Malaysia’s Human Resource Development Fund (HRDF) a ‘personal piggy bank of sr managers!


Moving ahead: (From left) HRDF board director J. Rasamy Manikkam, GOC chairman Tan Sri Rebecca Sta Maria, Kulasegaran, HRDF board director Datuk Quah Thain Khan and HRDF chief executive Elanjelian Venugopal at the townhall meeting.

 Petty cash in the millions

Millions were pouring into the HRDF. And for some
high-ranking personnel, their exorbitant salaries and bonuses weren’t enough. Greed got the better of them and they treated the fund as their personal bank, helping themselves to some RM100mil, maybe more!!

KUALA LUMPUR: High-ranking staff of the Human Resources Development Fund (HRDF) misappropriated about RM100mil or about a third of the RM300mil in the fund.

While certain management staff members were overpaid with high salaries and bonuses, some training providers and a number of HRDF management personnel misused the fund in the name of training to purchase commercial properties.

Large sums of money were diverted without the authorisation of the HRDF board and there was collusion between managerial staff and external parties to award contracts.

Human Resources Minister M. Kulasegaran revealed these wrongdoings at a townhall meeting with representatives of employer associations and HRDF-registered employers yesterday.

He said that some members of the HRDF board of directors also did not declare their vested interests to the board.

“There have been wrongdoings, such as abuse of duties, criminal breach of trust and exceeding procedure without reporting to the board.

“(They were) running (the HRDF) as though it was their own company,” he said.

Kulasegaran, who initiated a five-member independent Gover-nance Oversight Committee (GOC) to review and probe the allegations, said that there were elements of fraud in the misuse of the fund in the name of training.

The HRDF is an agency under the Human Resources Ministry that manages a fund for human resource training and development that were contributed by employers.

Regarding the alleged misappropriation of the fund, Kulasegaran said that the HRDF board was only informed after the money was spent.

“Out of RM300mil, nearly RM100mil has been spent,” he said, adding that some department officers, in other instances, also exceeded their authority and approved projects beyond their authorised limit.

When asked, Kulasegaran said that some staff allegedly involved in the wrongdoings are still holding positions in the agency, while some had left.

“After the Pakatan Harapan government took over, three directors have since resigned.

“If they have done anything wrong, action will be taken against them. We will let the process take place. It is not fair at this juncture to make allegations,” he said, adding that two police reports have been lodged based on the GOC report.

Not denying that more former and current HRDF staff are expected to be called up for questioning, Kulasegaran said that parties at fault would be pursued through civil and criminal proceedings.

“After this, I hope the HRDF management will make the agency transparent and accountable to the public,” he said.

Meanwhile, a source that has left the HRDF organisation told The Star that in the week before the townhall, three senior figures within the organisation were subject to domestic inquiries and released from the company.

Another three senior members were on contract and when their contracts expired recently they were not renewed.

A key figure implicated in the scandal resigned soon after GE14.

“Some senior figures have survived, but there is a definite clean-up exercise under way,” said the source.

In some cases, those due to leave found themselves locked out of their offices and escorted off the premises by security when they arrived for work.

The sources said finance personnel and those in special projects who released funds without going through the proper channels, and those who invested money without any accountability are believed to be among those implicated.

“A lack of accountability on the 30% given by companies to the HRDF led to certain figures treating it like a personal piggy bank,” said the source.

He said the culprits are now looking at making deals by providing evidence against the leadership in return for an easy way out.”

“The rot runs deep, and the money runs into billions,” he said. “That’s why there was no choice but to stop the 30% policy and fix the system before restarting it.”

The source said that a key figure implicated in the wrongdoings used tactics such as poor appraisals and internal audits to try to force out those who spoke out against dubious practices.

Some of the questionable property transactions may have involved property in Bangsar South, said the source. – The Star by allison laimartin vengadesan

 

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Behind crazy rich Singapore’s mask, a growing class divide


Inequality bites: In Singapore, households with accumulated wealth and connections over past generations, like the hit movie’s protagonist Nick Young’s family and friends, can pass on advantages to their offspring. — AP
Inequality bites: In Singapore, households with accumulated wealth and connections over past generations, like the
hit movie’s protagonist Nick Young’s family and friends, can pass on advantages to their offspring. —AP
Two Singapores: Poverty has always existed in the cosmopolitan city state, but the setting of the hit movie ‘Crazy
Rich Asians’ has seen a widening income gap in the past few years. —Reuters

 There is another side to the Lion City’s fabled wealth: a widening gap between rich and poor that is forcing its citizens to question whether their home is really the land of opportunity they once thought.

IN the background, a luxury goods shop, a stooped elderly cleaner sweeping its storefront; on one side of the bridge sits expensive condominiums, bars and restaurants, on the other, rental flats housing Singapore’s poorest.

These scenes unfolded in a documentary titled Regardless of Class by Channel News Asia released on Oct 1, with a security guard revealing he felt as though he was not treated like a person. A cleaner said: “I know I’m invisible. I have to get used to this, and learn to stop caring.”

Poverty and inequality in the city state – the setting of the hit movie Crazy Rich Asians and where the per capita income is among the highest in the world, hitting US$55,000 (RM228,494) last year – has always existed.

But in the last year, Singaporeans have been confronted with discomfiting evidence of growing social stratification, shaking to the core a belief that meritocracy can smooth out unequal beginnings and lead to more equal outcomes.

Sociologist Tan Ern Ser from the National University of Singapore said class origin or background now had a greater influence on opportunity and social mobility, as the country faced slowing growth, job losses and obsolescence and an ageing population.

Singapore’s Gini coefficient, a measurement of income inequality from zero to one – with zero being most equal – has fluctuated above 0.40 since 1980 before adjusting for taxes and transfers. It was 0.417 last year. In the United Kingdom, it was 0.52 in 2015, the United States was at 0.506, and Hong Kong reached a record high of 0.539 in 2016.

Experts say inequality in itself is not worrying – sociologist Tan said it could even “be good for motivating people to want to do better”.

But in Singapore’s case, it has allowed households with accumulated wealth and connections over past generations to pass on advantages to their offspring, helping them to shine, while those without the same social capital and safety nets are forced to toil harder to do the same.

As Singapore University of Social Sciences economist and nominated Member of Parliament Walter Theseira put it: “If you can buy advantages for your child, such as tuition and enrichment, they are going to end up doing better in terms of meritocratic assessments.”

Donald Low, associate partner at Centennial Asia Advisors and the former associate dean at Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, said Singapore’s meritocratic and universal education system for the past 50 years led to a great deal of social mobility initially, but society would “settle” after a few decades.

“This is amplified by marriage sorting. That is the well-educated marrying one another and passing on their advantages to their children,” Low said.

A paper published last December by local think-tank Institute of Policy Studies, which demonstrated the sharpest social divisions were based on class, not race or religion, started the latest debate on the impact of inequality.

The report, co-authored by sociologist Tan, showed low interaction between students who attended elite and regular schools, and between Singaporeans living in private and public housing.

This was followed by a bestselling book by Nanyang Technological University sociologist Teo You Yenn titled This is What Inequality Looks Like, which told of the experiences of the low income group, and the systemic issues keeping them poor.

In early October, a six-minute clip on Facebook of the Regardless of Class documentary sparked feelings of discomfort, guilt and self-reflection among Singaporeans – possibly from realising “there may well be two Singapores in our midst”, said former nominated Member of Parliament Eugene Tan, a law don at Singapore Management University.

In it, six students from different education streams talked about their dreams and school experiences.

Some were aiming for an overseas degree and a minimum of A’s; others just wanted to pass their examinations.

When presenter Janil Puthucheary, a Cabinet member, mooted putting students of mixed abilities together in one classroom, a girl from the higher education stream said it was not viable, as “it might even increase the gap if these students feel like they can’t cope so they just give up completely”.

Puthucheary asked if the conversation was awkward.

One boy from the lower education stream said: “The way they speak and the way I speak (are) different, I feel like.

Another student completed the sentence: “Like they are high class and we are not.”

Seetoh Huixia, a social worker for 13 years who is assistant director of AWWA Family Services, said she had seen this sort of low self esteem in the people she works with. “The sense of us versus them, the inferiority complex, that they’re not good enough,” she said.

The Straits Times opinion editor Chua Mui Hoong wrote: “It got me thinking; how did we become a society that looks down on people for the work they do or the grades they get? Are we all complicit in this? Can anything be done to turn our society inside out so that we are all less disdainful, more respectful, of one other?”

Academics felt the documentary was a good conversation starter, but urged Singaporeans to look at the underlying causes of this class divide.

Low said the documentary was problematic because “the root causes of economic inequality, an elitist education system and the government’s anti-welfarism are not interrogated, and that a complex issue (of structural inequality) is reduced to people not having enough empathy or being snobbish”.

“All this class consciousness and implicit bias is a function of our systems and policies,” he added.

Teo urged Singaporeans to look beyond attitudes and focus on the inequality that had led to the divide.

“We must not focus on perceptions – whether of ourselves or others – at the expense of real differences in daily struggles and well-being. The perceptions exist in response to those differences. Just as thinking about gravity differently would not stop a ball rolling downhill, pretending differences don’t exist isn’t going to magically make the differences disappear,” she said.

Sociologist Tan said structural changes through policies would be critical. “It can’t be just about telling people to be nice and respectful toward one another.”

Experts have in the last decade proposed ways in which Singapore can mitigate gnawing income inequality, ranging from policy changes in the areas of wages, taxes on wealth, social spending, housing and education.

The government has responded by increasing its social spending — supplementing the income of low-wage workers, introducing a universal health insurance scheme, increased personal income tax rates for high earners. It has also expanded its network of social service touchpoints and just in September tweaked the education system to reduce the emphasis on examinations.

But its social spending is still lower than Nordic countries and personal income taxes remain competitive to attract talent, leading developmental charity Oxfam and non-profit research group Development Finance International to this month call out the government for “harmful tax practices”, low public social spending, no equal pay or non-discrimination laws for women and lack of a minimum wage.

They ranked Singapore in the bottom 10 of 157 governments (at 149th place), ranked on how they were tackling the growing gap between rich and poor.

The government staunchly disagreed with the report, with Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee saying Singapore’s outcomes in health care, education and housing were better than most countries despite spending less. The World Bank’s Human Capital Index, leaders noted, placed Singapore top for helping people realise their full potential.

One area experts agree on is that more tweaks are needed to the education system.

Singapore Management University’s Tan said apart from higher wealth taxes, “the education system needs to ensure not just equal opportunities but endeavour to provide for equal access to opportunities. There is a world of difference between the two. We may have focused on the former but not enough on the latter”.

Low said the education system needed to be “truly egalitarian”.

He suggested the state funds a national early childhood education system for children aged four onwards to remove segmentation from the get-go, to remove the national exam sat by 12-year-olds in Singapore and have schools run for the entire day so parents do not fill their children’s afternoons with tuition.

Theseira had a more novel solution: affirmative action that accords favours to the disadvantaged.

“It basically says that somebody from a disadvantaged background who achieves the same thing as somebody from a privileged background should be given much more credit because that is actually a much bigger achievement given the starting point,” he said.

“Are we willing to contemplate that? I don’t think we are at the moment but it’s a very obvious policy that addresses this problem with the definition of meritocracy.”

There must be a sense that a class divide is harmful for everyone, especially among those who have thrived under the current system, Eugene Tan said.

“A class divide could threaten Singapore’s existence because it would pit Singaporeans against Singaporeans. The divide would render Singapore to be rife with populism and to be consumed by sub-national identities. The class divide is also likely to reinforce existing cleavages based on race, religion and language.” — South China Morning Post by kok xing hui

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Malaysia’s widening income gap between rich and the poor has only RM76 a month after expenses

Malaysia’s widening income gap between rich and the poor has only RM76 a month after expenses


 

The State of Households – Khazanah Research Institute

 

Launch of State of Households 2018: Different Realities. From left to right: Datuk Hisham Hamdan, Dr Nungsari Ahmad Radhi, Allen Ng, Dr Suraya Ismail, Junaidi Mansor.

Malaysia’s widening income gap

KUALA LUMPUR: The gap in income between the rich, middle class and poor in Malaysia has widened since 2008, according to a study by Khazanah Research Institute (KRI).

In its “The State of Households 2018” report, the research outfit of sovereign wealth fund Khazanah Nasional Bhd noted that the gap in the real average income between the top-20% households (T20) and the middle-40% (M40) and bottom-40% (B40) households in Malaysia has almost doubled compared to two decades ago.

The report, entitled “Different Realities”, pointed out that while previous economic crises in 1987 and the 1997/98 Asian Financial Crisis saw a reduction in the income gap between the T20 and B40/M40, post 2008/09 Global Financial Crisis (GFC), those disparities were not reduced.

But the Gini coefficient, which measures income inequality in the country, had declined from 0.513 in 1970 to 0.399 in 2016, denoting improvement in income inequality in Malaysia over the past 46 years.

Explaining the phenomenon, Allen Ng, who is the lead author of the KRI report, said income of the T20 households had continued to grow, albeit at a slower pace than that of the M40 and B40 since 2010.

“However, because they (the T20) started at a higher base, the income gap between the T20 and M40/B40 had continued to grow despite the fact that the relative (income growth) is actually narrowing post-GFC,” Ng explained at a press conference after the launch of the report here yesterday.

On that note, Ng calls for greater emphasis and investment in human capital to address the income disparities in the country.

“Human capital is the lynchpin that will help us in the next mile of development,” Ng said.

“Based on the work that we have done, and the way we read the issue, the most important equaliser in terms of income inequality is actually human capital. If we don’t address the quality of our education system, we will not be able to solve the problem of income inequality,” he added.

Among the many key issues highlighted in the report, the state of human capital development in Malaysia was noted as a crucial element to complement the country’s transition towards a knowledge-based economy.

“To complement the knowledge-based economy, the state of human capital development in this country – of which 20% of government expenditure goes to education – has plenty of room for improvement,” the report stated.

Worryingly, the report noted that despite Malaysians receiving 12 years of schooling, they receive only nine years’ worth of schooling after adjusting for education quality.

“The central issue of generating high-quality human capital in this country is an important one as the transition to a high-income nation requires human capital levels that continuously improve productivity, sustain growth and are able to create or utilise technological advancements rather than being substituted by it,” the report said.

Meanwhile, KRI also noted that despite the improvement in income inequality and declining poverty rates in Malaysia, poverty in the country remained rampant.

“While the absolute poverty rate has been steadily declining, it is estimated that an additional one million households lived in ‘relative poverty’ in 2016 compared to two decades ago,” it said in its report.-  The Star

Malaysia’s Lower Income Group Only Has RM76 To Spend A Month After Expenses

Shocking.
Some numbers for your soul.- PIC: Department of Statistics Malaysia

According to The Star Online, these households — categorised under the bottom 40% (B40) income group in the country because they are earning less than RM2,000 a month — only have RM76 to spare, after deductions, in 2016.

As comparison, these households have a residual income of RM124 in 2014.

The reason for the sharp decline? They were forced to spend more of their income on household items.

The study revealed that these households are spending 95 per cent of their total  income on consumption items in 2016 compared to 2014, when the same households spend ‘only’ 92 per cent of their income on daily items.
So, what’s the cause behind this worrying trend?

The report indicated that the rising cost of living is mainly to be blamed for the increase in household expenditure, so #ThanksNajib.

In fact, the report revealed that the high cost of living has affected not only the B40, but all income groups as well.

The real residual household income has, according to the report, reduced
for all income classes. For example, households earning above RM15,000
has a real resi­dual income of RM13,100 in 2016, down from RM14,458 in
2014.

Sigh, we guess we just have to spend our money wisely from now on. No more RM16 Caramel Frappuccino® from Starbucks from now on.

Money, where did you go?

We know we keep saying that we’re broke, but after reading this report, we found out that there are a lot of people out there who are having it worse than us.

A recent Khazanah Research Insti­tute (KRI) study revealed that every month, the average lower-income household in Malaysia has barely enough to survive after household expenses are deducted.

It’s, like, really, really bad!
Related:

We need a complete overhaul of our education system, says NUTP – Nation

 

Malaysia’s widening income gap between rich and poor – Business …

 

 

 

China battles US for AI and robotic space: Who’s ahead?


Robot dominates: Ford F150 trucks go through robots on the assembly line at the Ford Dearborn Truck Plant in
Dearborn, Michigan. Robots are also entering areas such as logistics warehousing, chemicals and plastics factories and F&B industries. — AFP
Humans vs. Robots

NO doubt, the FAANGs – Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google – are making the world a better place.

Still, they are being accused of being BAADD – big, anti-competitive, addictive and destructive to democracy.

Regulators fine them, politicians take them to task, and even their backers warn of their power to cause harm. Much of the techlash is undeserved. There’s fake news everywhere.

Nevertheless, there is justified fear that the tech titans will use their power to protect and extend their dominance, often to the detriment of consumers. Indeed, the big tech platforms do raise worries about fair competition in particular.

In Singapore, the merger of Grab and Uber brings on legitimate concerns in the taxi space. The tricky task for regulators is how to restrain them without unduly stifling innovation.

Today, trust busters have granted tech giants the benefit of the doubt in the fight for artificial intelligence (AI) and robotic space. At some point, who takes the moral and legal responsibility for their mechanical creations?

Like it or not, AI-enabled bots and machines are already here, in the form of drones, driverless cars and medical, educational and domestic robots. To muddle the picture still further, AI is now embodied in physical, sometimes humanoid, form in machines designed to engage directly with people.

Talk is rife about the outright banning of killer robots, which cross the moral red line (only humans are permitted to kill humans!). Already, there is a proposal to create a Robotics Commission in US and Europe to be responsible for moral and legal issues surrounding the use of robotics and AI enabled smart machines. High time too.

Robots and cobots

Armies of robots and collaborative robots (cobots) are spreading throughout factories and warehouses around the world, as the accelerating pace of automation transforms a widening range of industries.

And it is not just in advanced countries but in emerging economies as well where machines are a growing force, with global sales of industrial robots increasing by 18% to a record US$13.1bil in 2016.

These groups are benefiting from mounting demand for sophisticated machines that no longer just weld car bodies and lift heavy loads, but also perform complex functions from electronic component production to arranging chocolates neatly into boxes.

Another trend is the increasing range and type of robot, as they vary from flexible mechanical limbs to smart machines that can work alongside humans. Cobots are specifically designed to interact with people.

The robotics market has been growing strongly and will continue to grow. The spread of robots has piqued the debate over the suitability of humans versus robots as workers, with warning that more machines will take jobs. Consultants McKinsey found that about 30% of tasks in 60% of occupations could be automated.

Advanced automation is partly a response to a shortage of skilled manual labour, with robots often filling “dull, dirty, dangerous and delicate” roles that people simply do not want. Also, the falling cost of robotics systems, and breakthroughs in robotics technology – combining with the rising level of electronic communication between equipment and computers in factories, sometimes called the industrial Internet of Things.

Then there is the shift in some industries from producing a small variety of goods in large batches, to a greater mix of products in smaller batches. All these are basically driven by consumers. Although the largest user remains the car industry (mainly for welding and painting), the main driver of growth is the electronics and electrical sector, chiefly located in Asia and mainly for batteries, chips and display.

But robots are also entering other areas, such as logistics warehouses, chemicals and plastics factories and the food and beverage industries. In total, almost 300,000 units were sold worldwide last year, with three-quarters bound for just five countries: China, South Korea, Japan, US and Germany. Three in every 10 went to China alone.

Once the manual labour “workshop of the world”, it has been the largest buyer of industrial robots since 2013, and its purchases jumped by 27% in 2017. There were increased investments in many developing countries as well, such as Taiwan, Thailand, India and Mexico, as well as in Italy and France.

While there have been improvements in hardware capabilities, such as hydraulics and mobility, perhaps the most important developments are in sensors and software that are making robots more sensitive, flexible, precise and autonomous. The software side of industrial robotics is becoming more and more important.

However, despite the growth, robots still have many limitations when it comes to dexterity, judgment and the ability to improvise. Today, machines are beginning to learn new tasks from humans by imitation. This has opened up big possibilities, especially for cobots, which are smaller, lighter, more flexible and mobile. And, even more critically cheaper, making it more affordable for small and medium-sized enterprises to invest. While usually slower, they have greater adaptability, because they can be assigned to different tasks.

US dominance

True, US roads, airports, seaports and schools are on the slide. But US retains dominance in the most sophisticated fields – defence, elite universities and technology. Sure, US ceded the top spot to China in exports in 2007, in manufacturing in 2011, and absolute GDP by 2030. But Silicon Valley is still where the best ideas, smartest money and the most savvy entrepreneurs reside.

But China is catching up fast: its BAT (Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent) are in the same league as the FAANGs and new stars are coming on fast (Didi Chuxing, Ant Financial and Lufax). China’s e-commerce sales are 2x US’ and China remits 11x more money by mobile phones than US (still scribbling cheques). China plans to lead globally in AI by 2030.

Its VC industry is booming – the entrepreneurial work-ethic in Beijing, Hangzhou and Shenzhen are a sight for sore eyes. Despite the huge progress, China remains far behind. Studies show that China’s tech industry is only about 42% as powerful as US (only 15% in 2012).

But Chinese tech has weak spots: (i) its total market value is only 32% of US; (ii) has two to three huge companies and lots of small ones; (iii) China is puny in semiconductors and business-facing software; (iv) its tech products has not as yet permeated the industrial economy; (v) Chinese non-techs are primitive – only 2.6% as digitalised as US; (vi) Chinese tech investment budget is only 30% as big as US, with foreign sales 18% of what US makes.

However, the gap narrows in the more dynamic parts of tech industry: (a) in e-commerce and internet, Chinese firms are 53% the size of US (in market value); (b) China’s unicorns are now worth 69% of US; (c) its VC activity, 85% of US in 2016; and (d) in “breakthrough” AI innovations, China’s population of AI experts is only 6% the size of US – with their best minds still working in large US techs; while cited AI papers by Chinese scientists are at 89% of US.

At the present pace, China will need a further 10-15 years to catch up. Viewed from China, US giant techs remain as “comfy monopolists”, while Chinese techs are plain “hungry”. Beijing’s blueprint: to create a US$150bil AI-industry by 2030 underlines its desire to beat US.

China’s advantage: sheer numbers of people, data, talent and superior lines of codes being written! At 730 million, China’s online population alone is more than 2x US size, and more tech-savvy. While US faces cut-backs in research money, China is committing ample money and also political capital into its relentless drive to reign supreme in AI.

However, the quality of fundamental research in China remains a problem. It lags behind EU in terms of the number of AI papers in the top 5% of most cited.

Where’s EU?

Few in US and China seriously regard Europe becoming a force in machine learning – the area AI has made the most progress in recent years. The process involves feeding reams of data through algorithms as AI learns to interpret other data.

Europe simply lacks scale; unlike US and China where tech giants have a surfeit of the most vital resource for AI – data; also attracted the best talent & boost the biggest computer clouds. Here, Europe is way behind.

Since US and China have centralised data systems (controlled by very few large firms), Europe can create a more decentralised option. China is expected to hold 30% of world data by 2030; US with just as much. Europe has data too, but needs to pool its diversified resources in research and data. But, Europe has institutional inertia, with much of its funding centered in academic institutions – not the best place for it. To be relevant, Europe has to do much more. Still, no match for US and China.

Silicon Valley: where next?

The stretch of land in the US Bay Area running from San Jose to San Francisco is home to three (Apple, Facebook, Google) of the world’s five most valuable tech giants. All claim Silicon Valley (SV) as their birthplace and home, as do trailblazers such as Airbnb, Tesla and Uber.

The Bay Area has the 19th largest economy in the world, ranking above Switzerland and Saudi Arabia. SV has become a byword for innovation and ingenuity. It has also been at the centre of several cycles of Schumpeterian destruction and regeneration, in silicon chips, personal computers, software and internet services. Its combination of engineering expertise, thriving business networks, deep pools of capital, strong universities and a risk-taking culture have made SV almost impossible to clone.

There is no credible rival for its position as the world’s pre-eminent innovation hub. But there are signs that SV’s influence is peaking. Yes, something is changing. According to a recent survey, 46% of residents surveyed plans to leave the Bay Area in the next few years, up from 34% in 2016. So, many startups are branching out: “Off Silicon Valleying.”

In 2013, SV investors put half their money into startups outside the Bay Area; now it is closer to two-thirds. Reasons: SV has just become too expensive; among the world’s costliest. Young startups pay at least 4x more to operate here. New technologies, from quantum computing to synthetic biology, make lower margins than internet services. There is also the nastier features of Bay-Area life: clogged traffic, discarded syringes and shocking inequality. The Miami-Fort Lauderdale area is now ranked first for startup activity, based on the density of startups and new entrepreneurs.

There are others: Los Angeles (which has a vibrant tech scene), Phoenix and Pittsburgh (have become hubs for autonomous vehicles); New York (for media startups); London (for fintech); Shenzhen (for hardware). None of these places can match the SV on its own; between them, they point to a world in which innovation can be better distributed. The problem is that the wider playing field for innovation is being levelled down, away from the dominant effects of tech giants.

Second, the increasingly unfriendly policies in the West. Rising anti-immigrant sentiment and tighter visa regimes have economy-wide effects: foreign entrepreneurs create around 25% of new companies in America. Unfortunately, SV’s peak looks more like a warning that innovation everywhere is becoming harder. SV is fast becoming more an idea instead of a place. Wall Street went through a similar transformation; its name becoming shorthand for a whole industry.

As tech firms set their sights on disrupting old-fashioned industries, like healthcare and logistics, they may find that it helps to be based in cities that claim deep expertise in these areas – and where garages housing startups are just the stuff of museums and memory.

What then are we to do

The time has come to love robots. Asians do. But not in the West where robots receive terrible press. They worry about robots killing jobs. In Asia, robots are today commonly used in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and China. ADB’s June 2018 report analysing 12 developing Asian economies in 2005-15 concluded that rising demand had more than compensated for jobs lost to automation. The adoption of new technologies, such as modern machine tools and computer systems in factories and offices, had stimulated higher productivity and economic growth. That transformation, it estimated, had created 124 million new jobs, compared with the 101 million jobs lost to technology.

It is worth noting that there are two types of robots: those that do the work of humans and those that enhance their performance. We hear too much about the first type and too little of the second. Sure, their creations help humans deal with the “3 Ds”: dirty, dull and dangerous tasks. But countries that have the highest adoption of robots also have the lowest unemployment rates. Also, they help address the acute demographic squeeze as societies rapidly age. Some Asian societies prefer robots to immigrants to supplement their shrinking workforces. Robots are increasingly moving out of the factory into homes and hospitals, where they will need new capabilities.

I believe that technologies are always a net job creator over the long run, but, as Keynes put it, in the long run we are all dead. As these technologies make their way into every industry, they will benefit those at the very top with the skills and education to leverage the productivity advantages that AI affords.

Medical specialists, for example, could dramatically increase their income by using AI’s productive analytics to better diagnose and treat patients. But workers doing highly repetitive tasks that can easily be done by machines will not fare so well. This has massive consequences.

A McKinsey report shows that, while digitalisation has the potential to boost productivity and growth, it may also hold back demand if it compresses labour’s share of income and increases inequality. We badly need a kind of digital New Deal. For as many jobs as will be replaced by automation, there are other areas – customer service, big data analysis, etc. – that desperately need talent. Companies that pledge to retain workers and retrain them to develop skills to get stable jobs, should be offered tax incentives to do so. And spend the cash on factory upgrades, technical improvements, and re-training costs.

There are plenty of such projects that workers could be deployed now – including helping to expand rural broadband. It is a way for companies and government to turn a potential difficult employment situation into an opportunity by using this disruption to prepare & train a 21st-century digital workforce, and build public infrastructure to support it.

Credit: What are we to do? by Lin See-yan – Former banker, Harvard educated economist and British Chartered Scientist, Tan Sri Lin See-Yan is the author of The Global Economy in Turbulent Times (Wiley, 2015) & Turbulence in Trying Times (Pearson, 2017).

 

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Khazanah to see foreign appointments – Business News

Wising up to a Billion Dollar Whale of a tale


 

Wising up to a whale of a tale

Once upon a time, Malaysians were enchanted with Jho Lows champagne lifestyle and proud that he had friends in high places. We now know better.

IF a poll was conducted to ask Malaysians to name their 10 most hated people, Low Taek Jho – also known as Jho Low – would surely be in the top five, if not three.

There has been a quick succession of books on the 1Malaysia Dev­elopment Bhd (1MDB) saga and in the one by two Wall Street Journal reporters, Billion Dollar Whale, Low is the central villainous character.

Yet for a brief shining moment, this man was the pride of his home state and the nation.

Then Penang chief minister Lim Guan Eng was reported as saying that he was proud to note the accomplishments of overseas Pen­angites, including this particularly “well-connected” fellow.

That was back in July 2010 when a mysterious Malaysian man of means started hitting the headlines for partying with the likes of Paris Hilton, and counted actors Jamie Foxx and Leonardo DiCaprio and singer Usher as his good friends.

When Hilton – the glamour party girl before the Kardashians overtook her – was detained by drug enforcement officers in Paris in 2010, she was reportedly travelling with “personalities close to power in Malay­sia”, Low being identified as one of them.

In just three months, his champagne-infused big spending ways – US$50,000 (RM206,800) or US$60,000 (RM248,190) a pop – set New York’s nightlife scene on fire and caught the attention of the US media. And that was how Low became famous.

Oh wait! He’s Malaysian, not some little emperor from Shanghai or Shen­zhen, so we puffed up with pride at the success of one of our own.

Somehow, the ability to party with the rich and famous became a yardstick for success. The assumption was that Low must have done something great to be so filthy rich and make such “friends”.

Low, then 28, became a subject of intense curiosity that Malaysian and foreign media wanted to know.

Then The Star landed an exclusive interview with him. The two hours with him provided enough fodder for stories spread over two days on July 29 and 30, 2010.

The interview covered topics like his Arab childhood friends and investors whom he said were the real big spenders, how he made his first million when he was just 20 and his expertise in setting up sovereign wealth funds.

Yes, we were pretty pleased with ourselves for beating the competition in getting Low to speak.

The interview was picked up by other newspapers and portals locally, regionally and internationally.

The Star took efforts to provide Low’s personal details like his age, birthplace, education and languages spoken.

What I also found amusing was that we also gave his height (1.7m) and his weight (88kg), which is not common for such interviews. That was probably our nice way of indicating how chubby he was.

The stories were positive pieces, painting Low as a successful role model. Of course, at that time, no one suspected that he was the mastermind behind the world’s biggest kleptocracy.

We were simply dazzled by his partying playboy high life and accepted in good faith all his claims on why he was successful: he went to the right schools, from Chung Ling to Wharton School of Business, made well-connected, influential friends (especially Arab royals) and got a great financial start.

As The Star reported: “At the age of 20, (he) started an investment company called The Wynton Group with US$25mil (RM103.4mil) from family and South-East Asian and Middle Eastern friends. The investment company in which he owns a stake is now worth in excess of US$1bil (RM4.1bil).”

Penang businessman Tan Sri Tan Kok Ping, a close family friend, described Low as a very bright person who respected his elders.

He was also “an active person, has a corporate brain and his public relations skills are equally good. He’s also quite a fast eater.

“I watched him grow up since he was a kid and I knew he was brilliant, but I never thought he would be so successful,” said Tan.

A reader who was so impressed by the Star exclusive blogged about his son having studied in Harrow in Bangkok and opined: “He (the son) is certainly no Jho Low, but I hope he can learn the positives from Jho’s life and work hard and be successful.”

Well, we now know better how Low operated and whose money he was spending on his celebrity friends and more.

From the man with the Midas touch, he has become the embarrassment no famous person wants to touch. I doubt Hilton or Usher takes his calls anymore. He is a fugitive on the lam, hunted by governments around the globe.

Much as he is furiously claiming innocence, he is indeed our billion-dollar whale. The whale is a metaphor in business, meaning to land large accounts that can transform a small company into a major player.

A whale can also mean a businessman who is close to a country’s regime, is protected by the state and receives government contracts and large bank loans without any collateral, as explained in the book, Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty.

The maddening fact is this portly plunderer is hard to find. He apparently has multiple passports, including one from St Kitts and Nevis.

It’s very possible he is no longer 88kg. He could be thinner or fatter – depending on whether stress makes him eat even more and faster – or had plastic surgery, grown or lost his hair, but he should still be 1.7m tall, unless he wears hidden heels in his shoes.

Our government has said it is not sure where he’s hiding, but with Malaysians in just about every corner of the world, can we not somehow tap into this vast network? Even a whale must surface for air somehow, somewhere.

What really got my goat was what he glibly said in the Star interview: “Ultimately, I am Malaysian. I am one who does not forget my country and I think there is a lot we can do for Malaysia. But when you build the trust of investors, you need to deliver what you promised.

“For me, we all work very hard. Of course, we have a disadvantage where at our age, people may perceive it differently. At the end of the day, I handle investors’ money prudently. I generate returns for them.”

And this: “I am not an excessive person. Excessiveness with alcohol is just not me.”

No, not in alcohol but his name is now synonymous with excessiveness in luxury acquisitions.

Oh, where’s Capt Ahab when we need him?

Aunty wants to remind all of us that truly, all that glitters is not gold. Feedback to aunty@thestar.com.my

Credit:  June H. L Wong, So aunty, so what?

 

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Revolutionising accounting for a new era


The field of accounting is in need of a new breed of professionals who can contribute more than a quantifiable value to companies.

 

Increasingly, accountants in business are given the opportunity to be less involved in automated operations and focus more on big picture strategies, which gives a clear indication of the type of skills required in the near future. Bryan Chung, FCPA

 

WHEN talking about the Industrial Revolution, images that often come to mind include the extensive use of steam power, the birth of heavy machinery and ironworks, and bleak factories in England.

However, two more industrial revolutions have since passed and the 21st century is paving its way for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (IR 4.0), which is seeing the rise of autonomous decision making of cyber-physical systems and machine learning through cloud technology.

In simple words, IR 4.0 is the usage of artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet to transform age-old processes and operating procedures across all industries.

With such change taking place, what does this mean for the accounting industry and where do accountants find their relevance in an era that looks to automate everything?

Calculating assets

In an interview with international education provider Kaplan, Malaysian Institute of Accountants’ (MIA) chief executive officer Dr Nurmazilah Datuk Mahzan said, “Among the current trends that are creating waves in the accountancy profession are big data and analytics.

“Companies of all sizes create massive structured, unstructured and semi-structured data every day. Organisations harnessing big data would be able to find new insights and discover unique patterns of their customer behaviour or even create new businesses that were previously not possible.”

Echoing her sentiments is Bryan Chung, Fellow of CPA Australia (FCPA), divisional councillor at CPA Australia (Malaysia), who believes that even though AI is good at matching patterns and automating processes – making technology useful to many functions in companies in the process – accountants still play a vital role.

He says, “While there is a lot of hype surrounding blockchain and AI in accountancy with more firms taking steps to increase or experiment with their use, it is unlikely that accountants (or auditors) will be out of a job anytime soon.

“It is likely that most of the administration process will be the first to be introduced to AI. Increasingly, accountants in business are given the opportunity to be less involved in automated operations and focus more on big-picture strategies, which gives a clear indication of the type of skills required in the near future.”

The challenge, however, is turning the current workforce in the accounting field into professionals who truly understand the implications of IR 4.0, not just in terms of their personal skills but also movements within the industry.


Discovering market potential

Gone are the days when sales numbers, website traffic and KPIs were sufficient information to measure monthly net profits.

In the same Kaplan interview, the organisation’s global professional accountancy head Tanya Worsley said, “Businesses today depend on their accountants beyond purely checking financial figures and balancing books.

“Financial professionals are expected to be able to provide their clients with actionable insights that can add value to the organisation’s overarching strategic goals.”

The changing role of accountants in the digital economy is what prompted MIA to launch the Digital Technology Blueprint in July this year, a document that outlines the five driving principles to help guide Malaysian accountants to respond appropriately to digital technology.

These principles are related to digital technology trends, the identification of capabilities, harnessing of digital technology, funding and governance.

Accountants who fail to stay updated with the latest trends and knowledge will cause their employers to lose out in the long run, while competing firms take advantage of the evolving cloud system.

For these reasons, upskilling and obtaining professional qualifications from MIA or accountancy bodies such as CPA Australia, Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales or Chartered Institute of Management Accountants should be considered a necessity instead of mere steps for higher management.

As most professional accountancy bodies require members to undergo regular training to maintain their memberships, these certified professionals are expected to be fully prepared for IR 4.0 and, by and large, artificial intelligence experts.

Chung adds, “IT knowledge is no longer an option. Lest we aim erroneously, it is not how extensive the IT knowledge is (as this is available in abundance and can be acquired easily), but the ability to understand the evolution of the profession and apply the knowledge appropriately.”

Explaining that accountants must use technology in their favour to elevate companies to new heights, he gives the example of successful tech businesses that used e-platforms to achieve massive scalability and visibility within a short time, despite having owners or founders who were not IT graduates.

“In the same way, accountants should be more strategic, make sense of the vast data available and deliver services based on the twin pillars of speed and quality,” he continues.


Eliminating liabilities

When combining this piece of information with the future route of total automation for jobs that are repetitive, rule-based and involve limited or well-defined physicality, the traditional job scope of accountants is coming to an end.

Employers are bemoaning the skill gaps currently present in the knowledge of digital technologies, forcing companies to spend resources retraining and reskilling their employees.

At the other end of the spectrum, constant news reports highlight the more pressing issue of employers having difficulty finding good graduates who can hit the ground running upon entering the workforce.

These situations highlight the dire need for a new breed of accountants who can provide more all-inclusive corporate reporting, which tells less about the numbers and more about the narrative of a company.

The Malaysian education system, for one, must move towards becoming an ecosystem for continuous upgrading of skills, working together with employers, be they officials from the Government, small business entrepreneurs or industry experts from professional organisations.

Colleges and universities need to continue reviewing their course offerings so that graduates have an accurate understanding of the evolving industry while being trained to adapt to new technologies and autonomous changes at the workplace.

However, it is not all doom and gloom. Chung points out, “There are now many initiatives being undertaken by various professional organisations and associations to provide education to accountants to increase awareness of the changes taking place.

“There are efforts now by professional bodies, corporates and academia to come together to address the disconnect between what’s being studied at universities and what’s relevant in the business world.”

Given how the financial technology space has demonstrated the willingness of companies to use innovative methods, Chung is optimistic about the future as the accounting profession can not only make positive inroads but ride on the back of this momentum to accelerate the learning and adoption of technologies as the nation moves into a new era of automation.

Credit: Bryan Chung, FCPA

 

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Tariffs won’t make US firms produce in US


“It would not be profitable to build the Focus Active in the U.S. given an expected annual sales volume of fewer than 50,000 units,” automaker Ford Motor Company said in a statement on Sunday.

US President Donald Trump tweeted earlier on Sunday that “‘Ford has abruptly killed a plan to sell a Chinese-made small vehicle in the US because of the prospect of higher US Tariffs.’ CNBC. This is just the beginning. This car can now be built in the USA and Ford will pay no tariffs!” Ford quickly clarified the facts, evidently rebuffing Trump’s tweet.

Likewise, tech giant Apple Inc. wrote a letter to US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, saying that a proposed 25 percent tariff on $200 billion of Chinese imports would cover a “wide range of Apple products.”

In another tweet, Trump told Apple to make their products in the US instead of China. Apple hasn’t responded.

According to the US media, the price of iPhone may increase to $2,000 if the company does as told.

The multinational companies that produce automobile and mobile phones have different manufacturing and sales layouts. Car manufacturers tend to produce their products where they are sold, while mobile phone manufacturers optimize their production chain costs worldwide. That’s the natural law of economic globalization which can’t be easily changed by a country’s government.

The White House lacks understanding of the global production and value chains. “Make your products in the United States instead of China” seems naive. Instead of coercing companies to follow demands, imposing tariffs will only scare them off.

Simply making US companies produce in the US can’t deal with the complicated global industry today. We have also learnt from history that neither side will gain in a trade war.

China is the world’s largest automobile and mobile phone market. Setting tariff barriers between Beijing and Washington won’t make US companies give up on China for the sake of their own country. As long as China doesn’t make things hard for US companies, it’s unavoidable that they will place production operations in China. The Chinese market can help them make money, but the White House can’t.

Most American high-tech companies will face difficulties if they leave China. The larger the market is, the higher return the companies will get from their research and development. High-tech companies, if they can’t grow to be giant, don’t usually survive for long, and it would be fatal for many of them to lose the Chinese market.

There hasn’t been a previous US government that dares to instruct multinational companies in production layouts, and the current administration has overestimated its executive power. The global industrial chain today is formed by market rules established over decades and can’t be easily changed by one government.

It would be the White House’s dream to expect that the US is not only the world’s technology and financial center, but also the world’s factory that sells its products globally. If the US doesn’t want to wake up from this dream, then the outside world has to step in and rouse Washington.

Source:Global Times

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