STRATA Property insights – Serious on strata



Important issues and frequently asked questions

STRATA-type property is and has been all the rage. It is also expected to be “the living model” if not already.

Whether in cosmopolitan cities or suburban fringes, and as space becomes “in want” and prices hike, we feature our final article on strata-related property highlighting pertinent questions frequently asked to which Chris Tan (CT) gives input on.

Q: What should one look out for in the S&P before deciding on buying a particular strata-titled residential property?

CT: Buying a strata title property is not just buying a property but buying into a community living regulated by law. As a buyer, you are not only responsible for your very own unit but also the common property within the development too.

There is an ongoing obligation to pay the monthly service charges and sinking fund until the day you sell the same to another owner.

Besides the S&P Agreement, you are normally expected to sign the Deed of Mutual Covenants too, that regulates the relationship of the many owners within the same development with house rules vis-a-vis the prescribed by-laws under the Strata Management Act. In addition to the compliance with these rules, you are also expected to participate in the management of the common property at the Annual General Meeting as well as the Extraordinary General Meeting.

In the completion of the S&P Agreement, do ensure that the seller has no more outstanding charges and sinking funds owing the management and that the deposits paid are to be adjusted accordingly.

Q: Can you please explain further on ‘share units’ of strata-titled property? How does this affect a residential strata-titled property owner or what is the relation between the owner and the share units?

CT: Share unit has always been there in strata living as it will be stated in the strata title upon its issuance. It is now capturing the limelight, given that it is now the basis to be contributed into the maintenance charges and not the usual rate psf of the size of your main parcel.

There are different ‘weightages’ for the main parcel, the accessory parcel and the type of usage to make up the various elements of the share unit.

Suffice to say that two units of apartments of the exact same size might have different share unit allocation, if one has more accessory parcels than the other, or one is of commercial usage while the other is residential.

Q: What are some current and common issues faced by owners of strata-titled residential property and how would these be best settled?

CT: Issue 1: Contribution to service charges and sinking funds from the owners have always been done on the total size (in sf.) of the main parcel. Under the new regime since June 2015, it should now be based on per share unit instead.

Share unit is a concept that takes into account the size and the usage (of different allocated weight) of both the main parcel as well as the accessory parcel. It’s stated clearly in the strata title when it is issued. It is also the basis of voting by poll if so requested in any General Meeting. Share unit is therefore now the basis of both contribution and control as opposed to just control in the past.

In theory, it should be a fair method for all. The issues are:

(i) Some strata owners find themselves paying more than before while some strata owners now pay less; and

(ii) The Share unit allocation under the previous legal regime was a result of consultation and discretion and not as transparently guided under the new law. It is a difficult process and to adjust again, particularly when the strata titles have been issued, will be tedious.

Issue No. 2: In Phased Development there is now a requirement to file the Schedule of Parcels (SOP) stating clearly the total share units to be offered under the entire development before one can proceed to sell. It therefore includes the later phases of a development that will only be developed in the future.

The issue is that this SOP can only be adjusted if we can get 100% of the owners to agree or it is a direction from the authority.

There will be no flexibility accorded to the developer who might want to change the SOP for the feasibility or sustainability of the development, taking into account the new circumstances of the future, in the best interest of the entire development.

Another related issue would be on the contribution of the allocated share units by the developer for yet to be developed phase in the maintenance of the common property already built and delivered.

Q: Any other ‘surprises’ or areas of concern that many strata-titled residential property owners are unaware of until after purchase of such residents?

CT: Don’t be surprised if the property does not come with an allotted car park, although it is a norm to expect a car park to come with the unit. It is not always the case.

Q: Like many busy owners of a strata-titled property who do not have the time to sit in at resident’s meetings with the management body – many have simply ‘gone with the flow’ of things as ‘questions/disputes’ require time for discussion.

What would you recommend for busy individuals who have ‘no time’ to attend such meetings but can only look at the annual/bi-annual strata/building management statements/financial reports? What should one keep an eye out for in these financial statements?

Why is it important to attend these meetings; what would owners be losing out on by not attending and being an ‘active owner’?

CT: It is a regulated community living and participation is expected of every owner.

Although many have chosen to be passive, you need to participate or run the risk of letting major decisions lay in the hands of the active few.

You should keep an eye to ensure that the charges collected are well spent, that collection should always be monitored and the performance of the appointed property manager.

Also, understand your rights and obligations as a strata owner is important, and ensure that you and your neighbors are equally aware of the same too.

Q: As a tenant, and not the owner of the ‘parcel’ – are they bound to all the By-laws?

CT: The by-laws, additional by-laws and amendment of such additional by-laws made by the Management Body shall not only bind the owners but also the tenants, chargess, lessees and occupiers.

Q: Any other important issues that you would like to highlight to readers of theSun?

CT: Moving forward, strata living will be the preferred way of community living. Take a keen interest to learn and understand this living model in order to get the most out of it.

There are many more frequently asked questions, especially on management bodies, by-laws and leakage and defects. Answers to these can be found in Chris Tan’s Owner’s Manual & Guidebook.

Follow our property column next Friday for more insights on the market in the local scene.

Source: Thesundaily

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Moving forward with affordable housing


One way to solve housing shortage problem is to build more houses.

“If we take a look at countries with commendable housing policies such
as Singapore and Hong Kong, we notice that the government plays a very
important role in building and ensuring a sufficient supply of housing
for their people.”

THE issue of affordable housing has been a hot potato for many countries, especially for a nation with a growing population and urbanisation like ours.

In my previous article, I mentioned that there was a growing shortage of affordable housing in our country according to Bank Negara governor Tan Sri Muhammad Ibrahim. The shortage is expected to reach one million units by 2020.

According to Bank of England governor Mark Carney, one of the most effective ways to address the issue is to build more houses. There are good examples in countries like United Kingdom, Australia and Singapore, which have 2.4, 2.6 and 3.35 persons per household respectively.

In comparison, the average persons per household in our country is 4.06 person, a ratio which Australia had already achieved in 1933! To improve the current ratio, we need to put more effort into building houses to bring prices down.

If we take a look at countries with commendable housing policies such as Singapore and Hong Kong, we notice that the government plays a very important role in building and ensuring a sufficient supply of housing for their people.

For example in Singapore, their Housing and Development Board (HDB) has built over one million flats and houses since 1960, to house 90% of Singaporeans in their properties. In Hong Kong, the government provides affordable housing for lower-income residents, with nearly half of the population residing in some form of public housing nowadays. The rents and prices of public housing are subsidised by the government and are significantly lower than for private housing.

To be on par with Australia (2.6 persons per household), our country needs a total of 8.6 million homes to house our urban population of 22.4 million people. In other words, we need an additional 3.3 million houses on top of our existing 5.3 million residential houses.

However, with our current total national housing production of about 80,000 units a year, it will take us more than 40 years to build 3.3 million houses! With household formation growing at a faster rate than housing production, we will still be faced with a housing shortage 40 years from now.

Therefore, even if the private sector dedicated all its current output to build affordable housing, it will still be a long journey ahead to produce sufficient houses for the nation. It is of course impossible for the private sector to do so as it will be running at a loss due to rising costs of land and construction.

In view of the above, the government has to shoulder the responsibility of building more houses for the rakyat due to the availability of resources owned by the government. Land, for example, is the most crucial element in housing development. As a lot of land resources are owned by government, they must offer these lands to relevant agencies or authorities to develop affordable housing.

I recall when I was one of the founding directors of the Selangor State Development Corp in 1970s, its main objectives was to build public housing for the rakyat.

However, today the corporation has also ventured into high end developments in order to subsidise its affordable housing initiatives. This will somehow distract them from focusing on the affordable housing sector.

Although government has rolled out various initiatives in encouraging affordable houses, it is also important for the authorities to constantly review the original objectives of the relevant housing agencies, such as the various State Economic Development Corporations, Syarikat Perumahan Negara Bhd, and 1 Malaysia People’s Housing Scheme, to ensure they have ample resources especially land and funding to continue their mission in building affordable housing.

A successful housing policy and easy access to affordable housing have a huge impact on the rakyat. It is hoped that our government escalates its effort in building affordable housing, which will enhance the happiness and well-being of the people, and the advancement of our nation.


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 feedback@fiabci-asiapacific.com.
By Alan Tong

Penang undersea tunnel project scrutinized by the Malaysian Anti Corruption Commission (MACC)


In troubled waters: An artist’s impression showing where the tunnel project will start on the island.

 

 

Land swap under MACC scrutiny

PETALING JAYA: The Malaysian-Anti Corruption Commission (MACC) probe into the controversial Penang undersea tunnel is focused on land swaps that were made for the feasibility and detailed design study which has yet to be completed.

Sources said investigators are scouring documents involving two plots of land – Lot 702 and Lot 713 in Bandar Tanjung Pinang – with a size of 1.48ha and 2.31ha respectively.

The value of Lot 702 is around RM135mil while Lot 713 is around RM160mil.

It is learnt that both parcels of land have since been mortgaged to banks to obtain financing. The state government has also authorised planning permission on both parcels of lands.

“The state government paid the consultant for the feasibility studies by means of two land swaps. The cost for the feasibility study is around RM305mil.

“It has become an issue on why the study cost was inflated so much when it should have been an estimated RM60mil,” sources said, adding that determining the inflation and the reason behind it were among the challenges faced by the investigating team.

The sources also said that the graft-busters have their sights targeted on “somebody” who has been enjoying kickbacks and entertainment from the deal.

The feasibility and detailed design study is for the 7.2km undersea tunnel connecting Gurney Drive on the island to Bagan Ajam in Seberang Perai.

It is part of the RM6.3bil mega project comprising a 10.53km North Coastal Paired Road (NCPR) from Tanjung Bungah to Teluk Bahang, the 5.7km Air Itam–Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway bypass and the 4.075km Gurney Drive–Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway bypass.

Yesterday, the investigating team also questioned four officers from several state government agencies on the land swaps.

Sources added that the anti-graft agency also raided a property agency office in Penang and carted various documents away. It is learnt the chief executive officer of the company was not around during the raid.

MACC deputy chief commissioner Datuk Seri Azam Baki said his investigating team has yet to call in any witnesses for the case as they are still conducting a thorough study on the seized documents.

He added that the officers would still be obtaining more documents from the companies involved and also from the state government.

 

Two bosses of construction firms held for six days as MACC investigates project

Datuks’ remanded in tunnel probe

Taken away: Officers escorting one of the men out of the courthouse in Putrajaya.

MACC digs deeper

A swap involving two parcels of land worth close to RM300mil is in the spotlight as the MACC intensifies investigations into claims of corruption in Penang’s undersea tunnel project and several accompanying highway projects. Two ‘Datuks’ have been remanded and several key officials in companies and agencies involved in the project have been questioned. But Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng says the project will go on.

GEORGE TOWN: Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng says the undersea tunnel project, now the subject of a corruption investigation, will proceed unless there is a court order to stop it.

He said he was baffled by yet another investigation into the project as the Malaysian Anti Corruption Commission (MACC) had been conducting an investigation into the RM6.3bil mega project comprising the tunnel and three other highways since 2016.

“What are they investigating now? Is it because of the looming general election?

“The project was awarded via an open tender overseen by international accounting firm KPMG.

“Still, I have instructed everyone involved to give their full cooperation to the MACC in its investigation as we have nothing to hide,” said Lim at a press conference at Komtar yesterday.

On Tuesday, graft-busters arrested two “Datuks” involved in the controversial Penang undersea tunnel project to help in investigations into claims of corruption.

The duo, who were picked up in Putrajaya and Penang, have since been remanded for six days to facilitate the probe.

The anti-graft agency raided the offices of four state government agencies – the Penang Public Works Department, Penang State Secretary, Penang Office of Lands and Mines and Penang Valuation and Property Services Department – and three property development and construction companies – Ewein Zenith Sdn Bhd, 555 Capital Sdn Bhd and Consortium Zenith Construction Sdn Bhd’s Penang office.

MACC officers also questioned several officers in charge of the respective agencies and companies. Sources familiar with the investigation said the probe into the undersea tunnel project was also zooming in on land swaps.

Ewein Zenith is a joint-venture vehicle of Ewein Land Sdn Bhd and Consortium Zenith BUCG Sdn Bhd.

The latter is a Malaysia-China joint venture that was awarded the RM6.3bil mega project to build the 7.2km undersea tunnel connecting Gurney Drive on the island to Bagan Ajam in Seberang Prai, a 10.53km North Coastal Paired Road (NCPR) from Tanjung Bungah to Teluk Bahang, the 5.7km Air Itam–Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway bypass and the 4.075km Gurney Drive–Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway bypass.

Consortium Zenith BUCG changed its name to Consortium Zenith Construction Sdn Bhd on Jan 18 last year after the withdrawal of Beijing Urban Construction Group (BUCG).

In a related development, Vertice Bhd (formerly known as Voir Holdings Bhd) said the current investigation by the MACC will not impact the progress of the undersea tunnel project.

It said the project was an integral component of the Penang Transport Master Plan and that the role of Consortium Zenith Construction as the main contractor would remain.

Consortium Zenith Construction is a 13.2% associate company of Vertice. PUTRAJAYA: Two high-ranking bosses of development and construction companies have been remanded for six days as graft investigators continue their probe of the Penang undersea tunnel project. The two “Datuks” were held here and in Penang before being brought to court.

A 59-year-old businessman was brought to a magistrate’s court here at 9.40am yesterday and remanded for six days until Monday to help with the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission’s (MACC) investigation.

Magistrate Fatina Amyra Abdul Jalil allowed MACC prosecutors’ remand application although the Datuk’s lawyer Hamidi Mohd Noh objected, arguing that there was no need for his client to be held.

“I told the court that my client has been cooperative with the MACC.

“I would also like to point out that my client is innocent and his remand is only to assist the investigation,” he told reporters after the proceedings.

The MACC had initially asked for the Datuk to be held for seven days but the magistrate only allowed six days.

He was arrested at the MACC headquarters at around 8.45pm on Tuesday after being called for his statement to be recorded.

In George Town, another Datuk was brought to court for a remand application at 11.40am.

He was handcuffed and wearing MACC’s orange lock-up T-shirt with black pants when he arrived at the courthouse escorted by MACC officers.

The 49-year-old appeared calm and smiled to reporters but did not say anything before he was led inside.

Deputy registrar Muhammad Azam Md Eusoff granted a six-day remand order and the businessman was escorted out of the courthouse about 30 minutes later.

The case is being investigated under Section 16(a)(B) of the MACC Act 2009 for bribery.

It is also believed that one of the Datuks remanded yesterday tested positive for drugs.

On Tuesday, MACC personnel raided the offices of four state government agencies – the Penang Public Works Department, Penang State Secretary, Penang Office of Lands and Mines and Penang Valuation and Property Services Department – and three property development and construction companies believed to be related to the case.

The project involves a plan to bore a 6.5km tunnel below the seabed to connect north Butterworth and the island.

The tunnel is to connect Bagan Ajam, a mature suburb of about 5km from the Butterworth ferry terminal, to the end of Gurney Drive near the Pangkor Road junction on the island.

Connected to the project are three paired roads to be built on the island as a traffic dispersal system to cope with the traffic that the tunnel would bring to Gurney Drive, which is already densely developed.

The three paired roads are from Teluk Bahang to Tanjung Bungah, from Pangkor Road to the Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway – part of this stretch will be underground – and from Air Itam to the expressway near the Penang bridge.

To finance the construction, projected to cost RM6.3bil, the state government is giving payment in kind of 44.5ha of state land to the contractor, Consortium Zenith Construction.

Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng told the state assembly in 2014 that the land was valued at RM1,300 per sq ft and the project, ending with the tunnel, is scheduled for completion in 2025.

It was reported last March that RM135mil worth of land had been given to the contractor as payment to fund the feasibility studies and detailed studies.

A public-listed company announced in January 2016 that it had secured an agreement to buy 20.2ha of the land from the contractor over 10 years at RM1,300 per sq ft.

It is believed that the MACC is looking into why the state government allowed the contractor to presell state land despite delays in the project construction.

More to be called up for questioning

GEORGE TOWN: Investigations into allegations of corruption in the proposed Penang Undersea Tunnel project are expected to deepen with more people likely to be called up for questioning.

A source in the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) said the focus was on the feasibility and detailed design study, which had been paid for but not completed.

“We will call in more people involved in the project to assist in investigations into the study,” the source said.

He declined to comment on whether more arrests would follow after two “Datuks” were remanded for six days yesterday to help in the investigations.

The two were remanded in George Town and Putrajaya for investigations into the corruption allegations.

The MACC source declined to share details on evidence collected that led to the remand of the two Datuks yesterday but confirmed that it was about the delayed feasibility study and detailed designs.

The feasibility, detailed design studies and environmental impact assessment was reported to cost RM305mil with RM220mil already paid. Since 2015, NGOs, government agencies, political parties and state assemblymen had asked about the payment and studies, only to be met with replies they considered unsatisfactory.

Last July, the Works Ministry and Board of Engineers Malaysia (BEM) repeatedly asserted that Penang significantly overpaid, by four times, design fees involving three roads.

Barisan Nasional strategic communications director Datuk Seri Abdul Rahman Dahlan sought the professional opinion of BEM, and it was reported that BEM replied that the detailed design costs were four times higher than the maximum allowed under the gazetted scale of fees based on the total project cost.

Last August, the state government declared that the feasibility studies would be ready by September.

In October, however, Works Minister Datuk Seri Fadillah Yusof said his ministry “had not seen a single page” of it.

Source: By mazwin nik anis, royce tan, arnold loh, r. sekaran, simon khoo The Staronline

 

MACC to make more arrests – Penang undersea tunnel project

More arrests are likely in the investigations into claims of corruption in Penang’s RM6.3bil project involving an undersea tunnel and three highways after MACC officers raided 12 more places and took statements from a dozen witnesses. They are looking into an agreement on payments to the concessionaires but Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng says there was no wrongdoing and that not a single sen has been paid for the undersea tunnel project.

PETALING JAYA: Investigators looking into the allegation of corruption in the Penang undersea tunnel project are said to be thoroughly looking through the papers related to the contract for the feasibility study for the undersea tunnel.

“The agreement looks suspicious and the feasibility study for the mega project does not exceed RM305mil as announced by the state government,” sources said.

“The state government might have made a payment which is way different than the real value of the study,” they said.

On Thursday, The Star reported that the graft-busters were zooming in on the land swaps of two plots of land in Bandar Tanjung Pinang.

The sources also say that the reclaimed land for the land swaps were of high value for development. It is believed that the state JKR has set the value for the study and that allegations of misappropriation were raised when the value that was paid far exceeded the initial value.

To finance the construction of the tunnel and three paired roads on the island, projected to cost RM6.3bil, the state government is giving payment in kind of 44.5ha of state land to the contractor, Consortium Zenith Construction.

Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng had told the state assembly in 2014 that the land was valued at RM1,300 per sq ft and the project, ending with the tunnel, is scheduled for completion in 2025.

It was reported last March that RM135mil worth of land had been given to the contractor as payment to fund the feasibility studies and detailed studies. However, the study has not been completed although the land has been handed over.

A public- listed company announced in January 2016 that it had secured an agreement to buy 20.2ha of the land from the contractor over 10 years at RM1,300 per sq ft.

It is believed that the MACC is looking into why the state government allowed the contractor to presell state land despite delays in the project construction and the study.

Source: The Star Malaysia reports by MAZWIN NIK ANIS and INTAN AMALINA MOHD ALI

Related stories:

MACC probe shifts to bidding process – Nation | The Star Online

MACC looking at how RM305mil was paid – Nation | The Star Online

MACC focussing on Penang tunnel project studies, sources say …

Lim: Not a single sen paid for Penang undersea tunnel project …

No money paid for project, says Lim – Nation

 12 spots raided in tunnel probe 

Guan Eng: Project will go on unless there’s a court order to stop

Vertice, Ewein shares down following Penang arrests – Business News

Ewein MD remanded by MACC – theSundaily

Related posts:

 

Penang hit by floods again !


GEORGE TOWN: Some 20 houses located on a slope in Hong Seng Estate in Mount Erskine were flooded due to blocked underground drainage.

“Not again!” was the reaction of factory worker S. Kalaiselvi, 42, who found herself neck-deep in water at her house at 2am yesterday after a three-hour downpour.

She waded through the water to higher ground with her parents, who are in their 60s.

“I have been living here for 26 years and only now am I seeing such floods,” said Kalaiselvi, who also had to move out when her house was hit by the massive floods on Nov 4 and 5 last year.

Her father Subramanian Peru­mal, 68, said he was still waiting for the relevant authorities to resolve the problem.

At the site, firemen had to install a water pump to draw out the rainwater, which flooded most of the units to waist level at one point.

It was the third time that the area was flooded since October last year.

Last Oct 30, blocked underground drainage caused floodings affecting six houses during an evening downpour, followed by massive floods during the Nov 4 and 5 storm.

On Sept 29 last year, seven houses in the estate were also affected by soil erosion.

Consultant engineer Datuk Lim Kok Khong had said the soil erosion was due to water seeping under the ground.

Kebun Bunga assemblyman Cheah Kah Peng, who has been barred from helping out with the registration of flood victims for the one-off RM700 aid given by the Penang government, was also there but offered no concrete solution to the floods in the area.

Pulau Tikus assemblyman Yap Soo Huey said nine houses had to be demolished to make way for repair works.

She said they had offered owners of the nine affected houses a low medium-cost unit each as compensation, but the residents insisted on staying put.

Earlier, Penang Flood Mitigation Committee chairman Chow Kon Yeow said the latest floods were caused by the continuous downpour that began on Thursday evening.

“The rain also coincided with a 2.34mm high tide at 2.30am yesterday,” he said.

Chow said the short-term measures to deal with the floods were to dig and deepen the rivers, and carry out upgrading and cleaning works at riverbanks to ensure that there were no blockages.

In Bukit Mertajam, a low wall sealing off the entrance to a lorry driver’s house prevented it from being submerged in floodwaters all over again.

While the water on the road outside was up to knee level, Heng Kai Chin’s home remained relatively dry, thanks to the metre-high barrier of cement and bricks.

But Heng, 43, still skipped work yesterday to keep an eye on the flooding.

A state flood report said water had entered at least 100 homes in Bukit Mertajam.

Source: The Staronline

Related Links:

Penang struck by yet another deluge

PENANGITES woke up to a cloudy and rainy morning as continuous downpour lasting for hours inundated several parts of the state.
Wet day: Students wading through floodwaters at SMK Mak Mandin in
Butterworth, Penang. (Left) Motorists braving through the waters on the
flyover at Sungai Nibong, Bayan Lepas. — MUSTAFA AHMAD/The Star and
social mediapic

 

 

Metre-high wall keeps flood out of his home

More rain in Sabah and S’wak

Fish and veggie prices go up due to scarce supply

Two primary schools in Sabah remain closed

Flood-hit students eager to return to school

 

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Call to shed light on PDC’s huge debts owned to Penang govt


GEORGE TOWN: The state has been told to explain the financial status of Penang Development Corporation (PDC) over its alleged mounting debts.

Datuk Dr Muhamad Farid Saad (BN-Pulau Betong) said PDC received a RM600mil loan last year from Budget 2017, while in Budget 2018 the loan to PDC was approximately RM300mil.

Questioning if the debts indicate that PDC was not on stable financial ground, he asked if PDC would be able to pay back the huge sum to the state.

“Both loans are huge. How is PDC going to pay it all back?

“What has happened to the revenue of PDC in recent years? We would like some answers to the whereabouts of the expenditure on whether the sum was used for investment or loan to a third party.

“Is the PDC today not on stable financial ground until there were some who said that PDC has to take a bank loan to give out salaries,” he said when debating the Supply Bill and Budget 2018 at the state assembly sitting yesterday.

State Opposition Leader Datuk Jahara Hamid (BN-Telok Air Tawar) also raised her concern if PDC “was in the red”, considering that it was among the corporations in the past which had developed Bayan Baru and Seberang Jaya.

“PDC has also contributed to numerous state funds. But now, it is the opposite. PDC is borrowing money from the state government,” she said.

Related posts:

Wall and awning collapsed in house near construction site 

Behind BJ Cove houses at Lintang Bukit Jambul 1 is an IJM Trehaus Project.

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Wanted: Leaders who listen !


Turning a blind eye: The grumblings over exposed hills are growing louder but little is being done to rectify the situation

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 Grievances from residents warning of environmental damages must not fall on deaf ears

 “Leaders who don’t listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say.

MY family home in Kampung Melayu, Air Itam in Penang, is more than 56 years old. That’s about my age, and it has never been hit by floods. Not once!

But last week, my parents – dad is 92 years old and mum, 86, – had their sleep rudely interrupted sometime after 1am by water gushing into their home.

They have been sleeping on the ground floor for years now because they are too old to climb the stairs to their bedroom.

The water that flowed into their room almost touched the top of their bed but fortunately, one of my nephews and his wife from Kuala Lumpur were staying over that night.

It was so fortunate that they were there to calm my anxious parents down and assure them all would be fine. They managed to comfort my stunned folks, who had never experienced such an unpleasant situation before. My father had to be carried to the room upstairs as the house remained flooded throughout the early morning.

Our home was filled with layers of mud the next day and the cars parked outside were all damaged. They sadly look like write-offs.

My father’s pride and joy, his first-generation Proton Saga car – which he bought in 1985 – is now unusable.

A week on, my brothers and nieces are still cleaning up the mess from the massive flood. They haven’t had the time or mood to even assess the financial losses.

And bound by a common sentiment as Penangites, they are tired of the blame game, a trade the state’s politicians have plied to near-perfection.

How many times can the finger be pointed at the previous government, with the incumbent almost 10 years in power? And how many more times can we blame it on torrential rain, which came from Vietnam – or wherever? Worst of all is, when discussions are mooted on flood issues, the voices of the people are swiftly silenced.

It appears that even to talk about hillslope development, one would have to contest in the elections, or be perceived to be challenging the state government, or more extremely, be some kind of lackey in cahoots with the Federal Government.

Blaming everyone else except oneself is simply a way of covering up one’s weaknesses. But the discerning public, in a maturing democracy with heightened transparency and a huge middle class like Penang, will not tolerate such short-term manoeuvring for long.

Suddenly, civil society – a buzzword among politicians – has vanished, with NGOs now regarded as irritants and an affront to the state establishment. Politics is apparently the monopoly of politicians now.

As the National Human Rights Society aptly puts it, “With the benefit of hindsight, we are sure that the Penang government now realises that they should not so readily malign civil society, howsoever obliquely – for the legitimate and well-founded articulation of matters of great concern to civil society.

“This is because it undermines the fundamental values of a functioning democracy and the fundamental human rights of the populace at large.”

Perhaps, the state political elites, many of whom aren’t pure blood Penangites, don’t realise the state is the home of a vibrant civil society, with many active NGOs and activists who are respected influencers of society.

Having walked through the corridors of power and appreciated power’s pleasures, perks and the adulation it brings, maybe it is becoming much harder for people to take criticism. This is, in fact, a reflection of the arrogance of power.

Many have developed thin skin now, with little tolerance for the slightest form of criticism. If anyone even dares raise their voice, an army of cybertroopers, hiding behind anonymity, are unleashed to attack them.

Freedom of speech, it seems, is only the domain of the opposition, with some media (regarded as unfriendly) unceremoniously ridiculed and questioned for their attendance at press conferences.

There are politicians from the Federal Government, too, who are shamelessly cashing in on the flood situation in Penang.

Their relief work must be splashed across news pages, and they have to be seen wading through the flood waters for dramatic purpose. Phua Chu Kang’s iconic yellow boots could likely be the hottest item in the state, as politicians bask in the media’s glare.

Ridiculous remarks have also been passed, one even blaming the state government, saying it has earned the wrath of God.

The rain and floods will go away, eventually. Penangites are stakeholders in the state, and they don’t only make up politicians. The state doesn’t belong to the state government or the opposition.

Caught up in the thick of the action, we seem to have forgotten that the hills are crumbling even without rain. As a stern reminder, just last month, a landslide buried some people in Tanjung Bungah. Investigations on that tragedy are still ongoing.

Basically, the trees – which act as sponge on the hills – are gone. We don’t need to be soil experts to know that.

The grumblings are growing louder because the hills have been progressively going bald in recent years. But the voice of discontent has fallen on deaf ears.

Penangites are alarmed at what they are seeing, and they don’t like it one bit, as much as they understand that land is scarce on the island and property developers need to source some to build homes on.

While it’s easy to hang the Penang state government out to dry for its follies, it’s difficult to ignore how the floods in the east coast states have become annual affairs, too. So, what effective flood mitigation plans have been put in place there?

Kelantan has suffered senselessly, and after more than a year of having been subjected to Mother Nature’s havoc, many victims have yet to recover from their losses. Flooding is obviously nothing exclusive and doesn’t discriminate. Every state has, unfortunately, experienced it in some shape or form.

So, irrespective of location, when life returns to normal, you can expect the politicians to resume their old denying ways.

If there’s a thread that binds our politicians – regardless of which side of the political divide they come from – it is their inability to apologise for their mistakes, despite waxing lyrical about accountability.

Don’t expect them to say sorry, because an apology would be admission of guilt, or worse, a sign of weakness in their realm of inflated egos.

And to put things into perspective, perhaps we could learn a lesson from a quote by prominent American pastor Andy Stanley – “Leaders who don’t listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say.”
On the beat Wong Chun Wai

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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Penang landslides & flooding are natural disasters man-made?


It’s hard to deny when the effects of climate change are all around us

 

Andrew Sheng says that from increasingly intense hurricanes to regional landslides and flooding, it’s clear our actions are effecting the
environment. But, it’s also evident that there are ways for us to avert
disaster and change course

 

AFTER two Category 5 hurricanes (Harvey and Irma) hit the US in October, followed by Maria hitting Puerto Rico, no one can deny that natural disasters are devastating.

With three hurricanes costing an estimated US$385bil, with less than half insured, the poor are suffering the most because they cannot afford to rebuild as the rich.

This year alone, monsoon floods in Bangladesh, India and Nepal have left millions homeless. This year will therefore break all records as Munich Re-insurance data suggests that 2016 natural disaster losses were only US$175bil, already 28.6% higher than the 30 years (1986-2015) annual average of US$126bil.

But how much of these natural disasters are man-made?

Despite US President Trump being sceptical of climate change, the US Global Change Research Program Climate Science Report published this month concludes that “it is extremely likely that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, are the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century”.

Carbon dioxide concentration already exceed 400 parts per million, last occurred about 3 million years ago, when both global average temperature and sea level were significantly higher than today. Roughly one third of carbon emission is due to residential heating/cooling, one third for transport and one third for industrial production.

Human activities on Mother Earth include over-consumption of natural resources, cutting down forests, polluting waters and excessive cultivation/development that caused desertification or soil erosion. You see this from warmer surface and oceanic temperatures; melting glaciers; diminishing snow cover; shrinking sea ice; rising sea levels; ocean acidification; and declining tree and fish stock.

Oceans warming up

Hurricanes are caused by oceans warming up, building energy and vapour levels that create freak typhoons, tornados and massive downpours. At the same time, droughts are also occurring with more frequency for longer.

Scientists estimate that global average sea level has risen by about 7-8 inches since 1900, with almost half that rise occurring since 1993. Everyday, we hear new extreme events, such as unusually heavy rainfall, heatwaves, large forest fires, floods or landslides.

Climate warming is most observable in the water-stressed Middle East and the North Africa/Sahel region, where rapid population growth created desertification, food shortages, civil conflicts and ultimately, outward migration towards cooler climates, especially Europe. This hot region accounts for 60% of global war casualties since 2000, with 10 million outward refugees. About 90% of the world’s refugees and asylum seekers come from four regions with half under the age of 18 years.

A 2016 World Bank report estimated that these water-stressed countries’ GDP could be reduced by up to 6%, with dire consequences on stability. Without water, industries cannot function, food cannot be cultivated and health can deteriorate due to disease from water-shortage and drought.

European estimates suggest that each refugee costs roughly US$11,600 per person to maintain and there are already one million trying to enter Europe last year. The OECD has classified countries such as Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen as extreme fragile.

Critical point

The world is already reaching a critical turning point. If the Paris Climate Accord can be implemented, with or without the United States, there is some chance of averting further global warming.

But closer home, we are already witnessing the effects of climate change on our daily lives.

In 1972, Hong Kong experienced a devastating landslide near Po Shan Road in Mid-Levels, which caused 67 deaths and collapse of two buildings. One cause was unstable ground following heavy rainfall from Typhoon Rose eleven months prior to the incident.

This tragedy in densely populated Hong Kong resulted in rigorous slope protection and inspection of drains to ensure that these slips do not occur again. I lived near Po Shan Road and admired how Hong Kong engineers regularly inspected the slope protection measures and that the drains were always clear.

In 1993, the collapse of Highland Towers in Kuala Lumpur was partly attributed to the clearing of the hilltop above Highland Towers, which led to soil erosion and the weakening of the foundations. By the time the residents detected cracks in the buildings, it was already too late. Some of my personal friends were among the 48 persons who were killed in that collapse.

Last weekend, Penang (where I live) had the worst rainstorm and floods because we were hit by the tail end of strong winds from Typhoon Damrey, one of the strongest to hit Vietnam in 16 years, leaving 61 people dead. Driving along Penang Bridge, I can see that the continued hilltop developments in Penang are leaving soiled scars on the previously pristine landscape, I am reminded of Highland Towers and Po Shan incidents. Natural disasters are acts of god, but the size of their impact on human lives are completely within our control.

Soil erosion

Soil erosion does not happen overnight, and require responsible developers and conscientious governments, as well as concerned citizens, to be continually vigilant that maintenance of roads and drains, including soil inspections, are serious business with serious consequences.

Modern technology can provide drones and inbuilt sensors that can detect whether erosion is reaching critical levels. Regular maintenance of drains and checks on stability of the soil, especially where there has been recent clearing of trees in steep slopes, will forewarn us all of impending accidents.

As cities are building more and more on hillsides subject to torrential rain, Penang should seek technical expertise from Hong Kong which has extensive expertise on the maintenance of steep hill slopes that are subject to typhoons and sudden rainfall.

Landslides are today used more in political terms than in real terms. The next time landslides happen, residents who watch daily the erosion of their natural environment will know who is really looking after their interests.

Andrew Sheng  By Andrew Sheng

 

Related links:

No hill land approvals since 2008?

by penangforum

Former MBPP councillor Dr Lim Mah Hui wrote this piece for the press in his
personal capacity: I wish to comment on the press statement by Jagdeep
Singh Deo as reported in Berita Daily and many other newspapers on 24
October.

PKR rep cries for a stop to hillside development – Nation

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