Penang Landslide occured days after remedial works started


Cracks at Tanjung Bungah site began in June, Commissioner of Inquiry told

Expert panel: (From right) Yeo, Dr Gue and Prof Ramli arriving for the inquiry.

GEORGE TOWN: A temporary structure supporting a worksite slope in Tanjung Bungah developed cracks in mid-June, a Commissioner of Inquiry heard.

Soil Mechanic Sdn Bhd director Cheah Wing How, who was a sub-contractor of the project where a landslide killed 11 workers, said he was informed by a clerk to carry out remedial works as the granite wall had cracked.

Cheah said his team left after completing the granite works and soil-nailing works to enhance the stability of the temporary slope.

There was, however, no mention when they completed the works.

“When we returned, we found there were pile cap excavation works carried out near the slope.

“We believe there was soil movement that resulted in the cracks on the granite wall.

“We were carrying out remedial works and 11 days into the job, the landslide happened,” said Cheah, who has 20 years’ experience in the field.

Cheah was testifying on the first day of the public hearing into the landslide tragedy by the State Commission of Inquiry (SCI) at City Hall in Esplanade yesterday.

On Oct 21, last year, a landslide hit the affordable condominium project made up of two 49-storey towers with 980 units in total within the Permai Village township near the Tunku Abdul Rahman University College.

Among the 11 killed was site supervisor Yuan Kuok Wern, 27.

During the proceeding, the Penang Island City Council (MBPP) also presented eight drone videos that showed the slope and the surrounding area after the tragic incident.

SCI chairman Datuk Yeo Yong Poh said they planned to carry out a site visit tomorrow.

He also fixed the hearing to continue until Monday, followed by Feb 8 to Feb 11, March 24 to March 28 and April 18 to 25.

Other members of the commission are geotechnical expert Datuk Dr Gue See Sew and forensic geo-technical engineer from Universiti Teknologi Malaysia Prof Ramli Nazir.

The SCI was gazetted on Dec 21 last year to investigate the landslide after Yang di-Pertua Negri Tun Rahman Abbas gave his consent on Dec 6, 2017, for the appointment of the members of the commission and its terms of reference.

Meanwhile, Penang Citizens Awareness Chant Group (Chant) adviser Yan Lee said the entrance to the Teik Granite Quarry, which is located near the site where the landslide occurred, should be fenced up.

“Anyone can just walk into the site as the safety measure is not up to mark.

“We have voiced our concern to the Penang Island City Council, the Department of Environment as well as the Land and Mines Department,” he said yesterday.

By Chong Kah Yuan and Jo-Leen Wong The Star

Related Links:

Contractors in jitters over temporary slopes – Nation

Boulders slid down hill prior to disaster – Nation

//players.brightcove.net/4405352761001/default_default/index.html?videoId=5719810415001
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Goodbye, Silicon Valley


Greener pastures: Wang at his company’s headquarters in Shanghai. The successful Silicon Valley alumni was lured
back to China by the promise of a brighter future.

Chinese-born talents are abandoning California for riches back home with the rise of China’s new titans.

A FEW years ago, Wang Yi was living the American dream. He had graduated from Princeton, landed a job at Google and bought a spacious condo in Silicon Valley.

But one day in 2011, he sat his wife down at the kitchen table and told her he wanted to move back to China. He was bored working as a product manager for the search giant and felt the pull of starting his own company in their homeland.

It wasn’t easy persuading her to abandon balmy California for smog-choked Shanghai.

“We’d just discovered she was pregnant,” said Wang, now 37, recalling hours spent pacing their apartment. “It was a very uneasy few weeks before we made our decision, but in the end she came around.”

His bet paid off: his popular English teaching app Liulishuo or LingoChamp raised US$100mil (RM397mil) in July, putting him in the growing ranks of successful Silicon Valley alumni lured back to China by the promise of a brighter future. His decision is emblematic of an unprecedented trend with disquieting implications for Valley stalwarts from Facebook Inc to Alphabet Inc’s Google.

US-trained Chinese-born talent is becoming a key force in driving Chinese companies’ global expansion and the country’s efforts to dominate next-generation technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning. Where college graduates once coveted a prestigious overseas job and foreign citizenship, many today gravitate towards career opportunities at home, where venture capital is now plentiful and the government dangles financial incentives for cutting-edge research.

“More and more talent is moving over because China is really getting momentum in the innovation area,” said Ken Qi, a headhunter for Spencer Stuart and leader of its technology practice.

“This is only the beginning.” Chinese have worked or studied abroad and then returned home long enough that there’s a term for them – “sea turtles”. But while a job at a US tech giant once conferred near-unparalleled status, homegrown companies – from giants like Tencent Holdings Ltd to up-and-comers like news giant Toutiao – are now often just as prestigious. Baidu Inc – a search giant little-known outside of China – convinced ex-Microsoft standout Qi Lu to helm its efforts in AI, making him one of the highest-profile returnees of recent years.

Alibaba Group Holding Ltd’s coming-out party was a catalyst. The e-commerce giant pulled off the world’s largest initial public offering in 2014 – a record that stands – to drive home the scale and inventiveness of the country’s corporations.

Alibaba and Tencent now count among the 10 most valuable companies in the world, in the ranks of Amazon.com Inc and Facebook.

Chinese venture capital rivals the United States: three of the world’s five most valuable startups are based in Beijing, not California.

Tech has supplanted finance as the biggest draw for overseas Chinese returnees, accounting for 15.5% of all who go home, according to a 2017 survey of 1,821 people conducted by think-tank Centre for China & Globalisation and jobs site Zhaopin.com. That’s up 10% from their last poll, in 2015.

Not all choose to abandon the Valley. Of the more than 850,000 AI engineers across America, 7.9% are Chinese, according to a 2017 report from LinkedIn.

That naturally includes plenty of ethnic Chinese without strong ties to the mainland or any interest in working there. However, there are more AI engineers of Chinese descent in the United States than there are in China, even though they make up less than 1.6% of the American population.

Yet the search for returnees has spurred a thriving cottage industry.

In WeChat and Facebook cliques, headhunters and engineers from the diaspora exchange banter and animated gifs.

Qi watches for certain markers: if you’ve scored permanent residency, are childless or the kids are prepping for college, expect a knock on your digital door.

Jay Wu has poached over 100 engineers for Chinese companies over the past three years. The co-founder of Global Career Path ran online communities for students before turning it into a career. The San Francisco resident now trawls more than a dozen WeChat groups for leads.

“WeChat is a good channel to keep tabs on what’s going on in the circle and also broadcast our offline events,” he said.

Ditching Cupertino or Mountain View for Beijing can be a tough sell when China’s undergoing its harshest Internet crackdown in history. But its tech giants hold three drawcards: faster growth in salaries, opportunity and a sense of home.

China’s Internet space is enjoying bubbly times, with compensation sometimes exceeding American peers’. One startup was said to have hired an AI engineer for cash and shares worth as much as US$30mil (RM119mil) over four years.

For engineers reluctant to relinquish American comforts, Chinese companies are going to them. Alibaba, Tencent, Uber-slayer Didi Chuxing and Baidu are among those who have built or are expanding labs in Silicon Valley.

Career opportunities, however, are regarded as more abundant back home. While Chinese engineers are well represented in the Valley, the perception is that comparatively fewer advance to the top rungs, a phenomenon labelled the “Bamboo Ceiling”.

“More and more Chinese engineers who have worked in Silicon Valley for an extended period of time end up finding it’s much more lucrative for them career-wise to join a fast-rising Chinese company,”

says Hans Tung, a managing partner at venture firm GGV who’s organised events to poach talent.

“At Google, at LinkedIn, at Uber, at AirBnB, they all have Chinese engineers who are trying to figure out ‘should I stay, or should I go back’.”

More interesting than prospects for some may be the sheer volume of intimate data available and leeway to experiment in China.

Tencent’s WeChat, built by a small team in months, has become a poster-child for in-house creative licence.

Modern computing is driven by crunching enormous amounts of data, and generations of state surveillance has conditioned the public to be less concerned about sharing information than Westerners.

Local startup SenseTime for instance has teamed with dozens of police departments to track everything from visages to races, helping the country develop one of the world’s most sophisticated surveillance machines.

China’s 751 million Internet users have thus become a massive petri dish.

Big money and bigger data can be irresistible to those itching to turn theory into reality.

Xu Wanhong left Carnegie Mellon University’s computer science PhD programme in 2010 to work on Facebook’s news feed.

A chance meeting with a visiting team from Chinese startup UCAR Technology led to online friendships and in 2015, an offer to jump ship. Today he works at Kuaishou, a video service said to be valued at more than US$3bil (RM12bil), and commutes from 20km outside Beijing. It’s a far cry from the breakfast bar and lush spaces of Facebook’s Menlo Park headquarters.

“I didn’t go to the US for a big house. I went for the interesting problems,” he said.

Then there are those for whom it’s about human connection: no amount of tech can erase the fact that Shanghai and San Francisco are separated by an 11-hour flight and an even wider cultural chasm.

Chongqing native Yang Shuishi grew up deifying the West, adopting the name Seth and landing a dream job as a software engineer on Microsoft’s Redmond campus.

But suburban America didn’t suit a single man whose hometown has about 40 times Seattle’s population.

While he climbed the ranks during subsequent stints at Google and Facebook, life in America remained a lonely experience and he landed back in China.

“You’re just working as a cog in the huge machine and you never get to see the big picture.

“My friends back in China were thinking about the economy and vast social trends,” he said.

“Even if I get killed by the air and live shorter for 10 years, it’ll still be better.” – Bloomberg

Related Link:

Next Crisis Will Start in Silicon Valley – Bloomberg

Chinese workers abandon Silicon Valley for riches back home …

The stalled building defects causing delays of relocation ..


Not ready: (Clockwise from top) The front view of the Batu Ferringhi market in Penang, exposed electrical sockets and cracked floor in the badminton court, and a leaking pipe in the washroom.

 
Defects causing delay of move to RM9mil Batu Ferringhi market

The scheduled relocation of traders to the RM9mil Batu Ferringhi market on Aug 14 is postponed to a later date until shortcomings such as leakage in the washrooms and cracks on the floor are fixed.

Lim checking on the condition of the market.- Photos: ZHAFARAN NASIB/The Star

SENIOR officers of the Penang Island City Council (MBPP) were left red-faced after Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng spotted several defects in the almost completed RM9mil Batu Ferringhi market during a site visit.

Lim, who was irked with the shortcomings, asked his officers to collect back copies of his text speech given earlier to reporters.

“Before I came in, I went to the washroom. I thought it would be ready.

“But the male washroom was locked and I had to use the unoccupied ladies washroom instead.

“If the market is considered ready (by the council), then it is unacceptable,” he said.

Washroom with missing taps
A leaking pipe pipe in the washroom

It is learnt that the ladies washroom was leaking and some of the taps had yet to be fixed.

Lim, who was walking to the dining area, was stopped by several traders who requested the council delay their relocation into the market which was earlier scheduled on Aug 14.

Speaking to newsmen, Lim said another date would be set.

“We cannot fix a date now until we are satisfied that the shortcomings have been rectified,” he said.

MBPP mayor Datuk Maimunah Mohd Sharif said she would hold discussions with the market contractor and architect.

“Cracks have also appeared on the floor of the badminton courts,” she said.

Maimunah said the council had issued the Certificate of Practical Completion (CPC) for the market but not the Certificate of Completion and Compliance (CCC).

The market was scheduled for completion by the end of last year.

There are 16 hawker stalls, 28 wet and dry market units, a multipurpose hall, a library, three badminton courts, playground, bicycle path, shower rooms and 90 parking bays.

Source: The Star/ANN by Intan Amalina Mohd Ali

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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

Related Links:

Stop denying the undeniable, says Fadillah – Nation

PCM lodges report over Penang undersea tunnel project – Nation …

Party plans to renew MACC report on Penang undersea tunnel project …

BNSC: Firm given Penang Tunnel project ‘undercapitalised’ – Nation …

Penang Undersea Tunnel – Wikipedia

CM: Penang undersea tunnel feasibility study can’t proceed | Free …

Bumpy road ahead for CZBUCG’s RM6.3b project – The Edge Property

Auditors qualify opinion on accounts of firm tasked with Penang tunnel …

Gerakan questions ‘high profits’ of tunnel feasibility study contractor …

PDF]PENANG MAJOR PROJECTS PRESENTATION – ENGLISH …

Making the corrupt fear whistleblowers, not the other way !

 

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Links

MCA division slams state over constant flood woes – Community

 

Barisan team maintains that Penang govt overpaid consultation fees …

 

Penang has one week to explain tunnel consultancy fee: Rahman …

Penang govt overpaid undersea tunnel consultation fees by 400 pct …

‘Did Penang govt overpay tunnel consultants by 400%?’ | Berita Daily

Disputes spill into the open

Disputes spill into the open

Our permanent forest reserves left untouched, says Guan Eng – Nation

 

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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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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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