Sustainable Development in Penang


Why did MBPP approve the Tanjung Bungah development project?
Read more at https://www.malaysiakini.com/letters/399357#qbRd534yu1JfC551.99 

The never ending torrential rain in Penang over the weekend was an act of God. A natural phenomenon which is a perpetual feature of our equatorial climate. Nobody would wish to have the heavens open up with such vengeance on any state.

Naturally, when the rain intensity is so great, floods will occur. We should always be vigilant during the annual monsoon season.

Flood mitigation starts from the local council and state government. Every council must take into consideration the terrain, rainfall and built up surfaces in their area. While we can always engineer ourselves out of a flood, there is always a cost versus benefit consideration. There are some low-lying areas in a flood plain that will perpetually be flooded when it rains and if we situate developments in those areas, we have to be prepared for such events.

On a small island like Penang, with its hilly terrain, engineering flood mitigation measures must be a long term and all-inclusive plan encompassing all urban growth zones. It will not be cheap, mainly due to the high land cost and the expense incurred to provide adequate storage for the surface runoff.

As the island develops, open permeable spaces will continue to diminish causing higher runoff to flow downstream into the coastal areas. Couple that with tidal phenomenon and the incoming surface runoff will easily overwhelm the drainage system causing a rise in water level.

The question we should all be asking is how do we reduce the incidence of flooding? Unfortunately, especially with our tropical climate, it is quite impossible to entirely eliminate flooding. Anybody that promises that is telling you a blatant lie.

With the right planning and engineering, we can reduce the incidence of flooding and lower the magnitude of the damage caused.

Penang’s terrain bears much similarity to Hong Kong. Being in the path of tropical storms and typhoons from the Pacific Ocean, Hong Kong bears the brunt of some of the regions worst storms. On average, six tropical cyclones slam into Hong Kong every year. While flooding still occurs in Hong Kong, they have managed to reduce the damage it causes.

There are many lessons Penang can learn from Hong Kong.

If DAP still wants to continue to develop the state in a sustainable manner, they must implement special flood mitigation requirements in addition to the ones provided by the JPS Masma manual. If the hills are being cleared, the increased runoff will tax the existing drainage system. Siltation will occur, evident from the brownish flood waters, as topsoil and sediment from the hills wash down into the coastal plain. These sediments, unless periodically maintained, will clog existing waterways, thus reducing drainage efficiency.

The ultimate problem with highly built up areas is the immense volume of runoff from storms. Sufficient storage areas in the form of retention ponds and green open areas should be provided to retard the flow of water into the rivers.

Due to its terrain and the high-density development on the island, it is expensive to provide adequate stormwater storage within a development.

Catchment areas next to hillslopes also have a large volume of runoff moving at a high velocity. The damaging effect of erosion is quite evident on many of these hill projects. Sometimes water currents are so strong, even paved roads can be ripped apart.

Some of the more innovative solutions for Hong Kong’s flooding problems like the underground stormwater storage system has worked very well over the years together with a comprehensive Drainage Master Plan.

The Drainage Services Department of the Hong Kong SAR constructed massive underground tanks to route surface runoff intercepted from uphill catchments during storms only to slowly release the stormwater into the natural waterways when the storm abates.

The Penang state government has a duty of care to the residents of Penang to ensure that disasters of such proportion should not happen.

Over the past four years, a total of 119 incidences of flooding has been recorded in Penang. Penang is an economic powerhouse and home to some of the world most high-tech electronics producers.

The state government has to provide a safe and secure environment for investor to house their production facilities and assets. Otherwise, multinationals might shun the island because of the cost of protecting and insuring their priceless assets. Productivity would be affected and the cost to remedy the damage.

We will only find out the true financial cost of this disaster over the next few weeks.

For Penang to recover from this tragedy, federal funding is required to repair all the damaged infrastructure within the state.

The very least they can do is to provide a COMPETENT flood mitigation plan for the state starting with a comprehensive Drainage Master Plan Study.

The Penang government has to be ACCOUNTABLE to the people and not private developers. If certain waterways and catchment areas have to be gazetted as permanent drainage and storage areas, then so be it.

The safety and well-being of the Rakyat has to come first. Lastly, in the interest of  TRANSPARENCY, Penang has to launch an inquiry into how the local council approved property developments on Class III slopes without adequate slope protection.

The collapse of many retaining structures and slope failures in such risky locations is cause to for concern because as of right now, any dwelling structure located downstream to those development could possibly be the scene for the next Highland Towers.

Kong Len Wei@konglen wei

Source: by Kong Len Wei, a Civil engineer  and councilor for Majlis Perbandaran Manjung and the Chairman of MCA Youth Perak Young Professional’s Bureau
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PAC blamed Penang Island City Council (MBPP) for failing to enforce laws on hillside development


Becoming bald: A view of the clearing work seen at Bukit Relau which was visible from the Penang Bridge in November last year.

GEORGE TOWN: The Penang Public Accounts Committee (PAC) had faulted the Penang Island City Council (MBPP) for failing to monitor and enforce laws on hillside development in the state.

In its report on hill land development tabled on May 19, PAC said the lax monitoring not only resulted in unchecked hill clearing, but landowners were able to build houses, chalets, hotels and restaurants on Penang’s hill range.

“This situation happened because of MBPP’s failure to monitor and patrol hill land after notices were issued to landowners.

“This led to risks of soil erosion, landslides, mudslides, river sedimentation and disruptions to the surroundings,” it stated.

PAC’s report gained public attention after Penanti assemblyman Dr Norlela Ariffin brought it up in a dialogue session held by Penang NGOs and residents associations on flood and landslides on Sunday.

She told 200-odd members of the civil society that the report was tabled in the state assembly but never presented.

PAC stated that according to the state Audit Department, out of 31 illegal hill land clearing cases in 2015, four were in the Teluk Bahang water catchment area.

The committee, chaired by Bagan Dalam assemblyman A. Tanasekharan, visited nine of the cases on March 1.

It highlighted the Bukit Relau hill clearing case 410m above sea level and visible from Penang Bridge.

“Media reports and public comments should have been enough for MBPP and other authorities to take immediate action.

“Mitigation works on Bukit Relau have taken so long to be completed. The local authorities neither monitor the work frequently nor supply regular updates,” it added.

On illegal clearing that took place on Penang Hill, PAC expressed frustration that the actual dates and specific locations of the earthworks could not be determined because of the unsatisfactory records and monitoring.

“On Penang Hill, there was confusion on the existing agricultural plot and the new clearings.

“There are no definitions of allowable hill land agricultural works that involves digging,” it added.

PAC also objected to an earlier suggestion by the state Local Government Committee to exclude hill land earthworks related to agricultural activities from needing work permits.

Source: The Star by Arnold Loh

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Penang floods, support pours in for dialogue


(From left) Dr Kam will deliver a talk on ‘Understanding the Causes of Floods and Seeking Solutions. State assemblymen expressing interest in attending are Dr Norlela, Cheah, Muhamad Farid, Ooi and Shah Headan.

School students and the public wading through floodwaters in Jalan Trengganu
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Filepix of cars getting stalled on flooded Jalan Ayer Itam

MORE than 10 elected representatives from Pakatan Rakyat and Barisan Nasional have so far confirmed their attendance at the dialogue session ‘Penang Floods: A Call for Action’ to discuss floods at the Teow Chew Association in Chulia Street on Sunday from 10am till noon.

Kebun Bunga assemblyman Cheah Kah Peng from PKR said the briefing was a good initiative to gather feedback from the people.

“As people’s representatives, we should always have a positive mind dtowards discussions, whether it is positive or negative.

“Dialectics process is necessary to get to the bottom of a problem,” he said yesterday.

Penanti assemblyman Dr Norlela Ariffin, also from PKR, believes the dialogue session would be a great resource for her to learn more about what was happening on the island.

“I have always been concerned about the flooding woes in my constituency and other parts on the mainland.

“I want to know more about flooding on the island too,” she said.

Dr Norlela said the input from the session would be useful for help to raise questions in the state assembly sitting from Nov 2.

Teluk Bahang assemblyman Datuk Shah Headan Ayoob Hussain Shah from Barisan Nasional said the session would be a good platform for the people and affected flood victims to raise their concerns.

“Our priority is to help the rakyat (people) and we will come in support of them,” he said.

Tanjung Bungah assemblyman Teh Yee Cheu, from the DAP, said he would send two of his representatives to the session.

“I will raise flood issues during the assembly sitting. I have done this many times before,” he said.

Pulau Betong assemblyman Muhammad Farid Saad said he would be attending a function in his constituency. However, he said he would try to attend the dialogue “even though I may be late.”

Jelutong MP Jeff Ooi said he would be attending an event to foster unity between Muslims and non-Muslims at Jamek Mosque in his constituency at the same time.

“I will be late if the event at the mosque starts late,” he said.

The dialogue will be moderated by Penang Forum steering committee member Ahmad Chik.

Forum member Dr Kam Suan Pheng, a soil expert and scientist, will deliver a talk on ‘Understand-ing the Causes of Floods and Seeking Solutions’.

Lawyer Datuk Agatha Foo will talk on ‘Laws and Guidelines Relating to Hill Land and Hill Slope Development’.

Consumers Association of Penang legal adviser Meenakshi Raman will touch on the ‘Demands of Residents’ Associations of Penang’ and it will be followed by the dialogue session.

Meenakshi, who is Tanjung Bungah Residents Association chairman, urged resident associations and management corporations to attend the event.

She said 24 resident associations, management corporations and residents groups had joined the Residents’ Associations of Penang which was formed last year.

“We hope more will sign up. More members means more strength in handling issues affecting the community,” she said.

For details on the dialogue, email penangforumm@gmail.com or call 04-8299511 (Jaspal).

Source: The Star by Logeiswary Thevadass

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Penang Paya Terubong Residents living under shadow of fear!


Put on hold: A view of the site for the development of four apartment buildings in Paya Terubong, Air Itam.

GEORGE TOWN: Since the deadly landslide in Tanjung Bungah, people in Paya Terubong are looking over their shoulder – and up at a nearby hill.

They have been trying for years to stop a project comprising four towers, each over 40 storeys tall, approved on a hillside across the road from their homes.

Because the project has already been approved, the residents are down to one last resort – the state Planning Appeals Board.

“We must try. The only thing between our homes and those four towers will be a new two-way street that the developer will build if this project goes on,” said Taman Sri Rambai and Taman Lau Geok Swee Residents’ Association chairman Dr Ti Lian Geh.

The plan, he said, was supposed to be six-storey townhouses but the developer put in a request to change it to high-density apartments.

He said the residents have been living in fear after learning that the development plan was changed to three blocks of 47-storey luxury apartments and a 41-storey block of affordable housing.

He said a hearing is ongoing with the Planning Appeals Board to stop the development.

“Building skyscrapers on a steep hillslope is dangerous. If the towers come down, the whole neighbourhood will be gone,” he said, adding that the high-density project will also worsen traffic congestion there.

He told a press conference yesterday that the earthworks two years ago caused frequent flash floods, mudslides and torrential mudflows in the neighbourhood.

Penang MCA and Gerakan, which organised the press conference, urged the state government to revoke the approval.

Bukit Gelugor MCA division deputy secretary Choong Jun Jie said that every time there is a downpour, the residents worry.

“We do not want another tragedy,” he said.

Penang Gerakan vice-chairman Oh Tong Keong said people’s lives are in jeopardy when highrise projects are given priority.

The staggered hillslope is now covered with geotextile sheets after the Penang Island City Council issued a stop-work order about two years ago.

Penang Island City Council Engineering Department director Addnan Mohd Razali said all construction work there except for mitigation measures have been stopped pending the outcome of the residents’ appeal.

Source: The Star by Logeiswary Thevadass and Rena Lim

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Penang landslide tragedy, plea went unheeded, no one listened !


Suspicious activity: A photo taken from Penang
social activist Anil Netto’s blog showing an active stone quarry about
500m directly behind the site of the landslide.

GEORGE TOWN: As the landslide tragedy takes its toll with three workers killed and 11 others feared dead, DAP state assemblyman Teh Yee Cheu said there are still 10 other development projects pending, but his plea to save the hills has been constantly ignored.

Some of the projects will be near hillsides and more are planned along the coastline. A few are projected to be 50 to 60 storeys high, said the Tanjung Bungah assemblyman.

“I objected to each one. I always use the words Saya membantah sekeras-kerasnya (I strongly object) and some city councillors laughed at me and said the approval authority ‘menyokong sepenuh-penuhya’ (fully supports).

“Now see what has happened,” Teh told The Star.

He was referring to the one-stop centre at the Penang Island City Council (MBPP), which is in charge of approving property development plans on the island.

Teh, who rushed to the scene of the landslide shortly after it happened at about 8.30am yesterday, did not hide his discontent over the spurt of development projects in his constituency.

“Not all those development applications have been approved yet.

“But after the general election, I expect a mushrooming of approvals,” he added.

Tanjung Bungah is one of the few residential areas on the island with a low population density.

The Lembah Permai area, locally called Hillside or Vale of Tempe, is a coveted location for its semi-detached, terraced and bungalow homes.

But in recent years, developers have been submitting plans for high-rises that rival even the height of Komtar, in the area’s unoccupied hills and seaside.

Yesterday’s landslide happened at a construction site near Lorong Lembah Permai 3.

Tens of thousands of tonnes of laterite earth slipped down from a height of about 35m, burying the workers.

Firemen told reporters that the search operation had to be carried out slowly because the slope was unstable.

Teh said he objected to the project’s planning permission about two years ago because the original hill slope had a steepness of 30 to 40 degrees.

“I apologise to my voters in Tanjung Bungah. I objected to the construction, but my words were only taken as a personal view by the MBPP and state government.

“I also apologise to the family members of the victims buried by the landslide,” he said.

Asked about a stone quarry located some 500m further uphill from where the landslide occurred, Teh said that it was active, with rock blasting going on two to three times a week.

“I am against that too, but it was allowed to continue,” he added.

Source: The Star


Another call to stop all hill-slope development immediately


Why must it take a tragedy to happen in Penang before the Penang state and local governments wake up to the dangers of rampant and unsustainable development especially on hill slopes? Or will they wake up?

Two years ago, in December 2015, the Penang Forum, alarmed by such negative developments, organised a half-day event titled “Save Our Hills” in which engineering, planning and legal experts gave presentations on the dangers of hill-slope development. (The presentations are available on Penang Forum’s website.)

It then called on the government to review and stop further hill-slope projects. Very sadly, the call fell on deaf ears and the consequences are painfully evident today after an estimate of perhaps 15 lives are lost in a landslide at a hill-slope project in Tanjung Bungah.

Penang Forum then started Penang Hills Watch (PHW), a citizens’ initiative to provide the state government, information on hill cuttings that it collects from the public. In January 2017, the PHW met with the state government; the present site where this tragedy happened was the first case that PHW highlighted to the state government. (Please visit the PHW website.) Photos of construction and hill cutting on this site were presented to the state government – to which it responded that the “earthwork is being monitored.”

The chief minister of Penang, in the Safety Guidelines for Hillside Development, said: “Penang Local Governments (MPPP and MPSP) are to strengthen their Geotechnical unit, which processes and approves applications for hill site developments, followed by strict enforcement. A monitoring team will be established to ensure compliance in construction and monitoring performance of slopes.”

The question is what happened then? Did the state and local governments follow through their own guidelines? Or was there gross negligence?

Such senseless tragedy could have been avoided. Penang Forum calls for an independent Royal Commission of Inquiry to investigate what went wrong and how such incidents can be avoided in the future. All parties beginning from the State Planning Committee that gave approval for all hill-slope projects, to the One-Stop-Committee of the Penang Island City Council that also approved the project, to the engineers who are supposed to monitor the projects, to the developers and contractors who carried out the project should be investigated and held responsible.

In the meantime, Penang Forum once again calls on the authorities to:

    • stop all hill-slope projects with immediate effect;
    • immediately amend the 2009 guidelines on ‘special projects’ to explicitly prohibit all development on hill lands, except if it is for essential public services;
    • rehabilitate all existing exposed and barren slopes and spaces to prevent further soil erosion;
    • undertake stern enforcement, effective and deterrent punishment on those who clear land illegally or do not abide by conditions imposed to prevent soil-erosion;
    • monitor frequently and effectively all hill slopes by the local authorities;
  • publicly declare and give warning on all hill slopes and areas that are not safe.



Sources: Penang Forum 

Sahabat Alam Malaysia

Consumers Association of Penang 

Residents associations and management committees of Penang

Consumers & Residents tell state govt, ‘We told you so’

 

GEORGE TOWN: The Tanjung Bungah Residents’ Association (TBRA) is demanding for a Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) on all hill slope developments in Penang, following a landslide at a construction site this morning that buried nearly 18 people.

TBRA chair Meenakshi Raman said the RCI would be a form of audit on all risky hill slope projects in the state, to prevent any tragedies from happening again.

She also said the TBRA had repeatedly appealed to the Penang government to put an end to hill slope developments as it would have a domino effect on flash floods in the state.

“We were called ‘irrational’ by the Penang government when we appealed for hill slope developments to stop. Who’s irrational now?

“Today’s incident is a grave and grim warning to the authorities to take heed of Mother Nature’s warning,” Meenakshi said when contacted today.

In the 8.50am incident, a 10m-high hill slope came crashing down next to a construction site not far from the Tunku Abdul Rahman College in Tanjung Bungah.

At the time of writing, two survivors were rescued, while two more bodies were retrieved from the mud and rubble. Although their identities are not yet known, they are believed to be foreign workers.

Meenakshi said during last month’s flash floods, TBRA and other residents’ associations made a collective appeal to the state government to end all excess developments and hill clearing in the state.

TBRA, concerned groups, and Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) had also previously called on the Penang government to amend existing guidelines concerning hill slopes.

Meanwhile, SAM president S M Mohamed Idris said the NGO had written to the Penang government “several times” urging them to stop hillside developments.

“We have warned that hill slopes are fragile ecosystems and cannot be touched.

“And now, we are really shocked that the lives of many have been sacrificed. We support TBRA’s call for an urgent RCI,” he said when contacted.

Source: Free Malaysia Today

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Invest in the future



IT has always interested me to see how the different selection of words sent varied messages to readers and listeners.

Of late, I’m intrigued with the use of oxymorons, a combination of words that have opposite meanings and which usually produces an incongruous, seemingly self-contradictory effect.

Some daily expressions such as “open secret”, “seriously funny”, “deafening silence” and “pretty ugly”, are good examples on how the completely opposite meanings of words create dramatic effect.

Among other oxymorons come an expression often heard among condominium owners to their management corporations (MCs) and management offices: “We want you to lower costs and improve quality.”

Just like any other oxymoron phrases, the statement above makes me puzzle and ponder. It is prudent to manage costs, but unrealistic cost cutting over the long run will lead to decline in the quality of facilities and services.

Based on my experience, quality always comes with cost especially in property management. It is impossible to achieve higher quality standards by reducing expenditure.

I have heard of occasions where homeowners’ representatives in MC set high benchmark for the property management team, but expect them to cut down on the number of workers and cleaners in order to reduce spending. Needless to say, we can imagine what the outcome would be without looking at the property itself.

In reality, MC and homeowners must invest, not spend less for better quality. While developers and property managers play the important role of ensuring the upkeep of properties, the property owners themselves are the main stakeholders in deciding the fate of their properties. They are the party who can approve the budget and usage of their service charge and sinking funds.

In my previous article, I mentioned it is important for homeowners to participate in property management, such as attending AGMs and EGMs to exercise their right to raise concerns and approve the budget during such meetings.

In addition, homeowners and MCs must be bold in making decisions to invest in their properties with the reserved funds they have in their account.

Hence, while it is important to manage cost, it is also important to spend wisely for the future. Inflation is a fact of life, so MCs and homeowners should factor the inflation rate into their service charges, and use the real inflation rate, typically higher than the officially sanctioned rate anywhere in the world.

Typically, service charge is used for the general maintenance of the building. Sinking fund, on the other hand, can be used for the painting and the repainting of the common property, acquisition of movable property, the replacement of any fixture or fitting, the upgrading and refurbishment of the common property, and any other capital expenditure deemed necessary.

Managing a strata property is like maintaining a car. We must service our car regularly and replace its parts when they are due for change according to mileage. If a car is serviced less often, it gets more expensive to fix later when the equipment falls apart, and sometimes it may be too late to change.

Hence, when we reduce spending on maintaining a property, the decline of quality may be slow but sure. It takes time and additional cost when homeowners want to re-invest to restore the property later.

Invest in the future is just like doing exercise. It is hard to do, but if done regularly it will build health, strength and happiness.

To invest in a strata property means to increase, not cut down services such as cleaning, maintenance, security and landscaping. It also means to spend the sinking fund regularly not just on replacements, but also on upgrades, as the world doesn’t stand still. New projects would make existing projects old and even obsolete if we don’t manage our property well.

Investor’s nightmare

How well a property is managed can make or break the value of the property. A quality property management will allow the value to increase; while poor management could translate into an investor’s nightmare.

Active management and upgrading of properties is an important approach to protect our homes and investments. As such, whenever homeowners or property management companies tell me they are able to increase quality and cut cost at the same time, I would wonder whether, “Is this a short-term gain at the detriment of long-term benefits?”

By Alan Tong

Datuk Alan Tong 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 to set up panel to monitor floods, mudflows, soil ersosion, siltation & pollution


Sabri (fourth left) presenting safety vests to Chow (middle) and Lim to symbolically launch the Ops Lumpur enforcement squad at Komtar.

Putting an end to mudflows

THE Penang government has set up a steering committee to launch ‘Ops Lumpur’ to monitor development activities that could contribute to floods and river pollution in the state.

State Local Government, Traffic Management and Flood Mitigation Committee chairman Chow Kon Yeow is the chairman, while his deputies are state exco members Phee Boon Poh and Lim Hock Seng.

The state Drainage and Irrigation Department (DID) is the secretariat, while committee members comprise those from the local governments, state Economic Planning Unit, state Public Works Department, Department of Environment and district engineers and officers.

Speaking at the launch of the Ops Lumpur enforcement squad yesterday, state DID deputy director S. Ratna Rajah said the committee would make monthly surprise checks at construction sites starting next month.

“Our aim is to ensure that all development comply with the erosion and sediment control plan (ESCP), which is reviewed and approved by the DID.

“The setup of the Ops Lumpur Steering Committee is meant to reduce the risk of flash floods, water pollution and siltation problem,” he said during a briefing at the state DID office in Komtar yesterday.

Ratna Rajah said one of the hotspots was in Paya Terubong, where mudflows and landslips were constantly reported during heavy rain.

He said action could be taken against unregulated project development operators under Section 34 (a) of the Environmental Quality Act, which carries a maximum RM100,000 fine, a jail term not more than five years, or both.

“The authorities can act against developers who have not been given the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Detailed Environmental Impact Assessment (DEIA) approval, or are caught violating the conditions,” he said.

Ratna Rajah said action could also be taken against the perpetrators under the Street, Drainage and Building Act 1974 (Act 133) by the local councils.

“Under Section 71 of the Act, those who failed to ensure the maintenance on the land, could be slapped with a maximum RM500,000 fine, or five years jail, or both,” he said.

Chow said the steering committee would act as adviser to two Implementation Committees spearheaded by Penang Island City Council mayor Datuk Patahiyah Ismail and Seberang Prai Municipal Council president Datuk Maimunah Mohd Sharif.

“We want to tackle problems like soil erosion and siltation at construction sites, which cause floods and river pollution.

“Our focus is to monitor those project developments with approved plans.

“The landowners, developers, engineers, consultants and contractors should play a role in ensuring they comply with ESCP.

“We need their cooperation so that there won’t be mudflows or river siltation whenever there are heavy rains.

“Sometimes, everything looks good on paper. We need to be at the sites to look for ourselves whether there is any violation of rules and regulations.

“We will visit any ongoing development projects,” he said.

Also present was state DID director Sabri Abdul Mulok.

Source: By Tan Sin Chow The Star/ANN

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