Shocking news and curious comments


Why bother to formulate a new law to check fake news when the real stories are already incredible?

There must be better explanations for such incredible reports and the bizarre responses from people in power.’
OVER the past week, the news about Malaysia has been running the range from the outrageous to the absurd.

To use a quirky English phrase, the stories beggar belief. In other words, too surreal to be believed.

With the Government proposing a new law to check the spread of “fake news”, there must be better explanations for such incredible reports and the bizarre responses from people in power.

I am listing three examples. The first is Switzerland’s decision to confiscate the equivalent of RM400mil, purportedly linked to 1Malaysia Develop­ment Bhd (1MDB), which was seized from Swiss banks last year.

The Swiss lawmakers are set to debate a motion to en­­able part of the funds to be sent back to Malaysia, but according to recent reports, there were no claimants for the money. For context, the RM400mil is more than this year’s budget for my home state of Melaka and the surplus of RM26.4mil can pay for the new bridge on the alternative coastal road in Klebang.

Next is the 91m super yacht, Equanimity, impounded off Bali last Wednesday.

Indonesian police seized the vessel sought by the US Department of Justice (DoJ) in response to a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) request to enforce a court order.

Police spokesman Muhammad Iqbal Abduh said the US$250mil (RM976mil) yacht’s Auto­ma­ted Identification System (AIS) had been switched off in nearby seas before the seizure.

Penang-born businessman Low Taek Jho, who is also known as Jho Low, criticised the DoJ for not proving any offence before acting.

“It is disappointing that, rather than reflecting on the deeply flawed and politically motivated allegations, the DoJ is continuing with its pattern of global overreach – all based on entirely unsupported claims of wrongdoing,” read a statement sent by his unnamed spokesman.

Eyebrows were raised when Attorney-General Tan Sri Mohamed Apandi Ali said the Government would not claim the yacht.

But Communications and Multimedia Minister Datuk Seri Salleh Said Keruak’s peculiar comment that the DoJ had not shown any “tangible proof” of Low’s ownership of the yacht drew ire and scorn.

He said besides allegations in the civil suit, on hold since last August, there was no evidence of Low’s ownership.

As former minister of trade and industry Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz noted, all it takes is a simple search. The “SuperYacthFan” website, which has a directory of the world’s wealthiest yacht owners, states that it belongs to Low and his Hong-Kong-based investment fund, Jynwel Capital.

If Low is innocent, the solution is simple: Just bite the bullet and face the DoJ.

The third curious case involves Criminal Investigation Department (CID) director Comm Datuk Seri Wan Ahmad Najmuddin Mohd’s frozen Australian bank account.

Australian police froze the A$320,000 (RM970,490) account after filing a forfeiture application in the New South Wales Supreme Court in March last year.

Strangely, the senior police officer does not want his almost RM1mil back. His reason? High legal costs.

Australian police noted a “flurry of suspicious cash deposits” into the CID director’s account, which had been dormant since it was first opened in 2011.

The account reportedly grew by nearly A$290,000 (RM879,500) in a month in 2016, mostly in deposits below A$10,000 (RM30,330) – the limit for law enforcement agencies to receive possible money-laundering alerts.

The money came in from branches and ATMs around the country, from the tiny towns in Queensland and in Tasmania to the major cities of Sydney and Melbourne, a week after the officer visited Australia.

In response, Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Mohamad Fuzi Harun said an inquiry found that the account was opened in 2011 to enable the transfer of funds to finance the CID director’s son’s education in Australia.

The IGP said the dormant account was reactivated in 2016 for the officer’s daughter’s master’s degree, adding that Comm Wan Ahmad Najmuddin provided documents to prove the money was from the sale of a RM700,000 house in Shah Alam.

Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission deputy chief commissioner Datuk Seri Azam Baki initially ruled out any further probe as both Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and the IGP had exone­rated the CID director. However, Azam has since been quoted as saying the MACC had begun investigating the matter following a report lodged by an unidentified whistleblower.

Deputy Home Minister Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed provided another queer twist to the case by suggesting that Australian authori­ties were using the media to embarrass Malaysia and by asking if they had an axe to grind.

With more doubts continuing to be raised over the case, Dr Ahmad Zahid said Comm Wan Ahmad could have been “a little naïve” about Australia’s legal system.

We can’t blame Malaysians to be sceptical, given the status of the person in question.

Naïve or not, just how costly can it be to hire a good lawyer in Australia to seek justice for the huge amount of money wrongly confiscated?

There have been such cases before and Malaysians have won, most notably former Selangor mentri besar Tan Sri Muhammad Muhammad Taib.

On May 1998, he was acquitted of currency regulation breaches involving more than A$1.2mil (RM2.9mil then).

Muhammad had pleaded not guilty to knowingly making a false currency report when entering the country on Dec 16, 1996, and then failing to declare currency when leaving six days later.

Besides saying that the ex-teacher’s English was not good, his lawyers argued that he didn’t know the country’s money exchange laws and that the funds were for buying land for himself and his three brothers.

How much he paid the lawyers remains a mystery, though.

Veera PandiyanMedia consultant M. Veera Pandiyan likes this quote by Albert Einstein: Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters.

Along The Watchtower by M.Veera Pandiyan The Star

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Dengue app bad for aedes, can get updates, report dengue concerns


The ‘Predict and Beat Dengue’ app is now available on Google Play Store and Apple App Store.

Predict and Beat Dengue – Android Apps on Google Play

App for updates on dengue

PENANGITES can now download a mobile application (app) which allows its users to be part of an effort to combat dengue in the state.

Known as the ‘Predict and Beat Dengue’ app, it will alert users when they enter a dengue hotspot.

The users can also report dengue-related concerns in their areas and get the latest updates on dengue cases as among its other features.

State Health Committee chairman Dr Afif Bahardin said the app is now available on Google Play Store and Apple App Store.

He said the app could help to predict a possible dengue outbreak in an area within the next 30 days.

“From there, we can carry out prevention by removing all possible Aedes breeding grounds.

“It quickens the process of detection and identifies places that require dengue preventative measures such as fogging, larvae-ciding and gotong-royong,” he said during a briefing session at Komtar yesterday.

Dr Afif said the state spent RM200,000 on a pilot study for the project which was carried out between May 1 and July 1 by the app creator, a US-based company known as Aime Inc.

“I’m proud that Penang is taking this proactive approach. We are working hand-in-hand with the Health Ministry and they are very supportive of this idea.

“We hope that it can also be carried out nationwide,” he said.

Aime president Rainier Mallol explained the workings of the app and its many features during the presentation.

Also present were Pulau Tikus assemblyman Yap Soo Huey, Batu Uban assemblyman Dr T. Jayabalan and Sungai Pinang assemblyman Lim Siew Khim.

Source: The Star/ANN

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Bitcoin, digital currencies rally, caution prevails; virtual currency in property


Bitcoins As Digital Currency's Rally Crushed Every Other Currency in 2016
A collection of bitcoin tokens. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Digital currencies rally, but caution prevails

While investing in the future is the way to go, it comes with risks and rewards. The best strategy would be to not be in a rush. Do your homework.

THIS week, the rally in crypto currencies is at its all-time high.

Bitcoin, the pioneer in digital currency, surged to over US$1,700 per coin in
anticipation of a reversal in United States financial regulators’ ruling to allow for an exchange-traded fund for Bitcoin and other factors.

Bitcoin was trading at US$935 on March 24. It rose 82%, pushing its market capitalisation to over US$28bil.

Ether, another such currency, surged from US$8 on Jan 1 to US$90 this week, gaining 1,125% in five months.

The market capitalisation of the 700-over currencies is over US$50bil. The promoters believe it is the currency of the future, hence the rise, but the naysayers believe it is entering a speculative bubble.

But there are some who are ditching gold to mine Bitcoins.

It is a fact that crypto currencies are gaining traction from their inception in 2009. Now, at least 150 organisations including Apple, Walmart, Sears, eBay, Overstock.com,  Microsoft, Steam, Expedia and even Subway accept them in exchange for goods.

So, what is Bitcoin then?

It is a form of digital currency, created and held electronically, not blocked by any nation or government, not printed like dollars and ringgit but produced by people. Crypto currencies are digital currencies that use encryption to secure transactions and control how new coins are made.

You and I can get Bitcoins by “mining” computers that validate blocks of transactions using software to solve mathematical puzzles every 10 minutes. If you solve it first, you are rewarded with new Bitcoins.

Bitcoin is the mother of all crypto currencies – also known as virtual currencies, digital currencies and private currencies.

Other than Bitcoin and Ether, there is also Dogecoin, Augur, Chinacoin, Litecon, Dash, Waves and Zcash. There are over 40 exchanges globally to trade in Bitcoins.

All this came about because of fintech, the financial services technology that is  disrupting the financial services sector with faster, cheaper and so-called “reliable”
transactions for money transfers, bank exchange rates and other money-related transactions. The average clearance is a 12-hour period, which apparently the banks cannot match.

In Brazil, people use Zcash to pay for their taxes, electricity bills and purchases.

This week, Australia said there would be no double taxation for crypto currencies and to treat it just like other currencies from July 1, paving the way for greater usage.

Many are betting on crypto currencies because of the lure that they are the currency of the future. Would you?

Since 2009, there have been gainers and losers, so you decide.

All these digital currencies came about because of the Internet and data.  The value of data and digital services is becoming more apparent, and in the digital era, data is the new currency.

Amid all this is blockchain, which is simply a digital ledger that keeps track of Bitcoin transactions and transfers it globally. It boasts of instantaneous transactions, transparent and cheaper than the traditional ways. This is why banks are hurriedly getting their acts together in the area of fintech so as to not miss the boat.

There is a growing number of mergers and acquisitions and crowdfunding for blockchains. Last month, music-podcast-video streaming service Spotify  bought over blockchain technology company Mediachain Labs to help reward  online content owners with royalty payments.

Other telcos and IT firms are getting into blockchain because they don’t want to miss out on anything. Other payment companies are getting into the act too. There is just too much interest in this new wave of doing things.

The journey of crypto currencies, however, is not without hurdles, and there are plenty out there that cannot be ignored. Even blockchain’s growth cannot be ignored, especially since it is being positioned by those championing it as the de facto technology of the future.

But will it really be all that or will it just add another layer to the overall cost?

All these transfers do not need regulation as yet, something that central bankers don’t like. In fact, Bank Negara is already in the thick of things where fintech is concerned.

While investing in the future is the way to go, it comes with risks and rewards. The best
strategy would be to not be in a rush. Do your homework, as there is also the other side of Bitcoin – fake websites, fake online gaming sites, trading, etc.

I bet you would know of someone who has lost money mining Bitcoin or Ether. You honestly wouldn’t want to be put in a spot like those caught up in the recent forex scam and the earlier gold scam.

It would be good too to bear in mind that the sweet spot of crypto currencies has been linked to terrorism financing, money laundering, tax evasion and fraud.

Trust and transparency have been the bedrock of financial institutions all these years. Ensure your bedrock is solid, but at the same time, remember what the former US Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke had said in a letter to US senators about virtual currencies, that they “may hold long-term promise, particularly if the innovations promote a faster, more secure, and more efficient payment system”.

Do you think blockchain will bring trust and transparency to the world of crypto currency? Share your thoughts with me at bksidhu@thestar

Source: The Star by b.k. sidhu

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Property in a digital era

WITH digital technology all the rage and taking the world by storm, we look at how science and automation has managed to change and revolutionise the way we do things, in this section, property.

While the internet has changed the way we receive information and connect with others and the smart phone transformed the whole concept of a phone, we now look at the evolution of finance and how purchasing items, including a house, is going through reform with the introduction of bitcoin.

Introducing bitcoin

When people hear terms like “bitcoin” and “blockchain”, many are vague while some may not even be familiar with these words. But for the technology industry adept, bitcoin and blockchain is common as these new-age technology concepts and modus operandi have been around, perhaps less widely known in Southeast Asia as it is in the West and China.

For the uninformed and in the dark, bitcoin is a technology that has established a new electronic payment method using “digitised money” made with digital cryptography, otherwise known as cryptocurrency.

This system of payment is carried out when a user uses “bitcoin currency” (or cryptocurrency) to pay for goods by transferring the currency to another user (seller) within the bitcoin community.

Each transaction is recorded in a public data ledger known as “blockchain” and it is here where all the transactions that have taken place within the bitcoin community are stored.

The amazing thing about this system is that anyone in the bitcoin community is able to validate transactions that take place without the need of an intermediary.

Sound too good to be true and a little risky? Well, the reason there is no intermediate party necessary is due to the network bitcoin technology is regulated on.


Modus operandi and more

The bitcoin network is founded on a “peer-to-peer network system (P2P network)” which is explained as “a network of computers/ mobile configured to allow certain files and folders to be shared with everyone or with selected users”.

As a result, the “participants” are in control of their transactions, making everyone equal within the bitcoin community, which is also transparent.

It is said that bitcoin technology was first created in 2008 by a person or a group of persons under the pseudonym “Satoshi Nakamoto” in a research paper. The research stated that there was need for a new electronic payment method, one using digitised money. The analysis also included the future of bitcoin, its benefits, capabilities and potential.

The system was implemented on Jan 3, 2009. And after just a few years, bitcoin grew to become a whopping US$12 billion (RM52.7 billion) globalised economy.

Bitcoin attributes

While not much has been said about bitcoin in this part of the region, the system has been around, slowly developing and growing. Like many things that are cloudy and not often talked about, people are weary hence, there will be sceptics who dissuade others about the system they themselves are unclear about.

With that, theSun’s Brian Chung shares what he learnt of this new method of transaction and currency when he attended a talk by renowned entrepreneur, author and expert on bitcoin Andreas M. Antonopoulos.

Below, Antonopolous shares important information on bitcoin.

1) Bitcoin is an open system of payment: It is a system that anyone can access, participate and innovate, and does not require permission. Bitcoin allows anyone to join in and use the system, validate the transaction and create different kinds of cryptocurrency.

2) Bitcoin is borderless: Like the internet, bitcoin is not restricted to a country’s rules and regulations as it has its own protocol with no distinction across countries.

3) Bitcoin is neutral: Bitcoin does not take the identity of the participant into any consideration. It only validates the transaction that takes place between participants. This attribute also allows participants to remain anonymous.

4) Bitcoin is censorship resistant: Every transaction in the bitcoin network cannot be frozen, censored or canceled. Like the internet, the bitcoin system is a global digital economy with one currency.

5) Bitcoin is a decentralised system: The bitcoin network has no central institution or centre point of control. This trait ensures that there is no one major target for hackers to concentrate their attacks on. Instead, hackers have to create attacks on every single participant’s software with different forms of virus and codes to hack into one computer.

6) Bitcoin is scarce and limited: Bitcoin is a system of value like gold but in digital form. This makes it a system that is not based on credit and debit. It also makes bitcoin a singular global currency with no exchange rate between countries.

7) Every bitcoin transaction is permanent and immutable: The transaction of everyone in the community is verified by everyone in the system. Once it is verified, the transaction will be permanently recorded in the blockchain.

8) Bitcoin is a constantly innovative technology: The open source nature of the bitcoin technology allows other people to further improve on it. There are many other cryptocurrencies based on the bitcoin technology. Moreover, the bitcoin technology is dependent on the internet, which makes improvement and innovation necessary.

Bitcoin transactions can be done via smart phones and computers by downloading the application and software. Users do not need to register themselves to be part of the bitcoin network as all “participants” are referred to by codes and “signature of one’s device”.

However, iPhone users need to remember their iTunes password to download the application. In addition, the device that one has downloaded the bitcoin software on must remain connected to the internet in order for one to use the bitcoin method of payment.

Follow our column next week on the application of bitcoin in property.

[Note: All charts courtesy of Bitcoin Malaysia.]

 

The application of bitcoin in property

 

WHILE last week, we introduced the term bitcoin to those oblivious of this new age cryptocurrency and system of payment, this week, we share bitcoin whiz Andreas M. Antonopoulus’ insights on how this technology is applied in property. Here is what he had to say:

Permanent records

“One very common application is the registration of assets or ownership of tangible and
non-tangible things like the registration of title over land and the ownership of assets
like homes.

When you record something on blockchain, it cannot be modified … it is immutable. Once recorded on the blockchain, the system of trust prevents anyone from reversing or overwriting it. That makes a record on blockchain permanent, an immutable record which is really important in real estate transaction as it allows one to pass the title of a piece of land from person to person independently with no one being able to falsify the record or steal land through paper,” Antonopoulos said.

Moreover, he mentioned that this technology can benefit the industry tremendously as it is able to resolve a huge problem in real estate and property transactions – the falsification of strata titles and property documents.

His view is further enhanced with the emergence of another bitcoin-based system, ethereum. Like bitcoin, ethereum has its own cryptocurrency known as ether. However, ethereum adopts a different technology that is based on the blockchain public ledger system known as Smart Contract.

According to Antonopoulos, a smart contract is an electronic contract with all the contractual obligations of the buyer and seller. The contract is written and coded into an application, which will ensure both parties fulfill their obligations.

Like blockchain technology that is built on trust and verification, these contracts are encoded in a public ledger in the ethereum community. If anyone tries to forge the contract, the ledger will reject it. As such, this smart contract cannot be rewritten and altered as it is a permanent and immutable contract.


Direct transactions

Besides the use of a contract, the technology will make transactions direct, fast and secure.

Antonopoulos also shared about the removal of third parties and its altered role. He said, “Another example relevant to real estate application is the function of escrow. In order to do make transactions for real estate today, people have to use a third party agent, an escrow agent. This escrow agent charges a significant amount of money in most countries. During the process, that agent holds custody of the entire fund, which is dangerous. This means that the escrow agent has to be carefully vetted and have foresight.

Bitcoin can replace all of this by using multi-signature, which allows the seller and buyer to transact escrow programmatically, with the third party acting as mediator only in the case of a dispute.

Buyer and seller will be able to execute a transaction on their own without the need of an escrow agent and without any of the parties having custody of the entire fund. Through bitcoin, you do not need to spend that additional one percent of the sale of the house – the escrow agent is no longer necessary.

It can also change the speed of escrow by doing it in hours instead of a month and changes the security because no one of the three parties can run away with the money. It is faster, cheaper and secure. It can be done in other industries related to real estates like purchasing assets, corporation, mergers and acquisitions.

International property purchase

With the use of decentralised digital currency, one can assume that purchasing items and properties is a little easier, and it is.

The chance of purchasing international property is further reinforced by the fact that bitcoin is not controlled by anyone, not even political and banking institutions. This attribute of bitcoin makes it easier for people buying property from another country. Although each country has its regulations, the use of bitcoin to purchase property abroad saves time and money as one does not need to change currency.

The Australia Real Estate website has stated that there are properties in the United States and Latin America being sold using bitcoin. The Wall Street Journal wrote an article in 2014 regarding a Lake Tahoe property, which was sold for US$1 million in bitcoin.

Follow our column next week for more interesting information on bitcoin, its challenges and how stable a cryptocurrency it is.

By rian Chung

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Here come the robots; your job is at risk


Here come the robots & they are going to take almost all of our jobs…

The new automation revolution is going to disrupt both industry and services, and developing countries need to rethink their development strategies.

A NEWS item caught my eye last week, that Uber has obtained permission in California to test two driverless cars, with human drivers inside to make corrections in case something goes wrong.

Presumably, if the tests go well, Uber will roll out a fleet of cars without drivers in that state. It is already doing that in other states in America.

In Malaysia, some cars can already do automatic parking. Is it a matter of time before Uber, taxis and personal vehicles will all be smart enough to bring us from A to B without our having to do anything ourselves?

But in this application of “artificial intelligence”, in which machines can have human cognitive functions built into them, what will happen to the taxi drivers? The owners of taxis and Uber may make more money but their drivers will most likely lose their jobs.

The driverless car is just one example of the technological revolution taking place that is going to drastically transform the world of work and living.

There is concern that the march of automation tied with digital technology will cause dislocation in many factories and offices, and eventually lead to mass unemployment.

This concern is becoming so pervasive that none other than Bill Gates recently proposed that companies using robots should have to pay taxes on the incomes attributed to the use of robotics, similar to the income tax that employees have to pay.

That proposal has caused an uproar, with mainstream economists like Lawrence Summers, a former United States treasury secretary, condemning it for putting brakes on technological advancement. One of them suggested that the first company to pay taxes for causing automation should be Microsoft.

However, the tax on robots idea is one response to growing fears that the automation revolution will cause uncontrollable disruption and increase the inequalities and job insecurities that have already spurred social and political upheaval in the West, leading to the anti-establishment votes for Brexit and Donald Trump.

Recent studies are showing that deepening use of automation will cause widespread disruption in many sectors and even whole economies. Worse, it is the developing countries that are estimated to lose the most, and this will exacerbate the already great global inequalities.

The risks of job automation to developing countries is estimated to range from 55 to 85%, according to a pioneering study in 2016 by Oxford University’s Martin School and Citi.

Major emerging economies will be at high risk, including China (77%) and India (69%). The risk for Malaysia is estimated at 65-70%. The developed OECD countries’ average risk is only 57%.

From the Oxford-Citi report, “The future is not what it used to be”, one gathers there are at least three reasons why the automation revolution will be particularly disruptive in developing countries.

First, there is “premature deindustrialisation” taking place as manufacturing is becoming less labour-intensive and many developing countries have reached the peak of their manufacturing jobs.

Second, recent developments in robotics and additive manufacturing will enable and could thus lead to relocation of foreign firms back to their home countries.

Seventy per cent of clients surveyed believe automation and 3D printing developments will encourage international companies to move their manufacturing close to home. China, Asean and Latin America have the most to lose from this relocation.

Thirdly, the impact of automation may be more disruptive for developing countries due to lower levels of consumer demand and limited social safety nets.

The report warns that developing countries may even have to rethink their overall development models as the old ones that were successful in generating growth in the past will not work anymore.

Instead of export-led manufacturing growth, developing countries will need to search for new growth models, said the report.

“Service-led growth constitutes one option, but many low-skill services are now becoming equally automatable.”

Another series of reports, by McKinsey Global Institute, found that 49% of present work activities can be automated with currently demonstrated technology, and this translates into US$15.8tril in wages and 1.1 billion jobs globally.

About 60% of all occupations could see 30% or more of their activities automated. But more reassuringly, an author of the report, James Manyika, says the changes will take decades.

Which jobs are most susceptible? The McKinsey study lists accommodations and food services as the most vulnerable sector in the US, followed by manufacturing and retail business.

In accommodations and food, 73% of activities workers perform can be automated, including preparing, cooking or serving food, cleaning food-preparation areas and collecting dirty dishes.

In manufacturing, 59% of all activities can be automated, including packaging, loading, welding and maintaining equipment.

For retailing, 53% of activities are automatable. They include stock management, maintaining sales records, gathering customer and product information, and accounting.

A technology specialist writer and consultant, Shelly Palmer, has also listed elite white-collar jobs that are at risk from robotic technologies.

These include middle managers, commodity salespeople, report writers, journalists, authors and announcers, accountants and bookkeepers, and doctors.

Certainly, the technological trend will improve productivity per worker that remains, and increase the profitability of companies that survive.

But there are adverse effects including loss of jobs and incomes for those who are replaced by the new technologies.

What can be done to slow down automation or at least to cope with its adverse effects?

The Bill Gates proposal to tax robots is one of the most radical. The tax could slow down the technological changes and the funds generated by the tax could be used to mitigate the social effects.

Other proposals, as expected, include training students and present employees to have the new skills needed to work in the new environment.

Overall, however, there is likely to be a significant net loss of employment, and the potential for social discontent is also going to be large.

As for the developing countries, there will have to be much thinking about the implications of the new technologies for their immediate and long-term economic prospects, and a major rethinking of economic and development strategies.

Global Trends by Martin Khor

Martin Khor (director@southcentre.org) is executive director of the South Centre. The views expressed here are entirely his own.
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In a world facing challenges and uncertainties, embrace opportunities for success through innovation.

“I went looking for my dreams outside of myself and discovered, it’s not what the world holds for you, it’s what you bring to it. –Anne Shirley”

THE world is currently at a paradox. Tensions and uncertainty for the future are rising in times of prevailing peace and prosperity. While changes are taking place at an incredibly fast speed, such changes are presenting unprecedented opportunities to those who are willing to innovate.

Recently, most global currencies had weakened against the US dollar (USD). This may give rise to some concern, but it is worth placing in proper perspective that most countries would trade with a few countries instead of just one. Furthermore, we are living in a world with low economic growth, increased mobility and rapid urbanisation.

In such a global landscape, it is important to embrace change and innovation in a courageous way to shape a better future. In L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, Anne Shirley said, “I went looking for my dreams outside of myself and discovered, it’s not what the world holds for you, it’s what you bring to it.”

Paradox, change and opportunity

In the World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report 2016-2017, World Economic Forum head of the centre for the global agenda and member of the managing board Richard Samans stated that at a time of rising income inequality, mounting social and political tensions and a general feeling of uncertainty about the future, growth remains persistently low.

Commodity prices have fallen, as has trade; external imbalances are increasing and government finances are stressed.

However, it also comes during one of the most prosperous and peaceful times in recorded history, with less disease, poverty and violence than ever before. Against this backdrop of seeming contradictions, the Fourth Industrial Revolution brings both unprecedented opportunity and an accelerated speed of change.

Creating the conditions necessary to reignite growth could not be more urgent. Incentivising innovation is especially important for finding new growth engines, but laying the foundations for long-term, sustainable growth requires working on all factors and institutions identified in the Global Competitiveness Index.

Leveraging the opportunities of the Fourth Industrial Revolution will require not only businesses willing and able to innovate, but also sound institutions, both public and private; basic infrastructure, health and education, macroeconomic stability and well-functioning labour, financial and human capital markets.

World Economic Forum editor Klaus Schwab stated in The Fourth Industrial Revolution that we are at the beginning of a global transformation that is characterised by the convergence of digital, physical and biological technologies in ways that are changing both the world around us and our very idea of what it means to be human. The changes are historic in terms of their size, speed and scope.

This transformation – the Fourth Industrial Revolution – is not defined by any particular set of emerging technologies themselves, but by the transition to new systems that are being built on the infrastructure of the digital revolution. As these individual technologies become ubiquitous, they will fundamentally alter the way we produce, consume, communicate, move, generate energy and interact with one another.

Given the new powers in genetic engineering and neurotechnology, they may directly impact who we are, and how we think and behave. The fundamental and global nature of this revolution also pose new threats related to the disruptions it may cause, affecting labour markets and the future of work, income inequality and geopolitical security, as well as social value systems and ethical frameworks.


A dollar story

When set in a global landscape where there is uncertainty for the future, when compared to other countries, Malaysia’s economy is performing quite well.

ForexTime vice president of market research Jameel Ahmad said, “When you combine what is happening on a global level, the Malaysian economy is in quite an envious position.”

For 2016, the USD has moved to levels not seen in over 12 years. The dollar index is trading above 100. This was previously seen as a psychological top for USD.

The Malaysian ringgit (MYR) is not alone in the devaluation of its currency. All of the emerging market currencies have been affected in recent weeks.

Similarly, the British £(GBP) has lost 30% this year, falling from US$1.50 to US$1.25 per GBP. The Euro (EUR) has fallen from US$1.15 to US$1.05 in three weeks.

The China Yuan Renmenbi (CNY) is hitting repeated historic lows against the USD. The CNY is only down around 5%.

Jameel believes that the outlook for the USD will be further strengthened. While the dollar was already expected to maintain demand due to the consistent nature of US economic data, the levels of fiscal stimulus that US Presidentelect Donald Trump is aiming to deliver to the US economy will encourage borrowing rates to go up.

This means that it is now more likely than ever that the Federal Reserve will need to accelerate its cycle of monetary policy normalisation (interest rate rises).

Most were expecting higher interest rates in 2017. Trump has also publicly encouraged stronger interest rates. However, when considered that Trump is also promising heavy levels of fiscal stimulus, there is a justified need for higher interest rates, otherwise inflation in the United States will be at risk of getting out of control.

The probability for further gains in the USD due to the availability of higher yields from increased interest rates will mean further pressure to the emerging market currencies.

With populism resulting in victories in both the United States’ presidential election and the EU referendum in the United Kingdom in 2016, attention should be given to the real political issues in Europe and the upcoming political elections in 2017, such as those in Germany and France.

Jameel said, “Until recently, political instability was only associated with developing economies. We are now experiencing a strong emergence across the developed markets. This might lure investors towards keeping their capital within the emerging markets longer. Only time will tell.”

In Malaysia’s case, the economy is still performing at robust levels, despite slowing headline growth. Growth rates in Malaysia are still seen as significantly stronger than those in the developed world.

There are going to be challenges from a stronger USD and other risks such as slowing trade, but the emerging markets are still recording stronger growth rates than the developed world.

Adapting to creative destruction

In a world where changes are taking place rapidly, the ability to adapt to changes plays an important role in encouraging innovation and growth. Global cities are achieving rapid growth by attracting the talented, high value workers that all companies, across industries, want to recruit.

In an era where 490 million people around the world reside in countries with negative interest rates, over 60% of the world’s citizens now own a smartphone and an estimated four billion people live in cities, which is an increase of 23% compared to 10 years ago, these three key trends are shaping our times.

Knight Frank head of commercial John Snow and Newmark Grubb Knight Frank president James D. Kuhn shared that the era of low to negative interest rates has reduced investors’ expectations on what constitutes an acceptable return. The financial roller coaster ride that led to this situation has made safe haven assets highly sought after.

A volatile economy has not stopped an avalanche of technological innovation. Smartphones, tablets, Wi-Fi and 4G have revolutionised the spread of information, increased our ability to work on the move, and led to a flourishing of entrepreneurship.

Fast-growing cities are taking centre stage in the innovation economy and in most of the global cities, supply is not keeping pace with demand for both commercial and residential real estate.

Consequently, tech and creative firms are increasingly relying upon pre-let deals to accommodate growth, while their young workers struggle to find affordable homes.

As the urban economy becomes increasingly people-centric, regardless of a city being driven by finance, aerospace, commodities, defence or manufacturing, the most important asset is a large pool of educated and creative workers.

Consequently, real estate is increasingly a business that seeks to build an environment that attracts and retains such people.

Knight Frank chief economist and editor of global cities James Roberts said, “We are moving into an era where creative people are a highly prized commodity. Cities will thrive or sink on their ability to attract this key demographic.

“A characteristic of the global economy in the last decade has been the phenomenon of stagnation and indeed decline, occurring alongside innovation and success. If you were invested in the right places and technologies, the last decade has been a great time to make money; yet at the same time, some people have lost fortunes.

“The locations that have performed best in this unpredictable environment have generally hosted the creative and technology industries that lead the digital revolution, and disrupt established markets.” The rise of aeroplanes, automobiles and petroleum created economic booms in the cities that led the tech revolution of the 1920s and 30s. Yet elsewhere, recession descended on locations with the industries that lost market share to those new technologies like ship building, train manufacturing and coal mining.

In a world where abundant economic opportunities in one region live alongside stagnation elsewhere, it is not easy to reconcile the fact that countries that were booming just a few years ago on rising commodity prices are now adapting to slower growth.

Just as surprising are Western cities that are now thriving as innovation centres, when they were dismissed as busted flushes in 2009 due to their high exposure to financial centres.

Roberts said, “This is creative destruction at work in the modern context. The important lesson for today’s property investor or occupier of business space, is to ensure you are on-the ground where the ‘creation’ is occurring and have limited exposure to the ‘destruction’. This is not easy, as the pace of technological change is accelerating at a speed where the old finds itself overtaken by the new.

“However, real estate in the global cities arguably offers a hedged bet against this uncertainty due to the nature of the modern urban economy, where those facing destruction, quickly reposition towards the next wave of creation.”

The industries that drive the modern global city are not dependent upon machinery or commodities but people, who deliver economic flexibility.

A locomotive plant cannot easily retool to make electric cars, raising a shortcoming of the single industry factory town. Similarly, an oil field in Venezuela has limited value for any other commercial activity.

However, a modern office building in a global city like Paris can quickly move from accommodating bankers in rows of desks to techies in flexible work space. Therefore, there is adaptability in the people in a service economy city which is matched by the city’s real estate.

In the people-driven global cities, a new industry can redeploy the ‘infantry’ from a fading industry via recruitment. Similarly, the professional and business service companies that served the banks, now serve a new clientele of digital firms.

In contrast, manufacturing or commodity-driven economies face greater barriers when reinventing themselves.

Today, landlords across the world struggle with how to judge the covenants of firms who have not been in existence long enough to have three years of accounts, but are clearly the future.

Consequently, both landlord and tenant need to approach real estate deals with flexibility. Landlords will need to give ground on lease term and financial track record, and occupiers must compensate the landlord for the increased risk via a higher rent.

Another big challenge for the Western global cities will be competition from emerging market cities that succeed in repositioning themselves away from manufacturing, and towards creative services. The process has started, with Shanghai now seeing a rapid expansion of its tech and creative industries.

The big Western centres still lead in services, but the challenge from emerging markets cities did not end with the commodities rout. They are just experiencing creative destruction and will emerge stronger to present a new challenge to the West.

From Mak Kum Shi The Star/ANN
 

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Ma’sia’s skilled labour shortage, engineers not take up challenges, graduates can’t solve problems


More trained workers needed to attract new capital investments

Yap says manufacturers have to source for high-quality technology from places such as Taiwan and Europe to upgrade their production.

THE Malaysian economy can sure use a boost to grow sustainably in the long term because the indicators for long-term growth do not look very good.

That boost should come from a focus on human capital. To put it simply, a better proportion of skilled workers is needed for the economy to move up the value chain and be globally competitive.

This year the economy is expected to grow just over 4% year-on-year, after growing 5% last year and 6% in 2014. The economy is expected to grow by 4% to 5% next year although the headwinds buffeting the Malaysian economy will make it challenging to hit the upper band of the target.

Moving up the chain will mean producing goods and services that have a higher value, meaning that productivity will rise. The rise in productivity will mean that workers will get better wages. This is the basic argument of policymakers when they speak of how human capital can help the economy.

However, the reality is different. According to data from the Malaysian Productivity Corp, the average annual labour productivity growth between 2011 and 2015 was 1.8% while the 11MP has a target of 3.7% annual growth. The doubling in labour productivity growth is needed to hit the high-income target of the New Economic Model.

Malaysian Employers Federation executive director Datuk Shamsuddin Bardan notes that the economy saw a labour productivity growth of 3.3% last year but believes that it will be challenging for labour productivity to grow in the years to come because of the lack of skilled workers.

Shamsuddin: ‘I doubt very much whether our policy emphasising English will be successful, as statistics indicate that if we ask teachers themselves to take SPM English exam, possibly half of them will fail.’

The 11MP targets skilled workers, that is, those with diplomas and higher qualifications, to reach 35% or 5.35 million of total workforce by 2020. Currently 28% of the total workforce of 14.76 million are considered skilled workers.

Shamsuddin fears that without more skilled workers, the economy will find it more difficult to move up the value chain and will not be able to attract large capital investments.

He tells StarBizWeek that the 11MP target is well below the proportion for skilled workers compared to developed economies, where the proportion is at least half of the total workforce.

Shamsuddin says government plans to raise the skill levels of Malaysian workers have so far only shown mixed results, with a gap between the plans and the actual implementation.

Indeed, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, a grouping of rich economies, says in a 2013 report that the country needs to address long-standing economic weaknesses in the medium term in order to progress toward becoming an advanced economy within the next decade.

“Skill shortages and mismatches and the deficiencies in the education system that underlie them and the low participation of women in the workforce particularly need to be remedied,” it says.

It adds that the talent base of the workforce lags behind the standards of high-income nations. “The country suffers from a shortage of skilled workers, weak productivity growth stemming from a lack of creativity and innovation in the workforce, and an over-reliance on unskilled and low-wage migrant workers,” it adds.

Observers say cheap unskilled foreign labour is the bane of the Malaysian economy. According to the latest official estimates, there are 1.9 million documented foreign workers in the country with the Government having put a cap of the proportion of foreign workers to the total labour force at 15%.

Unofficial estimates of foreign workers, both legal and illegal, could be more than double that with the numbers having a negative effect on total wages.

Socio Economic Research Centre executive director Lee Heng Guie says in the long run, businesses will need to increase automation for the low-value processes in the manufacturing sector in order to reduce their reliance on foreign labour.

“We are not asking everything to be automated as some places you still need labour, but what you want is to gradually move up rather than continue to rely on cheap labour.

“It is not a solution for industries to compete,” he says. There is also a need to review policies in order to identify implementation flaws and weaknesses.

But the work cannot be all one-way. Lee points out that the private sector must come forward to work with the Government to create a sustainable ecosystem for innovation.

While businesses acknowledge the urgency of working efficiently and relying less on foreign workers, they point out that the supporting technology including for automation cannot be found in the country and must be sourced from abroad.

Asia Poly Industrial Sdn Bhd executive director Michael Yap says manufacturers have to source for high-quality technology from places such as Europe and Taiwan to upgrade their production processes. The company, a subsidiary of Bursa-listed Asia Poly Holdings Bhd, is a maker of cast acrylic sheets used to make corporate signages, lighting displays and sanitary ware, has a high proportion of foreign workers in its workforce.

Yap also finds it difficult to get skilled workers or even motivated ones compared to the 1980s and 1990s. He says engineers today are not willing to take up challenges and many graduates cannot solve problems.

His colleagues observe that Malaysians also do not want to work in the manufacturing sector, even if the workplace environment is conducive and they are given opportunities to give their inputs.

Given the increasing importance of the services sector to the economy, Englishlanguage skills are important but again, there is a gap between the plan and the implementation.

The Services Sector Blueprint launched last year targets the sector to make up 56.5% of gross domestic product by 2020.

Shamsuddin says it is critical for the education system to plan for the future requirements of the economy and the command of English is very important to the services sector.

“I doubt very much whether our policy emphasising English will be successful, as statistics indicate that if we ask teachers themselves to take SPM English exam, possibly half of them will fail,” he adds.

Lee feels that a more consistent policy towards English is important, referring to the abrupt change in the teaching of mathematics and science to Bahasa Malaysia after it was taught in English from 1996 to 2012, as a change that has failed Malaysian children.

By ZUNAIRA SAIEED Starbizweek

RelatedLiow: Malaysia needs more skilled workers

Reducing reliance on foreign workers

https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/eBG7C3xitL4

More engagement needed with industry to avoid labour shortage in certain sectors

PETALING JAYA: The freeze on the hiring of foreign workers from February reveals how reliant Malaysia’s economy is on low-wage labour for growth.

A rough calculation by Malaysian Palm Oil Association chief executive Datuk Makhdzir Mardan showed that in 2013, when the plantation industry had a shortage of 23,500 workers, the opportunity cost came to RM1.6bil. He points out that in 2013, one foreign worker who works as a harvester equalled RM500,000 in productivity.

While the over-arching industrial policy is to produce higher value-added goods and services, the truth is that large segments of the economy is still very much dependent on low-wage labour, particularly of the low-skilled foreign migrant-worker kind.

Migrant workers Manik and Mohammad Delowar, both 27 years old from Bangladesh, are two such workers working on the multibillion ringgit Sungei Buloh-Kajang MRT line. Manik has lived in Malaysia for the last eight years and has worked on three property projects before being employed to work on the MRT project.

Both earn a salary of between RM1,500 and RM1,600 per month, 75% of which is remitted home to support their families. Manik told StarBiz that the freeze, which came about after a public outcry over an agreement between the governments of Bangladesh and Malaysia to supply low-skilled workers, would definitely affect the flow of workers that wanted to work in Malaysia.

“I do not wish to go back to my country as I’ll not be able to find a job there,” he said, adding that unemployment in Bangladesh was high and he had to support a family of six.

Manik paid RM8,000 to an agent and waited a year before securing a job in Malaysia. He sold land and borrowed money in order to pay for the fees. Mohammad, who has been working in Malaysia for eight months, paid RM12,000 in fees.

Their experience tell the often unheard human story of foreign workers in Malaysia. These millions of workers who come from the most part from Bangladesh, Indonesia, Myanmar, Nepal, the Philippines and Vietnam are familiar faces in various sectors of the economy. The construction and agriculture sectors cannot do without them while the services sector, especially the hospitality, food and beverage and security industries, have large numbers of foreign workers.

Although the low-cost model of growth has served Malaysia well in the 1980s and 1990s, it has also made local firms reluctant to adopt technology or more efficient ways of doing things. Malaysia’s membership of the Trans Pacific Partnership makes higher productivity and efficiency ever more urgent.

Economists argue that without a rise in productivity, measured in the production of higher value-added goods and services, wages will continue to be low. The large number of foreign workers with their lower skill sets and low wages makes things worse.

This is not to say that there are no higher value-added goods or services being produced, or that the Government is not encouraging it. The New Economic Model, together with the National Key Economic Areas, have identified various sectors and subsectors in which Malaysia can have a competitive advantage.

Leadership, clear-cut policy on foreign workers and investment in education as well as technology are just some of the issues that come into play as the country strives to reduce its reliance on low-wage workers and move up the value chain.

Master Builders Association Malaysia president Matthew Tee and Makhdzir agree that the adoption of technology and mechanisation will reduce dependence on foreign workers.

Tee said the Government should provide more incentives for construction firms to adopt more efficient processes such as the industrialised building system (IBS) that could reduce dependence on low-skilled migrant workers. He pointed out that reducing the import duties on construction machinery could also help.

Meanwhile, Makhdzir said more funds should be allocated to oil-palm research and development (R&D) to make the industry more competitive. “If we desperately need to make that progress, we need to put in more talent, and more money to make it competitive in terms of R&D,” he added.

Makhdzir said the policy needed to be more flexible where R&D was concerned as talent must be sourced from outside the country if necessary.

But in the meantime, the freeze on foreign workers is causing a lot of problems as news headlines in recent months show. The problem is particularly acute in the construction and agriculture sectors.

Tee said there was a shortage of 1.3 million workers in the construction sector and predicted a shortage of up to 2 million by 2020. “This will cause delay in projects which could result in liquidated damages by clients translating to thousands of ringgit per day,” he adds.

Tee observed that the government-initiated rehiring programme that in part would also legalise illegal foreign workers had only attracted 3% of the 1.7 million total number of illegal workers in the country. He said the requirements to legalise the workers were inflexible and because of that, many did not fit the requirements – one reason why the overwhelming majority had decided not to get properly documented.

He said firms wishing to hire workers under the rehiring programme found it more expensive than hiring fresh foreign workers. On the other hand, Makhzir said there needed to be leadership in tackling the issue while Tee said there needed to be more engagement with industry as the reaction from the authorities had been slow.
By ZUNAIRA SAIEED

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Jack Ma advisor to Malaysian Govt on digital economy to start with e-FTZ


https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/fb74uSG-7Ro

China-Malaysia Promising relationship: Najib delivering his speech in Beijing. ‘A digital economy with e-commerce is Malaysia’s next growth strategy,’ says the PM.

Alibaba founder Jack Ma agrees to be advisor to Malaysian Govt on digital economy

BEIJING: Alibaba Group founder Jack Ma has agreed to act as an advisor to the Malaysian Government on its digital economy aspirations, says Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

“We will be in partnership with Jack on the path and route to the future,” said Najib.

He said that Ma had also agreed to come to Malaysia to attend the launch of its E free trade zone in March.

Najib said this before he launched Alitrip Tourism Malaysia together with Ma Friday to lure Chinese tourists to Malaysia.

“You can see that China is the place to be. It has 300 million middle-class people, larger than US population.

“We hope, together with Alibaba, we can make Malaysia and China more prosperous,” he said.

In his Budget 2017 speech on Oct 21, Najib announced the setting up of a Digital Free Zone.

He also unveiled the Digital Maker Movement and the Malaysia Digital Hub to help nurture talents and create innovators to build a fully sustainable digital economy.

The digital economy is said to account for 16% of Malaysia’s GDP and is expected to rise.

By Ho Wah Foon The Star

Adviser Jack Ma to start with e-FTZ

Digital push: Najib with Alibaba Group executive chairman Jack Ma (left) during launching ceremonyjof the Alitrip Malaysia Tourism Pavilion. Looking on is Tourism and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Addul Aziz – Bernama.

BEIJING: Alibaba founder and executive chairman Jack Ma will kick-start his role as adviser to the Malaysian Government on its digital economy at the launch of a e-free trade zone (e-FTZ) in March.

Ma, a global business icon, has ideas on the set up of the e-trade zone, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said.

“I had a (30-min) meeting with Mr Jack Ma. He has agreed to be adviser to our Government on the digital economy,” said the Prime Minister.

“Jack Ma did not ask for payment. I don’t think we can afford to pay him,” Najib said in jest later to a reporter’s question.

In his Budget 2017 ( see related posts below) speech last month, Najib announced that a digital economy that includes e-commerce would be Malaysia’s next growth strategy as this could bring about double-digit growth.

Alibaba is the largest and most well-known e-commerce giant in China and the world.

“We will be in partnership with Ma on the path and route to the future,” said Najib before launching the Alitrip Tourism Malaysia Pavilion in collaboration with Alibaba Group.

Najib said Malaysia would have to act fast to implement Alipayment, further develop online banking and online commerce as “we don’t want to miss the boat”.

On the pavilion, Najib said: “You can see that China is the place to be. It has 300 million middle-class people, larger than the US population.

“We hope, together with Alibaba, we can make Malaysia and China more prosperous,” he said.

Ma, before launching the pavilion jointly with Najib with the premier’s mobile phone, urged Chinese tourists to visit Malaysia and enjoy the culture there.

“We have a long history between these two countries. About 2,000 years ago, Chinese went to Malaya to make a living. Now, we should go there to enjoy life – not to survive,” said Ma.

He took the opportunity to pay tribute to the Prime Minister’s father for having the foresight to be the first leader in Asean to establish diplomatic ties with China when others shunned the republic for being a communist nation.

“Today, we are benefiting from this decision made 42 years ago. Malaysia is China’s largest trading partner in Asean and China is Malaysia’s biggest trading partner.”

On Malaysians, he noted that on average each Malaysian has 230 friends on his social network.

“This means Malaysians are friendly, trusting and inclusive. This is an excellent culture.

“I love Malaysia… you have the culture, environment, food and hospitality and inclusiveness.”

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.Alitripexpected-to-bring8millionChinesetourists

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Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak (L) and China’s Premier Li Keqiang at the Great Hall of the People, in Beijing. – EPA

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Malaysian PM Najib given official welcome at China’s Great Hall of the People https://youtu.be/v87tJF3uO7U   Prime Minister …

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