Oil Prices: What’s Behind the Drop? Simple Economics

    Some think it will be years before oil returns to $90 or $100 a barrel, a price that was pretty much the norm over the last decade. Credit Michael Stravato for The New York Times

The oil industry, with its history of booms and busts, is in its deepest downturn since the 1990s, if not earlier.

Earnings are down for companies that made record profits in recent years, leading them to decommission more than two-thirds of their rigs and sharply cut investment in exploration and production. Scores of companies have gone bankrupt and an estimated  250,000 oil workers have lost their jobs.

The cause is the plunging price of a barrel of oil, which has fallen more than 70 percent since June 2014.

Prices recovered a few times over the last year, but the cost of a barrel of oil has already sunk this year to levels not seen since 2003 as an oil glut has taken hold.

Also contributing to the glut was Iran’s return to the international oil market after sanctions were lifted against the country under an international agreement with major world powers to restrict its nuclear work that took effect in January.

Executives think it will be years before oil returns to $90 or $100 a barrel, a price that was pretty much the norm over the last decade.

What is the current price of oil?

Brent crude, the main international benchmark, was trading at around  $38 a barrel on Wednesday.

The American benchmark was at around $37 a barrel.

Why has the price of oil been dropping? Why now? 

This a complicated question, but it boils down to the simple economics of supply and demand.

United States domestic production has nearly doubled over the last several years, pushing out oil imports that need to find another home. Saudi, Nigerian and Algerian oil that once was sold in the United States is suddenly competing for Asian markets, and the producers are forced to drop prices. Canadian and Iraqi oil production and exports are rising year after year. Even the Russians, with all their economic problems, manage to keep pumping.

There are signs, however, that production is falling because of the drop in exploration investments. RBC Capital Markets has calculated projects capable of producing more than a half million barrels a day of oil were cancelled, delayed or shelved by OPEC countries alone last year, and this year promises more of the same.

But the drop in production is not happening fast enough, especially with output from deep waters off the Gulf of Mexico and Canada continuing to build as new projects come online.

On the demand side, the economies of Europe and developing countries are weak and vehicles are becoming more energy-efficient. So demand for fuel is lagging a bit.

Who benefits from the price drop?

Any motorist can tell you that gasoline prices have dropped. Diesel, heating oil and natural gas prices have also fallen sharply.ny motorist can tell you that gasoline prices have dropped. Diesel, heating oil and natural gas prices have also fallen sharply.

The latest drop in energy prices —  regular gas nationally now averages just above $2 a gallon, roughly down about 40 cents from the same time a year ago — is also disproportionately helping lower-income groups, because fuel costs eat up a larger share of their more limited earnings.

Households that use heating oil to warm their homes are also seeing savings.

Who loses?

For starters, oil-producing countries and states. Venezuela, Nigeria, Ecuador, Brazil and Russia are just a few petrostates that are suffering economic and perhaps even political turbulence.

The impact of Western sanctions caused Iranian production to drop by about one million barrels a day in recent years and blocked Iran from importing the latest Western oil field technology and equipment. With sanctions now being lifted, the Iranian oil industry is expected to open the taps on production soon.

In the United States, there are now virtually no wells that are profitable to drill.

Chevron, Royal Dutch Shell and BP have all announced cuts to their payrolls to save cash, and they are in far better shape than many smaller independent oil and gas producers.

States like Alaska, North Dakota, Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana are  facing economic challenges.

There has also been an uptick in traffic deaths as low gas prices have translated to increased road travel. And many young Saudis have seen cushy jobs vanish.

What happened to OPEC?

Iran, Venezuela, Ecuador and Algeria have all pressed OPEC, a cartel of oil producers, to cut production to firm up prices. At the same time, Iraq is actually pumping more, and Iran is expected to become a major exporter again.

Major producing countries will meet on April 17 in Qatar, and some analysts think a cut may be possible, especially if oil prices approach $30 a barrel again.

King Salman, who assumed power in Saudi Arabia in January 2015, may find it difficult to persuade other OPEC members to keep steady against the financial strains, even if Iran continues to increase production. The International Monetary Fund estimates that the revenues of Saudi Arabia and its Persian Gulf allies will slip by $300 billion
this year.

Is there a conspiracy to bring the price of oil down?

There are a number of conspiracy theories floating around. Even some oil executives are quietly noting that the Saudis want to hurt Russia and Iran, and so does the United States — motivation enough for the two oil-producing nations to force down prices. Dropping oil prices in the 1980s did help bring down the Soviet Union, after all.

But there is no evidence to support the conspiracy theories, and Saudi Arabia and the United States rarely coordinate smoothly. And the Obama administration is hardly in a position to coordinate the drilling of hundreds of oil companies seeking profits and answering to their shareholders.

When are oil prices likely to recover? 

Not anytime soon. Oil production is not declining fast enough in the United States and other countries, though that could begin to change this year. But there are signs that supply and demand — and price — could recover some balance by the end of 2016.Oil markets have bounced back more than 40 percent since hitting a low of $26.21 a barrel in New York in early February.Some
analysts, however, question how long the recovery can be sustained because the global oil market remains substantially oversupplied. In the United States, domestic stockpiles are at their highest level in more than 80 years, and are still growing.But over the long term, demand for fuels is recovering in some countries, and that could help crude prices recover in the next year or two. – The New York Times


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Supersized and overweight civil servants

The public waiting their turn for services at a government department. – Filepic

When those two words describe a nation’s public sector, it means it’s truly a burden on taxpayers.

POOR civil servants! If you watched Disney’s animated film Zootopia, you would have caught the hilarious scene where the heroes, a rabbit and a fox, rushed to the Department of Motor Vehicles to check out a licence plate, only to get very, very slow service from the sloths manning the counter.

It would appear this stereotyping of civil servants’ work ethic is universal, which is why the parody tickled audiences everywhere.

Now Malaysians have another reason to make fun of their civil servants: they’re too fat. At least the ones in Putrajaya are, according to the 2015 National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS) which showed it has the highest rate of overweight and obese citizens.

It’s an established fact that Putrajaya is populated overwhelmingly by government employees, which means those living and serving in the very heart of the nation’s administrative capital are rather unhealthy.

That’s a bummer because, design-wise, Putrajaya got it right. It was a winner in the 75,001­ to 150,000-population category for the Whole City Award under the International Awards for Liveable Communities 2012.

In the paper submitted for the awards, Putrajaya boasted of having “lush greeneries surrounding buildings, infrastructure, (12) parks and gardens.” What’s more, the same paper took into account the need to keep Putra­jaya folks fit and healthy.

It noted that 28% of the residents had a normal BMI (Body Mass Index), 36.3% were overweight, 27.4% obese and 8.3% were even underweight. That was in 2011.

Just four years later, 37% of Putrajayans are said to be overweight and their obesity rate is 43%, according to the NHMS findings.

These are alarming jumps and more so when there were efforts like the Healthy Parks, Healthy People programme to get the residents to exercise to stave off lifestyle diseases like hypertension and diabetes. Among the activities was the Putrajaya Inter-Park Ride monthly cycling event.

So what gives? Why are Putrajayans and Malaysians on the whole so fat? We hold the title of Fatties of South-East Asia; some reports say the whole of Asia.

Some people may, in a perverse way, hail having an overly well-fed population as a sign of a nation’s prosperity. After all, the fattest people in the world are the Americans.

A How’s Life? 2015 Report by the Organisation for Economic Coopera­tion and Development ranked the United States as the nation with the most obese population. It also had the fattest children and the unhealthiest teenagers by a wide margin.

The findings are said to be a blow to the Obama administration and First Lady Michelle Obama because they have been championing this cause for years, including reducing sugar and salt from school lunches.

So if both the US and Malaysian Governments couldn’t stem the fat tide in their respective countries, who can? I would say it’s still the government and we the people.

What we have is a terribly bloated public sector. The Star, quoting Prime Minister’s Office statistics, pointed out that at 1.4 million employees, it’s the largest civil service in South-East Asia.

Supersized and overweight. That’s a double whammy and the kind of Malaysian Book of Records we don’t need. So for a start, how about really downsizing the civil service? After all, why do we need so many civil servants to serve a population that’s way smaller than those in neighbouring countries like Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand?

Next, I support calls to make it mandatory for civil servants to lose the fat and stay healthy. This is especially so for those who have yet to develop serious illnesses like diabetes. If need be, withhold promotions and salary increases if they don’t meet this KPI.

The reason why I am pushing for this is because civil servants get free medical services in government hospitals and clinics, even after retirement.

That’s a longstanding benefit which I don’t object to, since my retired police officer father is a beneficiary. But with a large, unhealthy government workforce, you can imagine the humongous medical bill we taxpayers are burdened with.

If nothing is done, it will become a bigger burden because, as doctors have warned, 20 years from now, those overweight and obese citizens will be suffering from all sorts of illnesses from stroke, heart disease and kidney failure to diabetes.

All that “will increase the health budget to an unsustainable level,” Malaysian Medical Association president Dr Ashok Zachariah Philip told The Star.

Thanks to my role as the primary caregiver to my elderly parents who suffer from various illnesses, I know how scarily expensive medical care can be for those without access to free treatments.

As a private sector employee, I am grateful to be working for a company that gives me good medical coverage. But I have also bought my own health insurance to prepare for the day when I retire and lose my safety net. In the meantime, I work at staying healthy and medication-free.

As I said, I do not begrudge the medical benefit for government servants. What I do begrudge are those who take it for granted, instead of taking responsibility for their own well-being.

If the Government can work on getting its workforce in shape, non-public sector citizens too can do their part by eating less and more healthily and getting off our butts.

Admittedly, it’s hard now to go out for a run or even a stroll because of the current heat wave and haze. But we can try taking the stairs instead of the lift, drink more water than teh tarik and yes, eat less of our beloved nasi lemak.

Proud as we are that Time magazine ranked it as the ninth healthiest breakfast in the world, we know better. A dish that tastes that good cannot be healthy!

I leave this thought with you: The OEDC report, which measures the personal and economic health of nations, found that the United States indeed topped the chart in personal wealth and even the number of rooms in American homes.

So yes, they have the wealth but where’s the health?

By June H.L. Wong

So Aunty, So What?

Aunty likes this quote by humourist Jarod Kintz: Obesity isn’t as cool as it used to be, back in the earlier centuries. Before it was a reflection on your gross income. Now it’s just gross. Feedback to aunty@thestar.com.my

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Putrajaya the obese-city! Address obesity urgently

Two men cycling in front of the Palace of justice in Putrajaya

Malaysia has the highest percentage of overweight people in South-East Asia and the bulk of them are in Putrajaya. A survey has found that two out of five Malaysian civil servants are obese. The news is not good for the country’s health.

KUALA LUMPUR: It has been long known that Malaysia is the fattest country in South-East Asia. Now, it has been proven that the administrative capital of Putrajaya has the highest rate of overweight and obese people in the country.

Findings from the 2015 National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS) placed Putrajaya as the city with the highest percentage of overweight, obese and abdominally obese people in the country.

The study also suggests that the administrative capital’s population has a 37% chance of being overweight, while the obesity rate stood at 43%.

Even more startling, the NHMS said government and semi-government employees took the cake as those struggling most with obesity, with a 40.3% rate.

This could mean two out of every five of Malaysia’s civil servants may be obese.

Malaysia’s civil service has 1.4 million employees, according to the Prime Minister’s Office, and is the largest civil service in South-East Asia.

Other obesity demographics pointed out in the survey were Indians (43.5%), married adults (33.8%) and those who only studied up to secondary school (32.1%).

The findings put the Government in a rather red-faced situation, as it works on reversing the climbing number of obese and overweight Malaysians.

“As the number of people with obesity increases, the nation now is facing an upward surge of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases,” the survey concluded, describing the Malaysian obesity epidemic as alarming.

Although a review of public health policy was not necessary now, it opined, the Government was asked to provide more supportive environments for Malaysians to lead healthier lifestyles.

Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) president Dr Ashok Zachariah Phillip agreed, saying that the life of a typical government servant did not afford them much time or money to stay healthy.

“If you look at the strata, it’s usually the lower grade workers who are overweight because it takes money to keep fit. Government workers go to work at 7am, come back at 7pm and have no time between work and family to even think of exercising,” he said.

It doesn’t help either that basic essentials like white rice, sugar and oil are staple Malaysian diets and are unhealthy, he said.

“For us doctors, this could be a real headache 20 years down the road. We are going to have a growing population with stroke and heart disease, and kidney failures that will increase the health budget at an unsustainable level,” he added.

The Government needs to look into setting up more gyms in agencies and dish out incentives for employees to fight the bulge.

Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam said the figures were worrying.

“I don’t think the people are in the best state of health,” he said.

He said general sedentary work has a correlation to obesity, a trend which government agencies, namely the police, were trying to counter.

“The police recognised this recently and have taken some effort to make sure they have lean policemen. They will try to take action to meet this target,” Dr Subramaniam said yesterday.

Malacca and Perlis are the states with second and third highest obesity rates. Sabah and the Federal Territory of Labuan were the slimmest states.

By Micholas Cheng The Star

Address obesity urgently


AMID the current heat wave, not only are we blue over the greens (The Star, April 4) with highland vegetables wilting and Ipoh’s famous pomelos shrinking in size, schoolchildren are also getting more obese with the sound advice from the authorities to stay indoors.

Presumably, many children will go in droves to air-conditioned malls and fast food restaurants for meals, which naturally will add to the problem of obesity.

Doctors say obesity is defined as the condition of being very overweight and having a body mass index, or BMI, of 30 or higher. The BMI is a measure of the weight relative to the height.

Evidently, obesity is manifested in the abdominal fat around the waist of children and adults as well.

But we should not get unduly worried with the adults because they are mature and knowledgeable enough to take responsibility for their health.

However, the innocent children’s health is undeniably our responsibility. Like it or not, we are accountable and answerable for the obesity problem in their adult life.

Today we can see the startling increase in the number of obese children across the country. Yet many parents unfortunately are seemingly too busy to check their children’s diet, let alone their daily exercise like the recommended walk of up to 10,000 steps a day.

Perhaps schools should voluntarily take up the task of creating awareness about the high risks and health hazards of obesity.

One practical way is to do routine short workouts: get students to burn calories by doing some exercises in the school assembly or in class every day – even some stretching exercises will suffice.

Certainly, this will increase their metabolic rate, thus strengthening their mental ability to learn; reducing levels of stress and depression; and suppressing the appetite.

When the heat wave is over, I would say it is the ethical and moral responsibility of the school authorities to bring back the Physical Standard Tests for all students like the good old days and mobilise all the staff to run selected athletic events such as the 100m, 200m, long jump, high jump and shot putt. Set certain standards for the events.

It would be much better if the Education Ministry’s Sports Department sets the national standards for all these events, which was done in the 60s till the 80s by using the co-curriculum 001 and 002 cards.

Next, it is also incumbent upon the Education Ministry to make it mandatory for school canteens to display the calorie counts for all the food so that the children will learn how to make healthy food choices and to calculate the total calorie intake they require for a day (about 1,600 and 2,500 calories per day depending on their age, gender and activity level).Eventually, they will “graduate” to become smart healthy consumers.

Let’s take these critical measures seriously to save our children from potential health risks like diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease and also some cancers.

This will invariably reduce the national health bill as well.

It was reported in “Putrajaya tops obese list” (see above) that we already have the highest percentage of overweight people in South-East Asia, and two out of five civil servants are obese.

Hence, invariably, the Government has to increase the health budget to cater for our increasingly ailing population if the obesity problem is not urgently addressed.


Related story: Healthy when young, healthy when old

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Government refusal to recognize the UEC due to ‘national sovereignty’, Kamalanthan said

School activity: Liow (right) with Eco World Foundation chairman Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye (with cap) and its CEO Capt (R) Datuk Liew Siong Sing (on Lee’s right) with students from SJK(C) Bukit Tinggi after Eco World handed over its donation of new canteen tables and benches to the school.

Liow: Retract UEC statement

BENTONG: MCA president Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai wants Deputy Education Minister Datuk P. Kamalanathan to retract his remarks about the Unified Examination Certificate (UEC).

He said Kamalanathan’s statement in Parliament that the Government’s refusal to recognise the UEC was due to issues of “national sovereignty” was never discussed in Cabinet meetings.

Kamalanathan and Muhyiddin“I urge Kamalanathan to retract his statement. This has nothing to do with the sovereignty of the country.

“This is his (Kamalanathan) personal view and not the Government’s. He may not have had the necessary information when he commented on the matter and this might mislead the public,” he said at SJK(C) Bukit Tinggi here after witnessing the handover of new canteen tables and benches yesterday.

Liow said if Kamalanathan did not understand the issue, he should have let Deputy Education Minister Chong Sin Woon explain it, adding that the statement might hurt the Chinese education system and the nation.

“The Education Ministry and the Higher Education Ministry have been in discussion over the recognition of the UEC,” he added.

Liow said the matter was discussed by the Malaysian Chinese Education Consultative Council Committee, comprising the United Chinese School Committees Association (Dong Zong), United Chinese School Teachers’ Association (Jia Zong) and Federation of Chinese Associations (Hua Zong), among others.

Responding yesterday, Kamalanathan maintained that his answer in Parliament was based on a Cabinet decision and not his personal view. His parliamentary reply was “verbatim” as per the Cabinet meeting on the matter on Nov 6 last year, he added.

However, he said it did not mean that it was impossible for UEC to be recognised.

“We (Education Ministry) have never closed the door on discussing (such) matters with any organisation because it is the ministry’s and everyone’s hope to see an improvement in the quality of our national education,” he said.

In KOTA KINABALU, Liberal Democratic Party president Datuk Teo Chee Kang said he was puzzled by Kamalanathan’s remarks in Parliament linking recognition of the UEC to national sovereignty.

“I regret that in answering a question in Parliament, the Deputy Minister said that the Government will not recognise the UEC for reasons of national interest and sovereignty.

“I wonder whether he knew what he was talking about. I cannot understand how it is related to national sovereignty,” he added.

– The Star/Asia News Network

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The Corruption case in the Youth & Sports Ministry Malaysia is a reflection of broken systems in country

The brazen embezzlement of RM100mil from the Youth and Sports Ministry exposes stark weaknesses in the management of public funds.



THE case of the mid-level civil ser­vant who embezzled more than RM100mil undetected from the Youth and Sports Ministry for years should rightly boggle the mind.

But when it comes to corruption and fraud in the country, most Malaysians aren’t easily baffled anymore. There are more outrageous scandals in our midst, including one best described as the proverbial jumbo in the room.

Still, the misappropriation of RM107mil of public funds by the official is yet another appalling reflection of what has gone wrong in the system.

It does not make sense that the 56-year-old division secretary who was arrested with eight others, including a woman, last Friday, could brazenly make payments to 14 companies for non-existent work without the knowledge of those above or below him.

According to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), he pocketed at least RM20mil in kickbacks from the procurement fraud operation which began in 2010 and perhaps even earlier than that.

The money from the National Sports Council was channelled directly to the companies and to his bank accounts – all 69 of them.

Surely he could not have done this all by himself. Under the ministry’s standard operating procedures, who were the others responsible for super­­­vising and approving the payments? The perception is they were either grossly negligent or in cahoots with him. And what about the internal auditors? Were they caught napping too?

As Transparency International-Malaysia president Datuk Akhbar Satar has pointed out, the ministry’s internal auditors should have spotted the stealing.

Let’s not forget that this ministry endorsed the Corporate Integrity Pledge under the Anti-Corruption National Key Results Area initiatives with much fanfare in 2014.

The pledge was made two years after allegations on questionable spending by the media and a Public Accounts Committee hearing in Parliament.

Among the issues raised was a bill amounting to more than RM10mil for the 2012 Hari Belia Negara event.

It was for supplies and services supposedly provided by an events management company for rental of tents, booths, stage, lighting and sound systems and performances by local entertainers and three K-pop groups – Dal Shabet, Teen Pop and U-KISS.

The investigations into the embezzled RM107mil are still at the initial stages. The MACC is now following the money trail and questioning more people, including those in the ministry and former senior officials, under Section 17(a) of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission Act 2009 and the Anti-Money Laundering Act. As for the main suspect, who is under remand for a week along with the eight others, he was clearly living beyond his means.

His audacious showiness and extravagant lifestyle blew his cover.

Among the things seized from his house and office in Putrajaya were 12 luxury cars, a wide assortment of jewellery, including a RM600,000 Cartier ring, paintings, luxury watches and 40 designer handbags.

The MACC has also seized RM8.33mil from the 69 bank ac­­counts. The officer is also believed to have received other kickbacks from the companies in the form of houses, trust fund payments worth millions and supplementary credit cards.

Apparently, he withdrew RM500,000 from one of his bank accounts a day before he was nabbed and used RM200,000 to pay his cre­dit card bills and sent RM40,000 to his son’s bank account in Australia.

Investigations also showed that man and his family had been travelling first class to Australia, Europe and the US at least once a month.

As always, pledges of impro­ving the system are made each time a new financial scandal is unco­vered.

Chief Secretary to the Government Tan Sri Dr Ali Hamsa said the Auditor-General’s Depart­ment would conduct a check on the Youth and Sports Ministry and its agencies.

He said it would cover financial and procurement processes and identify weaknesses.

But, as Dr Ali said, the secreta­ries-general of ministries should have been aware of all expenditure in the first place, as they were effectively chief financial officers.

According to him, there should not be any case where an officer could approve funds without autho­risation from the secretary-general, adding that a circular on this had been issued for some time now.

So why was this not followed in the case of the Youth and Sports Ministry, where there have been se­veral secretaries-general since 2010? The simple answer is the rules are there but they are not being followed, even at the highest levels.

Our system is broken and this is the main reason why corruption is so rampant in the country and the trust deficit in the Government is growing by the day.

Earlier this month, the Sultan of Perak, Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah, called for corruption to be fought with more determination.

“It must be tackled without bias, without fear and without favouri­tism because corruption is corruption no matter who commits it,” the Perak Ruler said in his speech at the Utusan Business Awards presentation on March 1.

Likening corruption to termites eating into the main pillars of the country, he warned that failure to address the scourge would lead to Malaysia’s certain downfall with citi­zens undergoing suffering like that being experienced in under-deve­loped countries.

“The public must be inculcated with a culture to hate corruption and to reject leaders involved in corrupt practices,” said the Perak Ruler, describing Malaysia’s poor score in Transparency International’s corruption perception index as a cause for alarm.

Malaysia’s current 50th spot is be­­hind Saudi Arabia (48), Jordan (45), Namibia (45), Mauritius (45) and even Rwanda (44). It only scored 50 points in 2015, two less than in 2014.

Last week, Time magazine deli­vered another damning blow on the level of corruption in the country.

In outlining specifics explaining the state of global corruption, it named five countries led by Brazil. Malaysia was second, followed by South Africa, China and Russia.

Along The Watchtower By M. Veera Pandiyan The Star

Associate Editor M. Veera Pandiyan likes this observation by 4th century Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi who said: “The petty thief is imprisoned but the big thief becomes a feudal lord.”

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The iron lady of the last survivors of Japanese occupation in WWII Part 4

The Last Survivors: Yap Chwee Lan
How Japan Forced Women Into Sexual Slavery

AT the age of 15, girls were pretending to be boys during the Japanese Occupation in Malaya, but Yap Chwee Lan was bravely rescuing the people of Kampung Baru, Johor, all because she could speak Japanese.

“Every night, about seven or eight young girls from the neighbourhood would come to my house to sleep because they felt safer there. They knew I could speak Japanese,” recalled Yap, now 90.

“The Japanese soldiers would come knocking on our door to ask for young girls and I’d respond in Japanese, ‘ Why do you need women? You need housekeepers?’. They were shocked I could speak Japanese.”

Yap learnt the language from her former Japanese employer, who was a hairdresser in Johor. The then 13- yearold picked up the language quickly, and was even treated well by his family.

Yap’s fluency in their language granted her favour in the eyes of the Japanese, and this ordinary girl found herself holding extraordinary power – the ability to save people.

She managed to save those who lived in her town, Kampung Baru, Johor, by identifying them – in Japanese – to the soldiers who would have killed them on suspicion of aiding the resistance.

And we were there to capture her experiences as the R. AGE crew brought her around Johor to film at locations that hold significant memories during the Occupation. This is for The Last Survivors, an interactive online documentary project that aims to raise awareness to youths about the importance of preserving Malaysian World War II stories.

Listening to her stories when he was growing up, one of Yap’s grandson Sebastian Chew, 18, is glad he didn’t have to experience WWII and the Occupation as he thinks it will haunt him throughout his life.

“I can’t imagine going through everything – from the bombings, hiding, living in fear and when the Japanese made the people dig their own graves in one of the fields and killed them. I don’t know how my grandma did it,” he said.

“That’s why I think it’s important for young people to know about these war stories so they can prevent anything of this sort from happening in the future. It’s cruel and heartbreaking.”

In her teenage years, Yap, whose father passed away when she was seven years old, had to work because her family was living in poverty.

She got married when she was 15, and lived with her husband Chiew Seng Leung at his laundry shop, Kedai Dobi Shanghai, in Johor Baru. Twenty days after their wedding, the Japanese started bombing Singapore.

Japanese fighter jets, based in Johor, would fly across to Singapore twice a day to bomb the neighbouring country. As the Japanese was attacking Singapore, lots of people walked over to Johor for safety. Yap and her family evacuated to Tampoi.

“We packed food and clothes, and placed them on my husband’s bicycle. As we were walking to Tampoi, we were stopped by a soldier because he wanted our bicycle. I told him in Japanese that it was ours and he let us through,” said Yap.

“The soldiers would leave you alone if they knew you could speak Japanese because it was like you were one of them. They’ll have more respect for you.”

Once they were in Tampoi, they sought refuge in a temple along with about 50 other refugees, but soldiers came looking for comfort women. Yap not only told them there were none, but also said she was part Japanese, hoping they wouldn’t come back.

But the next day, the Japanese returned. This time, they were with their general.

Yet, Yap wasn’t afraid. “Strangely enough, I wasn’t scared. He was impressed that I could speak Japanese and praised me, saying it was good because I could help the Japanese soldiers,” she said. He proceeded to ask Yap if they had enough food and made sure they did by sending them rice, sugar and flour so they could cook.

He also offered her a job in Singapore as a liaison officer between the Japanese and the locals. She took the job after the island was invaded, but later learned that the Singaporeans she had liaised with were all eventually killed.

The distance was too much for Yap to handle as well, as she didn’t know if her family was well and alive. She returned to Johor one week later, and things were unfortunately similar to what was happening in Singapore.

Chiew’s boss had been arrested, along with a bunch of other people.

“There were black flags all along the streets,” Yap recalled. “It meant everybody was to stay home, because the Japanese would arrest anyone on sight.”

Those who were arrested were taken to a house in Jalan Abdul Samad, behind what is now the Maktab Sultan Abu Bakar, to be held before being taken to Dataran Bandaraya, where they would be executed.

“When I got to the house, the people were kneeling on the ground, their hands tied behind their backs with thick wire as the Japanese soldiers pointed bayonets at them,” said Yap.

“A lot of them called out my name, begging me to save them. Then the Japanese asked if I knew these people.”

“I said, ‘ Yes, I do’. A lot of them lived in my neighbourhood. When I identi- fied them, they were freed.”

The rest, whom she couldn’t identify, weren’t so lucky. Her mother’s friend’s son was one of the unlucky ones.

“I didn’t see him there, I was devastated when I found out. His mother was crying in the street,” said Yap, recalling the horrors of wartime Malaya.

Those remained were brought to the field. They were asked to dig holes in the ground, sit at the edge of the holes and were shot with machine guns. As the bodies fell in, those who were merely injured were kicked into those holes they had dug themselves and buried alive together with the dead.

While a great number of people died during the Occupation, many more owe their lives to Yap.

Her family, though, remained safe, thanks to Yap.

“Before I went to Singapore, the Japanese general gave me a permit for my family,” she said. “He told me, ‘ If anybody disturbs your family, ask them to report to one of my officers’.”

Today, Yap and her family still live in Johor, where some of the survivors’ descendants still recognise her.

“I was walking around town and suddenly someone called out, ‘ Ah Ma!’. They told their kids that I saved their grandfather or grandmother,” Yap said with a laugh.


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Singapore layoffs bulk of high-skilled workers, households feeling the pinch

High-skilled workers make bulk of layoffs last year


Office workers at Raffles Place. TODAY file photo

HIGHER-skilled workers, degree holders and middle-aged workers were the hardest hit by layoffs in Singapore last year, making up more of the pool of resident workers made redundant than workers of other occupational, educational and age groups.

These groups were also less likely than other resident workers to be in employment within six months of being made redundant, Ministry of Manpower (MOM) statistics showed.

Of the Singaporeans and permanent residents who lost their jobs last year, more than seven in 10 (71%) were professionals, ­managers, executives and technicians, up from 66% the year before.

This was disproportionately higher than their 54% share of the resident workforce last year.

Between workers with different educational qualifications, degree holders made up the largest share – 44% – of residents who lost their jobs last year. This was up from 41% in 2014.

One in three of the resident workers made redundant last year was aged 40 to 49, despite this group making up only about one in four of the overall resident workforce.

Less than half of both degree holders and middle-aged workers who were made redundant in the third quarter of the year were back in employment by December.

Some workers could have decided to go for training or stop looking for a job, MOM said in its report.

But another reason could be that older workers already have preferences, such as not wanting to do shift work, said Linda Teo, country manager of human resource firm ManpowerGroup Singapore.

“This means they won’t be at the top of the list when employers sieve through applications.”

Adecco Singapore country manager Femke Hellemons said workers here often move from industry to industry for a comparative advantage, and skilled workers may take more time to find a job that they have the right skills for that also matches their pay expectations.

Losing a job would be a blow for those over 40 years old and with higher skills as they tend to have higher financial obligations such as mortgages and children’s study loans, but at the same time they are more costly to employers, said DBS economist Irvin Seah.

Overall, redundancies rose over the year while the number of vacancies fell, which experts said was because of weak global demand.

“This could be a sign of companies adopting measures to achieve cost efficiencies through outsourcing, offshoring and adoption of technologies in their work processes,” said Foo See Yang, vice-president and country general manager of Kelly Services Singapore.

ManpowerGroup’s Teo said the employment pattern is likely to continue its downward slide, as hiring intentions for the next three months are at their weakest since the third quarter of 2009. — The Straits Times/Asia News Network

Layoffs in S’pore last year highest since 2009 Global crisis

In what could be a sign of worse things to come, more workers lost their jobs last year amid weaker economic conditions, although unemployment remained low.

A total of 15,580 workers were laid off in 2015, the fifth consecutive year of rising redundancies, according to full- year official data released by the Manpower Ministry (MOM) yesterday.

Last year’s number climbed 20 per cent from 12,930 in 2014 and was the highest since the 2009 global financial crisis, which saw 23,430 workers laid off.

Job vacancies also fell to 53,700 as of December after accounting for seasonal variation, down 18 per cent from 65,500 a year earlier.

The trend could continue. “Amid the cyclical weakness and as the economy restructures, some consolidation and exit of businesses is expected,” MOM said.

Just over half, or 51 per cent, of the Singaporeans and permanent residents (PRs) made redundant from July to September last year were back in employment by the end of the year.

This figure measures the re-entry rates within six months of redundancy based on Central Provident Fund (CPF) records, and was down from 55 per cent three months earlier and 59 per cent at the end of 2014.

Still, the unemployment rate last year remained unchanged for Singaporeans, at 2.9 per cent. The figure including PRs was 2.8 per cent, up from 2.7 per cent in 2014.

There were 2,268,900 Singaporeans and PRs in jobs in Singapore as of the end of last year, just 700 more than there were a year earlier – when local employment had grown by 96,000.

With employment of foreigners also slowing, the total number of workers here stood at 3,656,200 at the end of last year.

For the year ahead, MOM expects redundancies to continue to rise in sectors facing weak external demand and that are undergoing restructuring, while domestic services sectors are likely to continue to need workers.

The Ministry added that it is “closely monitoring the current economic and labour market situation, and is strengthening employment support to help displaced locals re-enter employment”.

PMETs made up 71% of those affected as workers found it more difficult to get new jobs

SINGAPORE — The number of workers laid off last year spiked 20.5 per cent compared with 2014, reaching 15,580 — the highest number since the global financial crisis seven years ago, the latest Ministry of Manpower labour market report showed on Tuesday (March 15).

In 2009, the number of redundancies reached more than 23,000. The majority of last year’s lay-offs were in the services sector (55 per cent), where the financial services, wholesale trade and professional services were worst hit. Correspondingly, professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) made up 71 per cent of those laid off last year, up from 66 per cent in 2014.

 The financial services sector — which had been hit by news ofjob cuts announced by global banks, affecting employees here — shed

1,710 jobs last year, compared to 1,280 in 2014. Over the same period, the number of workers laid off in wholesale trade climbed from 1,490 to 2,150, while job losses for those in professional services — including doctors, lawyers and accountants — rose from 1,520 to 2,290.

Workers who were laid off also found it more difficult to get a new job last year: Based on Central Provident Fund records, half of the residents made redundant in the third quarter of last year managed to secure employment by December, down from 55 per cent in the previous quarter, and 59 per cent in the same period in 2014.

MOM said it expects redundancies to continue to rise in sectors facing weak external demand and those that are undergoing restructuring. Domestic-oriented services sector will continue to need workers, the ministry said. “MOM is closely monitoring the current economic and labour market situation, and is strengthening employment support to help displaced locals re-enter employment,” it added.

Economists told TODAY that the slower global economic growth and the downturns in manufacturing as well as the oil and gas sectors have had a spillover effect into the services sector.

DBS Bank senior economist Irvin Seah said the slump in oil prices not only affect oil rig builders but the entire supply chain including smaller companies that support the oil and gas sector. The financial services sector would continue to see more job losses compared to other segments as it is going through some consolidation, Mr Seah said. As far as the labour market is concerned, the worst is yet to come as the global economic outlook deteriorates, he cautioned.

CIMB Private Banking economist Song Seng Wun said that while lay-offs may not necessarily increase over the year with some sectors still hiring, the pace of hiring may slow and this could push the unemployment rate up. “I would expect job seekers to take even longer to find a new job in the year head. Businesses may not be laying off more workers but they may not be that in a hurry to hire,” Mr Song

Unemployment rate for residents was 2.8 per cent last year, inching up from 2.7 per cent in 2014, while that for citizens remained
unchanged at 2.9 per cent.

Mr Seah noted that the foreigners has borne the brunt of the job losses so far. “Companies are unwilling to let go of local workers because of the low foreign worker dependency ratio ceiling,” he said.

On the high proportion of PMETs laid off last year, Members of Parliament (MPs) from the labour movement attributed it to the fact that this group of workers comprise a higher percentage of the total workforce. Still, NTUC assistant secretary-general Patrick Tay, who is also an MP for West Coast GRC, said he was particularly concerned about PMETs above 40 years old, who would have a harder time finding a new job if they are retrenched.

Mr Tay, who co-chairs the Financial Sector Tripartite Committee which helps professionals seeking to find new jobs in the sector, suggested adopting a sectoral approach to provide more targeted and focused help in sectors where affected by high job losses.

Last month, the Association of Banks in Singapore announced that it has initiated a jobs portal that allows its members to refer their staff for suitable positions in other banks.

NTUC director of youth development Desmond Choo, who is an MP for Tampines GRC, said more efforts are needed to help PMETs. “We need to be able to re-skill, re-tool them (to join) other growing sectors … like healthcare and ICT (information communication technology),” said Mr Choo. More could also be done to provide “hardship support” for the families of retrenched PMETs while
they look for a job, he added.

Advanced data released by MOM in January showed that Singapore saw its worst year-on-year employment growth since 2003 last year.

Confirming the labour market’s sluggish performance, the latest MOM report said that excluding foreign domestic workers, total employment grew by 23,300 – or 0.7 per cent – last year, compared to increases of 122,100 (3.7 per cent) and 131,300 (4.2 per cent) in 2014 and 2013, respectively.

The growth in local employment was flat: Only 700 of the jobs added were filled last year by Singaporeans and Permanent Residents, compared to 96,000 and 82,900 in 2014 and 2013 respectively.


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