Dismayed over the exorbitant engineering consultancy fees, 4 times higher !


GEORGE TOWN: Barisan Nasional leaders have criticised the Penang Government for allegedly over-paying, by four times, the detailed design fees of three road projects.

“Construction is not a new industry. Many people are puzzled by the exorbitant consultancy fees,” said Penang MCA secretary Tang Heap Seng in a press statement yesterday.

He said the Board of Engineers Malaysia (BEM) devised a standardised gazetted scale of fees for professional engineering consultancy in accordance with Section 4(1)(d) of the Registration of Engineers Act 1967 (Act 138), and it was highly irregular to deviate from it.

Yesterday, it was reported that Barisan’s strategic communication team sought the professional opinion of BEM on the costing of the three paired roads.

The board was said to have replied that the RM177mil in detailed design costs was four times higher than the maximum allowed under the gazetted scale of fees, which the board calculated to be RM41mil.

The three roads are from Teluk Bahang to Tanjung Bungah, Air Itam to Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway and Gurney Drive to the expressway. They are meant to be a traffic dispersal system for the proposed Penang Undersea Tunnel.

Penang MCA Youth chief Datuk Michael Lee Beng Seng also issued a statement, pointing out that the alleged overpaid amount of RM136mil was more than the reported RM100mil the state spent on flood mitigation in the last eight years.

“We are shocked that the Penang government has put the well-being and safety of the rakyat behind the interests of consultants and contractors.”

Gerakan vice-president Datuk Dr Dominic Lau highlighted that affordable housing, flash floods and landslides were issues that concerned Penangites.

On Tuesday, Barisan strategic communications director Datuk Seri Abdul Rahman Dahlan announced that he was giving the Penang Government a week to explain BEM’s findings, failing which the matter would be referred to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission.

When asked to comment, Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng replied: “Another day.” – The Star

 
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Ex-Johor exco man, son and consultant face 21 counts amounting to RM36m


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JOHOR BARU: Former state executive councillor Datuk Abd Latif Bandi, his eldest son and a property consultant have been charged with a total of 21 counts of money laundering amounting to RM35.78mil in connection with the massive Johor land scandal that broke out in March.
The former state Housing and Local Government Committee chairman was charged with 13 counts of money laundering amounting to RM17.59mil.

His son Ahmad Fauzan Hatim, 25, and Amir Shariffuddin Abd Raub, 44, were charged with four counts each involving RM735,000 and RM17.46mil respectively.

They are said to have committed the offences via cheque transactions at five major banks around Johor Baru between November 2013 and December 2016.

Abd Latif, 51, pleaded not guilty to seven counts under Section 4(1) (b) of the Anti-Money Laundering, Anti-Terrorism Financing and Proceeds of Unlawful Activities 2001 (AMLA) (Act 613).

If found guilty, he can be sentenced to 15 years in jail and fined five times the amount or RM5mil, whichever is higher.

He also claimed trial to six counts under Section 4(1)(a) of the same Act, which carries a jail term of up to five years and a maximum fine of RM5mil, if convicted.

Ahmad Fauzan and Amir Sharifuddin also pleaded not guilty to four counts each under the Section 4(1) (b) and Section 4(1)(a) of the same Act, respectively.

Sessions Court judge Mohd Fauzi Mohd Nasir set bail at RM500,000 for Abd Latif, RM200,000 for Ahmad Fauzan and RM400,000 for Amir Shariffuddin in one surety each, to run concurrently with previously charged offences.

He was referring to the 33 counts of graft that Abd Latif and Amir Shariffuddin had claimed trial to on April 19 for allegedly converting bumiputra lots to non-bumiputra lots involving a total of RM30.3mil in Kota Masai, Tebrau, Kulai, Kempas, Nusajaya and Johor Baru.

The judge also fixed July 5 for next mention.

Abd Latif and Ahmad Fauzan were represented by a five-man legal team led by Datuk Hasnal Rezua Merican while lawyer Azrul Zulkifli Stork stood for Amir Shariffuddin.

The case was prosecuted by Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) DPP Mohd Asnawi Abu Hanifah.

Earlier, the three accused arrived clad in orange lockup T-shirts and were escorted by MACC officers into the court at around 8.40am.

The Star by kathleen ann kili

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Penang Chief Minister may have too much on his plate, be fair when sharing power


 

CM may have too much on his plate

GEORGE TOWN: Penang Gerakan has questioned the efficiency of Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng as the chairman of numerous state-linked agencies and departments.

Its publicity bureau chief Ooi Zhi Yi said that besides being the chief minister, the Bagan MP and Air Putih assemblyman chairs 11 agencies and departments.

“He was recently also appointed chairman of the Penang Stadium Corporation And Open Spaces at the state assembly sitting,” he said.

Ooi asked what had happened to the DAP’s decentralisation of administration and power-sharing policy which it claimed to advocate?

“Is Lim able to handle various responsibilities in different agencies and departments simultaneously?

“Why can’t the state government identify any state executive councillor or assemblyman to hold some of the posts?” he further asked at a press conference at the Gerakan headquarters yesterday

The 11 state agencies and departments which Lim heads are the Penang Development Corporation (PDC), PBA Holdings Bhd (PBAHB) and its unit Perbadanan Bekalan Air Pulau Pinang (PBAPP), Penang Global Tourism (PGT), Penang Hill Corporation (PHC), Penang Convention and Exhibition Bureau (PCEB), George Town World Heritage Inc (GTWHI), the Penang State Museum, investPenang and two subsidiaries under PDC namely the BPO Premier Sdn Bhd and Premier Horizon Ventures Snd Bhd.

When contacted yesterday, Wong Hon Wai, who is Lim’s political secretary, said it is a customary process for a state leader to hold important positions in all the government statutory bodies.

“It is similar to how the Prime Minister and Mentri Besar chair important government bodies,” he explained. – Tbe Star

‘Be fair when sharing power’‘

GEORGE TOWN: The MCA wants the Penang government to create a check-and-balance to counter the Chief Minister’s influence in 19-state linked agencies, statutory bodies and government subsidiaries which he helms.

Penang MCA organising secretary Dr Tan Chuan Hong said the mechanism must include NGOs such as the Penang Forum, Consumers Association of Penang and Penang Heritage Trust.

He said the NGOs should have the right to oppose and express their views whenever needed.

He said Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng had in a written reply to Sungai Dua assemblyman Muhamad Yusoff Mohd Noor at the recent state legislative assembly sitting revealed that he was the chairman of 19 bodies.

“This is not only shocking but also contradicts the CAT principles of Competency, Accountability and Transparency which the DAP-led state claims to practise.

“Where is a person’s credibility if he holds all positions which are closely associated with his position as chief minister. And what about the power-sharing principle advocated by the state government?” Tan asked.

He said since Lim ‘monopolised’ most of the chairman positions, state exco members such as Chow Kon Yeow, Danny Law and Jagdeep Singh seemed to be given merely supplementary roles to play.

Among the bodies helmed by Lim are the Penang Development Corp (PDC), Penang Global Tourism, PICEB Sdn Bhd, PGC Strategies Sdn Bhd, Penang Water Supply Corp Bhd (PBAPP), PBA Holdings Bhd, Penang Hill Corp, Invest Penang and the state museum board.

He gets an annual RM10,000 allowance as PDC chairman, RM3,000 monthly allowance as PBAPP chairman and RM500 monthly allowance as PBA Holdings Bhd chairman.

Lim also gets allowances which range from RM250 to RM500 per meeting that he attends in some of the statutory bodies and subsidiaries that he helms. – The Star

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Prospering with Belt and Road to reap the benefits of China’s initiative


Malaysia is one of 64 countries to reap the benefits of China’s initiative.

CAN money grow on fruit trees?

Yes, that is as far as Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek is concerned.

After witnessing the signing of a deal worth US$1.53bil (RM6.65bil) between Malaysia’s AgroFresh International and China’s Dashang Group for the export of local Cavendish bananas and tropical fruits to China, he said:

“Money does grow on fruit trees if our agriculture products could open up China’s market.”

The deal was part of the nine memorandums of understanding (MoUs) and agreements, with value totalling more than US$7.22bil (RM31.26bil), which were signed between Malaysian and Chinese companies on May 14.

But Datuk Seri Ong Ka Chuan, International Trade and Industry Minister II, sees more money flooding in once Malaysia is linked up with other Asean nations, China and Europe via rail connection under China’s Belt and Road Initiative, now termed as the New Silk Road project.

“Our trade figures can jump by three to four folds once Malaysia can export and import goods to our major trade partners (such as China, Europe and Middle East) overland via rail systems,” he tells Sunday Star.

Both ministers are among Cabinet members in the Malaysian delegation led by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak to attend the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation held in Beijing from May 14 to 15.

Malaysia is one of the 64 countries outside China that have benefited from the Belt and Road Initiative, propounded by Chinese President Xi Jinping in the autumn of 2013.

One project to be launched soon will be the RM55bil East Coast Rail Link. Examples of existing projects include Xiamen University and the deepening of Kuantan Port.

At the opening ceremony of the forum, Xi injected fresh impetus to his pet project by announcing hundreds of billions in new funds for infrastructure investment in Belt and Road countries that span Asia, Middle East and Europe.

According to some estimates, Chinese funds allocated for investing in Belt and Road countries – which include several exiting funds announced since 2013 – total around US$900bil (about RM4 trillion) now.

“Model of regional cooperation”

From Mongolia to Malaysia, Thailand to Pakistan and Laos to Uzbekistan, many projects, including high-speed railways, bridges, ports, industrial parks, oil pipelines and power grids, are being built, Xi said.

Since 2013, Chinese private businesses have invested more than US$60bil (RM260bil) in countries along the Belt and Road, in addition to the US$50bil invested by the Chinese government.

Xi’s speech also reveals that China will expand China-Europe railway cargo services, which are stirring up excitement in European nations – particularly Britain.

Belt-road: Ong signing Belt and Road MoU with Vice Chairman of National Development and Reform Commission of China Zhong Yong on May 13, 2017. Witnessing are Najib and China’s Premier Li Keqiang.

Calling his brand of globalisation as “project of the century” to achieve a win-win situation for all, Xi has committed to importing US$2 trillion (RM8.7bil) of goods from the 64 Belt and Road countries – many of which are under-developed and impoverished nations hungry for infrastructure and industrial investments.

The Chinese leader’s pledge of “non-interference” with the domestic politics of other countries is comforting, given that there are concerns that China could aim to be a hegemony with its economic and military might.

“What we hope is to create a big family where we can co-exist harmoniously,” Xi said last Sunday in his speech that also focused on connectivity in policy, infrastructure, trade, finance and people.

The forum is by far the most important and largest meeting on the Belt and Road Initiative since 2013.

About 130 countries were represented at the forum and they accounted for two thirds of the world’s population. Their combined gross domestic product accounts for 90% of the world’s total, according to Xinhua.

Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, regards the Belt and Road Initiative as “a shining model for regional collaboration, development and growth”.

“This initiative respects the differences between countries and their various paths for development, not imposing a specific plan or ideological framework, but seeking to create common ground for cooperation and mutual benefit,” Schwab told Xinhua.

UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres, also told Xinhua: “China will play a very important role in multi-lateralism with the Belt and Road. The initiative reflects a new model of international cooperation and interaction with mutually beneficial cooperation through the connection of policies and development strategies.”

And Jack Ma, executive chairman of Alibaba Group, shared: “The initiative goes far beyond the economic strategy of any single country or region. Its mission is to make the world more innovative, dynamic, and equal.”

Big step: Fernandes is excited that China has allowed AirAsia to be the first low-cost carrier to set up shop in the Middle Kingdom.

AirAsia deal – another first in China

On the sideline of the forum, Malaysian and Chinese leaders took the opportunity to clinch more agreements that brought bilateral ties to another new high.

While the deals signed last November were far more than this round and higher in total value, the Chinese Government continued to grant “first” to Malaysia. This was reflected in a project given to Tan Sri Tony Fernandes, group chief executive officer and founder of AirAsia Bhd. Soon, the sky will see AirAsia China.

“It is the first time a foreign airline is given permission to establish and operate a low-cost carrier in China. We are the first country to be granted such licence,” Najib told reporters at the conclusion of his visit to China.

AirAsia is establishing a joint venture with China Everbright Group, with an initial stake of 22%. However, AirAsia may raise its stake in future.

China Everbright is a government-owned financial services conglomerate, which is a major shareholder in China Aircraft Leasing Group Holdings Ltd and the Henan Government Working Group.

The plan is to set up AirAsia China to be based in Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan, to ply domestic and international flights.

“Tony Fernandes was very excited because he was able to meet the top transport and aviation officials, whom he could not secure appointments with previously. He has been working on this project for years,” a minister told Sunday Star.

Other Cabinet ministers are also upbeat after attending the Belt and Road Forum.

“I have witnessed the fruits of the close diplomatic ties between Malaysia and China, and between Najib and Xi Jinping during this trip,” says Transport Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai, who signed a MoU on infrastructure cooperation with China.

“In China, economic developments are influenced by government policies. Now that our leaders have good ties with China, it is very timely for Malaysian businessmen to enter China, and vice versa,” he tells Sunday Star.

Important talks: Liow (second from left) leading a Malaysian delegation at a meeting with his Chinese counterpart at China’s Transport Ministry in Beijing on May 12 morning. From left are Transport Ministry deputy secretary-general Datuk Chua Kok Ching, MCA vice president Datuk Dr Hou Kok Chung and Fernandes.

“We have to promote economic growth fast enough so that we can harvest the fruits of the Belt and Road Initiative.

“The opportunities for Malaysia to develop the infrastructure and boost economic growth would not be available if not for the Belt and Road Initiative pushed forward by China,” he adds.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Dr Wee Ka Siong observes: “There are quite a number of business-to-business MoUs signed during this trip, in addition to the nine witnessed by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

“I was also invited to attend many discussions and meetings, sometimes I had to have many meals a day! (as discussions were held over meals).”

Wee, whose ministerial portfolio covers development of Chinese small and medium enterprises (SMEs), has personally requested Ma to reduce charges for Malaysian SMEs when they use Alibaba’s platform to sell products.

Ma, an e-commerce wizard and China’s second richest man, is expected to give consideration to the proposal as he has pledged to help Malaysia develop its digital economy. Ma will set up the Asean data centre in Malaysia before the end of the year.

Analysing Belt and Road Initiative, Shabery Cheek says: “Belt and Road is a different form of cooperation from other pacts, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and World Trade Organisation (WTO). Those emphasised on what goods were tax-free and what were not, which sectors to open up and which could not. Essentially, they focused on how to protect the self-interests of individual countries.

“However, the Belt and Road talks about infrastructure networking, which is very important. They take the cue from the ancient Silk Road, which was not only a channel to transport goods, but also to spread Islam and Buddhism. That is a great thing.”

Source: Sunday Star by Ho Wah FoonTho Xin Yi

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Arrest decline in productivity and competitiveness in Malaysia


COINCIDENTLY, two major reports were released on June 1 on the decline of our national productivity and competitiveness. The first was our own Productivity Report 2016/2017, which was launched by Minister of International Trade and Industry Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamad (pic) and the second one was the World Competitiveness Yearbook WCY issued by the Institute for Management Development.

This coincidence in decline is understandable since both productivity and competitiveness are closely inter-related. Lower productivity leads to lower international competitiveness.

Productivity

Our labour productivity fell short of our 11th Plan target of 3.7% growth by 0.2% to 3.5% last year. This is a small decline and has been rightly explained with confidence by the Minister of Trade in positive terms when he said that Malaysia was “on track”.

I think he will agree that we must be concerned enough to ask what are the causes and whether this is just a mere slip or could it be the beginning of a trend.

We have to take this fall as a wake up call, in case this decline happens again next year and later on. We have to review many recurrent and uncomfortable issues like brain drain and unemployed graduates – who could number over 200,000 – also reflect the low productivity of many graduates who are newly employed. The lower productivity can be attributed to our low use of automation, high employment of unskilled foreign and cheap labour and the new challenges of the digital economy.

The Minister’s proposal for the Government and private sector to “join forces to embark on initiatives” to improve productivity in nine sectors “of lower productivity”, is most welcome. The private sector has to make profit unlike the Government. Hence it has a greater sense of urgency in wanting to improve not only labour productivity but productivity from all factors of production, including good governance and integrity and quality services to the public. Thus it will be very interesting for the public to be made fully aware of the productivity improvements that should materialise not only in the private sector, but for the Government as well. For instance government departments can learn from the private sector how to provide better or excellent services in the fields of health and education and counter services at police stations, Customs, Immigration, etc .

Productivity in both the private sector and the government machinery should improve to raise our total national productivity. Only then will our nation be able to compete much more efficiently and effectively in the global economy.

We can have the best Productivity Blueprint like that which was launched on May 8 but our productivity can continue to slip and even slide, if we do not ensure that the blueprint is fully implemented and its progress diligently monitored and improved along the way. One way to seriously pursue our goal to raise productivity would be to increase the small sum of only RM200mil for a new Automation Fund. Modern machinery and equipment are expensive but the returns in terms of higher productivity can be very significant. So let’s go for higher productivity with greater automation and not approach the challenge on an ad hoc and piecemeal basis. The Treasury would need to support the Productivity Blueprint much more productively!

Competitiveness

Malaysia registered its lowest ranking in five years in the WCY.

This reflects our decline in productivity as competitiveness is the other side of the coin. However, I am surprised that the relationship is so sensitive. Just a drop of 0.2% in productivity can cause a drop in our international competitiveness ranking from 19th place to the 24th!

What this could show is that while we are sluggish in our productivity, other countries are much more aggressive in improving both their productivity and competitiveness.

There is thus no point in taking pride that we scored better in our ranking compared to the industrial countries like Austria (25th) Japan (26th) and Korea (29th). They are highly developed countries which enjoy much higher standards of living and a better quality of life that we do. They have reached the top of Mount Fuji and other mountains, while we are still climbing up from a lower economic base.

The drop in our competitiveness is significant and we have to take this decline very seriously. Malaysia slipped in all four sectors, that is, economic performance, business efficiency, government efficiency and infrastructure. That is why it is essential to investigate in depth into all these major falls in performance and tell the public what is being done to improve our rankings and ratings.

It is appreciated that Malaysia Productivity Corp’s Director General Datuk Mohd Razali Hussain has established Nine Working Cluster Groups to examine these poor indicators and report on improvements that must be made expeditiously.


Conclusion

It is good that we have these reports on productivity and international competitiveness to benchmark our national performance against them. We have to take advantage of these annual indicators and ensure that we keep improving rather than falling in productivity and competitiveness .

Our efforts to improve will be watched closely by our domestic and particularly international investors and international competitors .

We can only hope that these declines are not just coincidental but are also not developing declining trends. This could spell pessimism and falling confidence in our socio-economic management.

Instead we should take these set backs as warning signals and rededicate ourselves to a greater commitment to higher competition, more meritocracy and building a better socio-economic and political environment in Malaysia.

TAN SRI RAMON NAVARATNAM

Chairman Asli’s Centre of Public Policy Studies


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Launching of Productivity Report 2016/2017 – Ministry of International …

World Competitiveness Rankings – IMD

 

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Trump-Washington disorder drags world down, lost humanity’s fight for survival against climate change


IN Washington, the swamp Donald Trump is trying to drain is in tumult. The centres of the established order are fighting back against the elected president with a mandate who is doing what he wants.

On the one hand, there is a system of governance based on the rule of law which accords rights and limits the exercise of power. On the other, a president with a style of rule that transcends and challenges that order.

Whether it is working with the enemy, government by executive order, unrestrained authority in a centralised executive arm, president Trump who is already temperamentally in accord with it feels fully supported by those marginalised and on the periphery who had elected him. He sees it as a battle against the elites. Indeed, he increasingly depicts himself as a victim of the elites, especially the media.

The media wants him impeached. This is not going to happen – at least, not any time soon. The Republican-dominated House of Representatives and Senate would not have it. But Trump has to understand he cannot continually push at the boundaries and violate constitutional authority with impunity. If not Congress, the courts will have him.

Fired FBI director James Comey is expected to appear before the Senate to relate if Trump tried to influence investigation into links with Russia he and his aides forged during and after the election campaign. Already, a special counsel, Robert Mueller, has been appointed by the Attorney-General’s office to establish if there had been criminal violations in those links.

The American president is impetuous, sneering and always up for a fight. This is not the way to govern – anywhere.

He chops and changes. He does not use established institutions, even of the executive branch, like the State Department, which he wholly distrusts as a Hillary Clinton bastion.

There is conflict in Washington, not orderly governance. America is bitterly divided. Trump represents the other side. In this conflict, it is a strong incentive for Trump to ride on populist policies to attack his enemies in the swamp in Washington.

Both the disorder in Washington and particularly the populist policies – many of which are not properly thought through – also have an impact on the rest of the world.

It is difficult to know whom to deal with and which way policies may turn. His “America First” policies, like on climate change and on trade, harm and disregard other countries.

Small countries like Malaysia are down the list of his concerns. Yet we are on the list of 16 with whom the Trump administration claims America has trade deficits which are not tolerable.

The cut-off value of US$10 billion just manages to leave out Israel from the black list. What countries like Malaysia would like to know is what the United States proposes to do about it.

With respect to China, which tops the list with a whopping surplus of US$347 billion, Trump has eased from hanging tough to being pliable. No more talk of China as a serial currency manipulator and of slapping a 45% tariff on Chinese exports to America.

Last month the US entered into a so-called trade deal with China which encompassed a 100-day programme as part of a “comprehensive economic dialogue.” There is to be a 10-point action plan covering topics ranging from meat to financial services to biotechnology.

But American companies are dissatisfied, contending matters such as overcapacity, forced technology transfer and equal treatment of US companies should have been covered.

White House professionals in the National Economic Council and the US Trade Representative’s office say there is work in progress on Chinese steel, after which the administration would decide how to pursue the matters of subsidies and overcapacity – either through the World Trade Organisation (WTO) or bilaterally.

This is an interesting twist. Trump does not have any time for the WTO. Yet with China, he might go for the multilateral approach rather than his favoured bilateral dealing.

The officials say they do not want a trade war. So perhaps some sobriety is sinking in.

Meanwhile, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc made haste to Washington this week – Vietnam is sixth in that list of 16 – and ended up with extravagant praise from Trump for the deals he entered into worth US$8bil (the prime minister claimed US$15bil), including US$3bil of US-produced content that would support 23,000 jobs. General Electric is the biggest beneficiary with deals worth US$5.58bil in power generation, aircraft engines and services.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross pronounces Vietnam is the fastest growing market for US exports. US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer is deeply concerned about the rapid growth of the trade deficit with Vietnam (2016: US$32bil). Phuc gets the double squeeze in the firm handshake with President Trump. One must hope he knows where he stands at the end of his visit last Wednesday.

Phuc was the first Asean leader to visit Washington since Trump’s election as president. Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte has not taken up Trump’s invitation. Neither has Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.

Apart from a report that the Vietnamese prime minister said he was waiting to welcome Trump to Danang for the Apec summit in November, and a statement he made expressing disappointment that America had withdrawn from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, there has been no indication that anything pertaining to Asean had been raised – apart, of course, from Vietnam’s position on the South China Sea.

This is the way of Asean. National concerns and the national interest come first. There is not even some kind of debriefing or discussion on or before a visit of such import. Such a shame.

Perhaps Malaysia should take the lead and try to make a difference. As Trump will be coming for the Asean summits in Manila, including US-Asean and the EAS, would it not make sense to prepare a regional position paper on trade with the US?

We can leave the South China Sea issue pretty much alone as it divides more than unites Asean. But surely there must be consensus on free trade, as the AEC is founded very much on that principle.

Should not Asean take a common position on free trade in discussion with the American president? Not one based on generalities but on specifics and benefits, including to those on the supply chains (in terms of employment, revenue and taxes) before imports reach the US destination, not to mention the benefits to consumers in respect of choice, price and inflation.

Instead of just all the normal niceties, could not the leaders meeting incorporate a short, sharp presentation on the benefits of free trade to America and the costs to its economy of subsidy, support and inefficiency?

Already, it has been estimated about three quarters of job loss in America is attributable to employment displacement through technological development. Not through exports to America.

Everyone wants that 20 minutes with Trump. Asean should not fritter it away with amiable general chatter.

Of course, Malaysia has its own particular issues with the US which could be raised in a visit by the prime minister, perhaps at the end of the year or early next year.

By that time, of course, the 90-day “investigation” into the surpluses of countries on the list of 16 (Malaysia’s US$25bil puts it ninth on that list), which technically began on April 7, would have been completed.

There would be plenty to discuss then, even as bilateral representations would have been made at the working level before and after expiry of that period and whatever subsequent American actions.

Other issues, of course, are outstanding on which views can be exchanged, including on investment and technology. Hopefully, by that time, things would have settled down, that sense can be made out of the disorder in Washington.

Tan Sri Munir Majid, chairman of Bank Muamalat and visiting senior fellow at LSE Ideas (Centre for International Affairs, Diplomacy and Strategy), is also chairman of CIMB Asean Research Institute.

By Tan Sri Dr Munir Majid

Tan Sri Dr Munir Majid, chairman of Bank Muamalat and visiting senior fellow at LSE Ideas (Centre for International Affairs, Diplomacy and Strategy), is also chairman of CIMB Asean Research Institute.

Continuing the climate battle, without the US

With President Trump pulling out from the Paris agreement, the US has lost membership of the community of nations that subscribe to humanity’s fight for survivial against climate change.

SO in the end President Donald Trump deci­ded to pull the United States out from the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Just as disturbing as the withdrawal was Trump’s speech justifying it. He never acknowledged the seriousness or even the existence of the global climate change crisis, which poses the gravest threat to human survival. He lamented that the Paris accord would displace US jobs, mentioning coal in particular, while ignoring the jobs in renewable energy that would increase manifold if the United States tackled climate crisis seriously.

His main grouse was that the Paris agreement was “unfair” to the United States vis-a-vis other countries, especially mentioning China and India. And he grumbled that the United States would have to contribute to the Green Climate Fund.

The speech was riddled with misconceptions and factual errors.

For example, Trump said the Paris agreement would only produce a two-tenths of one degree Celsius reduction in global temperature by the year 2100, a “tiny, tiny amount”.

But scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said Trump badly misunderstood their study. “If we don’t do anything, we might shoot over five degrees or more and that would be catastrophic,” said MIT’s programme co-director John Reilly.

Condemnation came fast and furious from within the United States and around the world. Said John Kerry, former Secretary of State: “He’s made us an environmental pariah in the world … It may be the most self-defeating action in American history.”

The Trump decision to leave Paris may well be a milestone marking an immense loss to the United States of international prestige, influence and power.

In a world so divided by ideology, inequality and economic competition, the Paris agreement was one rare area of global consensus to cooperate, on climate change.

For the United States to pull out of that hard-won consensus is a shocking abdication not only of leadership, but of its membership of the community of nations in its joint effort to face its gravest threat to survival.

The lack of appreciation of this great challenge facing humanity and the narrow-mindedness of his concerns was embarrassingly evident when Trump made his withdrawal speech.

He was more interested in reviving the sunset coal sector than in the promise of the fast-developing renewable energy industries.

He was convinced reducing emissions would cost millions of jobs, ignoring the record of other countries that have decoupled emissions growth from economic growth.

He was miserly towards poor countries which are receiving only a fraction of what they were promised for climate action, while celebrating hundreds of billions of dollars of new armaments deals.

He complained that the United States is asked to do more than others, when in fact the nation has the highest emissions per ca­pita of any major country and its pledges are significantly lower than Europe’s.

He saw the speck in everyone else’s eyes while being oblivious to the beam in his own.

With or without the United States, the negotiations on how to implement the agreement will continue in the years ahead.

A complication is that America has to wait four years before the announced withdrawal can come into effect.

The United States will still be a member of the Paris agreement for the rest of Trump’s present term, although he announced he will not implement what Barack Obama had committed to, which is to cut emissions by 26%-28% from 2005 levels, by 2025. This defiance will likely have a depressing impact on other countries.

While a member, the United States could play a non-cooperative or disruptive role du­ring the negotiations on many topics.

Since Trump has already made clear the United States wants to leave the pact, and no longer subscribes to its emissions pledges, nor will it meet its US$3bil (RM12.8bil) pledge on the Green Climate Fund, it would be strange to enable the country to still negotiate with the same status as other members that remain committed to their pledges.

How to deal with this issue is important so that the United Nations Framework Conven­tion on Climate Change negotiations are not disrupted in the four years ahead.

Finally, Trump’s portrayal of developing countries like India and China as profiting from the US membership of the Paris Agreement is truly unfair.

China is the number one emitter of carbon dioxide in absolute terms, with the United States second and India third. But this is only because the two developing countries have huge populations of over a billion each.

In per capita terms, in 2015, carbon dioxide emissions were 16.1 tonnes for the United States, 7.7 tonnes for China and 1.9 tonnes for India.

It would be unfair to ask China and India to have the same mitigation target as America, especially since the United States has had the benefit of using or over-using more than its fair share of cheap fossil-fuel energy for over a century more than the other two countries.

A recent New York Times editorial (May 22) compared the recent performance of India and China with the recent actions of the United States under President Trump.

It states: “Until recently, China and India have been cast as obstacles … in the battle against climate change. That reputation looks very much out of date now that both countries have greatly accelerated their investments in cost-effective renewable energy sources – and reduced their reliance on fossil fuels. It’s America – Donald Trump’s America – that now looks like the laggard.”

President Trump has taken the United States and the world many big steps backwards in the global fight against global warming. It will take some time for the rest of the world to figure out how to carry on the race without or despite the United States.

Hopefully the absence of America will only be for four years or less.

By Martin Khor

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

Anger as Trump announces US withdrawal from global climate deal

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump announced America’s shock withdrawal from the Paris climate accord Thursday, prompting a furious global backlash and throwing efforts to slow global warming into serious doubt.

In a sharply nationalistic address from the White House Rose Garden, Trump announced the United States would immediately stop implementing the “bad” 195-nation accord.

“I cannot, in good conscience, support a deal that punishes the United States,” he said, decrying the “draconian financial and economic burdens the agreement imposes on our country.”

Trump repeatedly painted the pact — struck by his predecessor Barack Obama — as a deal that did not “put America first” and was too easy on economic rivals China, India and Europe.

“I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris,” he said. “We don’t want other leaders and other countries laughing at us anymore. And they won’t be.”

Trump offered no details about how, or when, a formal withdrawal would happen, and at one point suggested a renegotiation could take place.

“We’re getting out but we’ll start to negotiate and we will see if we can make a deal that’s fair. And if we can, that’s great. And if we can’t, that’s fine,” he said.

That idea was unceremoniously slapped down by furious allies in Europe, who joined figures from around the United States and the world in condemning the move.

“The agreement cannot be renegotiated,” France, Germany and Italy said in a joint statement.

Worst polluters

The United States is the world’s second largest emitter of greenhouse gases after China, so Trump’s decision could seriously hamper efforts to cut emissions and limit global temperature increases.

Amid Trump’s domestic critics was Obama, who said the United States was “joining a handful of nations that reject the future.”

Nicaragua and Syria are the only countries not party to the Paris accord, the former seeing it as not ambitious enough and the latter being racked by a brutal civil war.

Hillary Clinton, Trump’s opponent in last year’s White House race, called the decision to pull out a “historic mistake.”

“The world is moving forward together on climate change. Paris withdrawal leaves American workers & families behind,” she said in a tweet.

The Democratic governors of New York, California and Washington states formed a quick alliance, vowing to respect the standards agreed on under the Paris deal.

In New York, some major buildings, like the World Trade Center and City Hall, were lit green in solidarity with the climate agreement, echoing a move in Paris.

With much of the implementation of the accord taking place at the local level, the Paris accord’s supporters hope the deal will be in hibernation rather than killed off entirely.

Trump’s decision is likely to play well with the Republican base, with the more immediate damage on the diplomatic front.

The US president called his counterparts in Britain, Canada, France and Germany to explain his decision.

But traditional US allies were uncharacteristically blunt in their condemnation of the move, which comes amid already strained relationships with the hard-charging president.

Germany said the US was “harming” the entire planet, and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker called the decision “seriously wrong.”


Trump the showman

Ever the showman, the 70-year-old Trump had given his decision a reality TV-style tease, refusing to indicate his preference either way until his announcement.

Opponents of withdrawal — said to include Trump’s daughter Ivanka — had warned that America’s leadership role on the world stage was at stake, along with the environment.

A dozen large companies including oil major BP, agrochemical giant DuPont, Google, Intel and Microsoft, had urged Trump to remain in the deal.

Ultimately, the lobbying by Trump’s environmental protection chief Scott Pruitt and chief strategist Steve Bannon urging the president to leave won out.

In the wake of the announcement, Tesla and SpaceX boss Elon Musk and Disney chief Robert Iger announced they would no longer take part in presidential business councils.

“Climate change is real. Leaving Paris is not good for America or the world,” Musk said.

GE head Jeff Immelt said he was “disappointed” with the decision: “Climate change is real. Industry must now lead and not depend on government.”

‘Morally criminal’

White House officials acknowledged that under the deal, formal withdrawal may not take place until after the 2020 election.

Hours ahead of Trump’s announcement, China’s Premier Li Keqiang pledged to stay the course on implementing the climate accord in a joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and urged other countries to do likewise.

China has been investing billions in clean energy infrastructure, as it battles to clear up the choking pollution enveloping its cities.

China and the US are responsible for some 40 percent of the world’s emissions and experts had warned it was vital for both to remain in the Paris agreement if it is to succeed.

The leader of Asia’s other behemoth, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi — who is due to visit the White House shortly — has said failing to act on climate change would be “morally criminal.”

Trump’s announcement comes less than 18 months after the climate pact was adopted in the French capital, the fruit of a hard-fought agreement between Beijing and Washington under Obama’s leadership.

The Paris Agreement commits signatories to efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming, which is blamed for melting ice caps and glaciers, rising sea levels and more violent weather events.

They vowed steps to keep the worldwide rise in temperatures “well below” two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) from pre-industrial times and to “pursue efforts” to hold the increase under 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Sources: Andrew Beatty | AFP


Related links

Analysis: Trump tilts ‘America First’ toward ‘America Alone’ – AP News

What concerns Malaysians most ?


Supermarket shopping food

THE biggest concern among Malaysians, as we head towards the general election, is the cost of living. It’s as simple as that.

There have been plenty of political and religious side shows, but for many Malaysians, regardless of race, settling the many bills each month is what worries them the most.

Although Malaysia remains one of the cheapest countries to live in, its citizens have been spoilt for too long.

We are so used to having so many food items subsidised, including sugar, at one time, to the point that some of us have had difficulties adjusting ourselves.

Our neighbours still come to Malaysia to buy petrol, because ours is still cheaper than theirs.

But, as in any elections, politicians will always promise the heavens to get our votes. One of the promises, we have already heard, is the abolishment of the Goods and Services Tax.

No doubt that doing away with GST would appeal to voters, but seriously, even the opposition politicians calling for this are aware that it is a counter-productive move.

In the words of Tan Sri Mohd Sheriff Mohd Kassim, a highly-respected retired government servant, “it is too much of a fairy tale.”

The danger, of course, is that populist electoral pledges are always appealing, even if they are not rational.

Malaysia cannot depend on just about two million tax payers to foot the bill in a country of over 30 million people. It is unfair and unsustainable.

Taxing consumption gives more stability to revenue because income tax is regarded as highly volatile, as it depends very much on the ups and downs of businesses, according to Mohd Sheriff. When the market is soft, revenue collection always sees a dip.

For the government, which has already been criticised for having such a huge civil service, without GST, it could even mean its workers may not get paid when there is a downturn in the economy.

In the case of Malaysia, we have lost a substantial amount of revenue following the drop in oil price.

So, when politicians make promises, claiming plugging leakages is sufficient to end GST, it is really far-fetched and irresponsible.

The Malaysian tax system needs to continue to be more consumption-oriented to make it recession-proof, and, more importantly, the tax net just has to be widened. The bottom line is that, it is grossly unfair for two million people to shoulder the burden.

The government has done the right thing by widening the tax base and narrowing the fiscal deficit. The move to implement GST, introduced in 2014, has been proven right.

GST is needed to provide a strong substitute as a tax consumption capable of off-setting revenue loss from personal and corporate tax.

Beginning next month, India will join nearly 160 countries, including Malaysia, in introducing GST. Like Malaysia, when GST was first introduced, plenty of loud grumblings and doubts have rolled out.

Unlike Malaysia’s flat 6% across the board, India is introducing a more complicated four-tier GST tax structure of 5%, 12%, 18% and 28%, with lower rates for essential items and highest for luxury and demerits goods that would also attract additional cess.

In Singapore, GST was introduced on April 1, 1994, at 3%. The rate was increased to 4% in 2003, then 5% in 2004. It was raised to 7% on July 1, 2007.

Some politicians came under fire recently for purportedly calling for the abolishment of GST, however, some others clarified that they had merely called for a reduction in the tax’s percentage.

Another top opposition politician has come out as the strongest opponent of GST, reportedly saying the claim that Malaysia needs GST is false.

Some other politicians have described GST as regressive, but have not come out with clear ideas on how it should be tackled.

Nonetheless, the ruling party should not make light of these electoral promises.

For many in the urban middle class, they feel the squeeze the most.

They have struggled against the rising cost of living, paying house and car loans, and earning deep levels of debt, as one report aptly put.

The middle class, consisting of over 40% of Malaysians, is also in the income tax bracket, it must be noted.

Last year, an economist was quoted saying that 2016 was a year of a shrinking urban middle class and a happy upper class.

Shankar Chelliah, an associate professor at Universiti Sains Malaysia, said that the Malaysian middle class shrank in metropolitan centres across the country, and that most of its members would end the year almost 40% poorer than they were in 2015.

He said this would be due to the withdrawal of cooking oil and sugar subsidies, depreciation of the ringgit, decrease in foreign inflows and increase in outflows, among other factors.

For many in this middle class range who do not qualify for BR1M handouts, the government clearly has to come up with a range of programmes which can relieve them of these burdens.

It isn’t race or religious issues that will appeal to voters – they want to know how they can lead better lives, and if the opposition thinks contentious issues will translate into votes, they will be in for a surprise.

It is true that the heartland will continue to deliver the crucial votes, and the ruling party will benefit from this, but Malaysia has also become more urban and more connected.

At the end of the day, it is the bread and butter issues that matter most. Let’s hear some solid ideas and programmes which will reduce the burden of Malaysians.

By Wong Chun Wai On the beat, The Star

Wong Chun Wai began his career as a journalist in Penang, and has served The Star for over 27 years in various capacities and roles. He is now the group’s managing director/chief executive officer and formerly the group chief editor.

On The Beat made its debut on Feb 23 1997 and Chun Wai has penned the column weekly without a break, except for the occasional press holiday when the paper was not published. In May 2011, a compilation of selected articles of On The Beat was published as a book and launched in conjunction with his 50th birthday. Chun Wai also comments on current issues in The Star.

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