Penang Forum Planning for Penang’s Future


NGO draws up own manifesto to assist the next state government

(From left) Anil, Ben, Dr Chee, Khoo Salma, Dr Anwar and Dr Kam at the press conference to launch the Penang Forum Agenda 2018 at Penang Heritage Trust in Church Street.
(From left) Anil, Ben, Dr Chee, Khoo Salma, Dr Anwar and Dr Kam at the press conference to launch the Penang Forum Agenda 2018 at Penang Heritage Trust in Church Street. 

PENANG Forum, a loose coalition of non-political civil society groups, has come up with its own ‘manifesto’ with emphasis on three principles namely good governance, social inclusion and sustainable development.

Dubbed the ‘Penang Forum Agenda 2018’, six members shared insights into various areas that could be improved by the new state government.

The agenda, supporting transit-oriented development, walkable downtowns, mixed-income housing, public green open spaces and social inclusion was discussed by forum members comprising of activist Datuk Dr Anwar Fazal, scientist Dr Kam Suan Pheng, social activists Dr Chee Heng Leng, Khoo Salma Nasution, Anil Netto and Ben Wismen.

Khoo Salma said in the past 10 years, the state made progress on some fronts but it was over dependent on growth driven by the property sector and tourism.

“A far-sighted vision for Penang requires a paradigm shift to new urbanism, sustainable transport and environmental resilience.

“We are willing to work with the next state government to come up with different economic strategies so that we are not over reliant on the construction sector and mass tourism,” she told newsmen at the Penang Heritage Trust in Church Street after the event yesterday.

Khoo Salma urged the new government to look into making public buildings, spaces and transport accessible for people with disabilities.

“Employment and housing quotas should be fulfilled for them as well.

“Public facilities at council and state flats need to be updated to an elderly-friendly design,” she said.

Khoo Salma also urged for the new state government to adopt a comprehensive approach to the housing policy, prioritising social housing for the low-income category.

Anil said that affordable housing should be not more than three times the annual income for the middle-income group.

“It does not mean we need to stop building but we need to look at the needs of the population, we should look for property development for the two categories rather than high-end development.”

Scientist Dr Kam shared that the agenda was not only to give ideas to political parties but to survive beyond the campaigning period.

“If they like certain things or better still all of our recommendations, it would be great.

“I hope that the next state government will take a look at our manifesto and incorporate some of the ideas,” she said.

Dr Anwar said the Penang Forum Agenda would be shared with all concerned parties as well as posted online for the public to view.

For further details on the agenda visit https://penangforum.net/  by N. Trisha The Star

Penang Forum has a list of demands which it calls on Penang’s newly
elected officials of 2018 to act upon and deliver. These demands are
related to the three principles of good governance, social inclusion and
sustainable development. Read More

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China buyers eyeing Penang property in growing tourism


Worthy investment: Mah Sing sales executive Victor Cheah (left) introducing the M Vista project to visitors at StarProperty.my Fair in Queensbay Mall, Penang.
Visitors checking out MTT Properties &  Development Sdn Bhd’s Botanica CT Centre during the StarProperty.my Fair in Queensbay Mall, Penang.

PENANG recently come under the radar of investors from China, said Property Talk principal Steven Cheah.

“It used to be Australia that attracted their interests, but now it is Penang. So, we can expect to see potential house buyers from China at the fair,” he said.

Cheah was speaking at the sideline of the StarProperty.my Fair 2018 which opened at Queensbay Mall yesterday and will end on Sunday.

He said the China investors were interested in high-rise properties near the sea priced at around RM1mil to RM2mil.

Cheah added that house buyers were now more selective due to higher interest rates.

“Most of them will be paying attention to the new launches in the southwest district and in Seberang Prai, where it is still possible to find properties priced below RM500,000,” he said.

Cheah said with the right location, good road connectivity, product type and concept, demand for properties in Penang would still be strong.

Potential house buyers checking out BinWan Development Sdn Bhd’s Gelugor Heights during StarProperty.my Fair in Queensbay Mall, Penang. Potential house buyers checking out BinWan Development Sdn Bhd’s Gelugor Heights during StarProperty.my Fair in Queensbay Mall, Penang.

“Malaysia’s strong fundamentals augur well for the outlook going forward.

“Malaysia’s population is young with an average age of 30 to 31 years old, and many people are still looking to start a family. This is a good sign for the property market.

“There will be weaknesses in between as the market is adjusting to the supply and demand situation.

“From the medium to long term perspective, property is still one of the choice investments preferred by investors,” he said.

Meanwhile, Yew Chor Hian, who hails from Kedah, said he was interested in a high-rise property priced at around RM600,000.

“I work in Bayan Baru, so I am interested to stay on the island.

Visitors renewing The Star newspaper subscription at The Star info counter at the fair.
Visitors renewing The Star newspaper subscription at The Star info counter at the fair.

“The size and location are important to me,” he added.

Australian Ray Stubb said he was looking for a high-rise condominium.

“We are interested in getting a unit near the sea,” he said.

A total of 17 exhibitors are displaying their products at the fair, of which 15 are developers.

The developers are SPNB Aspirasi Sdn Bhd, Mah Sing Group Bhd, Ewein Zenith Sdn Bhd, Iconic Land Sdn Bhd, Regata Maju Sdn Bhd, JKP Sdn Bhd, SP Setia Bhd, MTT Properties & Development, Galeri Tropika Sdn Bhd, Devoteshens Sdn Bhd, Binwan Development Sdn Bhd, Bertam Properties Sdn Bhd, Corfield Development Sdn Bhd, Penang Development Corporation and Pembangunan Rasa Sempurna Sdn Bhd.

The other two exhibitors are Property Talk, a Penang-based real estate agency, and East West One Marketing Sdn Bhd, which is an oil palm investment company.

The Star by David Tanby david Tan

Related News 

A place to thrive for millennials – Metro News

The crowd checking out a scale model of The Zen project that is part of Parcel 3 of Penang World City in Bayan Mutiara. – Photos: GARY CHEN/The Star

The crowd checking out a scale model of The Zen project that is part of Parcel 3 of Penang World City in Bayan Mutiara. – Photos: GARY CHEN/The Star

 

Residential property sales improves, but overhang situation 

“The market is still soft, but things are improving following the strong economic growth in 2017,” Nordin(inset picture) told reporters after the launch of the Property Market Report 2017 here yesterday

“The market is still soft, but things are improving following the strong economic growth in 2017,” Nordin(inset picture) told reporters after the launch of the Property Market Report 2017 here yesterday

 How good is property as an asset class today? – Business News 

 

Seeking viable options – Business News

Our cities should adopt ‘8-80’ concept – Business News 

 Bringing smiles to house buyers

Malaysia’s low wages: low-skilled, low productivity, low quality, reliance on cheap foreign workers! Need to manage!


Survey: Most workers not paid enough to achieve minimum acceptable living standard

 

Wages too low, says Bank Negara – Survey: most workers not paid enough to achieve minimum acceptable living standard

ALTHOUGH the income levels of Malaysians have increased significantly over the years, voices of discontent are mounting over the decline in purchasing power.

Low and depressed salaries are among the grouses of executives and non-executives amid the apparent lifestyle changes of Malaysians.

With the rising cost of living, they lament that there is now less room for long-term savings and investments.

According to the Employees Job Happiness Index 2017 survey by JobStreet.com, one in three Malaysian employees want a pay rise, with rewards constituting 52% of the domestic workforce’s motivation to work.

In its 2017 Annual Report, Bank Negara points out that the expenditure of the bottom 40% (B40) of Malaysian households has expanded at a faster pace compared with their income.

From 2014 to 2016, the average B40 income level grew by 5.8% annually, marginally lower than the 6% growth in the B40 household spending in the same period.

It is also worth noting that half of working Malaysians only earned less than the national median of RM1,703 in 2016.

The central bank, in consideration of the low-wage conundrum, has recently recommended that employers use a “living wage” as a guideline to compensate their employees for their labour.

Essentially, the living wage refers to the income level needed to achieve a minimum acceptable standard of living, depending on the geographical location.

Citing Kuala Lumpur as an example, Bank Negara estimates that the living wage in the city two years ago was about RM2,700 for a single adult. The living wage estimate for a couple without a child was RM4,500, while for a couple with two children, the living wage was RM6,500.

As much as Malaysians support higher wages, which can outgrow escalating living cost, the bigger question is whether their employers are willing to increase wages significantly.

Also, is it realistic for employers to pay higher salaries in line with the suggested living wage?

Speaking to StarBizWeek, Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) executive director Datuk Shamsuddin Bardan says that the living wage is unsuitable for adoption in Malaysia – for now.

He believes that the living wage will turn out to be damaging to the domestic labour market, given the rising cost of doing business in recent times.

Shamsuddin: While employers in Malaysia are more than happy to compensate workers for their work, people must also understand that they are bogged down by escalating costs. << Shamsuddin: While employers in Malaysia are more than happy to compensate workers for their work, people must also understand that they are bogged down by escalating costs.
Shamsuddin: While employers in Malaysia are more than happy to compensate workers for their work, people must also understand that they are bogged down by escalating costs.

“The living wage concept is unrealistic in Malaysia for the time being. While employers in Malaysia are more than happy to compensate workers for their work, people must also understand that they are bogged down by escalating costs.

“However, if the workers are proactive and upskill themselves to increase their productivity, then I do not see any reason for employers to refrain from offering higher pay packages.

“The Government on its part, should not micro-manage the economy to the extent of telling the employers how much to pay their workers. Instead, the Government can provide various incentives to the employers to bring down costs, which will translate into higher salaries or even exempt the employees’ bonuses from tax,” he says.

Socio Economic Research Centre executive director Lee Heng Guie welcomes Bank Negara’s living wage guideline “to prevent a wage employee from the deprivation of a decent standard of living”.

In order to push for the acceptance of a living wage in Malaysia, Lee recommends that government-linked companies (GLCs) adopt the concept gradually.

“The enforcement of commitments toward the living wage is a complex and costly issue, and more importantly, should be paid voluntarily by the employers.

“This would require extensive consultations and engagements with the stakeholders.

“Perhaps, as one of the largest employers in the country, GLCs can incorporate the living wage clause in their suppliers’ procurement contracts,” he says.

Concerns about Malaysia’s low-wage environment are not only centred on the low-skilled workers but across-the-board, as even executives lament about being lowly-compensated.

Are Malaysians being paid enough?

Based on data from the Statistics Department’s Salaries and Wages Survey Report 2016, most Malaysian workers are still paid significantly lower than the desired amount to achieve “minimum acceptable living standard”, at least in Kuala Lumpur.

Nearly 50% of working adults in Kuala Lumpur earned less than RM2,500 per month in 2016, notably lower than the RM2,700 living wage as suggested by Bank Negara.

In fact, up to 27% of households in Kuala Lumpur earned below the estimated living wage in 2016.

While wage growth has exceeded inflation over the years, real wage growth has been largely subtle. Real wage refers to income adjusted for inflation.

According to the MEF’s website, the salaries of executives were expected to grow by 5.55% in 2017, compared with 6.31% in 2013. As for non-executives, the average salary was anticipated to increase by 5.44% in 2017, down from 6.78% in 2013.

Given the 3.7% headline inflation registered in 2017, executives’ salaries may have just inched up by 1.85% on average, after factoring in inflation.

As for non-executives, their real wage could have grown by 1.74%, lesser than the executives in Malaysia.

While a slight moderation in headline inflation is expected this year, the purchasing power of Malaysians is unlikely to improve significantly.

In an earlier report by StarBiz, Shamsuddin described 2018 as a “bad year for employees and employers”, and projected Malaysians’ average salary increment to be lower than last year.

He blamed several new policies and measures introduced by the government such as the mandatory requirement for employers to defray levy for their foreign workers and the introduction of the Employment Insurance System, which would increase the costs borne by domestic businesses.

“It will be difficult for employers to raise salaries after this, given such dampeners,” he was reported as saying.

The biggest challenge now is to strike a balance between the market’s ability to compensate a worker and the worker’s required income level to achieve a minimum acceptable standard of living.

Sunway University Business School professor of economics Yeah Kim Leng says that more efforts have to be made to enhance the business and investment climate, in order to entice existing firms to expand and upgrade while new firms and start-ups emerge to create more high-paying jobs.

Yeah: A good quality and inclusive education system coupled with sound economic policies and effective implementation have enabled the two countries to sustain growth. << Yeah: A good quality and inclusive education system coupled with sound economic policies and effective implementation have enabled the two countries to sustain growth.
Yeah: A good quality and inclusive education system coupled with sound economic policies and effective implementation have enabled the two countries to sustain growth
.

He also calls upon business owners and employees to forge appropriate wage-setting mechanisms, which are benchmarked against the productivity of the workers.

“The Government should consider additional fiscal incentives for firms that provide worker benefits to meet the living wage standard. For example, double tax deduction for transport allowance and other cost of living adjustments for the lower-salaried employees,” states Yeah.

Meanwhile, Lee opines that employees should be given a higher share of the profit generated by their employers moving forward, in line with the practice in many high-income nations abroad.
 

“It is actually reasonable for Malaysian employers to allocate a larger chunk of their profits to reward their workers and motivate them,” he says. 

In 2016, the compensation of employees to gross domestic product (CE-to-GDP) ratio in Malaysia improved to 35.3%. The CE-to-GDP ratio shows the workers’ share in the profits made by business owners.

For every RM1 generated in 2016, 35.3 sen was paid to the employee and 59.5 sen went to corporate earnings, while five sen was given to the government in the form of taxes.

In its 11th Malaysia Plan, the Government aspires to increase the CE-to-GDP ratio substantially to 40%, from 34% in 2013.

While Malaysia’s CE-to-GDP ratio has continued to improve over the years, it is notably lower than several other high and middle-income countries.

The 11th Malaysia Plan document stated that the country’s CE-to-GDP ratio was lower than Australia (47.8%), South Korea (43.2%) and even South Africa (45.9%).

In an earlier media report, however, Malaysian Institute of Economic Research executive director Zakariah Abdul Rashid hinted that Malaysia was unlikely to reach its CE-to-GDP ratio target by 2020.

This was mainly as a result of Malaysia’s lower-than-expected productivity growth.


Low-wage conundrum

 According to Bank Negara, the main underlying cause of Malaysia’s low-wage environment is the high numbers of cheap foreign workers.

Governor Tan Sri Muhammad Ibrahim says that the country should cut back on its foreign worker dependency to drive higher wages for Malaysians across-the-board.

“In Malaysia, our salaries and wages are low, as half of the working Malaysians earn less than RM1,700 per month and the average starting salary of a diploma graduate is only about RM350 above the minimum wage.

“It is high time to reform our labour market by creating high-quality, good-paying jobs for Malaysians,” he says.

Echoing a similar stance, Yeah says that the continuing reliance on foreign workers has resulted in a predominantly low wage-low productivity-low value economy, with many features of a middle-income trap.

“On one end of the wage-skill spectrum, the low-skilled jobs are being substituted by easy availability of unskilled foreign workers, thereby keeping the blue-collar wages from rising.

“At the other end, skilled job wages are being depressed by insufficient high-wage job creation, weak firm profitability amid rising market competition and excess capacity, industry consolidations and other factors resulting in a slack labour market,” he says.

Lee: The enforcement of commitments toward the living wage is a complex and costly issue, and more importantly, should be paid voluntarily by the employers. << Lee: The enforcement of commitments toward the living wage is a complex and costly issue, and more importantly, should be paid voluntarily by the employers.
Lee: The enforcement of commitments toward the living wage is a complex and costly issue, and more importantly, should be paid voluntarily by the employers.

It is worth noting that the share of high-skilled jobs has reduced to 37% in the period from 2011 to 2017, as compared to 45% from 2002 to 2010.

Malaysia has come a long way since its independence, transforming itself from a largely rural agragrian country to a regional economic powerhouse, which is driven by its strong services and manufacturing sectors.


While industrialisation and automation have grown robustly since the 1990s, economists feel that the country has not managed to substantially move up the value chain compared with other countries such as Singapore.

The lack of a high-skilled workforce, low productivity, employment opportunities to cater to high-skilled professionals and the presence of cheap foreign workers have all weighed down on the Malaysian economy, particularly the income levels of Malaysians.

Citing the examples of Singapore and Australia, which are successful in raising wages historically, Yeah says that structural reforms should be undertaken in Malaysia to reverse the low-wage conundrum.

“A good quality and inclusive education system coupled with sound economic policies and effective implementation have enabled the two countries to sustain growth, raise productivity and wages and shift to higher-value activities,” he says.

Sources: by Ganeshwaran Kana, The Star

Economist: Manage labour issues to achieve high-income economy

Cheap manpower: While Malaysia has clearly
benefitted from the presence of foreign workers, the role that foreign
workers play in the Malaysian economy must keep up with the times.

WHY are wages still low in Malaysia?

Well, there are six words to describe the main reason for this – “high dependence on low-skilled foreign workers”.

The issue of Malaysia’s huge reliance on low-skilled foreign labour has been raised time and again, but only moderate progress has been made in alleviating the situation.

Low-skilled foreign labour remains a prevalent feature of Malaysia’s economy, and according to Bank Negara, it is a major factor suppressing local wages and impeding the country’s progress towards a high-productivity nation.

As the central bank governor Tan Sri Muhammad Ibrahim puts it, Malaysia is currently weighed down by a low-wage, low-productivity trap, with the contributing factor being the prolonged reliance on low-skilled foreign workers.

While their existence may benefit individual firms in the short term, they could impose high macroeconomic costs to the economy over the longer term.

“Easy availability of cheap low-skilled foreign workers blunts the need for productivity improvement and automation. Employers keep wages low to maintain margins,” Muhammad says.

“Unfortunately, this depresses wages for local workers. The hiring of low-skilled foreign workers also promotes the creation of low-skilled jobs,” he adds.

From 2011 to 2017, the share of low-skilled jobs in Malaysia increased significantly to 16%, compared with only 8% in the period of 2002 to 2010. Apart from that, local economic sectors that rely on foreign workers such as agriculture, construction and manufacturing also suffer from low productivity.

Nevertheless, it is an undeniable fact that foreign workers do contribute somewhat to Malaysia’s economic growth.

The World Bank, in its study about three years ago noted that immigrant labour both high and low-skilled, continued to play a crucial role in Malaysia’s economic development, and would still be needed for the country to achieve high-income status by 2020.

The global institution’s econometric modeling suggested that a 10% net increase in low-skilled foreign workers could increase Malaysia’s gross domestic product (GDP) by as much as 1.1%. For every 10 new immigrant workers in a given state and sector, up to five new jobs may be created for Malaysians in that state and sector, it said.

Even so, the World Bank acknowledged that the influx of foreign labour did have a negative impact on the wages of some groups.

Its study found a 10% increase in immigration flow would reduce wages of the least-educated Malaysians, which represents 14% of the total labour force, by 0.74%. Overall, a 10% increase in immigration flow would slightly increase the wages of Malaysians by 0.14%.

According to Muhammad, while some argue that foreign employment creates economic activities, which consequently create jobs for local employment, it is neither the most efficient nor the desired route to create more mid-to-high-skilled jobs.

“Compared with local employment, foreign workers repatriate a large share of their incomes, which limits the spillover or multiplier effect on the domestic economy,” he explains.

Total outward remittances in 2017 stood at RM35.3bil, of which the bulk was accounted for by foreign workers.

In addition, Muhammad says high dependence on low-skilled foreign workers will also have an adverse effect of shaping Malaysia’s reputation as a low-skilled, labour-intensive destination.

Bank Negara says while Malaysia has clearly benefitted from the presence of foreign workers, the role that foreign workers play in the Malaysian economy must keep up with the times.

The central bank believes critical reforms to the country’s labour market are very much within its reach, and it should continue to gradually wean its dependence on foreign workers.

Malaysia should seize the opportunity now to set itself on a more productive, sophisticated and sustainable economic growth path, it says.

According to Muhammad, cutting back on foreign worker dependency can help to drive higher wages for Malaysians across-the-board.

The Government’s efforts in reducing the country’s dependency on low-skilled foreign workers have been ongoing since the implementation of the 8th Malaysia Plan (2001-2005), with greater clarity and a renewed focus to resolve the issue at hand upon the implementation of the 11th Malaysia Plan.

This has resulted in the steady decline in the share of documented foreign workers from 16.1% in 2013 to 12.0% of the labour force in 2017.

More can be done to build on the progress made, Bank Negara says, while proposing a five-pronged approach to managing foreign workers in Malaysia.

Firstly, it says, there must be a clear stance on the role of low-skilled foreign workers in Malaysia’s economic narrative. Secondly, policy implementation and changes must be gradual and clearly communicated to the industry.

Thirdly, existing demand-management tools (such as quotas, dependency ceilings and levies) can be reformed to be more market-driven, while incentivising the outcomes that are in line with Malaysia’s economic objectives.

Fourthly, there is room to ensure better treatment of foreign workers, be it improvements in working conditions or ensuring that foreign workers are paid as agreed. Lastly, it is also important to note that the proposed reforms must be complemented with effective monitoring and enforcement on the ground, particularly with respect to undocumented foreign workers.

An economist tells StarBizWeek that addressing the high reliance on foreign workers is pertinent for Malaysia’s transition into a high-income economy.

“Malaysia needs to shift its focus from importing cheap labour to managing labour flow that can maximise growth and facilitate its structural adjustment towards a higher income economy,” he says.

“It has been far too long for our economy to be swamped with foreign workers who are unskilled, or have low skill sets that could not contribute meaningfully to Malaysia’s aspiration of becoming a high-income economy,” he adds.

By Cecilia Kok, The Star

Related:

‘Urgent need for coordinated action’ – TheWorldNews.net

 

Bank Negara refutes report on living wage – Business News

 

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Restructuring our household debt


NEW Year always come with new resolutions. Finance is an important aspect of most people’s checklists when it comes to planning new goals.

While it is good to set new financial targets, it is also vital to re-look at our debt portfolio to ascertain if it is at a healthy state.

At a national level, our country also has its financial targets matched against its debt portfolio.

According to the latest Risk Developments and Assessment of Financial Stability 2016 Report by Bank Negara, the country’s household debt was at RM1.086 trillion or 88.4% of gross domestic product (GDP) as at end 2016.

Residential housing loan accounted for 50.3% (RM546.3bil) of total household debts, motor vehicles at 14.6%, personal financing at 14.9%, non-residential loan was 7.4%, securities at 5.7%, followed by credit cards at 3.5% and other items at 3.6%.

Evidently, residential housing loan is the highest among all types of household debt. However, a McKinsey Global Institute Report on “Debt and (Not Much) Deleveraging” in 2015 highlighted that in advanced countries, mortgage or housing loan comprises 74% of total household debt on average.

As a country that aspires to be a developed nation, a housing loan ratio of 50.3% to total household debt would be considered low, compared to 74% for the advanced countries. In other words, we are spending too much on items that depreciate in value immediately – such as car loans, credit card loans and personal loans – compared to assets that appreciate in value in the long run, such as houses.

Advanced economies, which are usually consumer nations, have only 26% debts on non-housing loan as compared to ours at 49.7%.

In order to adopt the household debt ratio of advanced economies, our housing loan of RM546.3bil should be at 74% of total household debt. This means that if we were to keep our housing loan of RM546.3bil constant, our total household debt should be reduced from the current RM1.086 trillion to a more manageable RM738bil. This would require other non-housing loans (car loans, credit card loans and personal loans etc) to reduce from 49.7% of total household debt to only 26%. To achieve this ratio, the non-housing loan debt must collapse from the current RM539.7bil to only RM192bil.

Reducing total household debt from the current RM1.086 trillion to a more manageable RM738bil would also have the added benefit of reducing our total household debt-to-GDP ratio from the high 88.4% to only 60%, making us one of the top countries globally for financial health.

Malaysia’s household debt at present ranked as one of the highest in Asia. Based on the same 2015 McKinsey Report, our household debt-to-income ratio was 146% in 2014 (the ratio of other developing countries was about 42%) compared to the average of 110% in advanced economies.

Adjusting the debt ratio by reducing car loans, personal loans and credit card loans will make our nation stay financially healthy.

Car values depreciate at about 10% to 20% per year based on insurance calculations, accounting standards and actual market prices. Assets financed by personal and credit card loans typically depreciate immediately and aggressively.

The easy access to credit cards and personal loan facilities tend to encourage people to spend excessively, especially when there is no maximum credit limit imposed on credit cards for those earning more than RM36,000 per year.

If we maximised the credit limit given without considering our financial ability, we will need a long time to repay due to the high interest rates, which ranged from 15% to 18% per annum.

Based on a report in The Star recently, Malaysia’s youth are seeing a worrying trend with those aged between 25 and 44 forming the biggest group classified as bankrupt.

The top four reasons for bankruptcy were car loans (26.63%), personal loans (25.48%), housing loans (16.87%) and business loans (10.24%).

It is time for the Government to introduce more drastic cooling-off measures for non-housing loans in order to curb debt that is not backed by assets. This will protect the rakyat from further impoverishment that they are voicing and feeling today.

As we kick start the new year, it is good to relook into our debt portfolio. When we are able to identify where we make up most of our debts, and start to reallocate our financial resources more effectively, we will be heading towards a sound and healthier financial status as a nation.

By Alan Tong – Food for thought

Datuk Alan Tong has over 50 years of experience in property development. He was the world president of FIABCI International for 2005/2006 and awarded the Property Man of the Year 2010 at FIABCI Malaysia Property Award. He is also the group chairman of Bukit Kiara Properties. For feedback, please e-mail feedback@fiabci-asiapacific.com.
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Absorb New ways to prevent floods


Sponge City: Solutions for China’s Thirsty & Flooded cities

 China’s ‘sponge city’ projects may be worthwhile examples for Malaysia.

“Only about 20~30% of rainwater infiltrates the ground in urban areas, so it breaks the naturual water circulation.– Wen Mei Dubbelaar”

Last week, it was the turn of Petaling Jaya, Gombak and Sungai Buloh to be the latest major urban areas in Malaysia to suffer flash floods (Flash floods wreak havoc in PJ – Nation). Scenes of cars and buildings submerged in muddy water are now almost an everyday thing. The focus should now shift from the bad situations to the solutions.

It was also last week that I attended a briefing organised by civil society groups for Penang and Seberang Perai municipal officials and members. The briefing was on the recent floods.

Later, I came across several articles on how China is turning 30 of its flood-prone areas into “sponge cities” to prevent floods and retain rainwater.

The Chinese plan big and fast. It launched the sponge city project only in 2015, but it aims to retain 70% of rain in 80% of urban areas by 2020. The sponge concept is set to spread rapidly as part of global efforts to reduce the impact of increased rainfall and floods, and climate change.

The concept figured prominently at the briefing chaired by Penang state exco member Chow Kon Yeow. Scientist Dr Kam Suan Pheng introduced it when explaining the floods.

She contrasted the present situation when rain falls with what used to happen. In the past, 50% of the rain seeped through the natural ground cover (trees, grass, etc) and into the ground. There was 10% water runoff (to rivers and drains) and 40% evapotranspiration (water going back to the atmosphere).

The trees and green spaces act as a sponge to absorb the rainwater that infiltrates the soil, preventing the water from building up into flash floods.

Due to urbanisation, the green spaces have been paved over with cement and concrete. Now, only 15% of the rain infiltrates the soil, while the runoff has increased to 55% and evapotranspiration is 30%. The sponge now absorbs 15% of the rainwater compared to the previous 50%.

Dr Kam quoted former Penang Water Authority general manager Kam U-Tee as saying that the October 2008 Penang floods were caused by conversion of the valleys into “concrete aprons that do not retain water”. As a result, the water immediately flowed into streams, causing flash floods, even with moderate rainfall.

Given this analysis, a key part of tackling the floods is to reverse the loss of the sponge. In recent decades, Malaysia has seen the conversion of a lot of farms, parks, trees and grass areas into concrete jungles of roads, houses, commercial buildings and car parks.

There now has to be high sensitivity to the valuable environmental and economic roles of trees, gardens, fields and grasslands, and parks. The aim of garden cities is not just to be pleasing to the eye but to be a very important part of development as well.

Now comes the role of sponge cities. The world is applauding the Chinese initiative to counter floods and improve water security by building up the natural cover (or sponge) in its cities.

In 2010, landslides during flooding killed 700 in three quarters of China’s provinces. Last year, rains flooded southern China, destroying homes and killing around 60 people.

In 2015, China launched the Sponge City initiative, which now covers 30 cities, including Shanghai, Xiamen and Wuhan. The target: by 2020, 80% of its urban areas will absorb and re-use 70% of rainwater.

The many types of projects include:

  • > Constructing permeable roads that enable water to infiltrate the ground;
  • > Replacing pavements on roads and parks to make them permeable;
  • > Building wetlands to absorb and store rainwater;
  • > Constructing rooftop gardens (for example, 4.3 million square feet in Shanghai);
  • > Plant trees on streets and public squares;
  • > Build community gardens and parks to expand green spaces; and
  • > Build manmade lakes and preserve agricultural land to hold water.

“In the natural environment, most precipitation infiltrates the ground or is received by surface water, but this is disrupted when there are large-scale hard pavements,” said Wen Mei Dubbelaar, water management director at China Arcadis, in words similar to Dr Kam’s.

“Now only about 20-30% of rainwater infiltrates the ground in urban areas, so it breaks the natural water circulation and causes water logging and surface water pollution,” said Wen in an interview with The Guardian.

In Shanghai’s Lingang district, the streets are built with permeable pavements. There are rain gardens filled with soil and plants, buildings feature green rooftops and water tanks, and a manmade lake controls water flows, reports The Guardian.

Prof Hui Li at Tongji University said the first thing is to preserve or restore natural waterways as that is the natural way to reduce flooding risk.

The problem in Wuhan is that a lot of small rivers were filled in during building. But Lingang still has agriculture land and a lake to hold more water during heavy rain.

What about the cost factor? So far the cities have received over US$12bil (RM47.4bil) for sponge projects. The central government funds 15-20% of costs, and the rest is from local governments and private developers.

But compare this to the US$100bil (RM395bil) of direct economic losses due to floods in China between 2011 and 2014, plus the human lives lost.

Sponge cities are the way to go for the future. Our own governments – federal, state and municipal – should study this option seriously, as the public braces itself for more floods ahead.

– Global Trends by Martin Khor

Martin Khor is executive director of the South Centre. The views expressed here are entirely his own.
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Make environment our 2018 priority


Our Environment is Our Life – YouTube

THE year has barely started, and already we have so many reports of weather and climate-related events.

Heavy wind, snow storms and below-freezing temperatures paralysed cities in the United States’ East Coast. New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport was in chaos with hundreds of flights suspended.

Yet, just weeks previously, big fires linked to a heat wave were sweeping through parts of California on the West Coast, burning 112.000ha of forest and threatening lives and homes.

Colder weather in one place and hotter temperatures in another are signs of global climate change, which can also cause heavier rainfall and drought in different regions.

While it is difficult to pin down any particular incident as a direct result of climate change, it is recognised scientifically that climate change generally exacerbates extreme weather events and may cause some of them.

We can expect the weather, and more broadly the environment, to figure prominently this year.

The alarm bells sounded long ago on the environmental crisis. But it is not easy to achieve a continuous high level of concern among political leaders.

After a calamity and public outrage, there are pledges to correct the situation. However, the interest fades after a while, and not much action is taken, until the next disaster happens.

In Malaysia, people are now looking at the sky constantly to anticipate whether it is going to rain.

Heavy rainfall has been causing floods in Kelantan, Terengganu, Pahang, Johor, Negri Sembilan, Kedah, Selangor, Sabah and Sarawak.

In Penang, severe state-wide flash floods seem to be occurring every few months, with localised flooding in several areas in between. The mud brought down from eroded hill-slopes into overflowing rivers and then into houses, makes floods an even worse nightmare for those affected.

For some unlucky ones, hardly have their houses and furniture been cleaned than they are under one metre of water again through a new flood.

Heavier rain and more floods is the new normal in Malaysia. There has been an increase in rainfall for most parts of the country in 2000-2009 compared to 1970-1999, with the major increase in 2005-2009, according to a 2012 paper by Yap Kok Seng, then the head of the Malaysian Meteorological Depart­ment (MMD), and his colleagues.

The global temperature increase has led to changes in weather including major wind patterns, amount and intensity of precipitation, and increased frequency of severe storms and weather extremes, according to the paper, Malaysia Climate Change Scenarios.

In Malaysia since the 1980s, there had been increasing number of days of extreme rainfall events, extreme wind events and annual thunderstorm days, added the paper.

Unfortunately the situation will worsen. A study published on Jan 10, whose authors are affiliated with Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, predicted that millions more people will be affected by river flooding as global warming increases severe rainfall in the next 20 years.

In Asia, the most affected region, people at risk from floods will rise to 156 million from the present 70 million in the next 20 years.

Global warming increases the risk of flooding because rain during an extreme downpour “increases exponentially” as temperatures rise, the institute’s Anders Levermann told Reuters.

“We have to adapt to global warming. Doing nothing will be dangerous,” he said.

Countries will have to act urgently and make major investments in flood protection to boost their flood defences, according to the report.

This advice surely applies to Malaysia as one of the countries already being affected by heavier rainfall and extensive river flooding.

Flood mitigation measures must be increased, including de-silting, widening and deepening rivers, improving urban drainage, strengthening river banks, redirecting water flows, constructing tidal gates, and pumping excess water into ponds.

Even more important is flood prevention. A main cause of the floods is deforestation, leading to the loss of the forests’ valuable roles in soil and water retention and climate regulation.

It is really short-sighted and irrational to damage and destroy forests, especially forest reserves and water catchment areas.

Exposed soils are swept by rain into rivers, clogging up streams and drains with mud and causing floods downstream in the towns and villages, while also depriving us of much-needed water supply.

There is a great deal of public concern over recent developments that threaten forests and hill lands in the country.

These include the de-gazetting of the Ulu Muda water catchment area in Kedah; the de-gazetting of hill lands in Penang that previously were protected under the Land Conservation Act and which are now being “developed” with the aid of higher permitted density ratio; the conversion of 4,515ha forest reserve to cultivate oil palm plantations in Terengganu (being opposed by WWF-Malaysia); and protests over the imminent loss of a forested park in Taman Rimba Kiara in Kuala Lumpur to make way for housing.

Federal, state and local governments should give priority to environmental rehabilitation of damaged forests and hills, prevent damage to the coastal ecosystem including mangroves, and take comprehensive flood prevention and mitigation measures.

They should stop approving environmentally harmful projects in ecologically sensitive areas.

They must make major financial allocations to protect and rehabilitate the environment, and implement finance measures to prevent and manage the floods.

As so many scientists are warning, and as more and more local communities and citizen groups are demanding, the time to act on the environment is now. Let us hope that in 2018 these calls will be heeded.

Global trends by Martin Khor

Martin Khor is executive director of the South Centre. The views expressed here are entirely his own.

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Penang Landslide occured days after remedial works started


Cracks at Tanjung Bungah site began in June, Commissioner of Inquiry told

Expert panel: (From right) Yeo, Dr Gue and Prof Ramli arriving for the inquiry.

GEORGE TOWN: A temporary structure supporting a worksite slope in Tanjung Bungah developed cracks in mid-June, a Commissioner of Inquiry heard.

Soil Mechanic Sdn Bhd director Cheah Wing How, who was a sub-contractor of the project where a landslide killed 11 workers, said he was informed by a clerk to carry out remedial works as the granite wall had cracked.

Cheah said his team left after completing the granite works and soil-nailing works to enhance the stability of the temporary slope.

There was, however, no mention when they completed the works.

“When we returned, we found there were pile cap excavation works carried out near the slope.

“We believe there was soil movement that resulted in the cracks on the granite wall.

“We were carrying out remedial works and 11 days into the job, the landslide happened,” said Cheah, who has 20 years’ experience in the field.

Cheah was testifying on the first day of the public hearing into the landslide tragedy by the State Commission of Inquiry (SCI) at City Hall in Esplanade yesterday.

On Oct 21, last year, a landslide hit the affordable condominium project made up of two 49-storey towers with 980 units in total within the Permai Village township near the Tunku Abdul Rahman University College.

Among the 11 killed was site supervisor Yuan Kuok Wern, 27.

During the proceeding, the Penang Island City Council (MBPP) also presented eight drone videos that showed the slope and the surrounding area after the tragic incident.

SCI chairman Datuk Yeo Yong Poh said they planned to carry out a site visit tomorrow.

He also fixed the hearing to continue until Monday, followed by Feb 8 to Feb 11, March 24 to March 28 and April 18 to 25.

Other members of the commission are geotechnical expert Datuk Dr Gue See Sew and forensic geo-technical engineer from Universiti Teknologi Malaysia Prof Ramli Nazir.

The SCI was gazetted on Dec 21 last year to investigate the landslide after Yang di-Pertua Negri Tun Rahman Abbas gave his consent on Dec 6, 2017, for the appointment of the members of the commission and its terms of reference.

Meanwhile, Penang Citizens Awareness Chant Group (Chant) adviser Yan Lee said the entrance to the Teik Granite Quarry, which is located near the site where the landslide occurred, should be fenced up.

“Anyone can just walk into the site as the safety measure is not up to mark.

“We have voiced our concern to the Penang Island City Council, the Department of Environment as well as the Land and Mines Department,” he said yesterday.

By Chong Kah Yuan and Jo-Leen Wong The Star

Related Links:

Contractors in jitters over temporary slopes – Nation

Boulders slid down hill prior to disaster – Nation

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