Putting in place a new Malaysian order


Robert Kuok attends CEP meeting

THE winds of change have been sweeping through the country in the past fortnight at breathtaking speed.

First, the incredible election results that very few predicted correctly. Then the post-election drama until Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed was sworn in for a historic second time as PM. Followed by many decisions and measures announced daily as Mahathir hit the ground running, or rather sprinting.

The liberation of Anwar Ibrahim “from prison to palace” and from palace to padang for the night rally last Wednesday completed the key milestones in the quick journey from the old discredited order to the new world being born.

Mahathir was not only the man of the hour, masterfully guiding the ship to the harbour, avoiding the last dangers, but also a man in a hurry, laying the foundations for recovering the economy, reforms to key institutions, and getting to the bottom of the 1MDB sacndal.

Quite a few have aptly quoted Shakespeare to describe what happened: “There is a tide in the affairs of men which when taken at the flood leads on to fortune.”

There is another saying, when a revolution has taken place but there is chaos afterwards and the future is uncertain: “The old world is dying but the new cannot be born.”

What is most remarkable about the first post-election days is not how quickly the old era is passing away but how rapidly the new order is being built.

The reconciliation of the two giants of Malaysian politics, Mahathir and Anwar, paved the way to this remarkable new chapter.

When they fell out two decades ago, their story was worthy of a Shakespearean tragedy. Destiny or will or both have provided them a second chance to get it right this time, and if they do, Malaysia itself will have the opportunity to have a bright future.

It will always be remembered that the sacrifices made by Anwar and his family through his three jail terms and the reformasi movement he generated brought the country to where it is.

Equally, history will record that Mahathir not only laid the foundation of the country’s recent economic development and progressive foreign policy in his long stint as PM but also that he returned to “save Malaysia” from the lowest depths the country had descended into.

If reformasi has been the war cry, implementing a true reform agenda is now the prerogative.

Mahathir has now embarked full scale on reform – Anwar says his role is to keep it on the right track.

Understandably, the PM’s first priority is the economy. The new government has been acting to ensure that as far as possible its new policies should not lead to confidence erosion by investors and fund managers.

Removing the GST, Pakatan Harapan’s main election promise, is the number one political prerogative. Concerns that this will lead to a RM40bil revenue shortfall are being countered by expectations of increased revenue from renewal of a sales tax, the hike in oil prices to the current US$80 (RM318) a barrel, and savings from a planned reduction of wastage in government expenditure. The GST removal on June 1 should also lead to price reductions, a boost to consumer spending and the economy as a whole, and thus generate extra state revenue.

The new government will have to deal with the explosive jump in government debt in recent years. In a mere six years between 2011 and 2017, government debt rose 51% from RM456bil to RM687bil, while government-guaranteed debt jumped 94% from RM117bil to RM227bil.

Added together, the federal and federal-guaranteed debt went from RM573bil to RM914bil. It might be more if the debts of other entities are included.

This massive jump in debt may partly explain how the previous government was able to splurge on many projects and on welfare schemes, in failed efforts to win over the public and in schemes that mainly benefited the powerful and their cronies.

The commercial viability and social value of many of the loan-fuelled expenses are questionable.

An audit should be done on sources and uses of the loans, and how to reduce the damage by cutting loss-making projects and improving the performance of those that can be saved.

Recent years also saw the opening up of financial sectors, leading to high foreign participation in government debt and in the stock market, as capital surged into emerging markets like Malaysia in search of higher yield.

There are benefits in good years, but the country also becomes more vulnerable when global trends turn negative, as is happening since higher interest rates in the United States are prompting capital to flow back.

Dealing with the boom-and-bust cycle in capital flows will be a challenge for the new government.

Beyond economics and institutional reforms, there are other pressing issues the new government should focus on.

One of them is the environment. There are crises developing, on water resources and supply, floods, damage to forests and watersheds, hillside collapse and erosion, deterioration of the coastal environment and of course climate change.

Environmental damage harms social life and the economy. Floods and water shortage affect production, and fish prices have shot up due to overfishing and sea pollution.

Priority must thus be put on revamping environment-related policies and on strengthening the Environment Ministry. They have been neglected for far too long.

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

Related:

‘Dr M shouldn’t be meeting the likes of the Chief Justice’ – Nation

A beacon for peaceful change

//players.brightcove.net/4405352761001/default_default/index.html?videoId=5787323825001

EXCLUSIVE:
PETALING JAYA: Nobody in the world, says investigative journalist Clare
Rewcastle Brown, “not a single expert really”, thought there could be a
change of government in Malaysia.

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Penang govt rapped over hill slope development


FMT – GEORGE TOWN: The Penang Forum has repeated its call for all hillslope development to be stopped immediately, following deadly hillslope collapse ...
Geotechnical engineer Aziz Noor says the new project puts the people and the place in danger

 

Engineer: Lives at risk in Penang hill project

 

GEORGE TOWN: The DAP-led state government has turned a blind eye on the imminent danger of hill slope development, said a Tanjung Bungah resident.

At a forum-cum-press conference yesterday, geotechnical consultant Aziz Noor (pic) said building the proposed multi-storey mixed development behind the Miami Green Resort Condominium would pose a danger to the condo and its residents.

The development which has been approved on the class four hill, comprises five 29-storey building blocks, two 34-storey serviced apartments with 336 units each and one block of affordable apartments with 197 units.

Meanwhile, former Bukit Bendera MP Zairil Khir Johari, who is the Tanjong Bungah candidate for Pakatan Harapan, said the state government would review the guidelines on hill slope development. – Bernama

 


GEORGE TOWN: An engineer has sounded a warning about “imminent danger” from a new hillside development of eight tower blocks of apartments planned in an environmentally-sensitive area of Tanjung Bungah.

Geotechnical consultant Aziz Noor, speaking at a forum-cum-press conference today, accused the DAP-led state government of turning a blind eye on the imminent danger of hill slope development.

The proposed mixed development behind Miami Green Resort condominium puts the existing residence and its people in danger, he said.

The development has been approved on a 12-acre plot with a 35-degree slope on a Class Four hill, which exceeds 250 feet above sea level.

It comprises five 29-storey tower blocks, two 34-storey blocks of 336 serviced apartments each, and one block of 197 units of affordable apartments.

Aziz said that the project was not only in an environmentally sensitive area, it also contradicts the 2007 Penang Structure Plan that forbid any development above a gradient of 25-degree gradient and 250 feet above sea-level.

The design of one development does not guarantee safety. A Detailed Environmental Impact Assessment must be conducted and reviewed. This development puts the place and people in imminent danger,” he said.

Residents of the area said they had vented their frustration multiple times since November but had not received any response from the state government and Penang Island City Council.

The residents, together with the Tanjung Bunga residents association, had spoken on the matter many times, but no one seemed bothered, said one of the residents, Lim Liew Ming.

“Our lives are at risk. The upcoming development is a ticking time-bomb. Are the authorities waiting for a tragedy to happen, and only then act on it?,” she asked.

State Barisan Nasional chairman Teng Chang Yeow, who is also BN candidate for the Tanjong Bunga state seat in the general election, said the project should have been shelved from the beginning.

“We will put a stop to this. Even if we need to pay compensation,” he said.

The Barisan Nasional has pledged to declare all highland and hill slope areas of 250 feet above sea-level as permanent forest reserve.

Former Bukit Bendera MP Zairil Khir Johari, who is the Pakatan Harapan candidate for Tanjong Bunga, said the state government would review the guidelines on hill slope development.

Source:FMT.Click here to get live updates throughout the GE14 season

 

GEORGE TOWN: An MCA state leader has criticised Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng over the latter’s statement that more stop-work orders have been issued against hillside development by the current state government.

State MCA Wanita chairman Tan Cheng Liang said Lim, who is also the DAP secretary-general, had “conveniently avoided” revealing the increase in number of protests in the state since 2008.

“He boasts about more stop-work orders being issued now compared to when Barisan Nasional was helming the state government.

“However, he failed to reveal that there have been more protests by Penangites against hillside development since Pakatan Rakyat took over.

“The latest is the chorus of dissatisfaction by residents of Mount Pleasure in Batu Ferringhi, objecting against approval accorded by the Penang Municipal Council (MPPP) for the construction of 21 four-storey villas and 80 two-storey bungalows there,” she said.

She said the 2008 DAP general election manifesto unveiled by Lim promised to “preserve our forest, wetlands and bio-diversity” while Pakatan Rakyat’s common policy framework stressed that the “environment must be preserved for the sustainability of future generations.”

“Just six weeks ago, Lim said in a speech that the Pakatan government was proud of its record of not approving any hillside development.

“However, the voices of disapproval by Penangites are evidence that Lim, the DAP and Pakatan are deceptive,” she claimed.

Citing examples, she said on April 8 this year, Sungai Ara residents protested against approval issued by MPPP Planning Department for two hillside development projects and in February 2009, Tanjung Bungah residents protested and submitted a memorandum calling on the state government to ban all current and future Class III and Class IV hillslope development projects.

“In view of these protests and to deliver the DAP and Pakatan’s pledge to protect the environment, I challenge Lim and the state government to issue a stop-work orders against all hillside development projects approved by MPPP,” she said in a press release yesterday.

Tan also took a swipe at Lim for focusing on luxury residences but allegedly had no regard for the poor.

“Approvals are given for exclusive housing and condominium projects on hills, but scant attention is given to low-cost housing for the poor where no low or medium cost units were constructed between 2008 to 2011,” she claimed.

On Tuesday, Lim said more stop-work orders had been issued by both local councils since 2008 compared to previously.

He said this proved that the state government was “more stringent in upholding the rule of law, demanding strict compliance with technical requirements and more unforgiving than Barisan.” – The Star

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Zairil under fire over high-rise – Nation

Uphill battle: Miami Green Resort Condominium residents protesting against the upcoming hillside project located behind their high-rise.
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Moving forward with affordable housing


One way to solve housing shortage problem is to build more houses.

“If we take a look at countries with commendable housing policies such
as Singapore and Hong Kong, we notice that the government plays a very
important role in building and ensuring a sufficient supply of housing
for their people.”

THE issue of affordable housing has been a hot potato for many countries, especially for a nation with a growing population and urbanisation like ours.

In my previous article, I mentioned that there was a growing shortage of affordable housing in our country according to Bank Negara governor Tan Sri Muhammad Ibrahim. The shortage is expected to reach one million units by 2020.

According to Bank of England governor Mark Carney, one of the most effective ways to address the issue is to build more houses. There are good examples in countries like United Kingdom, Australia and Singapore, which have 2.4, 2.6 and 3.35 persons per household respectively.

In comparison, the average persons per household in our country is 4.06 person, a ratio which Australia had already achieved in 1933! To improve the current ratio, we need to put more effort into building houses to bring prices down.

If we take a look at countries with commendable housing policies such as Singapore and Hong Kong, we notice that the government plays a very important role in building and ensuring a sufficient supply of housing for their people.

For example in Singapore, their Housing and Development Board (HDB) has built over one million flats and houses since 1960, to house 90% of Singaporeans in their properties. In Hong Kong, the government provides affordable housing for lower-income residents, with nearly half of the population residing in some form of public housing nowadays. The rents and prices of public housing are subsidised by the government and are significantly lower than for private housing.

To be on par with Australia (2.6 persons per household), our country needs a total of 8.6 million homes to house our urban population of 22.4 million people. In other words, we need an additional 3.3 million houses on top of our existing 5.3 million residential houses.

However, with our current total national housing production of about 80,000 units a year, it will take us more than 40 years to build 3.3 million houses! With household formation growing at a faster rate than housing production, we will still be faced with a housing shortage 40 years from now.

Therefore, even if the private sector dedicated all its current output to build affordable housing, it will still be a long journey ahead to produce sufficient houses for the nation. It is of course impossible for the private sector to do so as it will be running at a loss due to rising costs of land and construction.

In view of the above, the government has to shoulder the responsibility of building more houses for the rakyat due to the availability of resources owned by the government. Land, for example, is the most crucial element in housing development. As a lot of land resources are owned by government, they must offer these lands to relevant agencies or authorities to develop affordable housing.

I recall when I was one of the founding directors of the Selangor State Development Corp in 1970s, its main objectives was to build public housing for the rakyat.

However, today the corporation has also ventured into high end developments in order to subsidise its affordable housing initiatives. This will somehow distract them from focusing on the affordable housing sector.

Although government has rolled out various initiatives in encouraging affordable houses, it is also important for the authorities to constantly review the original objectives of the relevant housing agencies, such as the various State Economic Development Corporations, Syarikat Perumahan Negara Bhd, and 1 Malaysia People’s Housing Scheme, to ensure they have ample resources especially land and funding to continue their mission in building affordable housing.

A successful housing policy and easy access to affordable housing have a huge impact on the rakyat. It is hoped that our government escalates its effort in building affordable housing, which will enhance the happiness and well-being of the people, and the advancement of our nation.


Datuk Alan Tong has over 50 years of experience in property development. He is also the group chairman of Bukit Kiara Properties. For feedback, please email feedback@fiabci-asiapacific.com.
By Alan Tong

Penang undersea tunnel project scrutinized by the Malaysian Anti Corruption Commission (MACC)


In troubled waters: An artist’s impression showing where the tunnel project will start on the island.

 

 

Land swap under MACC scrutiny

PETALING JAYA: The Malaysian-Anti Corruption Commission (MACC) probe into the controversial Penang undersea tunnel is focused on land swaps that were made for the feasibility and detailed design study which has yet to be completed.

Sources said investigators are scouring documents involving two plots of land – Lot 702 and Lot 713 in Bandar Tanjung Pinang – with a size of 1.48ha and 2.31ha respectively.

The value of Lot 702 is around RM135mil while Lot 713 is around RM160mil.

It is learnt that both parcels of land have since been mortgaged to banks to obtain financing. The state government has also authorised planning permission on both parcels of lands.

“The state government paid the consultant for the feasibility studies by means of two land swaps. The cost for the feasibility study is around RM305mil.

“It has become an issue on why the study cost was inflated so much when it should have been an estimated RM60mil,” sources said, adding that determining the inflation and the reason behind it were among the challenges faced by the investigating team.

The sources also said that the graft-busters have their sights targeted on “somebody” who has been enjoying kickbacks and entertainment from the deal.

The feasibility and detailed design study is for the 7.2km undersea tunnel connecting Gurney Drive on the island to Bagan Ajam in Seberang Perai.

It is part of the RM6.3bil mega project comprising a 10.53km North Coastal Paired Road (NCPR) from Tanjung Bungah to Teluk Bahang, the 5.7km Air Itam–Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway bypass and the 4.075km Gurney Drive–Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway bypass.

Yesterday, the investigating team also questioned four officers from several state government agencies on the land swaps.

Sources added that the anti-graft agency also raided a property agency office in Penang and carted various documents away. It is learnt the chief executive officer of the company was not around during the raid.

MACC deputy chief commissioner Datuk Seri Azam Baki said his investigating team has yet to call in any witnesses for the case as they are still conducting a thorough study on the seized documents.

He added that the officers would still be obtaining more documents from the companies involved and also from the state government.

 

Two bosses of construction firms held for six days as MACC investigates project

Datuks’ remanded in tunnel probe

Taken away: Officers escorting one of the men out of the courthouse in Putrajaya.

MACC digs deeper

A swap involving two parcels of land worth close to RM300mil is in the spotlight as the MACC intensifies investigations into claims of corruption in Penang’s undersea tunnel project and several accompanying highway projects. Two ‘Datuks’ have been remanded and several key officials in companies and agencies involved in the project have been questioned. But Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng says the project will go on.

GEORGE TOWN: Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng says the undersea tunnel project, now the subject of a corruption investigation, will proceed unless there is a court order to stop it.

He said he was baffled by yet another investigation into the project as the Malaysian Anti Corruption Commission (MACC) had been conducting an investigation into the RM6.3bil mega project comprising the tunnel and three other highways since 2016.

“What are they investigating now? Is it because of the looming general election?

“The project was awarded via an open tender overseen by international accounting firm KPMG.

“Still, I have instructed everyone involved to give their full cooperation to the MACC in its investigation as we have nothing to hide,” said Lim at a press conference at Komtar yesterday.

On Tuesday, graft-busters arrested two “Datuks” involved in the controversial Penang undersea tunnel project to help in investigations into claims of corruption.

The duo, who were picked up in Putrajaya and Penang, have since been remanded for six days to facilitate the probe.

The anti-graft agency raided the offices of four state government agencies – the Penang Public Works Department, Penang State Secretary, Penang Office of Lands and Mines and Penang Valuation and Property Services Department – and three property development and construction companies – Ewein Zenith Sdn Bhd, 555 Capital Sdn Bhd and Consortium Zenith Construction Sdn Bhd’s Penang office.

MACC officers also questioned several officers in charge of the respective agencies and companies. Sources familiar with the investigation said the probe into the undersea tunnel project was also zooming in on land swaps.

Ewein Zenith is a joint-venture vehicle of Ewein Land Sdn Bhd and Consortium Zenith BUCG Sdn Bhd.

The latter is a Malaysia-China joint venture that was awarded the RM6.3bil mega project to build the 7.2km undersea tunnel connecting Gurney Drive on the island to Bagan Ajam in Seberang Prai, a 10.53km North Coastal Paired Road (NCPR) from Tanjung Bungah to Teluk Bahang, the 5.7km Air Itam–Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway bypass and the 4.075km Gurney Drive–Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway bypass.

Consortium Zenith BUCG changed its name to Consortium Zenith Construction Sdn Bhd on Jan 18 last year after the withdrawal of Beijing Urban Construction Group (BUCG).

In a related development, Vertice Bhd (formerly known as Voir Holdings Bhd) said the current investigation by the MACC will not impact the progress of the undersea tunnel project.

It said the project was an integral component of the Penang Transport Master Plan and that the role of Consortium Zenith Construction as the main contractor would remain.

Consortium Zenith Construction is a 13.2% associate company of Vertice. PUTRAJAYA: Two high-ranking bosses of development and construction companies have been remanded for six days as graft investigators continue their probe of the Penang undersea tunnel project. The two “Datuks” were held here and in Penang before being brought to court.

A 59-year-old businessman was brought to a magistrate’s court here at 9.40am yesterday and remanded for six days until Monday to help with the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission’s (MACC) investigation.

Magistrate Fatina Amyra Abdul Jalil allowed MACC prosecutors’ remand application although the Datuk’s lawyer Hamidi Mohd Noh objected, arguing that there was no need for his client to be held.

“I told the court that my client has been cooperative with the MACC.

“I would also like to point out that my client is innocent and his remand is only to assist the investigation,” he told reporters after the proceedings.

The MACC had initially asked for the Datuk to be held for seven days but the magistrate only allowed six days.

He was arrested at the MACC headquarters at around 8.45pm on Tuesday after being called for his statement to be recorded.

In George Town, another Datuk was brought to court for a remand application at 11.40am.

He was handcuffed and wearing MACC’s orange lock-up T-shirt with black pants when he arrived at the courthouse escorted by MACC officers.

The 49-year-old appeared calm and smiled to reporters but did not say anything before he was led inside.

Deputy registrar Muhammad Azam Md Eusoff granted a six-day remand order and the businessman was escorted out of the courthouse about 30 minutes later.

The case is being investigated under Section 16(a)(B) of the MACC Act 2009 for bribery.

It is also believed that one of the Datuks remanded yesterday tested positive for drugs.

On Tuesday, MACC personnel raided the offices of four state government agencies – the Penang Public Works Department, Penang State Secretary, Penang Office of Lands and Mines and Penang Valuation and Property Services Department – and three property development and construction companies believed to be related to the case.

The project involves a plan to bore a 6.5km tunnel below the seabed to connect north Butterworth and the island.

The tunnel is to connect Bagan Ajam, a mature suburb of about 5km from the Butterworth ferry terminal, to the end of Gurney Drive near the Pangkor Road junction on the island.

Connected to the project are three paired roads to be built on the island as a traffic dispersal system to cope with the traffic that the tunnel would bring to Gurney Drive, which is already densely developed.

The three paired roads are from Teluk Bahang to Tanjung Bungah, from Pangkor Road to the Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway – part of this stretch will be underground – and from Air Itam to the expressway near the Penang bridge.

To finance the construction, projected to cost RM6.3bil, the state government is giving payment in kind of 44.5ha of state land to the contractor, Consortium Zenith Construction.

Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng told the state assembly in 2014 that the land was valued at RM1,300 per sq ft and the project, ending with the tunnel, is scheduled for completion in 2025.

It was reported last March that RM135mil worth of land had been given to the contractor as payment to fund the feasibility studies and detailed studies.

A public-listed company announced in January 2016 that it had secured an agreement to buy 20.2ha of the land from the contractor over 10 years at RM1,300 per sq ft.

It is believed that the MACC is looking into why the state government allowed the contractor to presell state land despite delays in the project construction.

More to be called up for questioning

GEORGE TOWN: Investigations into allegations of corruption in the proposed Penang Undersea Tunnel project are expected to deepen with more people likely to be called up for questioning.

A source in the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) said the focus was on the feasibility and detailed design study, which had been paid for but not completed.

“We will call in more people involved in the project to assist in investigations into the study,” the source said.

He declined to comment on whether more arrests would follow after two “Datuks” were remanded for six days yesterday to help in the investigations.

The two were remanded in George Town and Putrajaya for investigations into the corruption allegations.

The MACC source declined to share details on evidence collected that led to the remand of the two Datuks yesterday but confirmed that it was about the delayed feasibility study and detailed designs.

The feasibility, detailed design studies and environmental impact assessment was reported to cost RM305mil with RM220mil already paid. Since 2015, NGOs, government agencies, political parties and state assemblymen had asked about the payment and studies, only to be met with replies they considered unsatisfactory.

Last July, the Works Ministry and Board of Engineers Malaysia (BEM) repeatedly asserted that Penang significantly overpaid, by four times, design fees involving three roads.

Barisan Nasional strategic communications director Datuk Seri Abdul Rahman Dahlan sought the professional opinion of BEM, and it was reported that BEM replied that the detailed design costs were four times higher than the maximum allowed under the gazetted scale of fees based on the total project cost.

Last August, the state government declared that the feasibility studies would be ready by September.

In October, however, Works Minister Datuk Seri Fadillah Yusof said his ministry “had not seen a single page” of it.

Source: By mazwin nik anis, royce tan, arnold loh, r. sekaran, simon khoo The Staronline

 

MACC to make more arrests – Penang undersea tunnel project

More arrests are likely in the investigations into claims of corruption in Penang’s RM6.3bil project involving an undersea tunnel and three highways after MACC officers raided 12 more places and took statements from a dozen witnesses. They are looking into an agreement on payments to the concessionaires but Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng says there was no wrongdoing and that not a single sen has been paid for the undersea tunnel project.

PETALING JAYA: Investigators looking into the allegation of corruption in the Penang undersea tunnel project are said to be thoroughly looking through the papers related to the contract for the feasibility study for the undersea tunnel.

“The agreement looks suspicious and the feasibility study for the mega project does not exceed RM305mil as announced by the state government,” sources said.

“The state government might have made a payment which is way different than the real value of the study,” they said.

On Thursday, The Star reported that the graft-busters were zooming in on the land swaps of two plots of land in Bandar Tanjung Pinang.

The sources also say that the reclaimed land for the land swaps were of high value for development. It is believed that the state JKR has set the value for the study and that allegations of misappropriation were raised when the value that was paid far exceeded the initial value.

To finance the construction of the tunnel and three paired roads on the island, projected to cost RM6.3bil, the state government is giving payment in kind of 44.5ha of state land to the contractor, Consortium Zenith Construction.

Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng had told the state assembly in 2014 that the land was valued at RM1,300 per sq ft and the project, ending with the tunnel, is scheduled for completion in 2025.

It was reported last March that RM135mil worth of land had been given to the contractor as payment to fund the feasibility studies and detailed studies. However, the study has not been completed although the land has been handed over.

A public- listed company announced in January 2016 that it had secured an agreement to buy 20.2ha of the land from the contractor over 10 years at RM1,300 per sq ft.

It is believed that the MACC is looking into why the state government allowed the contractor to presell state land despite delays in the project construction and the study.

Source: The Star Malaysia reports by MAZWIN NIK ANIS and INTAN AMALINA MOHD ALI

Related stories:

MACC probe shifts to bidding process – Nation | The Star Online

MACC looking at how RM305mil was paid – Nation | The Star Online

MACC focussing on Penang tunnel project studies, sources say …

Lim: Not a single sen paid for Penang undersea tunnel project …

No money paid for project, says Lim – Nation

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The rail economics of East Coast Rail Link (ECRL)


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Rail link seen as game changer but cost is a concern.

TOK Bali, a fishing village in Kelantan with its beautiful sandy beaches and pristine blue waters has long been a hidden gem among well-travelled backpackers. But that may soon change. The idyllic town is one that is touted to potentially become a tourist hotspot, as it sits along the alignment of the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL), a multi-billion infrastructure project that promises many economic spin-offs.

After almost a decade in planning, ECRL was launched with great pomp this week.

Touted as a key game-changer for the east coast states of Peninsular Malaysia, the interstate ECRL is expected to help the economy of the four states that it covers by an additional 1.5% per year over the next 50 years.

On a micro level, more employment opportunities, particularly skilled jobs, will be made available to Malaysians. Domestic industry players especially in the construction sector, can now anticipate construction contracts to the tune of RM16bil, at least.

   
Another milstone:Najib checking out a train model at the ground-breaking ceremony this week.He called ECRL ‘another milestore in the country’s land public transport history”.

The ECRL is expected to benefit freight transport because it would link key economic and industrial areas within the East Coast Economic Region such as the Malaysia-China Kuantan Industrial Park, Gambang Halal Park, Kertih Biopolymer Park and Tok Bali Integrated Fisheries Park to both Kuantan Port and Port Klang.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak called it “another milestone in the country’s land public transport history”.

Despite the much highlighted economic benefits from the rail network, the venture is attracting its own share of controversies from the way the contract was awarded to the price of contract.

For one, China’s state-owned China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) has been appointed for the construction of ECRL via a direct negotiation method.

Detractors have labelled ECRL – at a cost of RM80mil per kilometre – as the world’s costliest rail project. Note that, the Gemas-Johor Baru double-tracking stretch costs RM45mil per km.

ECRL, however, will go over hilly terrain and has several tunnels to be built.

There are questions on whether the 688km rail venture, at RM55bil, will be financially feasible.

Sources say the price tag is unlikely to have included land acquisition costs.

They indicate that close to half of the land plots required for the rail link sit on private land and would require land acquisition. At this point, the total land acquisition cost is unknown.

No money in rail

The concerns of the critics are understandable, given the fact that public infrastructure projects, namely rail projects are usually not commercially viable.

A quick check on the finances of Malaysia’s very own Keretapi Tanah Melayu Bhd (KTMB) and a number of major rail operators abroad, affirms the fact that rail projects do not promise easy money.

The loss-making KTMB which was corporatised in 1992, has not been able to financially sustain itself, resulting in the deterioration of its level of service despite attempts to turn around the company.

According to the railway service operator’s latest publicly available audited report for financial year 2013, the group registered a total net loss of RM128.2mil. However, note that, the net loss had narrowed by 46% from RM238.5mil in the previous year.

Had it not been for the government’s subsidy which kept it afloat, KTMB would find it difficult to continue its operations without a further raise of its fare.

In India, where railway is a favoured mode of transportation, the Indian Railways has been incurring losses on passenger operations every year. Earlier this year, the lower chamber of the Indian parliament was told that the state-owned rail operator recorded a loss of Rs359.18bil (RM24.04bil) in the period of 2015 to 2016.

This was slightly higher than its loss of Rs334.91bil (RM22.42bil) in the period of 2014-2015.

On the other hand, China’s state-owned rail operator, China Railway Corp, was reported to have recorded a 58% increase in earnings last year despite huge losses in the first nine months. However, a zoom into its finances reveals that the high profit made was only possible due to a significant annual government subsidy.

Similarly, Singapore’s SMRT Corp which manages the city-state’s rail operations posted a profit of S$7.4mil (RM23.33mil) in its financial year of 2016. This was on the back of a revenue of S$681mil (RM2.15bil), which rose by 4.1% year-on-year.

While the rail operations saw higher ridership in that year, SMRT Corp would have registered a loss of S$9.6mil (RM30.26mil) for its rail business, if not for the net property tax refund of S$17.1mil (RM53.9mil).

Considering the lack of commercial viability in such rail projects, ECRL would ultimately require assistance from the government in ensuring smooth operations, while maintaining an affordable service for its users. This is akin a crucial trade-off, to complement the government’s move to provide an integrated transportation system in Malaysia, which is long overdue.

AmBank Group’s chief economist Anthony Dass tells StarBizWeek that for every ringgit spent on capital projects such as transportation, it generates a return or multiplier effect of around 5% to 20%.

In his estimation, he says the ECRL should create around RM50-55bil in terms of gross domestic product.

“The impact of this project to the economy will be multilevel. Impact on the respective states’ GDP and national GDP will be evident, though the magnitude of the impact on the respective states is poised to vary.

“On a longer term, once the entire project is completed, we expect strong benefits seeping into services related activities. Properties in the major towns is likely to enjoy more especially the port-connected towns, driven by logistics- and trade-related businesses.

“Other areas would benefit from the movement of tourism. As for the smaller towns, they are more likely to enjoy from the spillovers of this connectivity through movement of people commuting to work and new areas of business growth especially in areas like the small and medium businesses,” says Anthony.

High cargo projections

By the year 2040, an estimated 8 million passengers and 53 million tonnes of cargo are expected to use the ECRL service annually as the primary transport between the east coast and west coast.

By 2040, ECRL is projected to support a freight density of 19 million tonnes.

The freight cargo projections of the rail network stands in stark contrast to the total cargo volume running through the entire Malaysian railways today.

As of 2015, the entire Malaysian railways operations handled a sum of 6.21 million tons of cargo, according to a study related to the ECRL.

To note, the revenue from the operation of the venture is projected to be obtained through a transportation ratio of 30% passengers and 70% freight.

If the projections of ECRL are anything to go by, the planners are anticipating a ballistic growth in volume of cargo being moved along the tracks.

Is this realistic?

Socio Economic Research Centre executive director Lee Heng Guie remains concerned on the details of the project financing, albeit the expected trickle-down benefits of ECRL.

“While ECRL has been identified as a high impact public transport project that will connect east coast states with the west coast, especially Greater KL and Klang Valley, the high cost of RM55bil requires further justification. More clarity on the cost structure and terms and conditions of the loan is needed to ease public genuine concerns.

“It must be noted that the high costs, low profits and long gestation periods of transportation projects do not always make them financially viable. The financial viability of the ECRL would depend on the revenue generated to cover operating cash flow, including interest expenses.

“As the loan will have a seven year moratorium, the bunching of loan repayment together with interest payment will be substantial in the remaining 13 years,” he says.

Lowering cost the key

In terms of funding, 85% of the total project value of RM55bil would be to be funded by Exim Bank of China’s through a soft loan at a 3.25% interest.

The balance 15% would be financed through a sukuk programme by local banks.

There is no payment for the first seven years, and the government starts paying after the seventh year over a 13-year period.

At 3.25% interest per annum, the interest servicing bill for the project is huge.

“Hence the main challenge to this project will be to bring down cost as low as possible. The lower the cost, the lesser it would be the burden on the government’s balance sheet,” says an industry player.

Echoing a similar view, Lee noted the ERCL project loan is expected to be treated as “contingent liability” as it will be taken by Malaysia Rail Link Sdn Bhd, a special purpose vehicle owned by the Ministry of Finance.

This is also to ensure that the Federal Government will not breach the self-imposed debt to GDP ratio of 55%.

As at end-March 2017, the Federal Government’s debt stood at RM664.5bil or 50.2% of GDP.

At the end of the day, despite the concerns on the possible cost overrun in the ECRL project, proper management and efficiency in project delivery could lead to cost savings and ultimately lower overall expenditure for ECRL.

History has shown that Malaysian companies can lower the cost, especially on rail projects compared to foreign players.

In the late 1990s, a consortium of India and China state-owned companies were awarded the contract to build a double track electrified railway system from Padang Besar to Johor Baru. The cost was estimated at RM44bil and paid through crude palm oil.

However, an MMC Corp Bhd-Gamuda Bhd joint venture managed to win the job in 2003 with a RM14.3bil proposal. However this project was shelved and subsequently continued after a lull of few years.

ECRL is a seven year project to be built in stages. Many factors can come into play in that period like delay in construction and rise in material costs.

However in the bigger picture, the infrastructure venture should not merely be seen from a commercial-viable lens alone. The trickle-down benefits on the economy and the Malaysian population should also be factored into the calculations.

The lower the cost, the higher the multiplier effect.

Source: The Star by ganeshwaran kanaandgurmeet kaur

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Reporting an offence is not defamation


Whistleblowers cannot be sued for libel or slander, rules Federal Court

 

PUTRAJAYA: A person who complains about an alleged offence to enforcement agencies cannot be sued for defamation for lodging those reports, ruled the Federal Court.

The court held that such reports to agencies such as the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), the Commercial Crime Investigation Department (CCID) and the Registrar of Societies (RoS) are protected with absolute privilege.

The unanimous decision was made during the appeal brought by former Selangor Chin Woo Athletic Association president Datuk Dr Low Bin Tick.

Justice Aziah Ali said the three authorities in the case shared a common feature in which they were statutorily empowered with investigative powers.

“The purpose (of lodging a complaint) is to notify these authorities of alleged unlawful conduct and to set an investigation in motion and, if appropriate, to take the necessary action against the alleged wrongdoer,” said Justice Aziah yesterday.

The Bench set aside the decision by the Court of Appeal and the High Court. The lower courts had ordered Dr Low to pay RM500,000 in damages to another former Chin Woo president, Datuk Chong Tho Chin.

Yesterday, the Bench also awarded RM150,000 in costs to Dr Low.

Chong, who was Chin Woo president from 1991 to 2001, had filed four defamation suits at the High Court in 2007.

Chong claimed Dr Low, who was president from 2001 to 2005, had made unfounded and defamatory complaints regarding him in the letters to the three authorities in 2005.

The Federal Court said Dr Low’s letters to the authorities had alleged probable misuse of power, breach of trust, fraud and negligence.

“The common vein in these letters is the request for the authorities to carry out investigations and to take action, if appropriate,” Justice Aziah said.

On republication of a police report, the court held the issue did not arise for their consideration since it was not raised in the appeal.

But she said a person who repeats another’s defamatory statement without privilege may be held liable for republishing the same libel or slander.

The five-man Bench was led by Chief Judge of Malaya Justice Ahmad Maarop. Apart from Justice Aziah, also in the panel were Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak Justice Richard Malanjum and Federal Court judges Justices Hasan Lah and Ramly Ali.

Source: The Star by Nurbaiti Hamdan

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Malaysian MACC Act’s Sect.62 declared unconstitutional will be challenged by prosecution



Court of Appeal: Section 62 of MACC Act unconstitutional


PUTRAJAYA: The Court of Appeal has ruled that Section 62 of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) Act 2009 is unconstitutional.

Justice Datuk Umi Kalthum Abdul Majid, who chaired a three-man bench, made the ruling after allowing the appeals by Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng and businesswoman Phang Li Koon to declare Section 62 as unconstitutional in their corruption cases.

The panel held that Section 62 was ultra vires when read against Article 5(1) and 8(1) of the Federal Constitution.

Section 62 requires accused persons to disclose their defence statements to the prosecution before the beginning of the trial.

However, Article 5(1) states that no person shall be deprived of his life and personal liberty save in accordance with law, while 8(1) states for equal protection under the law.

“We allow the appeals and set aside the order of the High Court,” said Umi Kalthum, who heard the appeals with Datuk Ahmadi Asnawi and Datuk Abdul Rahman Sebli on Monday.

The Court of Appeal granted DPP Datuk Masri Mohd Daud’s oral application to stay the proceedings in the Penang High Court pending the prosecution’s appeal over the decision.

On March 7 this year, the High Court dismissed Lim and Phang’s application after ruling that Section 62 of the MACC Act was constitutional and valid as it did not impede the accused’s right to a fair trial.

Lim pleaded not guilty to charges of corruption in relation to the conversion of land from agricultural to residential and the purchase of a plot of land and bungalow at below-market value on June 30 last year.

Lim was charged with using his position as Chief Minister to gain gratification for himself and his wife, Betty Chew Gek Cheng, by approving the application for conversion of agriculture land to a public housing zone in south-west Penang to a company, Magnificient Emblem Sdn Bhd.

He allegedly committed the offence while chairing the Penang State Planning Committee meeting at the operations room, Level 28, Komtar building here, on July 18, 2014.

The charge under Section 23 of the MACC Act 2009 provides for imprisonment of up to 20 years and a fine of up to five times the sum or value of the bribe, or RM10,000, whichever is higher, upon conviction.

Lim faces a second charge of using his position to obtain for himself a plot of land and a bungalow located at No, 25, Jalan Pinhorn, George Town on July 28, 2015 from Phang for RM2.8mil, below market value.

The charge under Section 165 of the Penal Code provides for a jail term of up to two years, or a fine, or both, upon conviction.

Phang pleaded not guilty to abetting Lim in obtaining the bungalow at an undervalued cost.

She allegedly committed the offence at the same place and date.

The charge under Section 109 of the Penal Code read together with Section 165, provides for imprisonment of up to two years, or a fine, or both, upon conviction. – Bernama

MACC will appeal against ruling that Section 62 is unconstitutional


PETALING JAYA: The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) will be appealing the Court of Appeal’s ruling that Section 62 of the MACC Act is unconstitutional.

The MACC stated in a statement on Tuesday that its prosecutors would be filing an appeal to the Federal Court “as soon as possible”.

“The MACC also wishes to clarify that this decision by the Court of Appeal does not affect the prosecution of Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng and businesswoman Phang Li Koon,” it said.

On Monday, the Court of Appeal ruled that Section 62 of the MACC Act was ultra vires when read against Article 5(1) and 8(1) of the Federal Constitution, thus deeming it unconstitutional.

Section 62 of the Act requires accused persons to disclose their defence statements to the prosecution before the beginning of the trial.

However, Article 5(1) states that no person shall be deprived of his life and personal liberty save in accordance with law, while Article 8(1) states that all persons are entitled to equal protection under the law.

The ruling was made after allowing the appeals by Lim and Phang to declare Section 62 as unconstitutional in their corruption cases.

Lim currently faces charges for obtaining gratification for himself and his wife related to the conversion of land into residential development and another charge for using his position to purchase a bungalow below market value. Phang has been charged with abetment. – The Star

MACC: ‘Decision has no bearing’

PETALING JAYA: The Court of Appeal’s decision to declare a section of the Malaysian Anti-Corrup­tion Commission (MACC) Act as unconstitutional does not affect the prosecution of the Penang chief minister and a businesswoman, the graft busting body said.

The MACC said in a statement that its pro­secutors would be filing an appeal to the Federal Court “as soon as possible”.

“The MACC also wishes to clarify that this decision by the Court of Appeal does not affect the prosecution of Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng and businesswoman Phang Li Koon,” it said.

On Monday, the Court of Appeal ruled that Section 62 of the MACC Act was ultra vires when read against Article 5(1) and 8(1) of the Federal Constitution, thus deeming it unconstitutional. Section 62 requires accused persons to disclose their defence statements to the prosecution before the trial begins.

But Article 5(1) states that no person shall be deprived of his life and personal liberty save in accordance with law, while Article 8(1) states that all persons are entitled to equal protection under the law.

The ruling was made after allowing the appeals by Lim and Phang who sought to declare Section 62 as unconstitutional.

Lim currently faces charges for allegedly obtaining gratification for himself and his wife related to the conversion of land into residential development and another charge for allegedly using his position to purchase a bungalow below market value.

Phang has been charged with abetment.

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