-fetched and irresponsible.

The Malaysian tax system needs to continue to be more consumption-oriented to make it recession-proof, and, more importantly, the tax net just has to be widened. The bottom line is that, it is grossly unfair for two million people to shoulder the burden.

The government has done the right thing by widening the tax base and narrowing the fiscal deficit. The move to implement GST, introduced in 2014, has been proven right.

GST is needed to provide a strong substitute as a tax consumption capable of off-setting revenue loss from personal and corporate tax.

Beginning next month, India will join nearly 160 countries, including Malaysia, in introducing GST. Like Malaysia, when GST was first introduced, plenty of loud grumblings and doubts have rolled out.

Unlike Malaysia’s flat 6% across the board, India is introducing a more complicated four-tier GST tax structure of 5%, 12%, 18% and 28%, with lower rates for essential items and highest for luxury and demerits goods that would also attract additional cess.

In Singapore, GST was introduced on April 1, 1994, at 3%. The rate was increased to 4% in 2003, then 5% in 2004. It was raised to 7% on July 1, 2007.

Some politicians came under fire recently for purportedly calling for the abolishment of GST, however, some others clarified that they had merely called for a reduction in the tax’s percentage.

Another top opposition politician has come out as the strongest opponent of GST, reportedly saying the claim that Malaysia needs GST is false.

Some other politicians have described GST as regressive, but have not come out with clear ideas on how it should be tackled.

Nonetheless, the ruling party should not make light of these electoral promises.

For many in the urban middle class, they feel the squeeze the most.

They have struggled against the rising cost of living, paying house and car loans, and earning deep levels of debt, as one report aptly put.

The middle class, consisting of over 40% of Malaysians, is also in the income tax bracket, it must be noted.

Last year, an economist was quoted saying that 2016 was a year of a shrinking urban middle class and a happy upper class.

Shankar Chelliah, an associate professor at Universiti Sains Malaysia, said that the Malaysian middle class shrank in metropolitan centres across the country, and that most of its members would end the year almost 40% poorer than they were in 2015.

He said this would be due to the withdrawal of cooking oil and sugar subsidies, depreciation of the ringgit, decrease in foreign inflows and increase in outflows, among other factors.

For many in this middle class range who do not qualify for BR1M handouts, the government clearly has to come up with a range of programmes which can relieve them of these burdens.

It isn’t race or religious issues that will appeal to voters – they want to know how they can lead better lives, and if the opposition thinks contentious issues will translate into votes, they will be in for a surprise.

It is true that the heartland will continue to deliver the crucial votes, and the ruling party will benefit from this, but Malaysia has also become more urban and more connected.

At the end of the day, it is the bread and butter issues that matter most. Let’s hear some solid ideas and programmes which will reduce the burden of Malaysians.

By Wong Chun Wai On the beat, The Star

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

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

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