Stop denying the undeniable high engineering consultancy fees for 3 Penang roads, says minister



The works minister, Datuk Seri Fadillah Yosof says compared to what the JKR recently paid for pre-construction consulting fees for a project in Johor (RM19mil of pre-construction consulting cost represents 2.67% of RM718,570,500 for roads totalling 30km in length), the Penang government’s consultancy fees for the three roads project is exorbitant to the total RM220mil pre-construction fees that was already fully paid by the Penang government, which represented 11.06% of the RM1.99bil construction cost for the three roads totalling 20km in length and has yet to start construction despite a three-and-a-half-year delay.”

PETALING JAYA: The Penang government has been urged to “stop denying the undeniable” over the exorbitant consultancy fees for the three roads project.

Works Minister Fadillah Yusof said the Public Works Depart­­ment (JKR) recently paid RM19 million in total for pre-construction consulting fees for a paired road highway project in Jo­­hor.

He compared this with the exorbitant consultancy fees for the three roads project in Penang.

“The fees comprise all required services and include the fees for all surveys, soil investigation, preliminary environmental impact assessment and all civil, structural, electrical and mechanical designs,” The Star quoted Fadillah as saying.

He said the RM19 million of pre-construction consulting cost represents 2.67% of RM718,570,500 for roads totalling 30km in length.

He added that in accordance with the Board of Engineers Malaysia’s (BEM) guidelines, not all of the fees for the project were paid before construction began as a quarter of the payment was withheld for the tendering and construction stages.

“Compare this to the total RM220 million pre-construction fees that was already fully paid by the Penang government, which represented 11.06% of the RM1.99 billion construction cost for the three roads totalling 20km in length and has yet to start construction despite a three-and-a-half-year delay,” Fadillah said.

The three paired roads are meant to be the traffic dispersal system of Penang’s proposed undersea tunnel project.

The cost of the consultation fees for the three paired roads has been a point of contention between the state and federal government, whereby the latter says that the Penang government has significantly overpaid the fees.

The Penang government has maintained that the fees paid is not excessive. – FMT news, The Star

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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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Developers of toppled Taiwan building detained


Executives face charges over professional negligence resulting in death

 

Questions are being asked about the building’s construction (Picture: AP)

Three Taiwanese construction company executives have been detained on charges of professional negligence resulting in death following the collapse of an apartment building in an earthquake, killing dozens.

The district prosecutor’s office in the city of Tainan said Wednesday that Lin Ming-hui and architects Chang Kui-an and Cheng Chin-kui were suspected of having overseen shoddy construction of the 17-story Weiguan Golden Dragon building, which crashed onto its side during the earthquake Saturday.

It said the three were detained to prevent collusion or other acts that could disrupt the investigation. Among the accusations was that only half as many fasteners had been used in the supporting columns as required.

The death toll in the 6.4-magnitude quake stood at 44 on Wednesday, with all but two of the deaths coming in the building collapse. About 100 people are believed to still be trapped in the debris.

The broadcaster FTV and other Taiwanese media said Lin had changed his name after a previous bankruptcy and had run multiple property development companies in Tainan in an apparent attempt to avoid creditors and bilked clients.

Although the shallow quake was potentially devastating, few buildings were damaged as a result of strict construction standards in force in Taiwan, an island frequently struck by quakes. The Weiguan Golden Dragon building, built in 1989, was the only major structure to collapse in the temblor.

Most of the 320 people who were rescued from the disaster were saved in the hours immediately after the quake, in which the building’s foundation and lower floors gave way before it toppled onto its side.

Earthquakes rattle Taiwan frequently. Most are minor and cause little or no damage, but a magnitude-7.6 quake in central Taiwan in 1999 killed more than 2,300 people. More stringent building standards were introduced following that disaster and appear to have been tightly enforced.

The quake struck during the most important family holiday in the Chinese calendar – the Lunar New Year. Celebrations of the holiday in Taiwan have been subdued. – AP

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 Hills clearing in Penang: NGOs not impressed with mitigation work at Botak Hill 

 Penang Forum tells Chief Minister: the unmitigated diasters on hill projects



Hills clearing in Penang: NGOs not impressed with mitigation work at Botak Hill


Video:

http://www.thestar.com.my/metro/community/2016/01/28/searing-queries-on-clearing-ngos-not-impressed-with-mitigation-work-at-botak-hill/
An aerial shot taken from the bald patch on Bukit Relau, George Town, during a visit by the state delegation and NGOs to check on the mitigation work. — Photos: CHARLES MARIASOOSAY.

Chow (left) being briefed by technical consultant Khoo Koon Tai during the visit up Bukit Relau.

THE climb up the steep track on Bukit Relau is an arduous one. And there is little reward now for those who endure the climb.

The infamous Botak Hill seems to be getting balder. It’s a sad sight. What was once a lush hill had become a wide open patch of brown. Now, it is a giant scar of boulder, sand and concrete. The developer General Accomplish-ment Sdn Bhd is carrying out mitigation work which it says will be completed in June this year. For now, however, the hill looks worse than it did before.

The trip up the hill was arranged by the state and led by Local Government Committee chairman Chow Kon Yeow. Others in the entourage included Deputy Chief Minister 1, Datuk Mohd Rashid Hasnon, executive councillors, state assemblyman, Penang Forum and Malaysia Nature Society, Penang.

It was no surprise that the NGO members were not impressed with the mitigation work. The condition of the hill has deteriorated so badly. The only greenery in sight were patches of grass on the boulders.

The NGOs are even more upset that with less than six months before the mitigation work is completed, there seems to be no plan in place to halt the erosion of the hill or to carry out restoration work, which will have to include replanting of trees, the undergrowth and comprehensive hydroseeding.

Roads and drainage systems built right down the hill have destroyed whatever greenery there was. The explanation given was that the roads were needed for the mitigation work rings hollow. “How can you carry out mitigation work and clear more land for the so called roads for mitigation work,” asked a Penang Forum member.

There are metal poles bordering a part of the hill, and it look like some hoarding is about to come up. Is there any development being planned for the spot of the hill?

A spokesman for the developer, General Accomplishment Sdn Bhd said RM20mil has been spent so far for the mitigation work and the amount could rise to RM50mil.

“Why would you want to spend RM50mil for mitigation work if you are not going to do anything with the land,” asked a reporter.

“Well, we are open to development of the land if that is what the people want,” replied the project manager for the developer.

Chow was non-committal when asked if the state would reject any development on the land saying it was a “hypothetical” question as there wasn’t any application (to develop the land).

Despite the long explanation, the burning question remains.

Will the hill be restored to its old state and or is the mitigation work just the start of plans to develop the hill for housing.

It was rezoned for housing in 2012.

By K. Sekaran The Star

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Penang Forum tells Chief Minister: the unmitigated disasters on hill projects


The Penang Forum steering committee released the following ‘executive summary’ to the media during its meeting with the chief minister of Penang

The Penang Forum steering committee released the following ‘executive summary’ to the media during its meeting with the chief minister of Penang:

To address public concerns over hill degradation in Penang, the Penang Forum took the initiative in September 2015 to co-organise a public forum on hill development with the MBPP and relevant Penang state authorities.

But the council and the state decided not to participate in the effort and missed the opportunity to engage with the public.

In organising the public forum, the Penang Forum is non-partisan and has not been influenced by any other body or organisation.

The Penang Forum has not been misinformed. Its information and data came from two sources:

  • answers provided by the State Exco to the State Assembly sitting in November 2015 on the number of legal projects and illegal clearings on sensitive hill land between 2008 and 2015; and
  • photographs provided by members of public, resident associations, Google Earth satellite imagery and drone shots.
    The scarring on Bukit Relau has grown into an unmitigated disaster. Despite a stop work order and a fine against those responsible, major earthworks, including the building of road infrastructure, have taken place.

While it is technically possible to build safely on hill slopes many stringent conditions must first be in place and complied with. The present approach to environmental and engineering impact assessment done in isolation for individual hill development projects should be reviewed.

The Penang Forum calls on the Penang state government to comply with its own stated policies of prohibiting development on hill land above 76m (250 feet) and/or with a gradient greater than 25 degrees.

Special projects should be limited only to those of public interest.

We recommend that the authorities implement a holistic planning and monitoring system that takes account of cumulative impacts for the whole hill area under development.

We call for violators to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, including jail sentences and to be blacklisted for future projects.

We call upon the authorities to require all offenders to restore the damaged hills to their original condition.

Penang Forum steering committee
11 January 2016

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Penang Forum concerns over hill clearing and floods; the Declaration & Recommendation


Under fire over hill slope developments

Penangites upset with approval of high-rises on slopes…

GEORGE TOWN: The Penang government has come under fire for the clearing of hills and high number of high-rise buildings approved on slopes above the permitted 76m and 25-degree gradient.

Environmentalist and scientist Dr Kam Suan Pheng claimed that massive hill clearing from 2008 to 2015 at Pantai Acheh and Teluk Bahang endangered the lush hills at the Penang National Park boundary where the Teluk Bahang Dam is situated.

She also said the state government claims to listen to the people but went ahead and redesignated Bukit Relau, infamously known as Botak Hill, as a residential zone in 2012 amidst massive protest against the development of the hill.

She also decried the big number of projects approved on slopes above 76m and 25-degree gradient when the Penang Structure Plan clearly stated that there could be no development on such slopes.

Dr Kam was delivering a talk titled, ‘What is happening to our hills’ at the Save The Hills of Penang public forum at Dewan Sri Pinang here yesterday.

A handout distributed to the 300-odd participants of the event claimed that 30 blocks of high-rise buildings were approved on such slopes in Paya Terubong, 15 blocks in Bayan Lepas, 14 blocks in the Tanjung Bungah/Batu Ferringhi belt and nine blocks in Teluk Kumbar/Balik Pulau.

Universiti Sains Malaysia deputy vice-chancellor Dr Sharom Ahmat said hill development above 76m could be approved under ‘special projects’ if it benefits the masses but added that “bungalows costing RM4mil to RM5mil are barely for the people.”

In his talk titled, ‘Why are we here today?’, he claimed that public hearings seemed to be more of a formality as decisions were made before such hearings.

Environmentalist and engineer K.K. Lim, in his presentation ‘Are our hills protected by the government’, said the rampant development on the hills could see a repeat of the Highland Towers tragedy in 1993.

He said soil erosion due to rain and the lack of water retention because of hill clearing could bring a major disaster in the event of a landslide.

In her talk ‘Hill Offenders: Fine? Jail? Nothing?’, lawyer Datuk Agatha Foo said the RM500,000 and RM50,000 fines for violations under the Town and Country Planning Act and State Drainage and Building Act respectively were not a deterrent.

“It is merely a slap on the wrist,” she said, claiming that developers pay the fine as part of their development expenditure.

A declaration was made at the end of the half-day forum. It among others, urged the state government to comply with its own policy of prohibiting development on hill land above 76m or greater than 25-degree gradient and not to include ordinary residential buildings as special projects.

It also called upon the state government and Penang Island City Council to prosecute violators to the full extent of the law, including imposing jail sentences and to blacklist all offenders for future development projects.

Two PKR elected representatives were among those who attended the event organised by the Penang Forum which is a loose coalition of public-interest civil society groups. They were Bayan Baru MP Sim Tze Tzin and Batu Uban assemblyman Dr T. Jayabalan.

By Sekaran The Star

Forum Declaration & Recommendation:

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2 structures collapse due to incompetent engineers and irresponsible officer of MPPP


Three slammed over finwall tragedy

GEORGE TOWN: An incompetent engineer, a irresponsible one and a neglectful senior civil servant have come under fire in the report on the collapse of the finwall from the top of the 21-storey Menara Umno building in Jalan Macalister here.

A car driver and a lorry attendant died in the incident on June 13, 2013. Several vehicles and property were damaged. The body of the motorist was never been recovered.

The Commission of Enquiry, headed by Datuk Yeo Yang Poh, recommended that the Board of Engineers take action against finwall design engineer Lee Ah Yew and Dr Gerry Wong Kong Ming who signed and submitted the engineering drawings to the then Penang Municipal Council.

The report stated that (the then) North-East district officer Azizi Zakaria ought to have played a central role as the person in charge of emergency responses under ‘Arahan 20’, but had totally ignored and abandoned his duties.

It said Azizi was unfit to hold his post and “should have the honour of resigning, failing which he should be removed from office.”

Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng distributed copies of the 312-page “Report of The Commission of Enquiry into the Failure of Two Civil Structures in the State of Penang” to pressmen yesterday.

The report also details investigations into the ramp collapse at the Batu Maung Interchange of the second Penang bridge on June 6, 2013.

On the Menara Umno building, the report said the collapse of the finwall was due to “grossly inadequate design.”

The finwall, which was called “a lightning arrester” by the media, is a reinforced-concrete structure weighing about 200 tonnes.

“The engineer Lee has no experience in designing a slender cantilever column on top of a tall building.

“He committed multiple serious errors when designing the structure,” it said.

On Dr Wong, the report said that he signed and submitted the engineering drawings to the council without checking.

“As such, the errors and inadequacies in the design of the finwall are deemed to be his; for which he must bear equal responsibility.”

The report said Azizi’s dereliction of duty was “so complete that it is difficult to imagine anyone who could have done worse”.

“His lack of remorse or contrition when he testified before the Commission and his unabashed downplay of his total neglect of duty are very disturbing,” it said.

Lee and Dr Wong could not be reached for comments. It is learnt that Azizi has retired.

BY K. SUTHAKAR and CHRISTOPHER TAN The Star/Asia News Network

Inquiry into 2013 mishap at Menara Umno in Jalan Macalister blames engineers

GEORGE TOWN: The Commission of Inquiry into the failures of two civil structures in Penang has come down hard on the engineer who designed the fin wall atop the 21st storey of Menara Umno in Jalan Macalister.

The engineer, Lee Ah Yew, was “grossly incompetent and grossly negligent” and had committed multiple serious errors, which resulted in the reinforced-concrete structure weighing about 200 tonnes collapsing on June 13, 2013.

In its report, the three-member commission headed by Datuk Yeo Yang Poh said Monday that Lee, who designed the fin wall in 1995, was then a graduate engineer with no experience in designing a “slender” cantilever column on top of a tall building.

The commission has recommended that the Board of Engineers (BEM) initiate disciplinary action against Lee.

It said the board should also take disciplinary action against Dr Gerry Wong Kong Ming, the submitting engineer who signed and submitted the engineering drawings to the local planning authorities.

“As such, the errors and inadequacies in the design of the fin wall are deemed to be his; for which he must bear equal responsibility, though he signed them without checking,” it said.

The commission rapped the North-East district officer Azizi Zakaria for abandoning his duties as the person in-charge of emergency responses under Arahan 20.

“His dereliction of duty was so complete and that it is difficult to imagine anyone who could have done worse.

“Encik Azizi’s lack of remorse and contrition when he testified before the commission and his unabashed downplay of his total neglect of duty, are very much disturbing,” the report stated.

In the incident, the fin wall collapsed and hit a passing car and buried it (together with its driver) beneath the ground. A lorry attendant nearby was also killed. Several vehicles and properties were damaged.

The commission also submitted its findings into the ramp which collapsed on June 6, 2013 at the Batu Maung interchange leading to the second Penang Bridge.

BY K. SUTHAKAR/ The Star/Asia News Network

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