Do you earn enough to sustain your lifestyle?


DO you know how much you need to sustain your lifestyle every month? Are you living within your budget or stretching to make ends meet?

We can now gain insights with the unveiling of Belanjawanku, an Expenditure Guide for Malaysian Individuals and Families, launched by the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) in early March.

The guide offers an idea of the living costs for respective household categories. It encompasses the expenditure on basic needs and involvement in society for a reasonable standard of living in the Klang Valley.

According to Belanjawanku, a married couple with two children spend about RM6,620 per month on food, transport, housing, childcare, utilities, healthcare, personal care, annual expenses, savings, social participation and discretionary expenses.

When I read this guide together with the income statistics published by the Statistics Department, it reveals that a vast majority of Malaysians can’t afford to live in the Klang Valley.

Based on the statistics, the median household income for Malaysian households in 2016 is RM5,228, far below the RM6,620 required for a family with two children to stay in the Klang Valley.

If we take a closer look, the median income of M40 group (Middle 40%) is RM6,275, which means five out of 10 households in this category received RM6,275 per month or less. This indicates that over 60% (40% from B40 households and half of the M40 households) of Malaysian households (if they have two children) can’t afford to stay in the Klang Valley.

What went wrong in the process? Why are many households having challenges to meet the required budget?

According to Belanjawanku, a married couple with two children spent the majority of their income on food (RM1,550), followed by childcare (RM1,150) and transport (RM1,040), then only on housing (RM870) and other items.

Based on the research, even if housing was provided for free, a household of four would still need RM5,750 to sustain their lifestyle. Therefore, the common perception that only housing is expensive is not right. It is not that housing is expensive, but that everything is expensive because of inflation over the years! The value of our currency has fallen due to global money printing measures over the past decade.

Belanjawanku compiles only core living expenses without luxury items or excessive spending. It also doesn’t include long-term financial planning tools such as funds for education or investments. If the majority of Malaysian households have challenges in meeting the existing expenses listed in the guide, it poses a serious concern on their future financial prospects.

The underlying factor of this challenge is the low household income earned by Malaysians. The previous government failed to move us to a high income nation as they had promised, and more families are stretching to make ends meet now. It may lead to serious financial problems in the future.

If median household incomes don’t increase, the B40 (Bottom 40%) and half of the M40 will always struggle even if housing is free, assuming that they aspire to have two children and to live in the Klang Valley.

According to Transparency International Malaysia, corruption had cost our country about 4% of its gross domestic product (GDP) value each year since 2013. Added together, this amounts to a high figure of some RM212.3bil since 2013. For 2017 alone, that figure was a whopping RM46.9bil!

Imagine what we can do with these monies if there was no leakage in the system? The previous government should have channeled the money to stimulate economic growth and increase the income of the rakyat.

Going forward, I am optimistic that the new government, with its promise of a clean and transparent government, can finally fix the leakage and focus on generating a higher income level for all Malaysian households.

Financial independence is a key factor in the overall well being of the rakyat. We need to increase household incomes to a level where families can meet their basic needs and embark on long-term financial planning, to elevate their quality of life.

Then, and only then, will housing and other living expenses finally become affordable.

By

Food for thought By Alan Tong

Datuk Alan Tong has over 50 years of experience in property development. He is the group chairman of Bukit Kiara Properties. For feedback, email bkp@bukitkiara.com



 

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The ‘Tiger Woods’ act is not for Malaysia


 It’s a long road towards being a tiger economy again

A month before the one-year anniversary of Pakatan Harapan’s ruling the government, Malaysia has earned the accolades of being a “boring” and under-performing stock market. The ringgit, which is the thermometer to gauge the economy, has weakened after the initial euphoria of appreciating as high as RM4 against the US dollar.

An economist had said that Malaysia without the Goods and Services Tax (GST) is too dependent on oil revenue. Budget 2019 was based on crude oil at US$70 and considering that the year-to-date average is lower, the country would not be able to keep to spending limits.

Ironically, the story of Malaysia’s being a “boring and under-performing” stock came as golfer Tiger Woods made a remarkable comeback to win his first major tournament since 2008. That was the time when the golfer’s on-course performance started to go downhill due to injuries and “off-course” affairs that led to a broken-marriage.

Sponsors stayed away from Tiger Woods and he lived with a tag as a great golfing talent that never made it. Now he is seen as a role model in the story of triumph against adversity. Woods US Masters win is now repeated as a story of why one must never give up and the fruits of labour will finally pay off.

Sadly, it only applies in the world of sports. In the sporting world, there are clear rules and everybody play within the rules or they are disqualified. Sports world is based on meritocracy. If you good and talented, you would be found – some way or other – even if you live in Borneo.

Sarawak has produced amongst Malaysia’s best sprinter and diver in Watson Nyambek and Pandelela Rinong who proved their worth based on merit.

Running a government to please people with different demands is not so easy. Meritocracy is only a slogan. It reality, it is hard to implement.

For instance, the government’s bail-out of Felda and Tabung Haji are seen as further straining the country’s balance sheet.

The fear that the of Budget 2019 objective of keeping fiscal deficit at 3.4% cannot be achieved considering that the government has to fork out RM6bil to rescue Felda.

However, what investors fail to realise is that the government cannot afford not to bail out the likes of Felda and Tabung Haji. It cannot operate completely on meritocracy and go by the book strictly because there are political considerations to weigh on.

Felda needs to be rescued because of the massive mismanagement of funds. It involves the lives of 120,000 settlers and many more, if their families are taken into account. The Felda settlers are important voter bank and determine 52 parliament seats.

Most of them are Malays who form the bulk of the voting population of the country as a whole.

Whether we like or not, issues that Felda and Tabung Haji face has to be resolved if there is to be any political stability.

The only consolation is that those who are responsible for the mismanagement of Felda, Tabung Haji, 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) would eventually pay a price.

In communist China, these people would have faced the firing squad.

In Malaysia, it takes time to penalise those responsible under the law. Pakatan Harapan’s messaging to investors is that it provides accountability, transparency and discipline in running the government. It revealed the total debts and a bigger budget deficit for 2019 and left it to investors to decide if they are prepared to put money in the country.

That it does not tolerate corruption is a message that is being drummed countless times.

Is there is a premium in being transparent, accountable and standing firm against corruption? Yes there is. But as a fund manager says, it does not tell investors where to put their money.

It does not tell investors if there is going to be a continuity to the government’s policies and who the next Prime Minister is going to be after Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad. The fund manager says that Malaysia needs to tell another story, apart from governance and transparency.

Towards this end, a good line of messaging would be on addressing the political transition after Dr Mahathir.

The fund manager is right in his argument because long term capital needs political stability and leadership certainty.

Dr Mahathir, who is named as among the most powerful persons by Time Magazine, probably knows best why he is delaying in setting a firm time table to hand over power to the only person who has been named so far, which is Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

Probably because the minute Dr Mahathir announces the time-table to handover, he would be a lame duck Prime Minister, a role the 93-year veteran politician would not relish.

Apart from politics, the other matter bogging investors is the slowing Malaysian economy.

The concern is that the economic growth of 4.5% would not be met and that Bank Negara would be forced to bring down the interest rates.

When interest rates are down because of a slowing economy, it dampens sentiments on the ringgit and puts yields of bonds under pressure.

The prospects of a lower yield and weakening currency are just the catalysts needed for bond investors to take some money off the table.

The unfavourable rating by little known Russel Fund Index earlier this week did not help matters. The end result is that the government bonds are under pressure and so is the ringgit.

The government should keep up with doing the things it can best do, which are enhancing transparency, governance and being more careful in handling public funds. Investors will view with scepticism until they see hard numbers on the economy and consistency in growth.

The Malaysian stock market was among the world’s best in 1993 on the back of a roaring economy that started its growth path some four years earlier.

The economy over-heated, the government got carried away with spending and we paid a heavy price by the ringgit and stock market crashing. It all came down with a thud in 1997.

The Pakatan Harapan government wants to see Malaysia be a “tiger economy” once again.

But it would not be easy. The road ahead is treacherous with lots of obstacles – balancing the demands of the political and social agenda.

We cannot do it the Tiger Woods way because there is no meritocracy when it comes to governing a country. But we will get there eventually as long as we stay the course.


PUTRAJAYA: Malaysia Rail Link Sdn Bhd and China Communications Construction Company Ltd have signed a supplementary agreement that will pave the way for the resumption of the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) project.

The signing was achieved after months of negotiations between the companies involved as well as the governments of Malaysia and China, said the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).

“We are pleased to announce that the construction cost of Phases 1 and 2 of the ECRL has now been reduced to RM44bil.

“This is a reduction of RM21.5bil from the original cost of RM65.5bil.

“This reduction will surely benefit Malaysia and lighten the burden of the country’s financial position,” said the PMO in a statement Friday (April 12).

The supplementary agreement covers the engineering, procurement, construction and commissioning aspects of the ECRL, it added.

The PMO also said that further details of the improved deal will be made known at a press conference next Monday (April 15).

Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is expected to give the press conference.

According to earlier reports, Phase 1 of the 688km rail line will be from Klang Valley to Kuantan while Phase 2 will cover Kuantan to Kuala Terengganu.

The project’s Phase 3 will see the rail line connecting Kuala Terengganu to Kota Baru and Tumpat. – Star, NST, MM


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ECRL is up and running again

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New ECRL deal may become a case study for others

 

Putrajaya to be rail hub – Nation

Malaysia to ‘take advantage’ of ECRL deal to sell China more palm oil …

ECRL project revival to benefit many sectors – Business News

ECRL deal to include commitment from China to buy palm oil …

Improved ECRL deal a ‘solution’ to debt trap concerns

BERNAMA.com – New ECRL deal a big win for Dr Mahathir, says US

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Middle class malady


Struggling and frustrated: Most aid goes to the B40, leaving the M40 feeling adrift and on their own.

The economic future of the country looks scary, and if the young bankrupts and imminent retires are not atteended to soon, we could be in truly tough times.

THE economy is the most talked about topic among Malaysians, with issues including the increasing cost of living, shrinking ringgit, continuing weak economy and sadly, the endless politicking.

While attention has been cast on the Bottom 40, or the group known as B40, as they make up the lowest earners, the middle class, the Middle 40, or M40, shouldn’t be forgotten either.

Malaysians are categorised into three different income groups: Top 20% (T20), Middle 40% (M40), and Bottom 40% (B40).

To be in T20, a household’s monthly income should at least be RM13,148, while the M40 and B40 groups have raised their bars to RM6,275 and RM3,000 respectively.

We don’t need a survey to know that the people in the bottom half of M40 and B40 are barely making ends meet and struggling to maintain a decent lifestyle.

At the lowest end, 70% of these poorest are the bumiputeras, while the rest are Chinese and Indians, which proves the poor comprises all races.

The M40 – which forms 40% of Malaysia’s population – includes mostly wage earners, in both public and private sectors.

The bulk of their income goes to paying the car and housing loans, rent, and groceries. After deductions from the essential bills, such as phone, Astro, petrol, and children’s education, there’s barely anything left to save.

It’s harder for those who need to take care of their ageing parents, a noble endeavour which naturally includes settling healthcare bills, and even expenses for care takers.

And since the majority of the M40 lives in the cities, the household income of RM6,275 is almost negligible, and they can hardly be faulted for feeling that their standard of income has dipped drastically while the cost of living has increased.

The M40 essentially comprises the most frustrated lot since most aid goes to the B40, leaving the former feeling adrift and on their own.

Most of them don’t have alternative revenue streams besides their monthly wages, and they are dependent on corporate performances, so the overall economy is key.

They are unlikely to care that the Department of Statistics’ Household Income and Basic Amenities survey indicated that the mean income of households in 2016 reached RM6,958, a 6.2% annual appreciation from RM6,141 in 2014.

The survey also revealed the incidences of poverty decreased from 0.6% of the population in 2014 to 0.4% in 2016. Compared with the population of 30.7 million in 2014 and 31.7 million in 2016 (from the same portal), the numbers also decreased from 184,200 to 126,800 from 2014 to 2016.

The 11th Malaysia Plan (2016 – 2020) Mid-Term Review stated that the mean household income is predicted to reach RM8,960 by 2020.

The term “middle class” has different meaning and measurement to economists and academics from those classified in the M40 category.

As one analyst rightly pointed out, a household of four living in the Klang Valley with an income of RM4,000 per month, would be classified as urban poor due to the higher cost of living. However, that income would be comfortable to live in Pasir Mas or even Taiping.

It won’t be wrong to suggest that at RM4,000, that’s only enough for a single person to live in the Klang Valley.

We need to understand that the key people driving the country’s economy are the middle-income and top earners, many of whom feel they have fallen between the cracks of progress.

At every Budget, they seem to be the forgotten Malaysians, and each year, they hope for lower level tax bands for themselves, so they can have extra disposable income, but that never happens.

Khazanah Research Institute’s (KRI) State of Households 2018 revealed a steady increase in the income gaps between the Top 20% (T20), M40 and B40 groups since the 1970s. In 2000, the estimated real mean household income differences between T20 and M40, M40 and B40, and T20 and B40, were RM6,000, RM2,000 and RM8,000 respectively.

By 2016, however, it increased to RM9,000, RM4,000 and RM13,000.

These figures show that T20 households are gaining wealth at a faster rate than the rest.

Despite the improvement in mean household income figures, the gap between income groups continues to rise, and the survey added that “the escalating cost of living has put financial pressure on the M40 and B40 groups.”

“With income growing at a slower pace compared with the cost of living, the M40 and B40 groups are experiencing an abridged disposable income, which could be detrimental to future consumption, activity, emergency or debt services.”

Combining data from the Department of Statistics’ Household Income survey (2016 and 2014) and KRI household reports (concerning population increase), it’s clear that the percentage of households living under the 60% median grew from 2014 to 2016 by 41.8% to 43.5%, with an estimated 2.8 million households in 2014 and three million households in 2016.

The increase also suggests that more M40 households have slipped into the B40 category – and this is where the alarm bells go off.

In the 11th Malaysia Plan (2016-2020), targeted subsidies, cash handouts, healthcare benefits, education, along with employment and entrepreneurship opportunities, include the usual strategies to ease the burden of B40 households.

One of the major concerns among the young M40 family is that they can no longer afford to buy a “middle class” home, and the difficulties have been aggravated by how they need to live relatively close to their workplace.

As much as the government expects housing developers to build affordable houses, let’s not forget that most of these developers have bought land at premium prices, and as private concerns, they still need to make profits.

But homes in Malaysia have become “seriously unaffordable” by international standards, and there’s no need to point fingers at developers when the governments have basically failed to do the job, unlike Singapore’s Housing Development Board (HDB), which builds and upkeeps flats that don’t degenerate into urban slums.

Their HDB flats are so well-designed and maintained that they can pass off as high-end apartments by Malaysian standards.

Bank Negara reported that from 2007 to 2016, house prices grew by 9.8% while household income only increased by 8.3%. While developers blamed rising construction costs – including labour outlay – and stagnant salaries for the increase in house prices, all this means nothing to the M40, because ultimately, they still can’t buy houses.

The rent-to-own scheme which the B40 has enjoyed from the low cost houses, needs to be extended to the M40, so they, too, can enjoy the same benefits, and while such help is expected to come via PRIMA Corp, a federal government-linked developer which supposedly caters for M40, it’s still falling behind schedule.

While it could be easy for the M40 to request more support, including allowances for school-going children, and even free student passes for public transport, it’s time that financial literacy be introduced at school level.

A study by S&P Global Literacy Financial in 2014 showed that the financial literacy rate in Malaysia is only at 36%, compared with 59% in developed countries.

“The low financial literacy rate is among the factors that has contributed towards high levels of debt – including worrying bankruptcy problems – among the youth.

“Between 2013 and 2017, a total of 100,610 Malaysians were declared bankrupt, of which 60% were between 18 and 44 years old,” according to Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng.

Apart from the youth, Lim noted that older Malaysians are also facing serious financial challenges, particularly when it comes to their retirement.

Based on estimates by the Employees Provident Fund (EPF), he said that as of 2019, an individual requires savings of at least RM240,000 by age 55 to retire comfortably.

However, based on the EPF 2017 Report, active contributors aged 54, have average savings of only RM214,000 in their accounts.

“What is even more worrying is that two-thirds of contributors aged 54, only have RM50,000 and below in their EPF accounts in 2015,” he reportedly said, adding that this was well below the recommended amount for savings.

Lim noted tha the low amount of savings was inadequate and estimated it to run out within five years of retirement, although the average life-span of Malaysians is 75.

Basically, the B40, M40 and, our young and old Malaysians, are all either grappling with financial problems, don’t know how to handle their money, or don’t even earn enough in the first place.

This is unlike the situation for the T20, which has disposable income where their wealth encourages investment and wealth creation, the main principles of the T20 group.

But of all people, politicians should know the importance of the people wanting to have money in their pockets and feeling well heeled.

Easier loan payments, good refinancing packages and transport allowances should be considered to help the M40.

If the market continues to slide, there will be many unhappy people, and the resentment will translate to protest votes. For them, it simply means the government is doing a lousy job, and they couldn’t care less for the reasons, however valid they may be.

Wong Chun WaiWong Chun Wai

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 editorial and corporate affairs adviser to the group, after having served as group managing director/chief executive officer.

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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The persistent pipe dream: some politicians play religion and race cards ended up becoming rats themselves


It’s been more than six decades since Malaysian independence, yet, more than ever, some politicians continue to wield the race and religion cards to divide us.

PATHETIC and disgusting. That’s surely an understatement in describing the continuous racist slurs non-Malays have had to endure.

Using non-Malays – particularly the Christians – as bogeymen hasn’t ended, even more than six decades after independence.

The situation has probably worsened because social media has made things more evident and amplified them. Thankfully though, politicians selling venom to their target audience can no longer be a covert affair.

These chameleons used to stir the hornet’s nest of race and religion with the Malays, portraying themselves as champions of their community. And then, they have no qualms attending events at Chinese new villages, where they try to please the residents by professing to be one people. Just to add value to the “show”, even a calligraphy writing session is entertained.
Next on their “tour” – get on stage, put their palms together, and greet the people in Tamil, and then do the dance bit, of course. And we bought all that, believing they portrayed the real Malaysia.

Incredibly, some are still doing the rounds. For a fresh twist, the LBGT element has even been thrown in now, and despite the charade being recorded, clarification must be issued to say otherwise. You know, I didn’t mean it.

Someone has forgotten that it isn’t only the ghosts, drunkards and LBGT community who are still awake at 11pm and need to use the toll.

These commuters include nurses, doctors, policemen, security guards, hawkers, taxi drivers, restaurant employees, firemen, factory workers, food deliverers and of course, journalists too, and we often work the infamous graveyard shift.

Scoring points and teaming up with an equally repulsive partner to create suspicion against other fellows, with fictional threats of race and religion, is just unacceptable.

While we cringe over the thought of how there are listeners who buy their hate speech, we expect these politicians to at least rise above these nauseating tactics and convince the people that they can provide better governance and deliver more than the present government.

They should prove to the people that the new government’s failings include not fulfilling its election promises, allowing the cost of living to go up and watching the ringgit’s value shrink. And to add ammunition, highlight how some ministers have even failed their probation.

That’s what a fault-finding Opposition is supposed to do – ensure check and balance, and behave like a government in-waiting, but here we have opposition Members of Parliament who can’t wait to broker a deal by defecting to the government’s side of the fence.

There’s another distateful story. It’s about an Umno MP who crossed over to Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia and had the gall to admit that he was doing it for the constituents.

So, we have an odd situation where opposition MPs mourned the defeat of the previous government even after almost a year, and now plot to join the new government. Not plot to topple, of course, not that again, but plot to join. Naturally, it’s in the interest of the people.

We believe you, well, some of us do. Most of us know it’s just a lie, but hey, we are in the era of malu apa …

Then, there are the “remnants”, who probably won’t be accepted by the new government, and figure that the only way for them to get back on the gravy train is to stoke the fires of racial and religious sensitivity. You’ve got to give it to this lot, though. They are, at least, fighting back, although their methods are pretty despicable.

However, the hate speeches will likely work in some constituencies, where, like oil, it burns the minds and hearts of angry voters who are already struggling to put food on the table for their families.

Still, it’s the pits when someone like Barisan Nasional secretary-general Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz resorts to claiming that having a non-Muslim Attorney General is not “lawful” since he took oath without swearing on the Quran. Nazri, of course, is bluffing, but he’s like those snake oil peddlers who will say anything to make a sale.

Nowhere in the Federal Constitution does it state that an AG needs to take an oath using the Quran. And surely, we won’t expect the likes of Nazri to concede that in the history of Malaya, there were six British AGs.

Cecil Sheridan, who died aged 88 in 2000, was the last British Attorney-General of Malaya and helped in drafting the constitution of its successor state, Malaysia.

When Malaya attained independence in 1957, Sheridan was promoted to Solicitor-General and in 1959, became the country’s Attorney-General. He also helped in the preparations for the formation of Malaysia in 1963 and in the process, worked closely with Tunku Abdul Rahman, the Prime Minister of Malaya, Tun Razak Hussein, its deputy Prime Minister, and Lee Kuan Yew, of Singapore.

True, the eight subsequent successors were Malays, but there’s no race and religion criteria in the appointment of the top-ranking public prosecutor of the country.

The first Lord President of Malaysia – now renamed Chief Justice – was a Scot named Tun Sir James Thompson, who assumed the post in 1963 when Malaysia was formed. He held the post until 1966.

Likewise, after independence in 1957, Malaysia’s first two finance ministers were ethnic Chinese – Tun H.S. Lee and Tun Tan Siew Sin. However, from 1974 until very recently, the post had been held by Malays.

So, what we are effectively saying is that our founding fathers had no issue with the ethnicity of these important posts such as chief judge, attorney general and finance ministers. However, as six decades have worn on, we have become more degenerate, insisting on focusing on race and religion, instead of qualifications, credibility and integrity as the main criteria?

Certainly, these men, who held the loftiest positions, did well then, and many of us can accept that they didn’t collude with individuals to loot the wealth of this country and the Malays – who make up the bulk of Malaysians.

The harsh reality is that the pilfering and corruption are shamelessly executed by those claiming to fight for their race and religion. They shouldn’t blame anyone else or try to fan the flames of racial discontent to save themselves. Malaysians are tired of such perversion, so we can’t allow such incorrigible politics to proliferate in our beloved country.

One Chinese Finance Minister, a Christian Chief Justice and an Indian Attorney-General aren’t going to be able to control a country of 31 million people, where Malays and the indigenous people make up 61.7%, compared to the the shrinking Chinese (20.8%) and Indian (6.2%) population.

As for religion, according to a 2010 estimate, Muslims number most at 61.3%, Buddhists 19.8%, Christians 9.2%, Hindus 6.3% with Confucianism, Taoism and other Chinese practices at 1.3%, others 0.4%, no religion 0.8%, unspecified 1%.

As for the 1.6 million civil servants – the then-Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim told Parliament that as at December 2014, the ethnic composition of the civil service was as follows: 78.8% Malays, Bumiputera Sabah (6.1%), Bumiputera Sarawak (4.8 %), Chinese (5.2 %), Indians (4.1 %), other Bumiputera (0.3%) and others (0.7%).

As for the police force, then-Home Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said non-Malays only made up 5% of the 133,212-strong force.

“Of the total, 80.23% or 106,871 are Malays, while Chinese make up only 1.96% (2,615), Indians 3.16% (4,209), Punjabis 0.21% (275) and others 14.44% (19,242),” he said in replying a question by Raja Kamarul Bahrin Shah (Amanah-Kuala Terengganu).

And we haven’t even counted the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and the Malays holding key posts in the Cabinet, and of course, the overwhelmingly Malay armed forces, numbering 420,000 personnel. It’s downright contemptible for our politicians to make fictional claims of non-Malays gaining control of the country, when the facts and figures clearly speak for themselves. For most rational Malaysians, we just want to see a clean government and civil service, which can safeguard our national interest, regardless of race and religion.

The late Chinese premier Deng Xiaoping famously said that it doesn’t matter if the cat is black or white, so long as it catches the mice.

Wong Chun WaiOur recent history has showed that our big fat cats didn’t catch the mice but ended up becoming rats themselves.

Wong Chun Wai

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 editorial and corporate affairs adviser to the group, after having served as group managing director/chief executive officer.

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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A RM53mil road in Balik Pulau no one wants, now a township will be taking shape there on dangerously unstable mangrove swamps, and the Penang govt isn’t aware of it !!


Ongoing work: A general view of the road project linking Kampung Sungai Pinang to Kampung Pulau Betong.

Ongoing work: A general view of the road project linking Kampung Sungai Pinang to Kampung Pulau Betong.


It’s is unnecessary and the money is better spent elsewhere, says locals

BALIK PULAU: The government’s move to build a RM53mil road linking Kampung Sungai Pinang in the north to Kampung Pulau Betong on the south-western end of the island has got local folks fuming.

Fisherman Wan Mohizan Wan Hussein is one such person. The 52-year-old said the project would threaten Balik Pulau’s image of being “one with nature”.

“It would be better to spend the money on flood mitigation in the area,” he suggested.

“If it rains for two hours straight, there will definitely be flooding. That’s something that should be addressed,” he said.

Wan Mohizan said furthermore, the new road would be built along an existing narrow dirt trail and he felt that prices of land in the vicinity would increase.

“What if developers start coming here and offer to buy Balik Pulau farmland for development? Can we stop them?

“This side of the island is flat and easy to develop. The road can change Balik Pulau,” he said.

Balik Pulau is the “last hinterland” of Penang island, a flat farmland of about 1,000ha with narrow dirt trails.

For the first time since Penang was founded in 1786, this land on the island’s rustic eastern side will get a two-way tarred 10.2km road stretching almost the entire north-south length.

But the road construction has left many wondering why this road was being built through mangrove swamps, padi fields, shrimp ponds and oil palm estates.

Another fisherman, Mazlan Sahib, 48, said the new road was unnecessary and it would only welcome over-development.

“There are hardly any residents living there so it doesn’t make sense to have it at all.

“The project might also be a threat to the mangrove swamps along the coast,” he added.

Balik Pulau’s Simpang Empat resi­dent Zainudin Ahad wondered why the government planned to build a new road when the existing Jalan Baru that ran parallel to the new road about 3km away never experienced traffic congestion.

“I thought we need new roads only when existing roads are congested.

“The only traffic jam we get in Balik Pulau is in the town itself.

“There is never any traffic jam in the kampung area, so why give us a new road?” Zainudin questioned.

Kuala Sungai Burung Fishermen’s Association committee member Abd Malik Man, 55, said there was talk about the road project since the Barisan Nasional government.

“We thought that the project would be shelved. I didn’t think the new government would go ahead with it,” he said.

Abd Malik said many residents in the area around the new road were living or farming on government land and their leases might be over soon.

“The government has all the right to develop the land but the long-term impact should be taken into consideration,” he cautioned.

Even Balik Pulau MP Muhammad Bakthiar Wan Chik was dumbfounded by the new road.

He urged the Rural Development Ministry to look into more pressing areas that need the funds, beginning with flood mitigation, a new hospital and traffic snarls in the heart of Balik Pulau town.

“The new road is not top priority and does not serve much purpose,” he pointed out.

“I hope the ministry will practise stakeholder consultation with the locals and hold town hall meetings to see what the residents want.

“Neither the locals nor me knew that the road project was approved and the construction had begun,” he said.

He also appealed to the ministry to foster entrepreneurial projects for Balik Pulau’s numerous cottage industry products including bedak sejuk (cooling powder, a traditional facial treatment product), nutmeg, otak udang (prawn paste) and salted eggs.

By arnold loh and intan amalina mohd ali The Star

Parts of controversial road run along mangrove swamps

BALIK PULAU: The state government had tried to stall plans for a new road in Balik Pulau’s coastal farmland by insisting on an application for planning permission.

State Environment Committee chairman Phee Boon Poh said he had asked for realignment proposals of the road because stretches of this new road will run along the edge of the mangrove swamps.

“When the 2004 tsunami hit us, the mangrove swamp saved Balik Pulau from the worst effect.

“We also agree that the swamps are vital breeding grounds for the jumbo prawns that our inshore fisherman can catch when they are in season.

“So we want the road to be away from the swamps,” he said.

State Works Committee chairman Zairil Khir Johari said the requirement for an environmental assessment (EIA) impact report was initially done away with because the proposed road was to run along the existing dirt trail and the footprint was therefore too small to need an EIA.

“If there is proof that a tarred road through the western coastline of the island will impact the environment, we will not hesitate to require an EIA,” he said.

When told of the sentiments of the locals, a senior officer in the Rural Development Ministry declared that the ministry would immediately conduct a stakeholder consultation on the road construction.

“We renegotiated the road project because it was first proposed in 2016 and we did not want any more delays.

“But since there are signs that locals find the road unnecessary, we will go to the ground at once and find out what the Balik Pulau community wants,” the spokesman assured.

It is understood that the budget for the road comes from the 10th Malaysia Plan in 2015 and the state was willing to surrender 11.5ha of land along the route without asking for the premium, which came up to RM18mil, for the 10.2km two-way street.

Things changed after the general election when the Rural Develop­ment Ministry renegotiated with contractors and brought the price down to RM53mil from the initial ceiling budget that was over RM78mil.

As is permissible for government projects, the state government subsequently waived the need for planning permission and state approval was given late last month.

Rural Development Minister Datuk Seri Rina Mohd Harun visited the newly begun road construction last month.

Meanwhile, cycling enthusiasts were disappointed that the new road would be built over a dirt trail that made up the Balik Pulau Eco Bike Trail.

“This is a popular route for cyclists to enjoy some light off-road mountain biking across Balik Pulau’s rustic farmland,” one cyclist said.

A netizen, Adrian Chan, also wrote on Balik Pulau MP Muhammad Bakhtiar Wan Chik’s Facebook page: “We already have Jalan Baru (a two-way street serving villages in Balik Pulau). Just upgrade or widen it.

“We should keep the cycling trail. That is the only (rural) asset in Penang island.

“Batu Maung, Bayan Lepas all gone with the concrete like Queens Bay.

“Visitors from overseas really admire that we have a cycling trail with the nature view.”

Balik Pulau residents riled after finding out about latest development

 

BALIK PULAU: While residents in Balik Pulau are unhappy with a new road being built, it has been revealed that there’s actually a proposal to set up a new township on this last hinterland of the island.

A developer from Kuala Lumpur has promised farmers a payout of at least RM120mil to turn a strip of rural land on western Penang island into a township with nearly 600 houses, four blocks of high-rise buildings and two blocks of shoplots on top of community amenities.

It wants to develop 36ha of oil palm estates along which will soon be a new road for which the Rural Development Ministry is spending RM53mil to build.

When the road project was announced by the federal government last mid-December, many Balik Pulau residents were left wondering why the 10.2km road was needed along 1,000ha of oil palm land, shrimp ponds and mangroves, with hardly anyone living there.

Even the state government is left dumbfounded and completely unaware of plans to develop this countryside.

“This is something new to me. I don’t remember ever seeing a proposal to develop that area or to convert the land use.

“We have got to find out what is being planned. Is the ministry building that road for the developer?

“At first, we were unhappy that the road is being built right beside the mangrove swamp and we wanted another alignment away from it.

“And now we find out a developer has plans to build a township there.

“We will find out what is going on,” state Environment Committee chairman Phee Boon Poh told The Star, stressing that the road was a federal project and the state was kept in the loop about it on a “for-your-info” basis.

In a filing to Bursa Malaysia on Jan 30, the public-listed developer announced that it has entered into a joint-venture development agreement with Koperasi Kampung Melayu Balik Pulau Berhad to build 276 terraced houses, 214 semi-detached houses, 91 double-storey bungalows, two 16-storey blocks of condominiums, two 16-storey blocks of low-cost flats, two blocks of retail shoplots, a school, mosque, community hall and other public amenities on land which the co-op owns.

The 36ha is specified as being on Lots 254, 804 and 803 of the area.

A check with the Malaysia Co-operative Societies Commission database shows that the co-op exists though no other information on its members are available.

The developer guarantees in writing that the co-op will earn RM120mil, out of which RM45mil will be in cash payouts and the remaining will be given in the form of units built on the land.

It will be an 80-20 joint venture between the developer and the co-op, respectively.

The developer informed Bursa Malaysia that the gross development value of the joint venture deal is RM600mil.

In its Bursa Malaysia filing, the developer specified that the deal is conditional upon the successful extension of the land lease to 99 years, re-zoning of the land use category, and approval of all relevant building plans. The current status of the land is unclear.

For the first time since Penang was founded in 1786, the island’s rustic western coastline will get a two-way tarred road stretching almost the entire north-south length, from Bagan Sungai Pinang to Pulau Betong.

The road was first proposed by the federal government in 2016 and initially, the state Town and Country Planning Department requested the Public Works Department to apply for planning permission from Penang Island City Council.

The initial budget for the project was RM78mil and after the general election, the new government renegotiated with contractors and brought the price down to RM53mil.

Earlier, state Works Committee chairman Zairil Khir Johari said that the state waived the planning permission requirement after being convinced that the footprint of the road, which will be built along an existing dirt trail that villagers have used for decades, would be small.

The road construction began in December.

‘Risky to build on ex-mangrove swamps land

BALIK PULAU: A mangrove ecologist has warned of the risk of development encroaching into mangrove swamps, and the risks are for people and buildings.

Dr Foong Swee Yeok predicted that the road or planned property development on the eastern coastline of Penang island would not endanger the swamp or wildlife.

But she said the future road and buildings might suffer because the land on Balik Pulau’s coastline is all ex-mangrove swamp land, and there could be as deep as 25m of mud and clay down below.

“Developers will know how to pile deeply until they reach the bedrock for high rises, but there is no piling requirement for two-storey homes.

“You see nothing wrong in the first 10 years or so, but after that, things start sinking.

“Roads become wavy, uneven and start breaking apart,” she warned.

Dr Foong, who has been studying mangrove swamps since 1996, explained that the thick column of peat, mud and clay below the swamp is high in organic matter and once disturbed, it is prone to shifting over a long period after development.

“Waterlogged and anaerobic peat in the swamp becomes aerobic when drained. Then you get biological oxidation or mineralisation of the organic deposits. That is why the soil will sink,” she pointed out.

She said in developed ex-mangrove swamps on the island, such as parts of Bayan Lepas and Batu Maung, there have been numerous instances of buildings sinking and cracking after a few decades and this was due to the slow shifting of the mud and clay below.

Dr Foong also urged authorities to look into the operations of over 40 shrimp or fish dugout ponds fronting the land which a developer from Kuala Lumpur plans to build 276 terraced houses, 214 semi-detached houses, 91 double-storey bungalows, two 16-storey blocks of condominiums, two 16-storey blocks of low-cost flats, two blocks of retail shoplots, a school, mosque, community hall and other public amenities.

She said the tens of tonnes of shrimp and fish reared in the ponds produced vast amounts of nitrate and ammonia pollution.- The Star

 

Related:

MBPP, contractor, engineers and DOSH named as responsible in fatal Penang landslide

For the love of our troubled nation in full parade


Casting whining and whinging aside, it’s time we pull our socks up, put our best foot forward, and show the world what Malaysia is all about.

IT’S time for Malaysia to change its narrative. For a start, our leaders must end the hyperbole of how the previous Barisan Nasional government stripped and looted the country’s wealth.

We generally know enough about the financial crime of the century, the hunt and arrests of those implicated in the cases.

Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and his wife, Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor, are facing a barrage of corruption and money laundering charges, and they are expected to spend the next five years in court.

The main character, the infamous Jho Low, and his family, are on the run, and it’s a given fact that the long arm of the law will eventually reach them.

A corrupt government has collapsed, and it’s now coming to a year since the new federal leaders took charge.

Malaysia can’t continue telling the world how we’re a troubled country with a deep financial hole, and neither should we keep contradicting our stand.

We can’t be saying we’re near bankrupt one day, and the next, concede that our economy is in good shape.

The Pakatan Harapan government marks its first year at office in May. So, its ministers can’t still be whining about inherited problems of a 60-year-old government forever.

Many of the current leaders, including the Prime Minister, were part of the system, and in the case of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, he was at the helm for 22 years, lest we forget.

Admittedly, an eye-watering amount of money has been pilfered, so, the government needs to retrieve what’s stolen.

Ironically, PH was elected to fix these problems.

Malaysia can’t seem like an attractive business proposition with our troubled nation in full parade, especially when investors have many countries to choose from.

The country’s economy for the next two years will be turbulent, but forming the Economic Action Council is a good start to indicate that we intend to tackle the issues together, with public and private participation.

The Prime Minister has made the right move, but the EAC must run fast to come up with confidence-building measures.

Against the backdrop of a challenging environment for global equity markets and a US-China trade war, Malaysia has continued to tread on a steady economic path. It’s slower than we want to, but at least a recession isn’t looming.

Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng must continue his positive tones, as he has finally been doing, to renew confidence both locally and internationally.

The idea of revenue through taxation should be canned, but grumblings among the small base of individual taxpayers is ringing out loud.

It’s unfair to keep scrapping for crumbs from these taxpayers. A more progressive tax regime should be in place. Give it a name if necessary, but importantly, a firmer consumption tax is required because it will be fairer. It’s simple, if you don’t spend, you don’t pay.

In a way, it needs to be balanced out since individuals can’t be paying both income tax and consumption tax.

Lim has taken the right direction to keep selling the messages of how Malaysia has introduced policies and measures to invigorate the capital market.

“Our stock market has remained resilient in comparison with our peers in Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong and China.

“Amidst large capital outflows among emerging markets and Asean countries this year, the FBM KLCI benchmark index registered a year-to-date decline of 5.8% as at end-November, compared with other Asian markets that have experienced declines ranging from 9.1% to 22.7%.

“And, we are the second-best performing stock market in the Asia Pacific region,” he said recently.

There is other good news which we’ve yet to shout out loud enough for, like Malaysia currently ranking 15 from 190 economies in its facilitation of commerce, according to the latest World Bank annual ratings.

Malaysia’s ranking improved to 15 in 2018 from 24 in 2017. Ease of Doing Business in Malaysia averaged 18.18 from 2008 until 2018, reaching an all-time high of 24 in 2017 and a record low of 6 in 2013, it was reported.

Although we may have lost crucial time, we still have a year to make Malaysia look good because two major events take place next year.

Highlights for 2020 include Malaysia celebrating Visit Malaysia Year, and hosting the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) leaders’ summit, some 22 years after doing so for the first time.

Let’s do it right and make Malaysia proud. It’s not just an occasion befitting Dr Mahathir, but all Malaysians as stakeholders.

The government’s proverbial tale of empty pockets isn’t an excuse anymore. It just doesn’t work that way. If we need to spend, we need to find the money, because we expect a return on investments.

We need to finance-telling a good story internationally, it’s that simple.

However, the lack of momentum to galvanise the nation hasn’t been motivational.

The world doesn’t want to keep hearing our negative stories and neither do Malaysians.

Tell the world we have fixed it and now we’re on the road again.

Come May, and it’ll be crunch time for underachieving ministers.

Everyone invariably tries their best, but those who are unfit just shouldn’t get the nod. After all, the last thing PH needs is painting a picture of a failed administration, but the coalition should be wary of many Malaysians believing the Barisan government fared better.

It’s unfair how some ministers are passing the buck to the PM because they lack the confidence to decide or are just indecisive because the responsibilities of their portfolios exceed their ability.

Visitors to Dr Mahathir’s office have noticed the growing mountain of uncleared documents, which is surely too much a task for anyone, what more a 93-year-old man.

We need to take advantage of the new Malaysia to construct a fresh national narrative which emphasises Malaysia and Malaysians.

There is a need to build national pride over the coming years, one which makes trust and integrity its main framework.

A shared vision beyond 2020 is crucial. Also, to bring Malaysians together and not let race and religion hijack the national discourse.

The question now is, do our leaders have the gumption for this, or will they just let New Malaysia be another piped dream?

By the time world leaders take the stage in KL, Malaysia should be ready to display a new sense of direction, purpose and plan.

Wong Chun WaiWong Chun Wai

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 editorial and corporate affairs adviser to the group, after having served as group managing director/chief executive officer.

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.

chunwai@thestar.com.my https://twitter.com/chunwai09 http://www.wongchunwai.com/

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