Trump’s overture to emerging Asia drowned out by trade war with China


US Trade war with China overshadows US$113m investment initiatives trumpeted by US Secretary of State

 

 

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – When the U.S. Secretary of State flies into Southeast Asia this week with a new investment pitch for the region, the response could be: thanks a million, but please stop threatening a trade war with China that will make us lose billions of dollars.

Analysts say the $113 million of technology, energy and infrastructure initiatives trumpeted by Mike Pompeo earlier this week – the first concrete details of U.S. President Donald Trump’s vague ‘Indo-Pacific’ policy – may be hard to sell to countries that form an integral part of Chinese exporters’ supply chains.

It may even further inflame tensions with Beijing, which has been spreading money and influence across the region via its Belt and Road Initiative development scheme.

“The Southeast Asian capitals are more worried about any blowback effects for them of U.S.-China trade tension than they are about how much they can benefit from this $113 million initiative,” said Malcolm Cook, senior fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.

“Pompeo has a hard selling job. There is still no real positive trade story for Asia coming out of the United States.”

Hot on the heels of Washington’s new economic plan for emerging Asia came reports the United States could more than double planned tariffs on $200 billion of imported Chinese goods from dog food to building materials. China called it “blackmail” and vowed retaliation.

After a brief meeting with new Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in Kuala Lumpur, Pompeo will fly to Singapore – a global trading hub that could be one of the hardest-hit in the region by a trade war – for a sit-down with the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on Friday.

Singapore’s biggest bank, DBS, estimates that a full-scale trade war – defined as 15-25 percent tariffs on all products traded between the U.S. and China – could more than halve Singapore’s growth rate next year from a forecast 2.7 percent to 1.2 percent. Malaysia’s growth rate in 2019 could fall from an estimated 5 percent to 3.7 percent.

“We are all acutely aware of the storm clouds of trade war,” Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said at the opening of an ASEAN foreign ministers meeting on Thursday that precedes meetings with the United States and other nations.

Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said earlier this year that a trade war would have a “big, negative impact” on the country.

Ratings agency Moody’s said this week that an escalation of trade tensions in 2018 had become its “baseline expectation”, and that Asia was “especially vulnerable” given the integration of regional supply chains.

SANCTIONS ON NORTH KOREA

As well as trade, Friday’s meeting will also cover security issues such as South China Sea disputes and North Korea’s nuclear disarmament. The United States will press Southeast Asian leaders to maintain sanctions on Pyongyang following reports of renewed activity at the North Korean factory that produced the country’s first intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the United States.

Pompeo will also travel to Indonesia during his trip – Southeast Asia’s biggest economy which under Trump faces losing some of the trade preferences given by Washington for poor and developing countries.

Few officials around the region offered comment on the Indo-Pacific strategy when contacted by Reuters for this story. One said that the ASEAN meeting in Singapore would be an opportunity “to have clarity and a more unified position” on the vision.br

One reason for caution is that the region has been wrong-footed by U.S. advances before.

Former U.S. President Barack Obama’s “pivot” to Asia went on the backburner after Trump won the 2016 election promising to put “America First”. One of his early acts in office was to pull out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement, which involved four Southeast Asian states.

The result was that across Asia, more and more countries were pulled into China’s orbit: softening their stance on territorial disputes in the South China Sea and borrowing billions of dollars from Beijing to develop infrastructure.

The Philippines is one example of a country which has taken a more conciliatory approach to China despite a bitter history of disputes over maritime sovereignty.

Its President Rodrigo Duterte frequently praises Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping and in February caused a stir when he jokingly offered the Philippines to Beijing as a province of China.

Thailand, one of Washington’s oldest allies, is another major regional power perceived to have moved closer to China after U.S. relations came under strain because of concerns about freedoms under its military-dominated government.

Thai foreign ministry spokesperson Busadee Santipitaks told Reuters the country was proceeding with “a balanced approach” towards the United States and China.

U.S. officials said the Indo-Pacific strategy does not aim to compete directly with China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Yet, in an apparent reference to China, Pompeo said Washington will “oppose” any country that seeks dominance in the region.

While Chinese officials have not criticized the U.S. approach, its influential state-run tabloid the Global Times said in an editorial on Tuesday: “Belt and Road is destined to continue to flourish. This has nothing to do with certain forces that are selfish and engage in petty practices and make jibes.”

John Geddie Reuters

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Govt Linked Companies (GLCs) – Monsters in the house?


Politicians should not be appointed to run government-linkedv companies (GLCs) to keep graft in check, said Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission Advisory Board Chairman Tunku Abdul Aziz Tunku Ibrahim.He  said politicians holding GLC positions might face conflicts of interest, ading to abuse of power and responsibility.

ABOUT a month before Malaysia’s  parliamentary election in May,
then-opposition leader Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad raised concerns over the
role that government-linked companies (GLCs) were playing in the
economy, being “huge and rich” enough to be considered “monsters”.

Data support his description – GLCs account for about half of the  Benchmark Kuala Lumpur Composite Index, and they  constitute seven out of the top-10 listed firms in 2018. They are present in almost every sector, sometimes in a towering way. Globally, Malaysia ranks fifth-highest in terms of GLC influence on the economy.

Calls to do something about GLCs have   increased since the election following the  release of more damning information, although most of it relates to the GLCs’ investment arm: government-linked investment companies (GLICs).

Some experts have proposed the formation of an independent body with
operational oversight for GLICs, after institutional autonomy is established and internal managerial reforms are introduced. Unlike most GLCs, GLICs are not publicly listed and face little scrutiny. The same applies to the various funds at the constituent state level, which need to be looked at too.

For GLCs, the answer is less straightforward. PM Tun Mahathir claims that GLCs have lost track of their original function. Before the Malaysian government decides on what to do, it needs to examine the role GLCs should play – as opposed to the role they currently play – and to examine their impact on the economy.

In Malaysia, GLCs were uniquely tasked to assist in the government’s affirmative action program to improve the absolute and relative position of bumiputras. The intention was to help create a new class of bumiputra entrepreneurs – first through the GLCs themselves, and then through a process of divestment.

Given the amounts of money involved and the cost of the distortions introduced, the benefits to bumiputra were unjustifiably small and unequally distributed. The approach of using GLCs as instruments of affirmative action failed because it led to a rise in state dependence, widespread complacency and even corruption, as Tun Mahathir himself recognised in his memoirs, A Doctor in the House, and again more
recently. There is also empirical evidence that GLCs have been crowding out private investment, a concern raised in the New Economic Model as early as 2011.

Additionally, the new government has correctly highlighted the need to include certain off-balance-sheet items and contingent liabilities, such as government guarantees and public-private partnership lease payments, in any complete assessment of debt outstanding. The use of offshoot companies and special purpose vehicles (SPVs) in the deliberate reconfiguration of certain obligations mean that traditional debt calculations underestimate Malaysia’s actual debt.

All these factors combine to place new impetus on reconsidering the extent of government involvement in business. Divestment will not solve  Malaysia’s debt problem, but it can help if there are good reasons to pursue it. So how should the government proceed?

It is important to recognise at the outset, that there is a legitimate role for government in business – providing public goods, addressing market failures or promoting social advancement. And like in most other countries, there are good and bad GLCs in Malaysia. If a GLC is not crowding out private enterprise, operates efficiently and performs a social function effectively, then there is no reason to consider  divestment. But a GLC that crowds out private investment in a sector with no public or social function, or one that is inefficiently run, should be a candidate for divestment. In this regard, one has to carefully study why GLCs should be present in retail, construction or property development, for instance.

In assessing performance, one needs to separate results that arise from true efficiency, versus preferential treatment that generates artificial rent for the GLC. The latter is a drain on public resources and a tax on consumers. Divestment in this case, will likely provide more than a one-off financial injection to government coffers – it will provide
ongoing benefits through fiscal savings or better allocation of public resources.

The divestment process should be carefully managed to ensure that public assets are disposed at fair market value, and does not concentrate market power or wealth in the hands of a few. This has allegedly happened with privatisation efforts in the past.

The new government has committed itself to addressing corruption and improving the management of public resources. As part of this process, one must re-examine just how much government is involved in business. This is one of the many tasks that the Council of Eminent Persons is undertaking in the first 100 days of the new government.

To be done correctly, would require a careful study of GLCs and their impacts. This could then rejuvenate the private sector while enabling  good GLCs to thrive, and fortify Malaysia’s fiscal position in the process. This is what Malaysians should expect – and indeed demand – of the “New Malaysia”.

Jayant Menon is Lead Economist in the Economic Research and Regional Cooperation Department at the Asian Development Bank. This is an abridged version of an item that first appeared on the East Asia Forum.

Jayant Menon The Sundaily

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Malaysian new hope for the housing industry with new government


MALAYSIANS have been in an uplifting mood, with the various measures announced by the new government since the new Cabinet was formed.

Out of my passion for the housing industry, I am paying special interest and attention to Pakatan Harapan’s proposals on housing matters. There are several initiatives which will give a new breath of life to the industry if they are implemented successfully.

In its manifesto, Pakatan Harapan promises to build one million affordable homes within two terms of their administration. This is a realistic and encouraging move to address the affordable housing issue in Malaysia.

As mentioned in my previous article, I often wondered why the previous government didn’t directly drive affordable housing. I was enlightened when a friend told me last year, “The reason is that there isn’t any ‘money’ involved in affordable housing”. Given the new government’s promise of a cleaner government, I believe this is the right time.

To build one million affordable houses within two terms means that the government needs to build an average of 100,000 homes every year. This exceeds our yearly residential housing production recorded for the past few years.

To make this a reality, the government needs to put in real money to make it happen. The previous government depended on the private sector to drive that number. However, as we have seen from successful public/affordable housing models from Hong Kong and Singapore, our government should be the main driving force in providing affordable homes.

The reasons for such success are obvious. Governments have control over land, approval rights, public funds and development expertise. Given enough political will, and backed by tax payers’ funds, we can achieve these targets.

According to the manifesto of the new government, the above mission will be carried out by a National Affordable Housing Council chaired by the Prime Minister. Setting up a central authority has been suggested by Bank Negara and also in this column before. A centralised system will ensure effective planning and allocation of affordable homes, just as is done by the Housing and Development Board (HDB) in Singapore.

Currently, we have different agencies looking at affordable housing, such as the various State Economic Development Corporations (SEDCs), Syarikat Perumahan Negara Bhd (SPNB), Perbadanan Kemajuan Negeri Selangor (PKNS) and 1 Malaysia People’s Housing Scheme (PR1MA).

Many of them are working in isolation from one another and some have strayed from their original purpose.

In Singapore, prior to the formation of the Housing and Development Board (HDB) in 1960, less than 9% of Singaporeans stayed in government housing. Today, HDB has built more than a million flats and houses. About 82% of Singaporeans stay in HDB housing, according to HDB’s annual report. It is a great example for reference.

Based on the recently published statistics from the National Property Information Centre (Napic), the total residential homes in Malaysia as at the end of 2017 was 5.4 million. Low-cost houses and flats accounted for 21% or 1.15 million of the total.

Some may question whether the number of low-cost homes is sufficient. However, there may be some “leakages” or misallocation in the previous distribution system that caused qualified applicants to face difficulties when buying or renting a low-cost home.

Many years ago, The Star reported that thousands of government housing units in Kuala Lumpur were being sub-let to third parties at five times above the control rental price. It stated that the number of applicants for low-cost units in Kuala Lumpur had reached 26,000, and that many of them had been on the waiting list for more than a decade.

It was even rumoured that some low-cost housing units across Malaysia were sold to political nominees, instead of going towards the rakyat who really couldn’t afford housing. If this practice did actually happen, it is disgusting and should be reviewed.

It is timely for the new government to inspect whether our low-cost homes have fallen into the wrong hands. It is essential to repair the allocation system and stop any form of corruption while building more low cost and affordable homes.

The new government’s manifesto to coordinate a unified and open database on affordable housing, can be one of the solutions to the matter.

In addition, the idea of managing a rent-to-own scheme for lower income groups is a positive measure to encourage residents to take care of their houses, as they will eventually own them.

I am glad to see the manifesto of the new government addressing many areas of concern in building homes for the rakyat. We understand that it takes time to implement these new measures. The rakyat will need to be patient for these new measures to reap their full results. We hope that a fresh start in the right direction will finally shine some light at the end of the tunnel.

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 email feedback@fiabci-asiapacific.com.
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Penang Forum calls to review Penang mega projects


Penang Forum members paying a courtesy call on Chow, seated at the head of the table, at his office in Komtar.

Revise transport master plan because circumstances have changed

” A new public transport design has to be integrated to encourage walking, cycling and bus uise – Penang Forum”

THE Penang Forum steering committee, a loose coalition of non-political civil society groups, has called on the Pakatan Harapan Penang government to review the Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP) estimated to cost RM46bil.

It said the Penang government should bear in mind its election manifesto of balancing economic growth with environmental protection and a commitment to improve public transport.

“Given the scale of the funding for this mega project, the state must ensure government procurement produces the best value for taxpayers’ money.

“The awarding process used was based on a Request for Proposal, rather than a true open tender, which did not allow for any meaningful comparison of bid documents as the scope of work was not fixed.

“Hence the award process must also be reviewed and revisited,” the statement read.

The committee also pointed out that the present PTMP was based on the assumption that buses, ferries and a cross-channel bridge were under federal control and there was nothing much the state could do.

“So it did not focus on how these could be improved or expanded. But now that circumstances have changed, the plan needs to be revised,” it said.

The committee also said the planning for equitable public transport should take into consideration the following criteria:

  • Fiscal prudence that should consider cost-effectiveness in construction, operation and maintenance.Detailed financial analysis of different public transport systems must be done and compared. The most cost-effective system should be selected.
  • Other important considerations are efficiency of operation, predictable schedules and systems compatibility.
  • The different components of the transport system must be well connected and integrated, socially inclusive, with a low impact on the built and natural environment.
  • Extensive public consultation at every stage, with plans available for online viewing and download so that more people can view and comment. It must be carried out and the exercise must be open to scrutiny.
  • Independent consultants who are at the forefront of designing equitable, sustainable transport must be engaged to do the review of the plans. They must not be associated with or employed by parties involved in tendering for the project.

The statement also read that the 2016 transport proposal was a mega project put forward by SRS Consortium, the project delivery partner of PTMP, to the Penang government.

“The design and planning fails to meet most of the above criteria.

“The overpriced package includes many components of mega road building that will discourage people from using public transport and undermine the stated goal of increasing public modal share of transport.

“Although public consultations have been held about impacts in specific localities, open scrutiny of the whole design was strongly discouraged,” the statement said.

The committee also said the original PTMP by Halcrow involved public consultation, but the state pressured the consultants to add the undersea tunnel and three highways costing a total of RM6.3bil just before it adopted the plan in 2013.

The SRS proposal costing RM46bil includes a proposal to reclaim 4,500 acres of land (comprising three islands). It departs drastically from the officially adopted 2013 Halcrow masterplan.

“Thus, a thorough, proper and independent review should be carried out to ascertain its suitability, viability and sustainability.

“The massive proposed reclamation will destroy fishing grounds and jeopardise fishing livelihoods and a vital local source of seafood.

“It will be environmentally unsustainable due to expensive maintenance costs required for dredging in the future.

“Promise 10 of the Pakatan manifesto talks of ensuring food security and protecting the welfare of farmers and fishermen.

“Last but not the least, with rapid changes in public transport technology and new trends in info-mobility, it is imperative that any existing plan for public transport should be re-examined.

“A new public transport design has to be integrated to encourage walking, cycling and bus use,” it said.

Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow was earlier reported saying that the state government would leave the decision to review the components of the PTMP to the Federal Government.

He said this was because the proposal was at the Federal level right now, adding that if there was any need to review the project, the Federal Government could make a decision.

He also said the SRS Consortium would be happy to supply the Federal agencies with additional details. – Starmetro

 

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MCA had no room to say ‘no’, down but not out: HSR cancellation should have followed due process


 

In the driver’s seat: Dr Wee is widely seen to be the next to helm the party. — ONG SOON HIN/The Star

HIS office is a small room with a great view of the capital city’s central business district. Within its four corners, MCA deputy president Datuk Seri Dr Wee Ka Siong is racing against time to plan the road ahead for the embattled party.

He is now MCA’s sole Member of Parliament after winning the Ayer Hitam seat in Johor.

The party also won the Titi Tinggi and Cheka state seats.

MCA contested 39 parliamentary seats and 90 state seats in the May 9 polls. The defeat has been bruising and Dr Wee has spent the last three weeks charting the road ahead for the 69-year-old party.

“Changing government is not a nightmare, not an impossible thing and can be done overnight,” says 50-year-old Dr Wee in his first media interview after the polls.

He adds that all is not lost following the party’s worst outing, and said MCA is ready to pick up from where it fell, and evolve as a completely reformed and independent entity.

“Our party is now our priority and not the coalition like before.

“There is no more political baggage. In the past there was no room to say ‘no’ or you would be deemed as going against the coalition’s whip.

From his office on the 9th floor of the MCA headquarters in Wisma MCA, Dr Wee says his major task is to put up a team that can move forward to rebuild the party.

“I have been encouraged by people to take up the challenge to provide the leadership, and I am duty-bound to do so,” he said during an interview.

Party president Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai announced that he would not seek re-election at the party polls this November, and Dr Wee as his deputy and sole survivor of GE14 is widely seen as his successor.

Dr Wee, a civil engineer who joined MCA in 1992, rose to become the party’s Youth chief in 2008 and deputy president in 2013.

MCA is the second largest component party of Barisan Nasional which lost its hold on the government for the first time since Independence in 1957 following the crushing defeat in GE14.

As one of three MCA ministers in the last four years, the former Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department explains that the party, bound by the Barisan Nasional spirit, seldom spoke openly on what transpired in the Cabinet.

This, unfortunately, was perceived by people that MCA had not been able to speak up for them or do anything for them.

Dr Wee said the perception had been compounded by negative statements on MCA and the Chinese community made by other Barisan component party leaders.

Statements which openly ridiculed the Chinese community and renowned figures like Robert Kuok and even MCA as a party in the run-up to the polls were certainly damaging.

The damage control also did not help at all.

“Saying that such issues had been voiced out or dealt with in the Cabinet were grossly insufficient.

“Some justice needs to be done and seen to be done.”

Dr Wee conceded that the Barisan spirit had also turned into a form of constraint on MCA and a baggage most of the time in a modern society where people demand openness and action against issues deemed unfair to the community.

At times, he adds, this “behind closed doors diplomacy” was done with the intention of not wanting to prolong an ugly episode and also to preserve harmony in a multiracial society.

“But obviously, this did not augur well for us.”

Going forward, Dr Wee says the role of the party is how to be an effective Opposition and provide the check and balance in the new regime.

He says he believes this is what the people want from the party and what the party can do for them now that it is in the Opposition.

Dr Wee says he will also be going to the ground to identify the party’s weaknesses and drawbacks that contributed to the defeat of the party.

He points out that these constitute important feedback in the party’s bid to reform itself and move forward.

The MCA central committee – the party’s highest decision-making body – has appointed him to helm the party’s reform committee following the GE14 defeat.

Dr Wee envisages a team of young and talented MCA leaders that can take on the new role of an effective Opposition in a new set-up.

The party, he adds, can provide a platform for them.

He says universal values, public policies and the party’s core struggle will remain the foundation.

Dr Wee also says the party will be rebuilt on all levels.

For instance, he says the party will be preparing for local elections (councillors) as the Pakatan Harapan Government has been pushing for it prior to GE14.

On Chinese education and Chinese new villages, of which MCA has been the guardian since its inception in 1949, Dr Wee says he hopes the new Government can do a better job in taking care of the two institutions close to the hearts of the Chinese.

He is willing and ready to provide help and cooperate with the new Government in the two areas upon their request.

“We (MCA) do what is best for the people. We exist because of the people.”

On the scrapping of two mega projects like the High Speed Rail between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore (HSR) and MRT 3 announced by Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad just 22 days after Pakatan Harapan took over Putrajaya, Dr Wee feels the decisions needed in-depth study.

On the merits of HSR, he notes that Kuala Lumpur and Singapore are the two busiest Asean cities, and boosting their connectivity would be a step in the right direction and for mutual economic growth and benefits.

He points out that there are more than 30,000 flights between the two cities a year.

The HSR was scheduled to be completed in 2026, and it would have been just a 90-minute ride between the two cities.

The 350km track, which was to start in Bandar Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur and end in Jurong East, Singapore, would have passed through stations in Putrajaya, Seremban, Melaka, Muar, Batu Pahat and Iskandar Puteri.

On the MRT 3, Dr Wee said the people are enjoying the convenience of MRT 1 and looking forward to MRT 2 which is under construction.

Like any other big city in the world, Dr Wee said, MRTs are the desired mode of transportation.

He hopes the Pakatan Harapan Government can reconsider the scrapping of MRT 3 for the sake of the eight million Kuala Lumpur folk and the development of the capital city.

By Foong Pek Yee The Star

MCA think-tank: HSR cancellation should have followed due process – Centre For A Better Tomorrow (Cenbet)


 

CENBET – Centre For A Better Tomorrow  says the cancellation of the Kuala
Lumpur-Singapore High-Speed Rail should have been announced after the
cabinet’s approval in accordance to due process. – The Malaysian Insight
pic by Najjua Zulkefli, June 1, 2018.

THE cancellation of the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High-Speed Rail project should have been made by the cabinet prior to its announcement as a matter of good governance, said the Centre For A Better Tomorrow (Cenbet).


The think tank said while it supported the new government’s efforts to review potentially wasteful projects and lopsided deals, such decisions should have followed due process.

“If decision on a RM110 billion mega-project can be made without stringent due process, we are worried that this may set a bad precedent in deciding other government projects.

“Such decision undermines institutional integrity which should have never been compromised for political expediency,” said Cennbet co-president Gan Ping Sieu in a statement today.

Based on news reports, Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s May 28 announcement to call off the project was made after chairing his party’s supreme council meeting and not in his capacity as prime minister announcing a Cabinet decision.

Transport Minister Anthony Loke was also reportedly said that the matter was not discussed in a cabinet meeting prior to the Prime Minister’s May 28 announcement that the project would be shelved.

“Rightfully, cancelling a project of such magnitude, involving transnational interests, ought to have gone through a more structured decision-making process. This includes preparing a cabinet paper and getting feedback from all relevant agencies and state governments,” explained Gan.

He pointed out that the federal constitution was clear that the cabinet is the highest executive body and the manner in which the announcement was made contradicted the spirit of accountability and transparency pledged by the new federal government.

“The eventual May 30 cabinet decision can be perceived as an afterthought and clearly without going through sufficient consultation,” said Gan.

He added that institutional decision-making process was an integral part of good governance, which Cenbet promotes.

“All major national decisions must be made by the cabinet after due process and consultation to prevent abuse of power and leakages,” he added. – Bernama, June 1, 2018.

Source: The Malaysian Insight

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MEDIA STATEMENTS
Co-President Gan Ping Sieu on the Cancellation of the HSR Project

Friday, June 01, 2018

The cancellation of the High Speed Rail project should have been made by the Cabinet prior to its announcement, as a matter of good governance. While we support the new government’s efforts to review potentially wasteful projects and lop-sided deals, such decisions should have followed due process.  >> read more


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Huge landslide in Tg Bungah hill


Disaster zone: An aerial view of the recent landslide in Tanjung Bungah, Penang.
An aerial view of the brown water flowing into the sea from Sungai Kelian.

GEORGE TOWN: Nobody knew a natural disaster was waiting to happen until Sungai Kelian in Tanjung Bungah turned brown and silty.

The sudden profusion of laterite mud flowing out to sea was caused by a landslide even bigger than the one that killed 11 people at a Tanjung Bungah construction site last year.

But it was so far uphill – 231m above sea level – that Penang Island City Council (MBPP) had to use a drone to find it.

As it was a natural landslide, residents are now worried about the fragility of slopes in the Tanjung Bungah hill range and want tighter scrutiny on the many development projects slated for their neighbourhood all the way to Batu Ferringhi.
MBPP issued a statement on Sunday after discovering the landslide on Bukit Batu Ferringhi, in the forest reserve about 1.5km uphill of a disused Penang Water Supply Corporation (PBAPP) intake station.

PBAPP chief executive officer Datuk Jaseni Maidinsa clarified that the station had not been in use since 1999, after the Teluk Bahang Dam was completed.

An MBPP engineer said the landslide was about 40m long and 20m wide, but geo-technical experts were unable to reach the site to determine what happened because there are no jungle trails to reach it.

A group called Nelayan Tanjung Tokong shared a video on Facebook last Thursday, showing the russet brown water flowing into the sea from Sungai Kelian and expressed concern.

Tanjung Bungah Residents Asso­ciation chairman Meenakshi Ra­­man said it was worrying because the landslide happened without any human disturbance.

“It shows the hills in the vicinity are ecologically fragile, and we don’t want any untoward incidents to happen again.

“We hope the authorities will tell us what is being done to prevent further landslides,” she said yesterday.

Former Tanjung Bungah assemblyman Teh Yee Cheu said he knew the area well and believed that the landslide took place near the source of Sungai Kelian.

“I have always stressed on how sensitive the hill slopes here are. There are many underground springs in the hills,” he said.

State Works, Utilities and Flood Mitigation Committee chairman Zairil Khir Johari said the landslide happened in the middle of a forest reserve and experts need time to study the slope to understand how it gave way.

He gave an assurance that the mud washing down the river would clear up in due course without long-term damage.

Zairil also stressed that no deve­lopment had been approved near the landslide area.

“The state government’s guidelines on hill slope development are tighter than those used by the Federal Government. We will not approve developments without pro­per compliance,” he added.

Penang Drainage and Irrigation Department director Mohd Azmin Hussin said that it would be difficult to transport machinery to the source of the landslide for mitigation works.

“There are no access roads and the team will have to hike to the site,” he said. – The Star

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