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

 
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Huge Civil Service Size, Attractive Emoluments and Benefits are costing Malaysia !


Prized job: While long-term security like the pension scheme free healthcare and easy loans have been among the perks of joining the public service, many job seekers now want to become civil servants because it pays well. — Bernama

The attractive emoluments and benefits in the public sector are costing the country, say experts.

THE civil service had never been *Sofea Mohd’s dream job but in the current competi­tive job market, the final year Economics student at a local public university is seriously weighing the option. Especially since she was offered a temporary position at a ministry where she had just completed an internship.

“My seniors advised me to take the offer – one said she had to wait years before she got a job, another said he had to work in a fastfood restaurant and sell pens and children’s books on the street, so I thought I should listen to them and just take it.

“They say my chances of being hired permanently will be higher then,” says the 22-year-old.

The main reason she decided to accept the offer, however, is the pay, she tells, “It’s not as low as people say. I will get a daily wage but I can earn at least RM2,000 a month. The pay for permanent staff is of course better.”

Her friend *Azman Jailani dreams of starting his own business but is also planning to join the public sector after graduation.

“That’s what my parents want me to do. They say there is more security in the civil service. I can start my business later if I want,” says the final year business studies student.

With the academic year coming to a close at most tertiary institution in the country, many graduating students are preparing for the next chapter in their life. And like these two, many are looking at the civil service for a job guarantee.

It was reported recently that the Public Service Commission received 1.56 million applications last year to fill 25,046 job vacancies in the public sector. In 2015, the PSC received 1.63 million applications for 24,606 vacancies.

While the attraction of a government job is well-noted – long-term security; a pension scheme; cheap, if not free, healthcare; easy loans – many job seekers are now drawn to the public sector because of its pay.

Shamsuddin: ‘Duplications impact the private sector. When there are too many agencies, that will bound to cause delays.’

The pay for the public sector, especially for entry-level jobs, is on par with the private sector, says Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) director Datuk Shamsuddin Bardan.

“It has to be noted that public sector wages have risen, in some cases outstripping the wages in the private sector. And that is only the basic pay. When you add the different allowances and bonuses, the public sector’s salaries – perhaps except for those at senior management level – could be more attractive than that of the private sector.

“Then there are also many benefits for civil servants such as house loans and healthcare benefits for them and family that continue even after they retire.

“In the private sector, the health insurance coverage ends when you leave a company’s employment or retire,” he says.

But the attractive emolument and benefits in the public sector have come at a price for the country, say economists, one that Malaysia will not be able to afford in the future. In fact, some believe it is already hurting Malaysia’s economy – it has been reported that it will now cost the nation more than 40% of government revenue to maintain the public sector.

Experts have pointed to its sheer size as a reason for the burgeoning bill of the civil service.

In February, Second Finance Minister Datuk Seri Johari Abdul Ghani told a local Chinese daily in an interview that it is a growing challenge for the Government to run the public sector due to the rising costs.

“One of the issues that we have to address is the ever-increasing government operating costs and expenses.

“For example, we have about 1.6 million civil servants, which is one of the world’s largest proportion of civil service,” Johari was quoted as saying.

With a population of 31 million, this means Malaysia has a ratio of one civil servant to 19 people, said the news report, which cited corresponding ratios for other countries in comparison: Singapore (1 to 71 people), Indonesia (1:110), China (1:108) and Britain (1:118).

The reported size of the civil service caused a stir, with the Public Service Department director-general Datuk Seri Zainal Rahim Seman refuting criticisms that the civil service is oversized by reiterating Chief Secretary to the Government Tan Sri Dr Ali Hamsa’s statement that the size of the civil service is a matter of definition under the Federal Constitution, which includes the police, the armed forces, and healthcare and education personnel.

 

As Zainal Rahim told the press, the actual size of the civil service would only be 682,790 should Malaysia adopt the same calculation used by other countries. This would make the ratio of civil servant to population as 1 to 44, instead of 1:19, he said.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, meanwhile, put  Malaysia’s employment in the public sector as only 10.8% of the total labour force in 2013.

But as Johari highlighted, the fact is, emoluments make up the biggest portion of the Government’s operating expenditure, and that cost has been and will keep expanding.

“In 2003, the pay of public servants totalled RM22bil but it increased to RM74bil by 2016. In 2003, the pension of civil servants was RM5.9bil and in 2016 the amount soared to RM19bil.”

This year, some RM77.4bil have been allocated in the 2017 Budget for public servants’ pay and some RM21bil for the pension and gratuity payments of retirees, which is about 45% of the allocated operating expenditure of the country.

The challenge to cover the spiking cost is intensified by the declining Government reve­nue, the vernacular newspaper reported Johari as saying.

“In particular, revenues from the palm oil and natural gas industries, which generated profits of about RM65bil in 2014, fell sharply to RM30bil in 2016,” he was quoted.

Concurring, economist Dr Yeah Kim Leng says the rising operating expenditure is also a concern due to its impact on the country’s development.

“Over the last decade or so, we are seeing the operating expenditure in the government budget expand to the extent that we are not able to expand the development expenditure,” says Dr Yeah, who is an economics professor at Sunway Business School.

Some RM214.8bil was allocated for operating expenditure in the 2017 Budget while only RM46bil was allocated for development.

“By right, the development expenditure should be half of the budget if we want a dynamic economy as we see in many countries, especially in the developed countries,” he adds.

“But in Malaysia, the development expenditure has shrunk to as low as 20% of the budget. This will have a multiplier effect on our economy.”

He argues we should be spending more on our development, both in increasing the quantum of development expenditure and at the same time focusing the development expenditure on the right sectors – not just hard infrastructure but also soft infrastructure like social and human capital development.

“This is important in improving the quality of our workforce and their skills, in terms of boosting the talent development that can push the frontiers of growth in the country, especially in science and technology and other emerging knowledge and industries.

“The Government needs to attract investments in these new sectors, so that is why development expenditure is one of the key contributions to spark growth in those sectors and accelerate the growth of the economy towards becoming high end, high value.”

He points out, various studies have shown that the country’s civil service is big, with a low productivity rate.

“Regardless of how we calculate the total, we definitely have more people in the public sector than necessary, and studies have shown that labour productivity is quite low for the public sector.”

Rightsizing the civil service is the way to go, he asserts, but it should be treated as part of the continuous effort of improving the efficiency of its delivery service.

“The key is to be able to provide the services required by the people optimally, which is at the smallest number and lowest cost possible without sacrificing the quality of service,” he says, stressing that the underlying note is that “we should be getting bigger banks for our bucks, that is the taxpayers’ money.”

Crucially, Dr Yeah adds, while rightsizing the civil service is important to sustain growth, it is important that we rightsize without disrupting economic growth in terms of the employment situation in the country.

“We have to ensure meaningful employment for all while sustaining a low unemployment rate so that we can maintain the domestic economic growth momentum.”

Any prudent government would seize the opportunity to rightsize and enhance the public sector efficiency, Dr Yeah says.

“It is important to rightsize gradually and incrementally at a pace that does not disrupt the economy.

“Because the risk is that if we are hit by a downturn and the government is forced to undertake the pending cuts then that would be more painful and damaging to the economy. There would be a loss of productive capital when we face that kind of situation,” he says.

Tan Sri Mohd Sheriff Mohd Kassim, immediate past president of the Malaysian Economic Association (MEA) also believes it is time for Malaysia to rightsize the civil service due to the huge sum of civil servants’ salaries and pensions in the government expenditure.

As he had told the “Economic Governance: Public Sector Governance” forum in February, it could be a problem for Malaysia if it runs into a financial crisis and rightsizing is “better sooner than later” if Malaysia wanted to avoid falling into a Greece-like crisis, where the European country had to cut salaries and state pensions for its civil service.

“It is worthwhile to do it now while we can still afford it.

“I think we should do it gradually. It is kinder to do it now with incentives than to suddenly cut their salaries and pensions at a time when they can least afford it,” he was reported as saying.

Mohd Sheriff, who is also the former Finance Ministry secretary-general and Economic Planning Unit director-general, points out that there are ways of rightsizing in a humane and caring manner including providing free courses on skills development that will make people employable in the right sector like ICT, English, basic accounting, corporate law and others.

He says with the right skills, many would even leave the service on their own accord to improve their lives.

Dr Yeah agrees.

“While their pay is comparable to the private sector, many of the second layer and support jobs in the civil service have low long-term prospect,” he says.

“If their skills are improved, they and their families could get better prospects for the future. And if they are forced to look at other opportunities in the private sector or in entrepreneurship, in the end they could be better off,” he says, pointing to some of the initiatives already taken to rightsize the civil service and improve its productivity and efficiency, especially under Pemandu.

Dr Lee Hwok Aun, senior fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, says the Government should explore different ways to raise more revenue, such as by introducing a capital gains tax.

As a former lecturer at a Malaysian public university, Dr Lee says he can appreciate the enormous difficulty of rightsizing the civil service.

“The projected increasing burden of civil service salaries and proven continuous increase of operational expenditures in overall federal government spending, at the expense of investment, are major causes for concern. And the size of the civil service matters, but the long-term issues are even more complex,” he says.

For the civil service to be effective, nimble and efficient, it will need to attract and retain talent in certain sectors – which means paying higher salaries, especially for key positions such as teachers, he says.

As he sees it, the main problem is over-bureaucratisation.

“There are various unnecessary administrative posts, which add cost and tend to perpetuate procedures and heavy paperwork. I can attest to this from my experience working in a public university. An overhaul of administrative strategy and operations is probably necessary in many departments, before making any staff reductions. If not, when staff retire or relocate, the same amount of tedious work becomes distributed among fewer people, causing service and morale to decline,” he says, adding there will also be resistance from civil servants who stand to lose their pension if they leave.

“We should be understanding and merciful about this situation. Forms of compensation, or the option to convert from public sector pension to an EPF lump sum, could be explored.”

MEF’s Shamsuddin concurs, pointing out that there are also a lot of duplications of service and work at the federal level and state level and so on.

“A good example is tourism where there is a tourism agency at the federal level while the state has its own tourism Exco and office.

Duplications impact the private sector as it is a problem to deal with different government agencies to get something done. When there are too many agencies, that will bound to cause delays,” says Shamsuddin.

Dr Yeah says it is imperative for the Government to enhance the efficiency of the delivery service and effectiveness of the public sector across the board, such as putting them to work in priority areas and where they will have the highest impact.

“Crucially, when we focus on improving productivity through redeployment, retraining and re-skilling, quite naturally, we will be rightsizing.”

It can even be a win-win situation for the public servants as a smaller number of employees that commensurate with a higher productivity will mean an increase in profit, so the civil servants can receive higher wages, he notes.

Still, Dr Yeah feels the public sector’s emolument bill should be capped.

“We need to ensure that the public sector wages do not exceed the workers’ productivity or rate of inflation, as that itself will lead to a productivity decline.

“We should cascade it so that the wages in private sector could rise in tandem with thepublic sector,” he says, adding that at the same time the size of the civil service needs to be reduced. “If we don’t rightsize and instead create more civil service jobs, it will be a downward spiral.”

The Government also needs to enhance Malaysia’s investment climate and attract more foreign investments, he adds, “The strategy of the country should be to push for private sector growth, especially in new and emerging areas which would boost demand for highly skilled labour.”

Ultimately, says Dr Yeah, the public service sector should not be the job reserve or employer of the last resort in the country.

To achieve this, we need to stop the disproportionate interest in the public sector which is not healthy for the economy, he says.

“We should be steering the workforce towards the private sector or they should become entrepreneurs so that they can raise their income opportunities and create jobs.”

The tightening of the job market can lead to higher investment, higher productivity and higher wages, Dr Yeah notes, “This is the virtuous cycle we need to kickstart to sustain an economic growth for the country at a higher level.”

*not real name

Next: Some of the initiatives already taken by the Government to rightsize the civil service and improve its productivity and efficiency.

Source: The Star/ANN by Hariati Azizan

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Boost for Bayan Lepas: Global biz hub for Penang


Hi-tech facility aims at rejuvenating economy in Bayan Lepas

 

An artist’s impression of the proposed GBS By The Sea project in Bayan Lepas.

Penang Development Corporation (PDC) general manager Datuk Rosli Jaafar said the RM200mil project dubbed ‘GBS By The Sea’ would be part of a rejuvenation exercise for the Bayan Lepas industrial area.Hi-tech facility aims at rejuvenating economy in Bayan Lepas

“The project, which will be located beside the Motorola factory, will also be used as a catalyst to rejuvenate the economy.

“Under the first phase, 2.7ha of space will be developed and will feature a nine-storey seafont building which will house the Multimedia Super Corridor Malaysia Cybercentre,” he said after announcing the project in Komtar on Tuesday.

Rosli added that there would be a multi-storey 2,500-bay car park complex, retail and F&B outlets, and also an integrated centre for IT and R&D activities.

“The futuristic hub will also have a central meeting place for people to meet up.

“It will also harness natural sunlight as lighting, making it an environment-friendly development.

“When completed in 2020, the project will create some 3,000 jobs,” he said.

Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, who was present, said the project would provide higher value jobs in the manufacturing industry through expansion and diversification of the GBS business.

“Penang aims to be part of the Industry 4.0 Transformation, which revolves around big data analytics, e-commerce, crowdsourcing, cloud computing and the Internet of Things.

“GBS By The Sea is expected to attract many key international players into the state,” he said.

Lim added that according to a study by Outsourcing Malaysia, the country’s GBS sector is expected to see a compounded annual growth rate of 10% to 15% over the next three years.

Global biz hub for Penang 

 

\Part of the buildings to be built at the GBS centre.

PENANG has identified a 72.8ha site in Bayan Lepas to be turned into a Global Business Services (GBS) centre.

Penang Development Corporation (PDC) general manager Datuk Rosli Jaafar said the RM200mil project dubbed ‘GBS By The Sea’ would be part of a rejuvenation exercise for the Bayan Lepas industrial area.

“The project, which will be located beside the Motorola factory, will also be used as a catalyst to rejuvenate the economy.

“Under the first phase, 2.7ha of space will be developed and will feature a nine-storey seafont building which will house the Multimedia Super Corridor Malaysia Cybercentre,” he said after announcing the project in Komtar on Tuesday.

Rosli added that there would be a multi-storey 2,500-bay car park complex, retail and F&B outlets, and also an integrated centre for IT and R&D activities.

“The futuristic hub will also have a central meeting place for people to meet up.

“It will also harness natural sunlight as lighting, making it an environment-friendly development.

“When completed in 2020, the project will create some 3,000 jobs,” he said.

Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, who was present, said the project would provide higher value jobs in the manufacturing industry through expansion and diversification of the GBS business.

“Penang aims to be part of the Industry 4.0 Transformation, which revolves around big data analytics, e-commerce, crowdsourcing, cloud computing and the Internet of Things.

“GBS By The Sea is expected to attract many key international players into the state,” he said.

Lim added that according to a study by Outsourcing Malaysia, the country’s GBS sector is expected to see a compounded annual growth rate of 10% to 15% over the next three years.

Also present were Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Mohd Rashid Hasnon, investPenang general manager Loo Lee Lian and other state exco members.

Penang homes priced beyond reach of most youths 

 

More than 90% of respondents surveyed hope to own property but only half believe that it is possible.

THE majority of youths in Penang have no choice but to rent due to high property prices.

Most (73.2%) are staying in a property owned by a family member or a relative and many (93.7%) are hoping to own a house within the next five years.

These are some of the findings of an opinion poll carried out by the state government on a sample group of 606 youths, aged 18 to 29.

Penang Institute senior analyst Yeong Pey Jung (pic) said an overwhelming 90.2% of respondents found it difficult to purchase property in Penang while 43.4% revealed that it was not difficult to rent a property here.

“In looking at the responses on perception towards property prices, 91.8% found prices in Penang to be considerably expensive while 69.3% are of the opinion that affordable housing in Penang is not affordable.

“If we look into the 24 to 29 age group, who have a higher purchasing power, 81.7% conclude that affordable housing is unaffordable. This is a phenomenon observed throughout Malaysia especially in urban areas,” she told a press conference on the outcome of the Penang youth survey in Komtar on Tuesday.

Yeong added that more than 90% of respondents hoped to own property but only half of them believe that it is possible.

“The telephone survey, which was conducted in February this year, was to find out how Penang youths feel towards social, economic and political concerns.”

The survey also showed that over 70% of youths involved in community projects were not interested in taking up leadership roles.

They also expressed a general disinterest in politics.

In terms of health, more than half of youths engaged in regular exercise.

About 56.4% found difficulty in gaining employment, a sentiment shared by their peers and immediate social circle.

Penang Youth and Sports, Women, Family and Community Development Committee chairman Chong Eng said the survey was an initiative towards the Penang Youth Development Blueprint.

“The blueprint will be inclusive and function as a guide to encourage social upward mobility and enhance the youths’ development socially, economically and politically.”

The next phase is to conduct a focus group discussion and in-depth interviews with all sectors of the youth community.

Sources: The Star/ANN



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Time to take fight against graft to the top, say group


Political parties should disclose all of their financing and expenditure, says Transparency International Malaysia.

“Political funding must be stated in the parties’ bank accounts and a properly audited account financial report must be published annually,” said its president Datuk Akhbar Satar.

“All ministers and top Govern­ment servants should also declare their assets to the Malay­sian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), and the chief commissioner should declare these to the Parliament,” he said.

Akhbar was commenting on the call by MACC for the Government to declare corruption and abuse of power as the country’s No. 1 enemy.

He said these declarations would be in line with the belief that “transparency and accountability begin at the top”.

“The public must also help MACC by reporting corrupt practices and cooperating in court,” he added.

Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar also supported MACC’s move.

“Such an honourable effort must be supported thoroughly,” he said. “The police always prioritise integrity and the war on corruption must be fought at all fronts.”

Asli Centre of Public Policy Studies chairman Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam said reforms in corruption laws were needed to ensure that MACC could “act without fear or favour”

“Our laws on corruption should be reviewed, revised and made up to date,” he said. “And follow best practices such as in countries like Denmark, Hong Kong and Singapore.”

The Government could set an example by making sure there was a cap on money politics, he added.

Malaysian Crime Prevention Foundation senior vice-chairman Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye said it was vital for the public to be proactive in helping MACC.

“MACC needs a free hand to take action in fighting corruption,” he said.

G25 member Tan Sri Mohd Sheriff Mohd Kassim said the best way to start would be to require all election candidates in the 14th general election to sign a pledge against corruption during the campaign.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Paul Low said the Government’s commitment to fight corruption was already there “but the journey to deal with the problem takes time”.

Source: Star/ANN By Razak Ahmad, Fatimah Zainal, Andmelanie Abrahamby

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Datuk Adam Rosly amassed so much wealth under scrutiny by corruption agency


Anti-graft investigators looking into the case of Ampang PKR Youth chief Datuk Adam Rosly’s “unusual” wealth are trying to determine how the 29-year-old amassed a substantial amount of cash and property at his age.

Officers who went to Adam’s house, dubbed by many as “Disneyland castle” in Ampang, seized five cars – a Mini Cooper, a BMW 5 Series, a Mercedes C200, an Audi A6 and a Toyota Vellfire.

Eight accounts under Adam and his wife’s name, with money amounting to RM212,461.41, were frozen.

Adam, who was detained after his statement was recorded at the MACC headquarters on Thurs

day, has been remanded for five days to allow the commission to investigate him.

He arrived at the court complex at 9.30am yesterday, clad in the MACC orange lock-up attire and smiled to the waiting cameramen.

Lawyers Nik Zarith Nik Moustapha and Asyraf Othman, as well as his mother, wife, baby daughter and a group of friends were waiting for him in the courtroom.

Magistrate Nik Isfahanie Tasnim Wan Ab Rahman granted prosecutors’ request for him to be remanded until April 18.

The MACC is investigating the case under the Anti-Money Laun­dering, Anti-Terrorism Financing and Proceeds of Unlawful Activities Act.

Adam’s wealth came to the public’s attention after his political opponents questioned how he was able to afford his castle-style bungalow which they claimed cost RM7mil.

The special officer to Ampang MP Zuraida Kamaruddin, however, said he bought the house for RM1mil at an auction.

He also claimed that his money came from business ventures and family inheritance.

A source said the big question was whether Adam was actually involved in “proper” business ventures that brought him that much profit.

“Does he really have a business, did he really inherit a substantial amount of money or did he obtain it from ‘brokering’ or some kind of borrowings. We are sure there are ways for MACC to get to the bottom of this,” said the source.

MACC deputy chief commissioner Datuk Azam Baki said officers were still investigating the case.

“They are still finding more evidence and going through documents.

“Let them probe and we will see what comes out of it,” he added.

Source: The Star/ANN

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Fake news, piracy and digital duopoly of Google and Facebook


“FAKE NEWS” has seemingly, suddenly, become fashionable. In reality, the fake has proliferated for a decade or more, but the faux, the flawed and the fraudulent are now pressing issues because the full scale of the changes wrought upon the integrity of news and advertising by the digital duopoly — Google and Facebook — has become far more obvious.

Google’s commodification of content knowingly, wilfully undermined provenance for profit. That was followed by the Facebook stream, with its journalistic jetsam and fake flotsam. Together, the two most powerful news publishers in human history have created an ecosystem that is dysfunctional and socially destructive.

Both companies could have done far more to highlight that there is a hierarchy of content, but instead they have prospered mightily by peddling a flat-earth philosophy that doesn’t distinguish between the fake and the real because they make copious amounts of money from both.

Depending on which source you believe, they have close to two-thirds of the digital advertising market — and let me be clear that we compete with them for that share. The Interactive Advertising Bureau estimates they accounted for more than 90% of the incremental increase in digital advertising over the past year. The only cost of content for these companies has been lucrative contracts for lobbyists and lawyers, but the social cost of that strategy is far more profound.

It is beyond risible that Google and its subsidiary YouTube, which have earned many billions of dollars from other people’s content, should now be lamenting that they can’t possibly be held responsible for monitoring that content. Monetising yes, monitoring no — but it turns out that free money does come at a price.

We all have to work with these companies, and we are hoping, mostly against hope, that they will finally take meaningful action, not only to allow premium content models that fund premium journalism, but also to purge their sites of the rampant piracy that undermines creativity. Your business model can’t be simultaneously based on both intimate, granular details about users and no clue whatsoever about rather obvious pirate sites.

Another area that urgently needs much attention is the algorithms that Silicon Valley companies, and Amazon, routinely cite as a supposedly objective source of wisdom and insight. These algorithms are obviously set, tuned and repeatedly adjusted to suit their commercial needs. Yet they also blame autonomous, anarchic algorithms and not themselves when neofascist content surfaces or when a search leads to obviously biased results in favour of their own products.

Look at how Google games searches. A study reported in The Wall Street Journal found that in 25,000 random Google searches ads for Google products appeared in the most prominent slot 91% of the time. How is that not the unfair leveraging of search dominance and the abuse of algorithm? All 1,000 searches for “laptops” started with an ad for Google’s Chromebook — 100% of the time. Kim Jong Un would be envious of results like that at election time.

And then there are the recently launched Google snippets, which stylistically highlight search results as if they were written on stone tablets and carried down from the mountain. Their sheer visual physicality gives them apparent moral force. The word Orwellian is flagrantly abused, but when it comes to the all-powerful algorithms of Google, Amazon and Facebook, Orwellian is underused.

As for news, institutional neglect has left us perched on the edge of the slippery slope of censorship. There is no Silicon Valley tradition, as there is at great newspapers, of each day arguing over rights and wrongs, of fretful, thoughtful agonising over social responsibility and freedom of speech.

What we now have is a backlash with which these omnipotent companies are uniquely ill-equipped to cope. Their responses tend to be political and politically correct. Regardless of your own views, you should be concerned that we are entering an era in which these immensely influential publishers will routinely and selectively “unpublish” certain views and news.

We stumble into this egregious era at a moment when the political volume in many countries is turned to 10. The echo chamber has never been larger and the reverb room rarely more cacophonous. This is not an entirely new trend, but it has a compounding effect with the combination of “holier than thou” and “louder than thou.”

Curiously, this outcome is, in part, a result of the idealism of the Silicon Valley set, and there’s no doubt about the self-proclaimed ideals. They devoutly believe they are connecting people and informing them, which is true, even though some of the connections become conspiracies and much of the information is skimmed without concern to intellectual property rights.

Ideas aside, we were supposed to be in a magic age of metrics and data. Yet instead of perfect precision we have the cynical arbitraging of ambiguity — particularly in the world of audiences. Some advertising agencies are also clearly at fault because they, too, have been arbitraging and prospering from digital ambiguity as money in the ad business has shifted from actually making ads to aggregating digital audiences and ad tech, better known as fad tech.

And so, as the Times of London has reported, socially aware, image-conscious advertisers find themselves in extremely disreputable places — hardcore porn sites, neofascist sites, Islamist sites. The embarrassment for these advertisers juxtaposed with jaundice is understandable, but the situation is far more serious than mere loss of face.

If these sites are getting a cut of the commission, the advertisers are technically funding these nefarious activities. Depending on the type of advertising, it is estimated by the ad industry that a YouTube partner could earn about 55% of the revenue from a video. In recent years, how many millions of dollars have been channelled to organisations or individuals that are an existential threat to our societies?

Provenance is profound, and in this age of augmented reality and virtual reality, actual reality will surely make a comeback. Authenticated authenticity is an asset of increasing value in an age of the artificial — understanding the ebb and flow of humanity will not be based on fake news or ersatz empathy, but on real insight.

BY ROBERT THOMSON

Robert Thomson is the chief executive of News Corp, which owns The Australian and The Wall Street Journal. This is adapted from a speech he delivered on March 29 to the Asia Society in Hong Kong.

PETALING JAYA: The proliferation of fake news on social media has benefited publishers like Google and Facebook in terms of digital advertising market share at the expense of other media companies. News Corp chief executive Robert Thomson recently in his speech noted that Google and Facebook, for example, have close to two-thirds of the digital advertising market.

The Interactive Advertising Bureau estimates they accounted for more than 90% of the incremental increase in digital advertising over the past year, he said.

The only cost of content for these companies has been lucrative contracts for lobbyists and lawyers, he added, noting that the social cost of that strategy is far more profound.

Thomson said this during his speech to the Asia Society in Hong Kong on March 29.

News Corp is also the owner of The Australian and The Wall Street Journal. “Google’s commodification of content knowingly, wilfully undermined provenance for profit. That was followed by the Facebook stream, with its journalistic jetsam and fake flotsam.

Together, the two most powerful news publishers in human history have created an ecosystem that is dysfunctional and socially destructive,’’ he said.

Both companies, he said could have done far more to highlight that there is a hierarchy of content, but instead they have prospered mightily by peddling a flat-earth philosophy that doesn’t distinguish between the fake and the real because they make copious amounts of money from both.

“It is beyond risible that Google and its subsidiary YouTube, which have earned many billions of dollars from other people’s content, should now be lamenting that they can’t possibly be held responsible for monitoring that content. Monetising yes, monitoring no – but it turns out that free money does come at a price.

“We all have to work with these companies, and we are hoping, mostly against hope, that they will finally take meaningful action, not only to allow premium content models that fund premium journalism, but also to purge their sites of the rampant piracy that undermines creativity,” Thomson said.

In his speech, he also said although “fake news” has seemingly, suddenly, become fashionable but in reality, the fake has proliferated for a decade or more.

But the faux, the flawed and the fraudulent are now pressing issues because the full scale of the changes wrought upon the integrity of news and advertising by the digital duopoly — Google and Facebook — has become far more obvious, he said.

Thomson also highlighted on the urgency of algorithms. Another area, he said that urgently needs much attention is the algorithms that Silicon Valley companies, and Amazon, routinely cite as a supposedly objective source of wisdom and insight.

“These algorithms are obviously set, tuned and repeatedly adjusted to suit their commercial needs.

“Yet they also blame autonomous, anarchic algorithms and not themselves when neofascist content surfaces or when a search leads to obviously biased results in favour of their own products,’’ he said.

A study reported in The Wall Street Journal found that in 25,000 random Google searches ads for Google products appeared in the most prominent slot 91% of the time.

“How is that not the unfair leveraging of search dominance and the abuse of algorithm?” he asked. All 1,000 searches for “laptops” started with an ad for Google’s Chromebook – 100% of the time.

And then there are the recently launched Google snippets, which stylistically highlight search results as if they were written on stone tablets and carried down from the mountain. Their sheer visual physicality gives them apparent moral force, he said.

“The word Orwellian is flagrantly abused, but when it comes to the all-powerful algorithms of Google, Amazon and Facebook, Orwellian is underused,’’ he said.

Thomson said: “What we now have is a backlash with which these omnipotent companies are uniquely ill-equipped to cope. Their responses tend to be political and politically correct.

Regardless of your own views, you should be concerned that we are entering an era in which these immensely influential publishers will routinely and selectively “unpublish” certain views and news.

He also faulted ad agencies as they have been arbitraging and prospering from digital ambiguity as money in the ad business has shifted from actually making ads to aggregating digital audiences and ad tech, better known as fad tech.

“Provenance is profound, and in this age of augmented reality and virtual reality, actual reality will surely make a comeback. Authenticated authenticity is an asset of increasing value in an age of the artificial – understanding the ebb and flow of humanity will not be based on fake news or ersatz empathy, but on real insight,’’ he added.

Sources: Starbiz

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How to Spot Fake News?


 ‘Essential to tackle fake news correctly’

 
KUALA LUMPUR: Your office is swamped by phone calls from impatient customers, asking why they have yet to receive their free plane tickets as promised for ha­­ving participated in a survey.

You find out later that they had completed the survey which was featured on a dubious website.

Or, when you come to work, you see a horde of unhappy customers waiting outside the building, demanding to know why they were not informed that they would have to pay a fee if they did not get their membership cards renewed by the month’s end.

Apparently, there had been a Facebook posting about the new fee ruling.

The above two incidents happened in Kuala Lumpur over the past year.

In the age of scams, fake news and “alternative facts”, such cases are getting more frequent.

A recent incident involved shoemaker Bata Primavera Sdn Bhd, which was accused of selling shoes with the Arabic word “Allah” formed in the pattern on the soles.

Bata ended up removing 70,000 pairs of the B-First school shoes from its 230 stores nationwide.

It was a step which cost them RM500,000 in losses.

The shoes were returned to the shelves only after Bata was cleared of the allegation by the Al-Quran Printing Control and Licensing Board of the Home Ministry on March 30.

In February, AirAsia came under unwanted attention when its brand name was used in a purported free ticket survey and fake ticket scam.

Back in 2014, the airline had also asked its customers to be wary of an online lottery scam which made use of its name to solicit personal information from them.

What is more astounding is that the e-mail highlighting the lottery had been circulating since 2011.

And in January last year, Public Bank saw a rush of customers crowding its branches to renew their debit cards.

A Facebook post that had gone viral claimed that they would be charged a RM12 fee if they did not renew it by Jan 31.

What are the dos and don’ts for companies under attack by fake news?

“A quick and concise response is the way to go,” said AirAsia’s head of communications Aziz Laikar.

“Be prepared. The more high profile the brand is, the quicker the response should be.”

The communications team have to be able to draw up a statement fast to deal with the issue head on before it grows to a full-blown crisis, Aziz said.

He listed out four steps that a company could take.

“Start by immediately responding with facts via a short statement to the media, as well as on social media platforms,” he said.

Aziz also advised companies to lodge police reports and to make use of the chance to educate the public that they should always refer to announcements made via official platforms.

“Also, disseminate the information internally to your colleagues. Every employee should be a brand messenger.

“They are a powerful force to spread the correct message.

“The best way to effectively ma­­nage an issue is to make sure the entire company is aware of the situa­tion and able to communicate it correctly,” he said.

Ogilvy account director Clarissa Ng said that loyal clientele and employees were usually a company’s “first line of defence” and must be treated well.

Ng, who has handled the case of a client hit by rumours of exploding phones, preferred a “low profile” approach in dealing with such fake news.

She opted by focusing on promo­ting the phone’s safety features.

The campaign reassured consumers that the phone underwent rigorous testing in their laboratories in Shenzhen, China, and how its electrical current would be cut off automatically to prevent the gadget from exploding.

“Sometimes, the more you explain, the public will demand more answers. How we handled it was to remain low profile,” she said.

Source: By ADRIAN CHAN The Star

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