Housing woes: death spiral or virtuous cycle?


THE World Economic Forum estimates that the global cost of corruption annually is at least US$2.6 trillion (RM10.9 trillion) or 5% of global gross domestic product (GDP).

According to the World Bank, businesses and individuals pay over US$1 trillion (RM4.2 trillion) in bribes each year.

Corruption adds up to 10% of the total cost of doing business globally and up to 25% of the cost of procurement contracts in developing countries.

I gathered these shocking facts at a conference. There are other alarming statistics that shed light on the damage brought about by corruption and its dreadful impact on the economy.

Corruption leads to further impoverishment of the poor and other issues in many countries. The average income in countries with a high level of corruption is about one-third of those countries with a low level of corruption. In addition, corrupt countries have a literacy rate that is 25% lower.

The Corruption Perception Index 2018 released by Transparency International shows that on the scale of 0 to 100, where 0 is highly corrupt and 100 is very clean, over two-thirds of 180 countries score below 50, with the average score of 43.

In the index, Denmark ranked first in the world followed by New Zealand second. Finland and Singapore were tied for third with a score of 85. Malaysia was ranked 61st in the world, scoring only 47.

We were ranked the third highest in the Asean region, after Singapore and Brunei. Our country is doing better now with the ongoing investigation of the 1Malaysia Development Bhd scandal and other prominent cases.

In TI’s report, Malaysia is one of the countries on the watch with promising political developments against corruption. However, more solid action is needed in combatting all elusive forms of corruption.

According to Transparency International Malaysia, corruption had cost our country about 4% of its GDP value each year since 2013. Added together, this amounts to a high figure of some RM212.3bil since 2013. For 2017 alone, that figure was a whopping RM46.9bil!

As a comparison, our development expenditure in 2017 was RM48bil. If the value of corruption above was accurate, our development fund was almost “wiped out” because of corruption.

Transparency International Malaysia president Datuk Akhbar Satar said: “This is our estimate. It is likely to be higher in reality (on the value of corruption).”

No country can eliminate corruption completely. However, we can learn from good practices shown in some developed countries, such as the Scandinavian countries which all scored high on the Corruption Perception Index.

Corruption leads to poverty as money collected is not used for the welfare of the nation. As a result, the people end up suffering and paying for the leakage in the system.

If a country is corrupt-free, it will reduce the need for non-governmental organisations (NGOs). NGOs advocate for the rights of marginalised groups. The government can take care of those group when it has a surplus in the budget.

A clean government and system will have a positive impact on many aspects including affordable housing, one of the prominent needs of the people.

Whenever there is corruption, there is a compromise in the delivery of goods and services. The same situation applies to affordable housing.

Someone mentioned to me in the past that “the government isn’t interested in affordable housing as there is literally ‘no money’ to be made in it”!

Things have made a dramatic change for the better since May last year. Our new government is working on a platform of clean government and improving transparency. It plans to build one million affordable homes within two terms of its administration. To make this a reality, the government needs to put in real money to make it happen.

Corruption causes a death spiral that leads to various problems. Without it, a virtuous cycle grows that ensures every part runs smoothly and the marginalised in society are looked after.

With a promise of a cleaner government, we hope we will soon see a virtuous cycle that makes the one million affordable homes an achievable target.

By Datuk Alan Tong, who has over 50 years of experience in property development. He is group chairman of Bukit Kiara Properties. For feedback, please email bkp@bukitkiara.com. The views expressed here are solely that of his own.

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How to make living more affordable?


 

 

IN my previous article I asked the question, Do you earn enough to sustain your lifestyle?

The feedback received was consistent. People told me that they worry about the situation, some even wrote in to share their concern.

A reader by the name of Yap wrote me an email about his observation after reading my article.

“I always doubt how a family with a median household income can survive in KL. Based on my calculation, there is no way a family with two children can survive in KL with RM6,275 without accumulating bad debt or spending 4.5 hours to travel on the road. Housing is one of the factors, but not the only one,” he wrote in his email.

Belanjawanku, an expenditure guide launched by the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) in early March states that a married couple with two children spend about RM6,620 per month on food, transport, housing, childcare, utilities, healthcare, etc.

However, the median household income for Malaysians in 2016 was RM5,228. While the median income of M40 group (Middle 40%) was RM6,275, which means five out of 10 households in this category received RM6,275 per month or less. This is far below the RM6,620 required for a family with two children to stay in the Klang Valley.

Another alarming fact is… Belanjawanku compiles only core living expenses without including long-term financial planning tools such as education funds or investments. The actual budget constraint can be more severe if we take them into account.

The living cost in major cities is inevitably higher than in small towns or suburb areas.

As such, when we discuss housing affordability in the cities such as Kuala Lumpur and the Klang Valley, we shouldn’t impose the same benchmark of RM300,000 as everything else is more expensive in the city. Affordable housing should benchmark against the cost of living of the area.

Based on the research for Belanjawanku, even if housing was provided for free, a household of four would still need RM5,750 to sustain their lifestyle.

The transportation cost alone is RM1,040 for a family, higher than the RM870 allocated for housing.

Therefore, if a family is looking to lower their cost of living, moving to suburb areas would allow them to have a more affordable budget.

According to a news report which quoted information from brickz.my, the housing prices in KL are five times higher than in Seremban, with median housing price of RM1mil (RM940 psf) in the KL city centre, versus RM200,000 (RM210 psf) in Seremban.

Suburbs which are nearer to KL such as Klang and Shah Alam also offer attractive housing prices with a median price of RM340,000.

For families who stay in the city centre and plan to reduce their cost of living, they can consider moving to suburbs to enjoy a better quality of life, and leverage on the improved public transportation which offer hassle-free travelling from suburbs to city centre.

Although high living cost is a concern for many Malaysians, KL is ironically found to be the cheapest city to live out of the 11 major cities in Asia, according to the 2018 Wealth Report Asia.

We are “cheaper” or ranked lower than our neighbouring cities, including Bangkok, Manila and Jakarta. KL, Manila, and Jakarta are also the most price competitive cities when it comes to the residential properties segment.

Why are we still facing the challenge of high living costs despite being the “cheapest” city in the region? The underlying factor is because of the low household income earned by most Malaysians, as the previous government failed to transit us to a higher income nation.

In his email, Yap mentioned that “I always imagine what Malaysia can be if there were no leakages. Hundreds of billions could be spent to stimulate various industries. Our GDP per capita could be close to if not similar to Singapore’s”.

That is the vision and sentiment shared by a majority of Malaysians. With the new government that promises to be more transparent and efficient, we hope that one day, we can afford to live comfortably in any city we wish to, with a higher household income.

Datuk Alan Tong has over 50 years of experience in property development. He was the World President of FIABCI International for 2005/2006 and awarded the Property Man of the Year 2010 at FIABCI Malaysia Property Award. He is also the group chairman of Bukit Kiara Properties. For feedback, please email bkp@bukitkiara.com

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Do you earn enough to sustain your lifestyle?


DO you know how much you need to sustain your lifestyle every month? Are you living within your budget or stretching to make ends meet?

We can now gain insights with the unveiling of Belanjawanku, an Expenditure Guide for Malaysian Individuals and Families, launched by the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) in early March.

The guide offers an idea of the living costs for respective household categories. It encompasses the expenditure on basic needs and involvement in society for a reasonable standard of living in the Klang Valley.

According to Belanjawanku, a married couple with two children spend about RM6,620 per month on food, transport, housing, childcare, utilities, healthcare, personal care, annual expenses, savings, social participation and discretionary expenses.

When I read this guide together with the income statistics published by the Statistics Department, it reveals that a vast majority of Malaysians can’t afford to live in the Klang Valley.

Based on the statistics, the median household income for Malaysian households in 2016 is RM5,228, far below the RM6,620 required for a family with two children to stay in the Klang Valley.

If we take a closer look, the median income of M40 group (Middle 40%) is RM6,275, which means five out of 10 households in this category received RM6,275 per month or less. This indicates that over 60% (40% from B40 households and half of the M40 households) of Malaysian households (if they have two children) can’t afford to stay in the Klang Valley.

What went wrong in the process? Why are many households having challenges to meet the required budget?

According to Belanjawanku, a married couple with two children spent the majority of their income on food (RM1,550), followed by childcare (RM1,150) and transport (RM1,040), then only on housing (RM870) and other items.

Based on the research, even if housing was provided for free, a household of four would still need RM5,750 to sustain their lifestyle. Therefore, the common perception that only housing is expensive is not right. It is not that housing is expensive, but that everything is expensive because of inflation over the years! The value of our currency has fallen due to global money printing measures over the past decade.

Belanjawanku compiles only core living expenses without luxury items or excessive spending. It also doesn’t include long-term financial planning tools such as funds for education or investments. If the majority of Malaysian households have challenges in meeting the existing expenses listed in the guide, it poses a serious concern on their future financial prospects.

The underlying factor of this challenge is the low household income earned by Malaysians. The previous government failed to move us to a high income nation as they had promised, and more families are stretching to make ends meet now. It may lead to serious financial problems in the future.

If median household incomes don’t increase, the B40 (Bottom 40%) and half of the M40 will always struggle even if housing is free, assuming that they aspire to have two children and to live in the Klang Valley.

According to Transparency International Malaysia, corruption had cost our country about 4% of its gross domestic product (GDP) value each year since 2013. Added together, this amounts to a high figure of some RM212.3bil since 2013. For 2017 alone, that figure was a whopping RM46.9bil!

Imagine what we can do with these monies if there was no leakage in the system? The previous government should have channeled the money to stimulate economic growth and increase the income of the rakyat.

Going forward, I am optimistic that the new government, with its promise of a clean and transparent government, can finally fix the leakage and focus on generating a higher income level for all Malaysian households.

Financial independence is a key factor in the overall well being of the rakyat. We need to increase household incomes to a level where families can meet their basic needs and embark on long-term financial planning, to elevate their quality of life.

Then, and only then, will housing and other living expenses finally become affordable.

By

Food for thought By Alan Tong

Datuk Alan Tong has over 50 years of experience in property development. He is the group chairman of Bukit Kiara Properties. For feedback, email bkp@bukitkiara.com



 

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A RM53mil road in Balik Pulau no one wants, now a township will be taking shape there on dangerously unstable mangrove swamps, and the Penang govt isn’t aware of it !!


Ongoing work: A general view of the road project linking Kampung Sungai Pinang to Kampung Pulau Betong.

Ongoing work: A general view of the road project linking Kampung Sungai Pinang to Kampung Pulau Betong.


It’s is unnecessary and the money is better spent elsewhere, says locals

BALIK PULAU: The government’s move to build a RM53mil road linking Kampung Sungai Pinang in the north to Kampung Pulau Betong on the south-western end of the island has got local folks fuming.

Fisherman Wan Mohizan Wan Hussein is one such person. The 52-year-old said the project would threaten Balik Pulau’s image of being “one with nature”.

“It would be better to spend the money on flood mitigation in the area,” he suggested.

“If it rains for two hours straight, there will definitely be flooding. That’s something that should be addressed,” he said.

Wan Mohizan said furthermore, the new road would be built along an existing narrow dirt trail and he felt that prices of land in the vicinity would increase.

“What if developers start coming here and offer to buy Balik Pulau farmland for development? Can we stop them?

“This side of the island is flat and easy to develop. The road can change Balik Pulau,” he said.

Balik Pulau is the “last hinterland” of Penang island, a flat farmland of about 1,000ha with narrow dirt trails.

For the first time since Penang was founded in 1786, this land on the island’s rustic eastern side will get a two-way tarred 10.2km road stretching almost the entire north-south length.

But the road construction has left many wondering why this road was being built through mangrove swamps, padi fields, shrimp ponds and oil palm estates.

Another fisherman, Mazlan Sahib, 48, said the new road was unnecessary and it would only welcome over-development.

“There are hardly any residents living there so it doesn’t make sense to have it at all.

“The project might also be a threat to the mangrove swamps along the coast,” he added.

Balik Pulau’s Simpang Empat resi­dent Zainudin Ahad wondered why the government planned to build a new road when the existing Jalan Baru that ran parallel to the new road about 3km away never experienced traffic congestion.

“I thought we need new roads only when existing roads are congested.

“The only traffic jam we get in Balik Pulau is in the town itself.

“There is never any traffic jam in the kampung area, so why give us a new road?” Zainudin questioned.

Kuala Sungai Burung Fishermen’s Association committee member Abd Malik Man, 55, said there was talk about the road project since the Barisan Nasional government.

“We thought that the project would be shelved. I didn’t think the new government would go ahead with it,” he said.

Abd Malik said many residents in the area around the new road were living or farming on government land and their leases might be over soon.

“The government has all the right to develop the land but the long-term impact should be taken into consideration,” he cautioned.

Even Balik Pulau MP Muhammad Bakthiar Wan Chik was dumbfounded by the new road.

He urged the Rural Development Ministry to look into more pressing areas that need the funds, beginning with flood mitigation, a new hospital and traffic snarls in the heart of Balik Pulau town.

“The new road is not top priority and does not serve much purpose,” he pointed out.

“I hope the ministry will practise stakeholder consultation with the locals and hold town hall meetings to see what the residents want.

“Neither the locals nor me knew that the road project was approved and the construction had begun,” he said.

He also appealed to the ministry to foster entrepreneurial projects for Balik Pulau’s numerous cottage industry products including bedak sejuk (cooling powder, a traditional facial treatment product), nutmeg, otak udang (prawn paste) and salted eggs.

By arnold loh and intan amalina mohd ali The Star

Parts of controversial road run along mangrove swamps

BALIK PULAU: The state government had tried to stall plans for a new road in Balik Pulau’s coastal farmland by insisting on an application for planning permission.

State Environment Committee chairman Phee Boon Poh said he had asked for realignment proposals of the road because stretches of this new road will run along the edge of the mangrove swamps.

“When the 2004 tsunami hit us, the mangrove swamp saved Balik Pulau from the worst effect.

“We also agree that the swamps are vital breeding grounds for the jumbo prawns that our inshore fisherman can catch when they are in season.

“So we want the road to be away from the swamps,” he said.

State Works Committee chairman Zairil Khir Johari said the requirement for an environmental assessment (EIA) impact report was initially done away with because the proposed road was to run along the existing dirt trail and the footprint was therefore too small to need an EIA.

“If there is proof that a tarred road through the western coastline of the island will impact the environment, we will not hesitate to require an EIA,” he said.

When told of the sentiments of the locals, a senior officer in the Rural Development Ministry declared that the ministry would immediately conduct a stakeholder consultation on the road construction.

“We renegotiated the road project because it was first proposed in 2016 and we did not want any more delays.

“But since there are signs that locals find the road unnecessary, we will go to the ground at once and find out what the Balik Pulau community wants,” the spokesman assured.

It is understood that the budget for the road comes from the 10th Malaysia Plan in 2015 and the state was willing to surrender 11.5ha of land along the route without asking for the premium, which came up to RM18mil, for the 10.2km two-way street.

Things changed after the general election when the Rural Develop­ment Ministry renegotiated with contractors and brought the price down to RM53mil from the initial ceiling budget that was over RM78mil.

As is permissible for government projects, the state government subsequently waived the need for planning permission and state approval was given late last month.

Rural Development Minister Datuk Seri Rina Mohd Harun visited the newly begun road construction last month.

Meanwhile, cycling enthusiasts were disappointed that the new road would be built over a dirt trail that made up the Balik Pulau Eco Bike Trail.

“This is a popular route for cyclists to enjoy some light off-road mountain biking across Balik Pulau’s rustic farmland,” one cyclist said.

A netizen, Adrian Chan, also wrote on Balik Pulau MP Muhammad Bakhtiar Wan Chik’s Facebook page: “We already have Jalan Baru (a two-way street serving villages in Balik Pulau). Just upgrade or widen it.

“We should keep the cycling trail. That is the only (rural) asset in Penang island.

“Batu Maung, Bayan Lepas all gone with the concrete like Queens Bay.

“Visitors from overseas really admire that we have a cycling trail with the nature view.”

Balik Pulau residents riled after finding out about latest development

 

BALIK PULAU: While residents in Balik Pulau are unhappy with a new road being built, it has been revealed that there’s actually a proposal to set up a new township on this last hinterland of the island.

A developer from Kuala Lumpur has promised farmers a payout of at least RM120mil to turn a strip of rural land on western Penang island into a township with nearly 600 houses, four blocks of high-rise buildings and two blocks of shoplots on top of community amenities.

It wants to develop 36ha of oil palm estates along which will soon be a new road for which the Rural Development Ministry is spending RM53mil to build.

When the road project was announced by the federal government last mid-December, many Balik Pulau residents were left wondering why the 10.2km road was needed along 1,000ha of oil palm land, shrimp ponds and mangroves, with hardly anyone living there.

Even the state government is left dumbfounded and completely unaware of plans to develop this countryside.

“This is something new to me. I don’t remember ever seeing a proposal to develop that area or to convert the land use.

“We have got to find out what is being planned. Is the ministry building that road for the developer?

“At first, we were unhappy that the road is being built right beside the mangrove swamp and we wanted another alignment away from it.

“And now we find out a developer has plans to build a township there.

“We will find out what is going on,” state Environment Committee chairman Phee Boon Poh told The Star, stressing that the road was a federal project and the state was kept in the loop about it on a “for-your-info” basis.

In a filing to Bursa Malaysia on Jan 30, the public-listed developer announced that it has entered into a joint-venture development agreement with Koperasi Kampung Melayu Balik Pulau Berhad to build 276 terraced houses, 214 semi-detached houses, 91 double-storey bungalows, two 16-storey blocks of condominiums, two 16-storey blocks of low-cost flats, two blocks of retail shoplots, a school, mosque, community hall and other public amenities on land which the co-op owns.

The 36ha is specified as being on Lots 254, 804 and 803 of the area.

A check with the Malaysia Co-operative Societies Commission database shows that the co-op exists though no other information on its members are available.

The developer guarantees in writing that the co-op will earn RM120mil, out of which RM45mil will be in cash payouts and the remaining will be given in the form of units built on the land.

It will be an 80-20 joint venture between the developer and the co-op, respectively.

The developer informed Bursa Malaysia that the gross development value of the joint venture deal is RM600mil.

In its Bursa Malaysia filing, the developer specified that the deal is conditional upon the successful extension of the land lease to 99 years, re-zoning of the land use category, and approval of all relevant building plans. The current status of the land is unclear.

For the first time since Penang was founded in 1786, the island’s rustic western coastline will get a two-way tarred road stretching almost the entire north-south length, from Bagan Sungai Pinang to Pulau Betong.

The road was first proposed by the federal government in 2016 and initially, the state Town and Country Planning Department requested the Public Works Department to apply for planning permission from Penang Island City Council.

The initial budget for the project was RM78mil and after the general election, the new government renegotiated with contractors and brought the price down to RM53mil.

Earlier, state Works Committee chairman Zairil Khir Johari said that the state waived the planning permission requirement after being convinced that the footprint of the road, which will be built along an existing dirt trail that villagers have used for decades, would be small.

The road construction began in December.

‘Risky to build on ex-mangrove swamps land

BALIK PULAU: A mangrove ecologist has warned of the risk of development encroaching into mangrove swamps, and the risks are for people and buildings.

Dr Foong Swee Yeok predicted that the road or planned property development on the eastern coastline of Penang island would not endanger the swamp or wildlife.

But she said the future road and buildings might suffer because the land on Balik Pulau’s coastline is all ex-mangrove swamp land, and there could be as deep as 25m of mud and clay down below.

“Developers will know how to pile deeply until they reach the bedrock for high rises, but there is no piling requirement for two-storey homes.

“You see nothing wrong in the first 10 years or so, but after that, things start sinking.

“Roads become wavy, uneven and start breaking apart,” she warned.

Dr Foong, who has been studying mangrove swamps since 1996, explained that the thick column of peat, mud and clay below the swamp is high in organic matter and once disturbed, it is prone to shifting over a long period after development.

“Waterlogged and anaerobic peat in the swamp becomes aerobic when drained. Then you get biological oxidation or mineralisation of the organic deposits. That is why the soil will sink,” she pointed out.

She said in developed ex-mangrove swamps on the island, such as parts of Bayan Lepas and Batu Maung, there have been numerous instances of buildings sinking and cracking after a few decades and this was due to the slow shifting of the mud and clay below.

Dr Foong also urged authorities to look into the operations of over 40 shrimp or fish dugout ponds fronting the land which a developer from Kuala Lumpur plans to build 276 terraced houses, 214 semi-detached houses, 91 double-storey bungalows, two 16-storey blocks of condominiums, two 16-storey blocks of low-cost flats, two blocks of retail shoplots, a school, mosque, community hall and other public amenities.

She said the tens of tonnes of shrimp and fish reared in the ponds produced vast amounts of nitrate and ammonia pollution.- The Star

 

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Foreigners Not Welcome as Malaysia Joins Property Clampdown


 

Malaysia Bans Foreigners From Project

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/videos/2018-08-28/malaysia-bans-foreigners-from-project-video

 

 

 

 

  • Mahathir’s planned crackdown taps into nationalist rhetoric
  • Housing affordability has driven restrictions around the world

Hanging a ‘foreigners not welcome’ sign on a giant real estate development, Malaysia’s prime minister this week appeared to add to housing curbs around the world fueled by soaring home prices and populist politics.

Describing the Chinese-backed $100 billion Forest City as “built for foreigners” and beyond the reach of ordinary Malaysians, Mahathir Mohamad tapped into the nationalist rhetoric that helped secure him an election victory — and global angst over housing affordability. Around the world, post-financial crisis property booms driven by low interest rates have left locals struggling to buy homes.

“The tension around foreign investment is always going to be much more acute when affordability is getting worse,” said Brendan Coates, a researcher in Melbourne at the Grattan Institute think tank. When locals get “priced out of the market,” foreign buyers may be blamed even when their effect is small, he said, commenting on the global picture.

Hanging a ‘foreigners not welcome’ sign on a giant real estate development, Malaysia’s prime minister this week appeared to add to housing curbs around the world fueled by soaring home prices and populist politics.

Describing the Chinese-backed $100 billion Forest City as “built for foreigners” and beyond the reach of ordinary Malaysians, Mahathir Mohamad tapped into the nationalist rhetoric that helped secure him an election victory — and global angst over housing affordability. Around the world, post-financial crisis property booms driven by low interest rates have left locals struggling to buy homes.

“The tension around foreign investment is always going to be much more acute when affordability is getting worse,” said Brendan Coates, a researcher in Melbourne at the Grattan Institute think tank. When locals get “priced out of the market,” foreign buyers may be blamed even when their effect is small, he said, commenting on the global picture.

A wave of restrictions or taxes on foreign purchases already stretches from Sydney to Hong Kong to Vancouver. Measures targeting foreign home buyers have included stamp duties, restrictions on property pre-sales to non-residents and limits on the types of homes that can be purchased.

‘New Colonialism’

New Zealand is banning foreigners from buying existing residential properties after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern campaigned in last year’s election on pledges including affordable housing. Canada and Australia have rolled out one restriction after another, and Singapore just ramped up a tax on overseas buyers. Denmark and Switzerland have restrictions, a Grattan report shows.

The 93-year-old Mahathir’s comments came at a late stage of the game. Globally, property shows signs of cooling from the post-crisis boom. His concern seems to be sparked not by property market overheating but, rather, foreign investments that don’t benefit Malaysia and what he terms the risk of “a new version of colonialism.”

Late Tuesday, a statement from Mahathir’s office said the nation welcomes all tourists, including from China, as well as foreign direct investment that “contributes to the transfer of technology, provides employment for locals and the setting up of industries.” It didn’t refer to Forest City.

“Mahathir has never liked the idea of Forest City or the idea of many foreigners buying up property in Malaysia,” said Ryan Khoo, co-founder of Alpha Marketing Pte Ltd., a Singapore-based real estate consultancy.

Foreigners will be blocked from buying units at the project, on artificial islands in Johor, and refused visas to live there, Mahathir said at a press briefing on Monday. That left analysts and local officials parsing his words to guess at how bans might work. The Chinese developer, Country Garden Holdings Co., said his comments clashed with past assurances. The project’s targeted buyers have included people in mainland China.

With a wall of Chinese money blamed for pushing up prices around the world, local lawmakers, media and the public can
struggle to disentangle xenophobia from legitimate efforts to constrain inflows of capital. In Australia, “populist reporting” exaggerated the role of Chinese investors, according to Hans Hendrischke, a professor of Chinese business and management at the University of Sydney.

Read more on global property:

Chinese buyers had the “bad luck” of becoming overly visible in markets around
the globe, said Carrie Law, chief executive officer of Juwai.com, a Chinese international property website.

Foreign buyers get blamed for soaring home costs even when the evidence is minimal. More than 60 percent of Sydney residents cite foreign investment for price increases,
according to a survey from University of Sydney academic Dallas Rogers. That’s despite research by Australia’s Treasury showing only a marginal impact. Likewise, data suggest foreign buyers play only a small role in New Zealand’s housing market.

(Updates with Mahathir statement in seventh paragraph, chart on global restrictions.)

No Chinese belt, road or bedrooms for Malaysia

Construction works going on normally at the mammoth Forest City project in Gelang Patah in Johor

PERPLEXED, wounded, indignant or still optimistic. The Chinese developer Country Garden Holdings Co can put any spin it wants on its Forest City project, a US$100bil Malaysian township whose fate suddenly has been thrown into doubt after Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s pointed refusal to let foreigners buy apartments or live in them long term.

One thing is clear, though: The prime minister is not acting impulsively. The project claims to be a “new global cluster of commerce and culture,” and a “dream paradise for all mankind.” However, in Malaysian political discourse, Forest City is just a gigantic Chinatown of 700,000 residents.

Taking on the developer is part of Mahathir’s broader plan to redefine Malaysia’s relationship with Beijing, pulling Kuala Lumpur away from the client-state mindset introduced by his predecessor.

Already, the 93-year-old leader has cancelled the Chinese-funded East Coast Rail Link, dealing a blow to China Communications Construction Co, which was building the US$20bil belt-and-road route. Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, ousted in May, claimed the link would bring prosperity to eastern Malaysia.

But Dr Mahathir, who spoke bluntly in Beijing this month against “a new version of colonialism,” took a very different view of the railway, which would have connected areas near the Thai border along the South China Sea to busy port cities on Malaysia’s western coast, near the Strait of Malacca.

He also shelved a natural-gas pipeline in Sabah, a Malaysian state on the island of Borneo. Dr Mahathir justified the cancellations on the grounds that they were too expensive.

However, the abrupt message to Country Garden, which is neither linked to the Chinese state nor would add a dollar to Malaysia’s national debt, shows that sovereignty – and Malaysia’s racial politics – are Mahathir’s real concerns.

Two-thirds of the homebuyers in Forest City are from China. Last year, as a trenchant critic of Najib’s policies, Dr Mahathir flagged the risk that anybody living in Malaysia for 12 years would be able to vote.

Country Garden should have seen the political risk in marketing the flats to mainland Chinese, who were separately lapping up long-stay visas under Najib’s Malaysia My Second Home programme. Najib’s generosity toward the mainland wasn’t the natural state of affairs. In 1965, the country expelled Singapore from the Malaysian federation out of fear that the peninsula’s majority Muslim Malays could lose their political dominance to the island’s ethnic Chinese.

If Country Garden misread the political tea leaves, it’s also wrong to bark up the legal tree after Dr Mahathir’s outburst. So what if Malaysia’s national land code permits foreign ownership? Approval of global investors may not matter all that much to a politician who has, in his previous innings, trapped their money at the height of a financial crisis.

The new prime minister isn’t as reliant on Beijing as his predecessor. If anything, he has to reward local businessmen and contractors for switching their allegiance from Barisan Nasional, the erstwhile ruling coalition that suffered its first loss of power in six decades.

It’s a given then that Malaysia under Dr Mahathir will have little appetite either for One Belt, One Road – or, for that matter, three- and four-bedroom apartments that could create a new political constituency.

Forest City could still be salvaged, but as a predominantly local project. If Donald Trump can unilaterally change the rules of game for China and Chinese businesses, so can, in his limited sphere, Dr Mahathir. As far as Country Garden is concerned, he just has.

Credit Aandy Mukherjee— Bloomberg

 

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Belt and Road envisions great win-win global connectivity

History will remember the Belt and Road initiative as one
of the most significant chapters in China’s history and a great
milestone in the development of human civilization.

BRI envisions great win-win global connectivity

History will remember the Belt and Road Initiative as one of the most significant chapters in China’s history, and a great milestone in the development of human civilization.

Has Penang Island’s growth & development become a hazard to life?


  • Malaysia’s Penang Island has undergone massive development since the 1960s, a process that continues today with plans for transit and land-reclamation megaprojects.
  • The island is increasingly facing floods and landslides, problems environmentalists link to paving land and building on steep slopes.
  • This is the second in a six-part series of articles on infrastructure projects in Peninsular Malaysia.

GEORGE TOWN, Malaysia — Muddy carpets and soaked furniture lay in moldering piles on the streets of this state capital. It was Sunday morning, Oct. 29, 2017. Eight days earlier, torrents of water had poured off the steep slopes of the island’s central mountain range. Flash floods ripped through neighborhoods. A landslide killed 11 workers at a construction site for a high-rise apartment tower, burying them in mud. It was Penang Island’s second catastrophic deluge in five weeks.

Kam Suan Pheng, an island resident and one of Malaysia’s most prominent soil scientists, stepped to the microphone in front of 200 people hastily gathered for an urgent forum on public safety. Calmly, as she’s done several times before, Kam explained that the contest between Mother Earth’s increasingly fierce meteorological outbursts and the islanders’ affection for building on steep slopes and replacing water-absorbing forest and farmland with roads and buildings would inevitably lead to more tragedies.

“When places get urbanized, the sponge gets smaller. So when there is development, the excess rainwater gets less absorbed into the ground and comes off as flash floods,” she said. “The flood situation is bound to worsen if climate change brings more rain and more intense rainfall.”

Five days later it got worse. Much worse. On Nov. 4, and for the next two days, Penang was inundated by the heaviest rainfall ever recorded on the island. Water flooded streets 3.6 meters (12 feet) deep. Seven people died. The long-running civic discussion that weighed new construction against the risks of increasingly fierce ecological impediments grew more urgent. George Town last year joined an increasing number of the world’s great coastal cities — Houston, New Orleans, New York, Cape Town, Chennai, Jakarta, Melbourne, São Paulo — where the consequences are especially vivid.

The empty apartment construction  site where 11 men died in an October 2017 landslide. Image by Keith Schneider for Mongabay.

Penang’s state government and Chow Kon Yeow, its new chief minister, recognize the dilemma. Three weeks after being named in May to lead the island, Chow told two reporters from The Star newspaper that “[e]conomic growth with environmental sustainability would be an ideal situation rather than sacrificing the environment for the sake of development.”

But Chow also favors more growth. He is the lead proponent for building one of the largest and most expensive transportation projects ever undertaken by a Malaysian city: a $11.4 billion scheme that includes an underwater tunnel linking to peninsular Malaysia, three highways, a light rail line, a monorail, and a 4.8-kilometer (3-mile) gondola from the island to the rest of Penang state on the Malay peninsula.

The state plans to finance construction with proceeds from the sale of 1,800 hectares (4,500 acres) of new land reclaimed from the sea along the island’s southern shore. The Southern Reclamation Project calls for building three artificial islands for manufacturing, retail, offices, and housing for 300,000 residents.

Awarded rights to build the reclamation project in 2015, the SRS Consortium, the primary contractors, are a group of national and local construction companies awaiting the federal government’s decision to proceed. Island fishermen and their allies in Penang’s community of environmental organizations and residential associations oppose the project, and they proposed a competing transport plan that calls for constructing a streetcar and bus rapid transit network at one-third the cost. (See Mongabay –https://news.mongabay.com/2017/04/is-a-property-boom-in-malaysia-causing-a-fisheries-bust-in-penang/)

For a time the national government stood with the fishermen. Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, the former minister of natural resources and environment and a member of Barisan Nasional (BN), the ruling coalition, refused to allow the project. “The 1,800-hectare project is too massive and can change the shoreline in the area,” he told reporters. “It will not only affect the environment but also the forest such as mangroves. Wildlife and marine life, their breeding habitats will be destroyed.”

The state, and Penang Island, however, have been governed since 2008 by leaders of the Pakatan Harapan coalition, which supported the transport and reclamation mega projects. In May 2018, Pakatan Harapan routed the BN in parliamentary elections. Former prime minister Mahathir Mohamed, the leader of Pakatan Harapan, assumed power once again. Island leaders anticipate that their mega transport and reclamation projects will be approved.

It is plain, though, that last year’s floods opened a new era of civic reflection and reckoning with growth. Proof is everywhere, like the proliferation of huge blue tarps draped across flood-scarred hillsides outside of George Town’s central business district. Intended to block heavy rain from pushing more mud into apartment districts close by, the blue tarps are a distinct signal of ecological distress.

Or the flood-damaged construction sites in Tanjung Bungah, a fast-growing George Town suburb. A lone guard keeps visitors from peering through the gates of the empty apartment construction site where 11 men died in the October 2017 landslide. About a mile away, a row of empty, cracked, expensive and never-occupied hillside townhouses are pitched beside a road buckled like an accordion. The retaining wall supporting the road and development collapsed in the November 2017 flood, causing expensive property damage.

  • A row of empty, cracked, expensive and never-occupied hillside  townhouses are pitched beside a road buckled like an accordion. The retaining wall supporting the road and development collapsed in a November 2017 flood, causing extensive property damage. Image by Keith Schneider for Mongabay.

    Gurmit Singh, founder and chairman of the Centre for Environment, Technology and Development, Malaysia (CETDEM), and dean of the nation’s conservation activists, called Penang state government’s campaign for more growth and mega infrastructure development “a folly.”

    “It exceeds the carrying capacity of the island. It should never be approved,” he said in an interview in his Kuala Lumpur office.

    Singh, who is in his 70s and still active, was raised on Penang Island. He is an eyewitness to the construction that made much of his boyhood geography unrecognizable. “Everything built there now is unsustainable,” he said.

    It’s taken decades to reach that point. Before 1969, when state authorities turned to Robert Nathan and Associates, a U.S. consultancy, to draw up a master plan for economic development, Penang Island was a 293-square-kilometer (113-square-mile) haven of steep mountain forests, ample rice paddies, and fishing villages reachable only by boat.

    For most residents, though, Penang Island was no tropical paradise. Nearly one out of five working adults was jobless, and poverty was endemic in George Town, its colonial capital, according to national records.

    Nathan proposed a path to prosperity: recruiting electronics manufacturers to settle on the island and export their products globally. His plan emphasized the island’s location on the Strait of Malacca, a trading route popular since the 16th century that tied George Town to Singapore and put other big Asian ports in close proximity.

  • Sea and harbor traffic on the Strait of Malacca. Image by Keith Schneider for Mongabay.

    As a 20th century strategy focused on stimulating the economy, Nathan’s plan yielded real dividends. The island’s population nearly doubled to 755,000, according to national estimates. Joblessness hovers in the 2 percent range.

    Foreign investors poured billions of dollars into manufacturing, retail and residential development, and all the supporting port, energy, road, and water supply and wastewater treatment infrastructure. In 1960, the island’s urbanized area totaled 29.5 square kilometers (11.4 square miles), almost all of it in and immediately surrounding George Town. In 2015, the urban area had spread across 112 square kilometers (43 square miles) and replaced the mangroves, rubber plantations, rice paddies and fishing villages along the island’s northern and eastern coasts.

    There are now 220,000 homes on the island, with more than 10,000 new units added annually, according to National Property Information Center. George Town’s colonial center, which dates to its founding in 1786, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008, like Venice and Angkor Wat. The distinction helped George Town evolve into a seaside tourist mecca. The state of Penang, which includes 751 square kilometers (290 square miles) on the Malay peninsula, attracts over 6 million visitors annually, roughly half from outside Malaysia. Most of the visitors head to the island, according to Tourism Malaysia.

    Nathan’s plan, though, did not anticipate the powerful ecological and social responses that runaway shoreline and hillside development would wreak in the 21st century. Traffic congestion in George Town is the worst of any Malaysian city. Air pollution is increasing. Flooding is endemic.

  • Blue tarps drape the steep and muddy hillsides in George Town to slow erosion during heavy rain storms. Image by Keith Schneider for Mongabay.

    Nor in the years since have Penang’s civic authorities adequately heeded mounting evidence of impending catastrophes, despite a series of government-sponsored reports calling for economic and environmental sustainability.

    Things came to a head late last year. Flooding caused thousands of people to be evacuated from their homes. Water tore at hillsides, opening the forest to big muddy wounds the color of dried blood. Never had Penang Island sustained such damage from storms that have become more frequent, according to meteorological records. Rain in November that measured over 400 millimeters (13 inches) in a day. The damage and deaths added fresh urgency and new recruits to Penang Island’s longest-running civic argument: Had the island’s growth become a hazard to life?

    George Town is far from alone in considering the answer. The 20th century-inspired patterns of rambunctious residential, industrial and infrastructure development have run headlong into the ferocious meteorological conditions of the 21st century. Coastal cities, where 60 percent of the world’s people live, are being challenged like never before by battering storms and deadly droughts. For instance, during a two-year period that ended in 2016, Chennai, India, along the Bay of Bengal, was brutalized by a typhoon and floods that killed over 400 people, and by a drought that prompted deadly protests over water scarcity. Houston drowned in a storm. Cape Town is in the midst of a two-year drought emergency.

    George Town last year joined the expanding list of cities forced by Nature to a profound reckoning. Between 2013 and mid-October 2017, according to state records, Penang recorded 119 flash floods. The annual incidence is increasing: 22 in 2013; 30 in 2016. Residents talk about a change in weather patterns for an island that once was distinguished by a mild and gentle climate but is now experiencing much more powerful storms with cyclone-force winds and deadly rain.

    Billions of dollars in new investment are at stake. Apartment towers in the path of mudslides and flash flooding rise on the north shore near George Town. Fresh timber clearing continues apace on the steep slopes of the island’s central mountain range, despite regulations that prohibit such activity. Demographers project that the island’s population could reach nearly 1 million by mid-century. That is, if the monstrous storms don’t drive people and businesses away — a trend that has put Chennai’s new high-tech corridor at risk.

    The urgency of the debate has pushed new advocates to join Kam Suan Pheng at the forefront of Penang Island’s environmental activism. One of them is Andrew Ng Yew Han, a 34-year-old teacher and documentary filmmaker whose “The Hills and the Sea” describes how big seabed reclamation projects on the island’s north end have significantly diminished fish stocks and hurt fishing villages. High-rise towers are swiftly pushing a centuries-old way of life out of existence. The same could happen to the more than 2,000 licensed fishermen and women contending with the much bigger reclamation proposals on the south coast.

    “How are they going to survive?” Han said in an interview. “This generation of fisherman will be wiped out. None of their kids want to be fisherman. Penang is holding a world fisherman conference in 2019. The city had the gall to use a picture of local fisherman as the poster. No one who’s coming here knows, ‘Hey you are reclaiming land and destroying livelihood of an entire fishing village.’”

    “We all want Penang to be progressive. To grow. To become a great city,” he adds on one of his videos. “But at whose expense? That’s the question. That’s the story I’m covering.”

  • Andrew Ng Yew Han, a 34-year-old teacher and documentary film maker whose “The Hills and the Sea” describes how big seabed reclamation projects on the island’s north end have significantly diminished fish  stocks and hurt fishing villages. Image by Keith Schneider for Mongabay.

    Another young advocate for sustainable growth is Rexy Prakash Chacko, a 26-year-old engineer documenting illegal forest clearing. Chacko is an active participant in the Penang Forum, the citizens’ group that held the big meeting on flooding last October. Nearly two years ago, he helped launch Penang Hills Watch, an online site that uses satellite imagery and photographs from residents to identify and map big cuts in the Penang hills — cuts that are illegal according to seldom-enforced state and federal laws.

    Kam Suan Pheng and other scientists link the hill clearing to the proliferation of flash flooding and extensive landslides that occur on the island now, even with moderate rainfall.

    In 1960, Malaysia anticipated a future problem with erosion when it passed the Land Conservation Act that designated much of Penang Island’s mountain forests off-limits to development. In 2007, Penang state prohibited development on slopes above an elevation of 76 meters (250 feet), and any slope with an incline greater than 25 degrees, or 47 percent.

    Images on Penang Hills Watch make it plainly apparent that both measures are routinely ignored. In 2015, the state confirmed as much when it made public a list of 55 blocks of high-rise housing, what the state called “special projects,” that had been built on hillsides above 76 meters or on slopes steeper than 25 degrees. The “special projects” encompassed 10,000 residences and buildings as tall as 45 stories.

 

Rexy Prakash Chacko, a 26-year-old engineer who helped launch Penang Hills Watch, an online site that uses satellite imagery and photographs from residents to identify and map big cuts in the Penang hills. Image by Keith Schneider for Mongabay.

“There is a lot of water coming down the hills now,” Chacko said in an interview. “It’s a lack of foresight. Planning has to take into account what happens when climate change is a factor. Clearing is happening. And in the last two years the rain is getting worse.

“You can imagine. People are concerned about this. There was so much lost from the water and the mud last year.”

Ignoring rules restricting development has consequences, as Kam Suan Pheng has pointed out since getting involved in the civic discussion about growth in 2015. After the October 2017 landslide, she noted that local officials insisted the apartment building where the 11 deaths occurred was under construction on flat ground. But, she told Mongabay, an investigation by the State Commission of Inquiry (SCI) found that the apartment construction site abutted a 60-degree slope made of granite, which is notoriously unstable when it becomes rain-saturated.

“State authorities continued to insist that development above protected hill land is prohibited,” Kam said in an email. “There is little to show that more stringent enforcement on hill slope development has been undertaken. Hopefully the findings of the SCI will serve as lessons for more stringent monitoring and enforcement of similar development projects so that the 11 lives have not been sacrificed in vain.”

 

Malaysian new hope for the housing industry with new government


MALAYSIANS have been in an uplifting mood, with the various measures announced by the new government since the new Cabinet was formed.

Out of my passion for the housing industry, I am paying special interest and attention to Pakatan Harapan’s proposals on housing matters. There are several initiatives which will give a new breath of life to the industry if they are implemented successfully.

In its manifesto, Pakatan Harapan promises to build one million affordable homes within two terms of their administration. This is a realistic and encouraging move to address the affordable housing issue in Malaysia.

As mentioned in my previous article, I often wondered why the previous government didn’t directly drive affordable housing. I was enlightened when a friend told me last year, “The reason is that there isn’t any ‘money’ involved in affordable housing”. Given the new government’s promise of a cleaner government, I believe this is the right time.

To build one million affordable houses within two terms means that the government needs to build an average of 100,000 homes every year. This exceeds our yearly residential housing production recorded for the past few years.

To make this a reality, the government needs to put in real money to make it happen. The previous government depended on the private sector to drive that number. However, as we have seen from successful public/affordable housing models from Hong Kong and Singapore, our government should be the main driving force in providing affordable homes.

The reasons for such success are obvious. Governments have control over land, approval rights, public funds and development expertise. Given enough political will, and backed by tax payers’ funds, we can achieve these targets.

According to the manifesto of the new government, the above mission will be carried out by a National Affordable Housing Council chaired by the Prime Minister. Setting up a central authority has been suggested by Bank Negara and also in this column before. A centralised system will ensure effective planning and allocation of affordable homes, just as is done by the Housing and Development Board (HDB) in Singapore.

Currently, we have different agencies looking at affordable housing, such as the various State Economic Development Corporations (SEDCs), Syarikat Perumahan Negara Bhd (SPNB), Perbadanan Kemajuan Negeri Selangor (PKNS) and 1 Malaysia People’s Housing Scheme (PR1MA).

Many of them are working in isolation from one another and some have strayed from their original purpose.

In Singapore, prior to the formation of the Housing and Development Board (HDB) in 1960, less than 9% of Singaporeans stayed in government housing. Today, HDB has built more than a million flats and houses. About 82% of Singaporeans stay in HDB housing, according to HDB’s annual report. It is a great example for reference.

Based on the recently published statistics from the National Property Information Centre (Napic), the total residential homes in Malaysia as at the end of 2017 was 5.4 million. Low-cost houses and flats accounted for 21% or 1.15 million of the total.

Some may question whether the number of low-cost homes is sufficient. However, there may be some “leakages” or misallocation in the previous distribution system that caused qualified applicants to face difficulties when buying or renting a low-cost home.

Many years ago, The Star reported that thousands of government housing units in Kuala Lumpur were being sub-let to third parties at five times above the control rental price. It stated that the number of applicants for low-cost units in Kuala Lumpur had reached 26,000, and that many of them had been on the waiting list for more than a decade.

It was even rumoured that some low-cost housing units across Malaysia were sold to political nominees, instead of going towards the rakyat who really couldn’t afford housing. If this practice did actually happen, it is disgusting and should be reviewed.

It is timely for the new government to inspect whether our low-cost homes have fallen into the wrong hands. It is essential to repair the allocation system and stop any form of corruption while building more low cost and affordable homes.

The new government’s manifesto to coordinate a unified and open database on affordable housing, can be one of the solutions to the matter.

In addition, the idea of managing a rent-to-own scheme for lower income groups is a positive measure to encourage residents to take care of their houses, as they will eventually own them.

I am glad to see the manifesto of the new government addressing many areas of concern in building homes for the rakyat. We understand that it takes time to implement these new measures. The rakyat will need to be patient for these new measures to reap their full results. We hope that a fresh start in the right direction will finally shine some light at the end of the tunnel.

By Alan Tong – Food for thought

Datuk Alan Tong has over 50 years of experience in property development. He was the World President of FIABCI International for 2005/2006 and awarded the Property Man of the Year 2010 at FIABCI Malaysia Property Award. He is also the group chairman of Bukit Kiara Properties. For feedback, please email feedback@fiabci-asiapacific.com.
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