Huawei CFO cites US$12 million homes in Vancouver and health issues in bail bid in Canada


Extradition case: A home owned by the family of Meng Wanzhou, who is being held on an extradition warrant, is pictured in Vancouver. — Reuters
A home owned by the family of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, who is being held on an extradition warrant, is pictured in Vancouver, British Columbia.

For Huawei CFO, an Idyllic Summer Playground Turns Into a Prison

Vancouver plays a special role for Meng Wanzhou, as it does for many a wealthy Chinese — a place to park some assets, educate  your children, and just let your hair down from time to time.

Meng — chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies Co., a telecom equipment giant present in more than 170 countries — would carve a few weeks out of her punishing travel schedule every year for a break in the Canadian city.

She’d time it for the summer, when her children would be there and when the city’s crystal waters and craggy mountains would emerge from 10 months of rain to be  bathed in long, golden days of sunshine. Just last August, she was seen strolling through a local park, snapping photos with her in-laws.

Her place of retreat has now become a jail. On Dec. 1, Meng stepped off a Cathay Pacific flight from Hong Kong around noon, and had planned a 12-hour stopover in Vancouver before heading on to Mexico. Instead, she was arrested by Canadian  authorities and faces a U.S. extradition request on charges she conspired to defraud banks, including HSBC Bank Plc, so that they unwittingly cleared millions of dollars in transactions linked to Iran, in violation of U.S. sanctions.

This time, her stay looks to become an extended one — extradition cases can sometimes take years. Whether she spends that time in a cell or under house arrest may hinge in part upon her ties to Vancouver and if they’re considered deep enough to stop her from fleeing.

Meng’s bail hearing resumes Monday at 10 a.m. local time. It’s expected to last the whole day as her defense team calls witnesses, including security companies, to testify on ways to address flight risk.

“In essence, Ms. Meng vacations for two weeks in Vancouver — I say that is not a meaningful connection to this jurisdiction,” Crown attorney John Gibb-Carsley said Friday at the six-hour bail hearing in Vancouver as more than 100 spectators watched from a glass-walled gallery.

Meng — wearing a dark green sweat suit, her posture impeccable — watched from the back of the courtroom with her interpreter, occasionally taking notes on a sheet of paper. The 46-year-old has an incentive to flee home to China, which has no extradition treaty with the U.S., and she has the vast resources and connections to remain out of reach indefinitely, Gibb-Carsley said.

Canada has long been a favored destination for millionaire migrants, and Vancouver, especially, for the Asian ones. But increasingly that’s been stoking tensions in a city  awash in Chinese cash, with wealthy part-time residents blamed for property prices that have made Vancouver the most unaffordable city in North America.

Meng, who first visited Vancouver 15 years ago, bought a six-bedroom house with her husband Xiaozong Liu in 2009 that’s now assessed at C$5.6 million ($4.2 million),  according to property records and an affidavit by Meng read aloud in court. In 2016 they bought a second property, a brick-and-glass mansion set in a 21,000-square-foot lot assessed at C$16.3 million. Purchased with mortgages from HSBC, she’s offered to
post the family’s equity in both as part of her bail.

Meng and Liu live in Shenzhen with their 10-year-old daughter. She also has three
sons from a previous marriage, one of whom attends a prep school in Massachusetts. If granted bail, the family would move into one of their Vancouver homes and the son in Massachusetts would join them for Christmas, Meng’s lawyer told the court.

Meng WanzhouPhotographer: Dennis Zhe/Huawei Technologies Co.

Three of her four children have done part of their schooling in Vancouver, and they still spend weeks — sometimes months — in the city during summer. Meng, who also goes by the names Sabrina and Cathy, holds two passports, one from China and one from Hong Kong, and until 2009 also had Canadian permanent residency.
Her defense argues that those ties are substantive, and proposes she wait it out at one of her houses, under surveillance, tagged by a GPS device, and subject to  nannounced
police checks.

“She would not flee,” Meng’s defense lawyer David Martin responded. “She has a home here.”

Meng is the daughter of Huawei’s founder Ren Zhengfei, whose net worth was  stimated at $3.2 billion, according to Gibb-Carsley. A million-dollar bail to that family is equivalent to a C$156 bail for an upper-middle class Canadian family with C$500,000 in assets, he said.

“I’m not saying that wealthy people can’t get bail,” said Gibb-Carsley. “But I’m saying in terms of magnitude to feel the pull of bail, we are in a different universe.” –

 

Sabrina Meng in her own words: Huawei CFO cites health problems in her bid to secure bail in Canada

The US is seeking to extradite Meng in relation to Huawei’s alleged use of an unofficial subsidiary, Skycom, to skirt sanctions on Iran

Sabrina Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Chinese telecommunications  giant Huawei Technologies, was arrested last Friday in Vancouver, Canada at the request of the US and accused of fraudulently representing the company to get around US and EU sanctions on Iran.

The US is seeking to extradite Meng in relation to Huawei’s alleged use of an unofficial subsidiary, Skycom, to skirt the sanctions, a lawyer representing the Canadian  government said. Meng was arrested at Vancouver International Airport on December 1 as she changed planes and has been detained ever since.

Meng, a daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, attended the British Columbia Supreme Court last Friday for a bail hearing, as the US seeks her extradition on fraud charges. The hearing ended without a decision and will continue on Monday.

Ahead of the continuation, here are some of the details of Meng’s personal affidavit filed with the Supreme Court:

    • Meng describes herself as a 46-year old Chinese citizen, holding a Hong Kong and Chinese passport, who lives in Shenzhen.

 

    • Meng says her family have extensive ties to Canada, and Vancouver in particular.

 

    • Although Meng relinquished permanent resident status in Canada, she says her family have bought two homes in Vancouver.

 

    • Those two homes include a property bought in 2009 with her husband at 4005 28th Street, and another at 1603 Matthews Street in 2016.

 

    • Meng says she tries to spend at least 2-3 weeks in Vancouver every summer. Since 2012 her children, who attended school in Vancouver, no longer live there.

 

    • After being detained and interrogated at Vancouver International Airport on Friday, Meng says she was taken to Richmond General Hospital after feeling unwell due to severe hypertension, a condition she has struggled with “for years”.

 

    • Meng says she continues to feel unwell and is worried about her health “deteriorating” while she is incarcerated. Meng says she has had numerous health problems throughout her life, including thyroid cancer, for which she underwent surgery in 2011.

 

    • In May 2018, Meng says she had surgery to remedy health issues related to sleep apnoea and still has difficulty eating solid foods – which has caused her to modify her diet. She has received daily packages of medicines from her doctor for years to treat her ailments.

 

    • Meng points out she has no previous criminal record in China or anywhere else.

 

    • If she is granted bail, Meng offers to surrender both her passports, to live at her home at 4005 28th Street, to have her family live with her as permitted by Canada’s immigration laws, she is willing to pledge the equity of either or both her houses as security, or to make a cash deposit as directed by the court.

 

    • Meng says she would not breach any bail conditions because of the reputational damage it could do to Huawei, the company her father founded.

 

    • Finally, Meng says she is innocent of the allegations levelled against her and will contest the allegations at trial in the US if she is ultimately surrendered.

 

Case: In the matter of the Extradition Act, S.C. 1999, c. 18 as amended in the matter of the Attorney General of Canada on behalf of the United States of America and Wanzhou  Meng, also known as “Cathy Meng” and “Sabrina Meng”.. –

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Are you overpaying your property maintenance fee?


A property, no matter how great-looking it is, is only as good as its management and maintenance. It will look clean and polished when it is new but the good news is, it can still look as good even as it ages.

According to the Strata Management Act 2013 (SMA 2013) which came into effect in June 2015, a strata owner or occupier needs to pay a monthly maintenance fee or service charge to the Joint Management Body (JMB) or Management Corporation (MC) which will be used to manage and maintain the common property of the development.

Other than the maintenance fee, strata owners are also required to contribute to the sinking fund which is normally at the rate of 10% of the total amount of charges.

“A sinking fund is a reserve fund collected from the strata owner for future expenditure which is typically less predictable and cost a lot more than the usual maintenance fee. The sinking fund is usually used for large scale repairs such as a painting job or refurbishment of the interiors of common facilities,” says Chur Associates managing director Chris Tan.

However, some owners may feel that the maintenance fee is too much. But how much is too much? How is the fee amount calculated or set? Is there a formula or a guideline?

Formula to derive the share units

Under the SMA 2013 and Strata Titles Act 1985 (STA), a residential or commercial unit is technically known as a parcel and each parcel has a share value that is expressed in whole numbers under the STA.

“Upon the approval of computation and allocation of share units prepared by the licensed land surveyor, the director of Land and Mines will issue the Certificate of Share Unit. To derive the share units in a strata scheme, there is a standard formula under the Fourth Schedule of the Strata Titles Rules 2015,” explains Burgess Rawson Malaysia managing director Wong Kok Soo.

The standard formula for maintenance fee:

Refer to Table A for an example of how the share unit is derived for an apartment parcel.

What does the maintenance fee cover?

The MC chairman of Sri Penaga, one of Bangsar’s oldest condominiums, Khaw Chay Tee shares with EdgeProp.my that one of the biggest components in the operations expenditure of a residential condominium is security, followed by the property management staffing and cleaning.

“Normally these components make up 50% of your service charge. So at the end of the day, it really boils down to how well-managed that property is. If you are able to manage the property well, then you can keep the cost reasonable. There are some condominiums where the MC likes to carry out projects which incur costs, but that is a separate matter. As each condominium differs in its number of facilities and the density of the development, it is not so easy to compare and ask why this condominium in Bangsar is different from that condominium in Bangsar,” says Khaw.

Knight Frank senior executive director Kuruvilla Abraham concurs that the service charge will vary depending on the service level the JMB or MC requires.

“One can find cheaper options for the various services required which no doubt will result in lower service charges. However, don’t expect good service levels. The right thing to do is to get value-for-money services that commensurate with the expected service levels,” he says.

It also depends on the design of the development, he adds.

“The development with a reasonable number of facilities and a greater number of units will generally pay a lower proportion of service charge compared to one with similar facilities but with lower density.”

Furthermore, developments with more facilities such as fountains, gardens or swimming pools would naturally command a higher fee as more maintenance is needed.

When it comes to maintenance, the level of quality is subjective, reminds Chur Associates’ Tan. Hence, questions often arise on whether what they are paying is actually put to good use.

Kuruvilla points out that he has yet to come across a developer that has charged parcel owners more than what they are supposed to pay. (Photo by Knight Frank)

“What is the definition of “clean” to you? For some, clean means I don’t see any rubbish. For others, it means it has to be squeaky clean and sparkling. We cannot even come up with an industrial standard for door size and window size, how do we even budget the cleaning cost then? If I were the cleaning company, how would I charge you if your windows are bigger than others? Do I charge more? Or can I say the unit price is RM2 per window per cleaning [regardless of size]?” Tan questions.

He adds that the priorities of residents in different projects mean the maintenance fee charged for each development would be different.

“Some residents place a lot of emphasis on security, so they would rather [the JMB or MC] spend more money hiring guards from a prestigious company while there may be some who think that [the JMB or MC] should spend the money to clean the swimming pool daily because they use it often,” he explains.

Wong: To derive the share units in a strata scheme, there is a standard formula under the Fourth Schedule of the Strata Titles Rules 2015. (Photos by Low Yen Yeing/EdgeProp.my)

The problem with a low maintenance fee

The Malaysian Institute of Property and Facility Managers (MIPFM) president Sarkunan Subramaniam tells EdgeProp.my that problems often arise when the property developers set a lower-than-normal maintenance fee in the initial period to induce sales.

“During the first two years, the equipment is still under the defects and liability period, so if say, the swimming pool has an issue, you can just call the technician to come over for free. However, when the JMB or MC takes over when the warranty period has passed, cost will start to be incurred,” says Sarkunan.

Under the STA 2013, developers are not supposed to pass on any deficits or liabilities to the JMB and MC.

Chur Associate’s Tan says problems can also crop up later when a developer designs a very over-the-top facility or development but prices the property at a low selling price, hence attracting the wrong user/buyer profile to the project.

Sarkunan: Problems often arise when the property developers set a lower than normal maintenance fee in the initial period to induce sales.

“If I ask you what you want in your development, you will surely say you want everything. But nobody tells you that in order to have everything, moving forward, the monthly contribution will be higher. When the entry point is low, everybody wants to buy but nobody thinks about the maintenance fee in future.

“On many occasions, it is not about who gives the best facility but who is paying for it. Are you going to use it? How often do you go to your condo’s gym or would you rather go to a gym outside? Why? Maybe because you have your own personal trainer or you don’t want to be seen by your neighbour. So are we overdesigning and overproviding?” Tan questions.

In accordance with the Strata Management Act 2013 (Act 757) (SMA), developers shall hand over the maintenance and management of the strata development (common property) to the JMB not later than 12 months of vacant possession or the MC, should the strata titles be issued and transferred to the purchasers, whichever is earlier.

The items developers are required to hand over include the list of assets, fixtures and fittings, as-built plans, operation manuals as well as the audited accounts of the service charges, deposits and sinking fund as prescribed under the SMA via Form 4 (for JMB) and Form 13 (for MC).

The JMB and MC can then decide by votes or by appointing a registered property management company to suggest an amount for the maintenance fee.

“The owner has the right to request to see the accounts during the Annual General Meeting related to expenditure and raise the matter during the meeting,” says Knight Frank’s Kuruvilla.

However, he points out that he has yet to come across a developer that has charged the parcel owners more than what they are supposed to pay. In fact, the chances are higher that due to non-payment, the management account is likely to be in deficit resulting in there being insufficient funds to carry out proper maintenance and management of the development.

The problem with strata living is, everybody wants to have a well-maintained place to live but not everyone is prepared to pay for it.

“This is why the government passed the Strata Management Act 2013 (and Acts before this) so that after one year post development, it will give the parcel purchasers/proprietors the opportunity to manage the property and thereby giving them an understanding by getting first-hand knowledge in what it takes to maintain and manage a development well. Until one is directly involved, one will not be able to appreciate why service charges have to be paid on time to ensure there is sufficient funds to pay for the maintenance and management of the development.”

This story first appeared in the EdgeProp.my pullout on Nov 30, 2018. You can access back issues here..
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Malaysia’s Budget 2019: Making the tiger roar again in 3 years?


The Pakatan Harapan government yesterday tabled its maiden budget that sought to restore Malaysia’s status as an “Asian Tiger” with a clean and transparent government that cares for the rakyat. (EPA/FANDY AZLAN)

KUALA LUMPUR: THE Pakatan Harapan government yesterday tabled its maiden budget that sought to restore Malaysia’s status as an “Asian Tiger” with a clean and transparent government that cares for the rakyat.

Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng, in tabling the 2019 Budget in Parliament, said: “As long as we are clean, people-centric and focused on carrying out institutional reforms, we can restore Malaysia back to fiscal health in three years.

“Let our love for our country unite us, our challenges make us stronger and our confidence awaken Malaysia as an Asian Tiger all over again.”

Themed “A Resurgent Malaysia, A Dynamic Economy, A Prosperous Society”, the RM314.5 billion budget for next year has three areas of focus with 12 key strategies.

One focus area — to ensure the socio-economic well-being of Malaysians — will be the key performance indicator of the government’s success.

“We will seek to meet this objective by ensuring welfare and quality of life, improving employment and employability, enhancing wealth and social welfare protection, raising real disposal income and education for a better future,” he said.

In a speech that lasted more than two hours, interrupted by intermittent heckling from opposition lawmakers, Lim announced a slew of measures to address the people’s key concerns, from cost of living to housing, healthcare, education and transport.

Cash grants for the low-income Bottom 40 (B40) group will continue, single vehicle/motorbike owners with engine capacity of 1500cc and below will get targeted fuel subsidy, and the minimum wage will be raised to RM1,100 from Jan 1.

A National Health Protection Fund, with free coverage on four critical illnesses of up to RM8,000 and a hospitalisation benefit of RM50 a day, was also introduced for the B40 group.

For the affordable home programmes, Lim announced an allocation of RM1.5 billion while Bank Negara Malaysia will set up a RM1 billion fund to help those earning below RM2,300 a month to own houses costing below RM150,000.

The government will also allow the private sector to engage in new crowdfunding schemes for first-time housebuyers.

The Education Ministry received the lion’s share of the budget, with an allocation of RM60.2 billion, including RM2.9 billion assistance for the poor and RM652 million to upgrade and repair schools.

An amount of RM3.8 billion has been set aside for government scholarships.

All intra-city toll rate hikes will be frozen next year, said Lim, and public transport users, meanwhile, can buy RM100 monthly passes for unlimited trips on RapidKL rail or bus services beginning January.

A RM50 monthly pass is also available for those who use RapidKL buses only.

Civil servants and pensioners were not left out — staff up to Grade 54 will receive a one-off special payment of RM500; while government pensioners will get RM250.

The budget deficit for this year is likely to be 3.7 per cent, while gross domestic product (GDP) growth is forecast at 4.8 per cent and 4.9 per cent next year.

To ensure strong and dynamic economic growth, another focus area is to promote an entrepreneurial state that leverages innovation and creativity, while embracing the new digital economy.

The government aims to provide at least 30Mbps broadband connectivity outside urban centres within five years, while funds have been allocated to encourage investments in green technology and transition into Industry 4.0.

Corporate tax rate will be reduced to 17 per cent from 18 per cent for SMEs with paid capital below RM2.5 million, and businesses with annual taxable income below RM500,000.

Meanwhile, after inheriting “a worrying state of financial affairs which was in dire straits” with debts amounting to RM1.065 trillion from the previous administration, the third area of focus is to implement institutional reforms that promote transparent fiscal discipline.

“We intend to table a new Government Procurement Act next year to govern procurement processes to ensure transparency and competition, while punishing abuse of power, negligence and corruption,” Lim said.

He said open tenders will not only achieve more value-for-money for taxpayers, it will also nurture an efficient and competitive private sector.

To ensure that Malaysia has a clean government, the budget also saw the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission receiving an increased allocation of RM286.8 million.

Lim said the allocation, which is an 18.5 per cent increase from this year’s, will see MACC employing up to 100 more staff next year as the government revs up its anti-graft campaign.

Putrajaya expects to collect a revenue of RM261.8 billion next year, including a RM30 billion dividend from Petronas.

To raise its revenue, the government will leverage its assets and review taxation policies.

This includes reducing its stake in non-strategic companies, expanding the Service Tax to cover online services, and raising licence fees and taxes in the gaming sector.- By Nst Team

The following are the highlights of the 2019 Budget, which was tabled by Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng in Parliament on Friday. (Bernama photo)

The budget carries the theme of “Credible Malaysia, Dynamic Economy, Prosperous Rakyat” and will focus on three main thrusts with 12 key strategies to recapture Malaysia’s ‘Economic Tiger’ status.

The three main thrusts are:

*Institutional reforms

*People’s wellbeing

*Promotion of entrepreneurial culture

.The 12 strategies are:

*Strengthening fiscal management

*Restructuring and rationalising government debt

*Increase government revenue

*Ensuring welfare and quality life

*Increasing job opportunities and marketability

*Improving quality of healthcare services and social welfare protection

*Increasing disposable income

*Education for a better future

*Initiating new economic power

*Grabbing opportunity to face global challenge

*Redefining government’s role in business

*Ensuring economic fairness and sustainable economic growth

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image: https://www.thestar.com.my/~/media/online/2018/11/03/03/17/budget-spread.ashx?la=en

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Separate role for property managers


KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian Institute of Professional Property Managers and Facility Managers (MIPFM) is suggesting property and facility management to be treated independently from valuation.

President Sarkunan Subramaniam said the bias towards valuers had to stop if property management is to progress in today’s fast-changing digital and technology capabilities.

“I urge the Board of Valuers, Appraisers, Estate Agents and Property Managers to reconsider its decision and listen to the professional bodies.

“Giving a property management licence to one who has no or little experience in property management is dangerous,” he said.

Sarkunan was speaking at the MIPFM Conference 2018 on Bridging Property Management and Facility Management.

He said the current real estate degrees are skewed towards valuation subjects. Those who trained in predominantly valuation-based companies have little to no experience in managing properties.

Government valuers, having passed valuers test, are automatically handed the property management licence.

Sarkuanna, himself a valuer, is calling for objectivity. He said the diverse range of office buildings, mixed integrated projects and stratified residential projects must be matched with parallel top grade maintenance. Or their value may suffer.

“I will get a lot of opposition for my views but this is for the good of the real estate sector,” he said.

Sarkunan also highlighted the rife corruption in this field. “Corruption in procurement, kickbacks and side money is so prevalent that it has rusted performance, bringing many buildings to a grinding halt,” he said.

Sarkunan related the tale of two office blocks in Bangsar where seven out of its nine management committee (MC) members have resigned, the chairman among them.

Those who resigned were from Tower A, which the developer had earlier sold to private individual owners. Tower B belonged to the developer who had put the building under a real estate investment trust.

There was a cash surplus in the accounts. It seems that during the period when the developer was managing the property, the developer apportioned all surplus monies collected to the tower they retained. When the MC took over, it faced a defiant developer.

The Commissioner of Buildings has directed an extraordinary general meeting to be held.

In another case, a developer refused to pave the way for a joint management body (JMB) to be formed because it wanted to control the money collected, Sarkunan said. COB stepped in to resolve the issue.

Transparency International Malaysia president Datuk Seri Akhbar Satar said fraud and corruption is common due to the variety of goods and services involved.

Satar said that in 2010, Palm Court Condominium residents alleged that about RM144,000 was misappropriated. The committee agreed to take “appropriate measures” but refused an independent audit.

On Jan 31, 2017, members of a JMB were arrested by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission for allegedly misappropriating RM1.5mil.

Satar said cases like these highlighted the need for a culture of integrity and transparency.

– The Star by Thean Lee Cheng

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Don’t let developers take control, councils told


Do not let developers take control, deputy minister tells councils

KUALA LUMPUR: Property developers are behaving more and more like local councils, Deputy Housing and Local Government Minister Datuk Raja Kamarul Bahrin Shah said, noting that this has given rise to the current form of townships that are not centralised and are dominated and led by private developers.

There are developers who are acting like local councils as the latter have not been taking the lead, and this is a cause for concern, he said.

Raja Kamarul noted that traditionally, the local governments were the decision makers but this fact has changed of late.

“Long ago, it was the local government that determines what developers should build, creating markets, shopping malls, commercial, industrial, agricultural and entertainment areas, and of course, knowing how many homes need to be built because they know the population in the area,” he said in his keynote address at the opening of the one-day Housing and Property Development Colloquium on “Reimagining the Housing and Property Industry in the New Malaysia” here yesterday.

“But now, the role has shifted to the developers, giving rise to the current form of townships that are not centralised and are dominated and led by private developers,” he said.

“Most concerning is the recent trend that developers are behaving more and more like the local council themselves, in having their own private security for substantial portions of residential and commercial areas as an example, and other provisions of services and infrastructure.

“Although the local governments retain power and control where their approval is needed to build, they have often failed to take a more proactive role,” said Raja Kamarul.

He also highlighted that some local governments have failed in providing basic services to the people, causing developers to step in to fill the void.

“Local governments must find the will and desire to see their own town, cities and districts develop into comfortable townships and not allow developers to take entire pieces of land and create their own defacto privatised local government,” he said.

He also said this is why the government is looking to bring back local government elections, in order to bring back a sense of accountability by local governments.

“Once constituted, citizens can take leaders of the local government to task when services and facilities are not up to par. This should lead to more tangible and improved living conditions for the rakyat,” added Raja Kamarul.

Credit:  Ahmad Naqib Idris The Edge Financial Daily

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Malaysia needs more childcare & daycare centres


https://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2018/08/13/malaysia-needs-more-childcare-centres-dpm-we-are-also-in-dire-need-of-qualified-workers-to-ensure-sa/

PUTRAJAYA: There is a dire need for more qualified childcare workers and registered childcare centres in the country, says Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail.

The Deputy Prime Minister said that these shortages could adversely affect the safety and quality of care for Malaysian children.

“Data from the Welfare Department showed that up to June this year, the number of childcare workers looking after children four years and below is 16,873.

“Out of this, only 3,173 of them have the minimum qualification of a childcare course,” said Dr Wan Azizah, who is also Women, Family and Community Development Minister.
She was speaking at the launch of the National Childcare Centre Day 2018 themed “Equality” at the IOI City Mall here yesterday.

Dr Wan Azizah added that the rest of childcare workers in the country, all 13,700 or 80.19% of them, did not have the minimum qualification for the job.

She said the lack of qualified childcare workers contributed to the lack of registered childcare centres in the country.

“Calculations based on a census done by Malaysian Statistics Department showed that we need to have 38,333 registered childcare centres.

“However, the actual number at present is only 4,302,” she said.

Dr Wan Azizah said her ministry took a serious view on the safety of children at childcare centres and at the homes of childcare providers.

“We are looking at the need to improve on the Child Care Centre Act and regulations on childcare centres to fit the current needs and situation,” she said.

She added that her ministry was also studying how to utilise information and communication technology to be included in the childcare system in the country. The Star

 

Has Penang Island’s growth & development become a hazard to life?


  • Malaysia’s Penang Island has undergone massive development since the 1960s, a process that continues today with plans for transit and land-reclamation megaprojects.
  • The island is increasingly facing floods and landslides, problems environmentalists link to paving land and building on steep slopes.
  • This is the second in a six-part series of articles on infrastructure projects in Peninsular Malaysia.

GEORGE TOWN, Malaysia — Muddy carpets and soaked furniture lay in moldering piles on the streets of this state capital. It was Sunday morning, Oct. 29, 2017. Eight days earlier, torrents of water had poured off the steep slopes of the island’s central mountain range. Flash floods ripped through neighborhoods. A landslide killed 11 workers at a construction site for a high-rise apartment tower, burying them in mud. It was Penang Island’s second catastrophic deluge in five weeks.

Kam Suan Pheng, an island resident and one of Malaysia’s most prominent soil scientists, stepped to the microphone in front of 200 people hastily gathered for an urgent forum on public safety. Calmly, as she’s done several times before, Kam explained that the contest between Mother Earth’s increasingly fierce meteorological outbursts and the islanders’ affection for building on steep slopes and replacing water-absorbing forest and farmland with roads and buildings would inevitably lead to more tragedies.

“When places get urbanized, the sponge gets smaller. So when there is development, the excess rainwater gets less absorbed into the ground and comes off as flash floods,” she said. “The flood situation is bound to worsen if climate change brings more rain and more intense rainfall.”

Five days later it got worse. Much worse. On Nov. 4, and for the next two days, Penang was inundated by the heaviest rainfall ever recorded on the island. Water flooded streets 3.6 meters (12 feet) deep. Seven people died. The long-running civic discussion that weighed new construction against the risks of increasingly fierce ecological impediments grew more urgent. George Town last year joined an increasing number of the world’s great coastal cities — Houston, New Orleans, New York, Cape Town, Chennai, Jakarta, Melbourne, São Paulo — where the consequences are especially vivid.

The empty apartment construction  site where 11 men died in an October 2017 landslide. Image by Keith Schneider for Mongabay.

Penang’s state government and Chow Kon Yeow, its new chief minister, recognize the dilemma. Three weeks after being named in May to lead the island, Chow told two reporters from The Star newspaper that “[e]conomic growth with environmental sustainability would be an ideal situation rather than sacrificing the environment for the sake of development.”

But Chow also favors more growth. He is the lead proponent for building one of the largest and most expensive transportation projects ever undertaken by a Malaysian city: a $11.4 billion scheme that includes an underwater tunnel linking to peninsular Malaysia, three highways, a light rail line, a monorail, and a 4.8-kilometer (3-mile) gondola from the island to the rest of Penang state on the Malay peninsula.

The state plans to finance construction with proceeds from the sale of 1,800 hectares (4,500 acres) of new land reclaimed from the sea along the island’s southern shore. The Southern Reclamation Project calls for building three artificial islands for manufacturing, retail, offices, and housing for 300,000 residents.

Awarded rights to build the reclamation project in 2015, the SRS Consortium, the primary contractors, are a group of national and local construction companies awaiting the federal government’s decision to proceed. Island fishermen and their allies in Penang’s community of environmental organizations and residential associations oppose the project, and they proposed a competing transport plan that calls for constructing a streetcar and bus rapid transit network at one-third the cost. (See Mongabay –https://news.mongabay.com/2017/04/is-a-property-boom-in-malaysia-causing-a-fisheries-bust-in-penang/)

For a time the national government stood with the fishermen. Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, the former minister of natural resources and environment and a member of Barisan Nasional (BN), the ruling coalition, refused to allow the project. “The 1,800-hectare project is too massive and can change the shoreline in the area,” he told reporters. “It will not only affect the environment but also the forest such as mangroves. Wildlife and marine life, their breeding habitats will be destroyed.”

The state, and Penang Island, however, have been governed since 2008 by leaders of the Pakatan Harapan coalition, which supported the transport and reclamation mega projects. In May 2018, Pakatan Harapan routed the BN in parliamentary elections. Former prime minister Mahathir Mohamed, the leader of Pakatan Harapan, assumed power once again. Island leaders anticipate that their mega transport and reclamation projects will be approved.

It is plain, though, that last year’s floods opened a new era of civic reflection and reckoning with growth. Proof is everywhere, like the proliferation of huge blue tarps draped across flood-scarred hillsides outside of George Town’s central business district. Intended to block heavy rain from pushing more mud into apartment districts close by, the blue tarps are a distinct signal of ecological distress.

Or the flood-damaged construction sites in Tanjung Bungah, a fast-growing George Town suburb. A lone guard keeps visitors from peering through the gates of the empty apartment construction site where 11 men died in the October 2017 landslide. About a mile away, a row of empty, cracked, expensive and never-occupied hillside townhouses are pitched beside a road buckled like an accordion. The retaining wall supporting the road and development collapsed in the November 2017 flood, causing expensive property damage.

  • A row of empty, cracked, expensive and never-occupied hillside  townhouses are pitched beside a road buckled like an accordion. The retaining wall supporting the road and development collapsed in a November 2017 flood, causing extensive property damage. Image by Keith Schneider for Mongabay.

    Gurmit Singh, founder and chairman of the Centre for Environment, Technology and Development, Malaysia (CETDEM), and dean of the nation’s conservation activists, called Penang state government’s campaign for more growth and mega infrastructure development “a folly.”

    “It exceeds the carrying capacity of the island. It should never be approved,” he said in an interview in his Kuala Lumpur office.

    Singh, who is in his 70s and still active, was raised on Penang Island. He is an eyewitness to the construction that made much of his boyhood geography unrecognizable. “Everything built there now is unsustainable,” he said.

    It’s taken decades to reach that point. Before 1969, when state authorities turned to Robert Nathan and Associates, a U.S. consultancy, to draw up a master plan for economic development, Penang Island was a 293-square-kilometer (113-square-mile) haven of steep mountain forests, ample rice paddies, and fishing villages reachable only by boat.

    For most residents, though, Penang Island was no tropical paradise. Nearly one out of five working adults was jobless, and poverty was endemic in George Town, its colonial capital, according to national records.

    Nathan proposed a path to prosperity: recruiting electronics manufacturers to settle on the island and export their products globally. His plan emphasized the island’s location on the Strait of Malacca, a trading route popular since the 16th century that tied George Town to Singapore and put other big Asian ports in close proximity.

  • Sea and harbor traffic on the Strait of Malacca. Image by Keith Schneider for Mongabay.

    As a 20th century strategy focused on stimulating the economy, Nathan’s plan yielded real dividends. The island’s population nearly doubled to 755,000, according to national estimates. Joblessness hovers in the 2 percent range.

    Foreign investors poured billions of dollars into manufacturing, retail and residential development, and all the supporting port, energy, road, and water supply and wastewater treatment infrastructure. In 1960, the island’s urbanized area totaled 29.5 square kilometers (11.4 square miles), almost all of it in and immediately surrounding George Town. In 2015, the urban area had spread across 112 square kilometers (43 square miles) and replaced the mangroves, rubber plantations, rice paddies and fishing villages along the island’s northern and eastern coasts.

    There are now 220,000 homes on the island, with more than 10,000 new units added annually, according to National Property Information Center. George Town’s colonial center, which dates to its founding in 1786, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008, like Venice and Angkor Wat. The distinction helped George Town evolve into a seaside tourist mecca. The state of Penang, which includes 751 square kilometers (290 square miles) on the Malay peninsula, attracts over 6 million visitors annually, roughly half from outside Malaysia. Most of the visitors head to the island, according to Tourism Malaysia.

    Nathan’s plan, though, did not anticipate the powerful ecological and social responses that runaway shoreline and hillside development would wreak in the 21st century. Traffic congestion in George Town is the worst of any Malaysian city. Air pollution is increasing. Flooding is endemic.

  • Blue tarps drape the steep and muddy hillsides in George Town to slow erosion during heavy rain storms. Image by Keith Schneider for Mongabay.

    Nor in the years since have Penang’s civic authorities adequately heeded mounting evidence of impending catastrophes, despite a series of government-sponsored reports calling for economic and environmental sustainability.

    Things came to a head late last year. Flooding caused thousands of people to be evacuated from their homes. Water tore at hillsides, opening the forest to big muddy wounds the color of dried blood. Never had Penang Island sustained such damage from storms that have become more frequent, according to meteorological records. Rain in November that measured over 400 millimeters (13 inches) in a day. The damage and deaths added fresh urgency and new recruits to Penang Island’s longest-running civic argument: Had the island’s growth become a hazard to life?

    George Town is far from alone in considering the answer. The 20th century-inspired patterns of rambunctious residential, industrial and infrastructure development have run headlong into the ferocious meteorological conditions of the 21st century. Coastal cities, where 60 percent of the world’s people live, are being challenged like never before by battering storms and deadly droughts. For instance, during a two-year period that ended in 2016, Chennai, India, along the Bay of Bengal, was brutalized by a typhoon and floods that killed over 400 people, and by a drought that prompted deadly protests over water scarcity. Houston drowned in a storm. Cape Town is in the midst of a two-year drought emergency.

    George Town last year joined the expanding list of cities forced by Nature to a profound reckoning. Between 2013 and mid-October 2017, according to state records, Penang recorded 119 flash floods. The annual incidence is increasing: 22 in 2013; 30 in 2016. Residents talk about a change in weather patterns for an island that once was distinguished by a mild and gentle climate but is now experiencing much more powerful storms with cyclone-force winds and deadly rain.

    Billions of dollars in new investment are at stake. Apartment towers in the path of mudslides and flash flooding rise on the north shore near George Town. Fresh timber clearing continues apace on the steep slopes of the island’s central mountain range, despite regulations that prohibit such activity. Demographers project that the island’s population could reach nearly 1 million by mid-century. That is, if the monstrous storms don’t drive people and businesses away — a trend that has put Chennai’s new high-tech corridor at risk.

    The urgency of the debate has pushed new advocates to join Kam Suan Pheng at the forefront of Penang Island’s environmental activism. One of them is Andrew Ng Yew Han, a 34-year-old teacher and documentary filmmaker whose “The Hills and the Sea” describes how big seabed reclamation projects on the island’s north end have significantly diminished fish stocks and hurt fishing villages. High-rise towers are swiftly pushing a centuries-old way of life out of existence. The same could happen to the more than 2,000 licensed fishermen and women contending with the much bigger reclamation proposals on the south coast.

    “How are they going to survive?” Han said in an interview. “This generation of fisherman will be wiped out. None of their kids want to be fisherman. Penang is holding a world fisherman conference in 2019. The city had the gall to use a picture of local fisherman as the poster. No one who’s coming here knows, ‘Hey you are reclaiming land and destroying livelihood of an entire fishing village.’”

    “We all want Penang to be progressive. To grow. To become a great city,” he adds on one of his videos. “But at whose expense? That’s the question. That’s the story I’m covering.”

  • Andrew Ng Yew Han, a 34-year-old teacher and documentary film maker whose “The Hills and the Sea” describes how big seabed reclamation projects on the island’s north end have significantly diminished fish  stocks and hurt fishing villages. Image by Keith Schneider for Mongabay.

    Another young advocate for sustainable growth is Rexy Prakash Chacko, a 26-year-old engineer documenting illegal forest clearing. Chacko is an active participant in the Penang Forum, the citizens’ group that held the big meeting on flooding last October. Nearly two years ago, he helped launch Penang Hills Watch, an online site that uses satellite imagery and photographs from residents to identify and map big cuts in the Penang hills — cuts that are illegal according to seldom-enforced state and federal laws.

    Kam Suan Pheng and other scientists link the hill clearing to the proliferation of flash flooding and extensive landslides that occur on the island now, even with moderate rainfall.

    In 1960, Malaysia anticipated a future problem with erosion when it passed the Land Conservation Act that designated much of Penang Island’s mountain forests off-limits to development. In 2007, Penang state prohibited development on slopes above an elevation of 76 meters (250 feet), and any slope with an incline greater than 25 degrees, or 47 percent.

    Images on Penang Hills Watch make it plainly apparent that both measures are routinely ignored. In 2015, the state confirmed as much when it made public a list of 55 blocks of high-rise housing, what the state called “special projects,” that had been built on hillsides above 76 meters or on slopes steeper than 25 degrees. The “special projects” encompassed 10,000 residences and buildings as tall as 45 stories.

 

Rexy Prakash Chacko, a 26-year-old engineer who helped launch Penang Hills Watch, an online site that uses satellite imagery and photographs from residents to identify and map big cuts in the Penang hills. Image by Keith Schneider for Mongabay.

“There is a lot of water coming down the hills now,” Chacko said in an interview. “It’s a lack of foresight. Planning has to take into account what happens when climate change is a factor. Clearing is happening. And in the last two years the rain is getting worse.

“You can imagine. People are concerned about this. There was so much lost from the water and the mud last year.”

Ignoring rules restricting development has consequences, as Kam Suan Pheng has pointed out since getting involved in the civic discussion about growth in 2015. After the October 2017 landslide, she noted that local officials insisted the apartment building where the 11 deaths occurred was under construction on flat ground. But, she told Mongabay, an investigation by the State Commission of Inquiry (SCI) found that the apartment construction site abutted a 60-degree slope made of granite, which is notoriously unstable when it becomes rain-saturated.

“State authorities continued to insist that development above protected hill land is prohibited,” Kam said in an email. “There is little to show that more stringent enforcement on hill slope development has been undertaken. Hopefully the findings of the SCI will serve as lessons for more stringent monitoring and enforcement of similar development projects so that the 11 lives have not been sacrificed in vain.”

 

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