China-Hong Kong union needs sense of inclusion


Hong Kong. -Bloomberg pic

China is a different global power

The Chinese way of ruling

While the China-Hong Kong union still sits uncomfortably at times two decades on, the road ahead is slowly but surely being paved.

IT’S lunch time in Hong Kong, but the soya sauce chicken rice seller at Queen’s Road in Shek Tong Tsui is looking distressed as the crowd isn’t up to expectations.

Rental is high in Hong Kong and customers are obliged to share tables in small eateries like the one I was in.

Once eagle-eyed restaurant owners spot the conclusion of a meal, patrons are swiftly handed their bills, subtly suggesting they leave the premises to make way for incoming customers. Otherwise, they’d earn short shrift from irate staff.

Life is hard in HK and most residents feel that it has become much harder.

The older ones are more tolerant and patient because they have lived through the country’s high and low points. They include those born in China who came to the island with their parents.

Retired civil servants complain of promotions bypassing them because the top posts were reserved for the whites under British colonial rule. They felt humiliated and have never forgotten this marginalised treatment.

The young ones are becoming angrier now. They see HK deteriorating, reflected in their inability to buy a flat the size of a car park lot, because something even that small would probably cost millions of ringgit.

HK is a crowded city where space is at a premium. Space, meaning a hole in the sky. Landed properties are for the super rich in a land where being rich alone isn’t enough.

Regular visitors to HK will tell you that the streets are filled with people for a simple reason: it can be claustrophobic living in a 400sq foot – or less – flat.

HK residents sometimes joke that they need to leave their flat to provide “privacy” for newly married children who sometimes can’t afford their own homes and still need to live with their parents.

“The walls are too thin, and it is best we give them some space, you understand what I am saying, right?” said my HK friend as we chuckled about the reference while dining on dim sum.

The waiting period for public housing is five years, if you are lucky, and it’s not uncommon to see an entire family living in one room in many parts of downtown HK. Apparently, more than 200,000 people live in subdivided homes.

Forget politics for a minute and let’s talk facts. An international survey reportedly showed HK sliding 12 places to an embarrassing 41 as a liveable city for Asian expats, its worst ranking in a decade.

“We call ourselves Asia’s world city, but Asians have given us the thumbs down as a liveable city. That’s a paradox that should shame us,” the South China Morning Post (SCMP) newspaper reported.

Over the last two decades, HK people have found themselves priced out of the home market. The cost of living has gone up, but the standard of living has dropped sharply.

The smog has worsened and there are regular reports of hospitals overflowing in the winter months every year, ushering in the routine flu outbreak.

The competition for space is a serious concern in HK. The resentment towards China is simply because people in HK have found it hard to compete with the deluge of mainlanders.

Each time I go to HK, I can’t get past the sight of long queues of people from China – with deep pockets – at luxury goods outlets at Central.

“Last year, 65 million tourists flooded Hong Kong. That’s only about 10 million fewer than for the whole of the United States. Almost 80% who came were mainlanders, most of them day trippers who swarmed residential areas to buy groceries, ruining the quality of life for locals.

“How can life quality improve if you add the four million mainlanders who come monthly, on average, effectively raising Hong Kong’s population to well over 11 million?” pondered columnist Michael Chugani in the SCMP.

Milk powder is a favourite item of the mainlanders when it comes to groceries because of food safety concerns back home. Every mum and pop shop in HK seems to share a similar inventory.

HK people are loud and opinionated. And often crude and crass even, especially, when speaking in Cantonese.

This is a city of very hardworking and motivated people. It’s commonplace for a person to be doing two or three jobs to ensure ends are met, but these people also acknowledge the city has long passed its prime, with stats indicating its lost position as one of Asia’s top cities.

It has surrendered its edge as a financial hub to Shanghai and even nearby Shenzhen.

Chronicling the events of the last two decades reveals how those fortunes changed. Imagine that in 1997, China was very much reliant on HK, largely because the global superpower had not yet made it into the ranks of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), which was stunting and limiting its export trade.

So HK’s position as a channel for entrepôt trade was exploited to deliver mainland-made goods to the rest of the world via its ports, and crucially, by circumventing the WTO’s trade restrictions. But that all changed when China entered the organisation in 2001, and from then HK began to play a diminishing role. The island went from handling half the republic’s trade in 1997 to a measly 12% today.

“In terms of total size and wealth, Hong Kong has also shrunk relative to China, which has experienced more than three decades of astoundingly high economic growth. In 1997, Hong Kong’s economy was one-fifth the size of China’s, and its per capita income was 35 times higher. By 2018, Hong Kong’s economy was barely one-thirtieth the size of China’s. Hong Kong is still richer, but the gap is narrowing, with its per capita income now five times higher than China’s,” claimed the New York Times International.

And to exemplify China’s newly accrued wealth, on a trip to Guangzhou, my jaw dropped when I saw the homes of the mainland Chinese in a sprawling gated property built by Forest City.

The HK film industry has nearly collapsed. With only the TV dramas in Cantonese keeping some actors home, most HK movie stars and singers have moved to China, where they are better paid and command bigger audiences.

Some still struggle to speak fluent Mandarin and drop their Cantonese accent, but most have successfully made the transition.

Knowing the realities of the huge China market, and not wanting to offend their audience, most of these big names opted to stay away from the recent HK protests. Pro-Beijing Jackie Chan was lambasted for pleading ignorance of the protest march.

Still, HK has its assets, though. It has an efficient administration system and remains an important channel. In China, tighter capital control measures are making it increasingly difficult to access outside money, the SCMP said.

“Hong Kong is also a top offshore yuan trading centre, leading the way for wider use of the Chinese currency in trade and finance – a priority for Beijing as it pushes for the yuan’s internationalization.

“… Hong Kong can also do more down the road. It can foster an ecosystem for the yuan currency, developing derivatives and indexes to convince people to hold the yuan in larger amounts,” Oliver Rui, a professor of finance and accounting in China, was quoted.

But China needs to do more to secure the faith of the islanders.

HK people understand and accept they are a part of China. There is no turning back and nothing is going to change that.

Hoisting British flags may be the manifestation of frustration for the idealistic young, but it won’t change their destiny.

At the same time, China needs to wake up to the fact that only 3.1% of those aged between 18 and 29 in HK see themselves as broadly Chinese (China nationality). This compares to 31% in 1997, according to a report based on a survey by the University of Hong Kong.

And we know that many of those who took part in the recent street protests included secondary school children, some not yet even 18 years old.

Even though China has overtaken HK, particularly from an economic standpoint, Beijing needs to foster and maintain a sense of inclusion, especially when the islanders don’t feel they are a part of China.

There was a time when HK residents laughed at mainlanders, calling them the disparaging “Ah Chan”, or village simpletons. However, mainlanders are growing richer and more powerful now. But like all good “bosses”, China needs to treat the island’s residents with respect, and it needs to motivate and win over their hearts and minds. China must make them proud to be Chinese citizens.

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Pride and prejudice


THE United States ranks low in the credibility stakes. It can no longer wax lyrical about free trade and fair play because the world now knows that when it finds itself facing stiff competition, it uses a ruling the magnitude of a nuclear bomb to retaliate.

Firstly, US president Donald Trump declared a national emergency and barred American companies from doing business with companies deemed a national security risk.

Then, companies like Google and Microsoft stopped making software and services available to Huawei, China’s biggest smartphone vendor.

The ban essentially means that future Huawei phones will no longer get Google play apps, YouTube, and almost certainly no updates to Android Q or other platform-level upgrades since these would require Google’s sign-off, too.

Sure, you can still make calls or use WeChat and other Chinese platforms, but for users in most parts of the world, the phone is pretty much useless.

Word is that Huawei poses a security risk, but no clarification has been forthcoming to what these threats include exactly.

There is a sense of déjà vu here.

The world was once told by the US and its allies that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, but we learnt in the end there were none. Now, we have the Iran threat, but that’s another story all together.

From what little info has trickled into the worldwide web, the suggestion is that Chinese-manufactured devices have hidden back doors that could potentially allow an attacker to gain special access.

It sounds like a script excerpt from a James Bond movie, with spooks using a master password to break into high security facilities.

But incredibly, Huawei and ZTE Corp, another telecommunications equipment manufacturer, were cleared by the US House of Representatives permanent select committee on intelligence.

The two had been accused of providing “incomplete, contradictory and evasive responses to the committee’s core concerns” during their year-long investigation on the threat they supposedly pose to American interests.

In the end, the committee found no concrete evidence of infringement. But that didn’t stop the two companies from being labelled a national security risk and getting kicked out of the US.

IS, the German internet security watchdog, inspected Huawei laboratories in Germany and found no evidence of espionage, and The New York Times quoted American officials saying that the case against the company had “no smoking gun – just a heightened concern about the firm’s rising technological dominance”.

Rightly or wrongly, in the game of perception, the US has lost its moral ground. Thanks, in many ways, to an impulsive president.

Most of the world’s population thinks the bullying of Huawei is simply Trump’s hallmark. It isn’t about a security risk, but an economic threat.

Outside China, Huawei is arguably the most successful Chinese consumer brand so far. Thanks to a good and relatively cheaper product, it is now the second largest phone vendor in the world.

One strong accusation levelled at Huawei is that it enjoys Chinese government backing, and that China uses its spies to steal US technology for these private companies.

It’s a really warped perspective because, using the same logic, why is the US president taking such a hard line against a private company that’s merely selling phones?

The answer could well lie in the technology race.

Now, it’s about who launches 5G first, the next generation of mobile broadband imminently replacing 4G.

With 5G, we will see exponentially faster download and upload speeds. Huawei is widely renowned for being 12 months ahead of its competitors in the 5G race.

It began to develop its own 5G technology in as early as 2009. In 2013, Huawei hired more than 300 top experts from the wireless industry around the world and announced that they had invested US$600mil (RM2.5bil) in 5G research.

In 2016, Huawei set up a 5G product line for such devices.

What started as a three-man company now has thousands of employees engaged in 5G product development. Following this, in 2017, and then in 2018, Huawei invested almost US$1.4bil (RM5.8bil) in 5G product development.

The South China Morning Post has, however, also reported that apart from its tremendous commercial benefits, 5G – the fifth generation of mobile communication – is revolutionising military and security technology, which is partly why it has become a focal point in the US’ efforts to contain China’s rise as a tech power, and the Western nation’s allegations against Chinese companies is simply symptomatic of its insecurities.

“The future landscape of warfare and cybersecurity could be fundamentally changed by 5G.

“But experts say 5G is more susceptible to hacking than previous networks, at a time of rising security concerns and US-China tensions on various interconnected fronts that include trade, influence in the Asia-Pacific region and technological rivalry.

“These tensions provide the backdrop to controversy surrounding Huawei, the world’s largest telecoms equipment supplier.”

It’s also a fight between China and the US on who leads the artificial intelligence domain, as with 5G advancements, it means “whereas existing networks connect people to people, the next generation will connect a vast network of sensors, robots and autonomous vehicles through sophisticated artificial intelligence.

“The so-called Internet of Things will allow objects to ‘communicate’ with each other by exchanging vast volumes of data in real time, and without human intervention.

“Autonomous factories, long-distance surgery or robots preparing your breakfast – things that previously existed only in science fiction – will be made possible.

“Meanwhile, though, it is being identified by many military experts as the cornerstone of future military technology,” the newspaper reported.

As TV personality Trevor Noah says, humorously, in his show, the 5G war isn’t just about “loading an entire movie in three seconds but about the Chinese spying – which the US also wants to do.”

He sarcastically added that “the US is losing the 5G race and luckily, we have a maniac in our team who’s willing to play dirty.”

As the battle rages on, spilling into the already acrimonious US-China trade war, the controversy has become more bitter, and complicated, with the US egging its allies to ban Huawei from building its next generation of mobile phone networks. So far, Britain, Germany, Australia, New Zealand and Canada have either banned Huawei or are reviewing whether to do so.

Japan, a US ally, seems to have been dragged into the propaganda of persecuting Huawei, too.

In China, the actions against Huawei have stirred a storm of nationalism, with the Chinese calling for a boycott of iPhone, a reaction which could eventually affect other American and European products, at the rate things are escalating.

Even within the Chinese diaspora, the messages of unequivocal support for Huawei have gone viral in the world’s social media sphere.

The irony is that the iPhone is not only assembled in China, but its very inception starts in that country at a much earlier stage, and from a much deeper part of the earth, too.

At least 90% of rare earth minerals – naturally occurring solids whose combination comprises essential iPhone parts – are mined in China, notably in Mongolia, it’s reported.

“Lanthanides, scandium, yttrium and some other alien-sounding names at the bottom of the periodic table (remember your secondary school?) make the iPhone ‘light, bright and loud.’ Its colour screen, glass polishing, circuitry, speakers and vibration unit come from a mix of these rare earth minerals,” it says in Finances Online.

The report added that where American companies would take months to pool thousands of industrial engineers, and even more months to construct new assembly lines to accommodate a trivial but urgent change in an iPhone spec (say, its glass panel needing to curve to hatch on the body six weeks prior to launching), it only takes 15 days in China to do the same.

“To put it in perspective, one production line in China can assemble 72,000 iPhone 5 back plates daily; one factory can have four to five production lines and China can have as much as a hundred of these factories, opening or closing a few of them depending on the current demand.

“The last part – opening and closing plants like a mom-and-pop store – is almost impossible in an American economy.

“It is no longer a city counting the number of manufacturing plants it has, but the manufacturing plant can be counted as a city in many Asian economic zones.”

And it’s common knowledge that Mickey Mouse merchandise is made in China, and likewise all the branded sportswear sold globally. The profits these companies are raking in are simply down to the low cost of operation.

Trump should know and do better. Instead of threatening and bullying Huawei with trumped up charges, he should urge American companies to be more competitive, make better products and keep prices low.

I am dumping my iPhone, upgrading my South Korean Samsung and for the first time, getting myself a Huawei. I hear the camera is really good, and it doesn’t even need a zoom lens for magnification. And that sophistication comes from a license to thrill.

By Wong Chun Wai

Wong Chun Wai began his career as a journalist in Penang, and has served The Star for over 27 years in various capacities and roles. He is now editorial and corporate affairs adviser to the group, after having served as group managing director/chief executive officer.

On The Beat made its debut on Feb 23 1997 and Chun Wai has penned the column weekly without a break, except for the occasional press holiday when the paper was not  published. In May 2011, a compilation of selected articles of On The Beat was published as a book and launched in conjunction with his 50th birthday. Chun Wai also comments on current issues in The Star.

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Trade war gives US unfavorable image

US President Donald Trump on Thursday announced a $16 billion aid package for farmers to offset their losses from the trade war with China. He said the package “will be paid for by the billions of dollars” from tariffs on Chinese imports.

Bannon promotes economic fascism

All Chinese companies wishing to get to the high-tech mountaintop should learn from Huawei’s composed example. If only there were a group of Chinese companies sharing intellectual property with foreign partners, then certain malicious forces would hesitate at a crackdown.

Fast economic development best way to deal with security challenge

China’s economic potential is far greater than that of the US, the largest economy. There is no doubt that China’s economic prospects are the best in the world. These facts drive China’s core competitiveness. They will make Washington feel its ability falls short of its wishes when it comes to containing Beijing.

US orchestrates self-defeating maneuvers

Chinese people do not know whether we should call US approaches hegemonic politics or profiteering politics. But in short, they are crooked means. The threat of tariffs will not work. Neither will US threats against Chinese companies create a shock wave against China. The US is picking a wrong opponent at a wrong time. It will find no way of crafting a good result from a strategic mistake.

Growing US pressure won’t force China to submit

The US is having a profound effect on the global economic order by abusing national security and trampling on commercial principles. Current US administration is destroying the reputation and national image that generations of Americans have built. Such arrogance and hegemony are by no means good signs for the US.

Malaysia’s education policy must champion Meritocracy instead of Mediocrity system


Education system must champion meritocracy

THE country is facing yet another controversy of its own making – the matriculation programme for university entrance or matric, for short.

The matric programme was introduced 50 years ago to increase the enrolment of Malay students in the medical, dental, engineering and other science and technical studies at public universities. It was an interventionist policy to produce more Malay graduates for the professional occupations in government service as well as in the private sector, as part of the New Economic Policy to redress the racial educational and economic imbalances in the economy.

The programme was reserved exclusively for Malays but due to political pressure from other races , the government allowed a 5% quota and this was later increased to 10% for non-Malay students. Recently, with demands for more non-Malays to be given places in matric, the government increased the total number accepted into the programme from 25,000 to 40,000 while keeping the racial quota unchanged.

There are concerns that the large increase in the number of university intakes from the matric programme will reduce the places available for STPM students and affect the quality of education. There are already complaints from parents that even though their children who go through the two-year STPM are more educationally qualified than the one-year matric students, and have a stronger command of English, they cannot get a place in public universities because of the preference given to intakes from the shorter programme.

Fifty years on, this programme is still in place, despite the huge investments made by government through the Education Ministry to increase the access to STPM (Form VI) level education in both the arts and science streams in all parts of the country.

Malay students in rural areas today are no longer facing a disadvantage in  educational opportunities as there are many secondary schools with Form VI classes.

However, their parents prefer that they apply for the matriculation course as it is a faster and easier route to university.

As they are specially selected for the matriculation course, the students have a greater certainty that they will be given places in the medical , dental and engineering faculties. Another attraction is that there is very little competition with other races in the matriculation course.

There are suggestions that our universities should raise their entrance requirements so that they can get better qualified student intakes to facilitate higher quality teaching and learning and produce graduates with the right skills for the job market . This can be achieved by a policy decision that university entrance must be through the STPM stream only and that the matric programme will be scaled down to be eventually terminated as it is not a good alternative in preparing students for university education.

Matric has also become a source of continuing friction among the races as they feel that education is a human right and should not be subject to racial politics.

It is inevitable that there will be complaints from certain quarters against closing down the matric programme but the government must stand firm not to perpetuate a system that encourages mediocrity. If the country is to succeed in the digital  evolution, and make Malaysia a fully developed economy, the education system must shift direction towards competition and meritocracy. The abolition of the matriculation programme will show that Malaysia is serious in moving in that direction.

TAN SRI MOHD SHERIFF MOHD KASSIM

Another brick in the wall

https://youtu.be/YR5ApYxkU-U- a protest song against rigid schooling

 

Education is that realm where wrongs are set right and learning thrives, yet, right off the bat, the new matriculation intake has found itself in murky waters.

SOME leaders in our federal and state governments, now or then, seem to be guilty of this habit – announcing decisions before studying the implications of their policies.

So it was no surprise that after the Education Ministry announced the controversial changes to the matriculation programme, a row erupted, and soon, the Prime Minister had to weigh in on the debate.

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said he would address the quota system issue of the pre-university matriculation programme intake.

When asked for his comments on whether the quota system would be abolished, he said: “We will study the problem.”

Once again, it looks like the 93-year-old leader must step in to clean up another mess before things start to stink.

The controversy exploded when the Cabinet decided to increase the number of students entering the matriculation programme from 25,000 to 40,000 while maintaining the 90% quota for bumiputra students.

The matriculation programme was originally aimed at encouraging bumiputra students to pursue studies in science.

The highly sought-after programme – due to its cost-effectiveness – is equivalent to a one- or two-year pre-university course, and enables students to pursue a degree upon successfuly completing the programme. Enrollees only need to pay a registration fee and the rest is borne by the government.

However, the concern now is that by doubling the matriculation intake, it will affect the seats available to those vying for places in public universities via the Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia (STPM) route.

During my time, in the 1980s, when I was sitting for the then Higher School Certificate (HSC), the matriculation programme had already been launched. At present, STPM and matriculation students number about 43,000 and 25,000 respectively.

No rational or fair person will begrudge aid provided to students who need a helping hand, let’s be clear.

But I am not sure if the ministry has given thought to the fact that we may have a surplus of matriculation students – about 60% – at the expense of their STPM counterparts.

Let’s give the ministry the benefit of doubt that they surely would have, given the many experienced experts there, but no narratives have been forthcoming to explain anything to parents and students, especially those preparing for their STPM exams this year.

If the government plans to double university intake, have backup plans been installed to accommodate the sudden surge in science students into our financially-strapped universities?

While non-scholarship students in public universities must pay their own fees, matriculation students not only get free education, but are given allowances, too.

Public universities are already cutting down on contract academic staff as fundraising programmes are being carried out.

Unemploy-ment is underscored by the huge number of jobless graduates, whose changing fortunes have found them unemployed in a soft market. In some cases, their weak language and social skills put them at a disadvantage.

As the intake increases, other relevant infrastructure, like hostels, laboratories and teaching staff, won’t multiply overnight, as MCA president Datuk Seri Dr Wee Ka Siong rightly pointed out.

“How will the ministry ensure quality in matriculation education? And the suggestion of getting teachers from teachers’ training colleges to teach in matriculation is illogical because their syllabus is totally different,” he said.

The new matriculation policy has also taken the race-based programme to another level and goes against the aspiration of being an inclusive New Malaysia.

DAP leader Dr P. Ramasamy has rightly said the increased quota for bumiputra by the government was spurred by fears of a backlash from sections of the Malay-Muslim community. This is what happens when political expediency and interest come into play.

The former Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia political science lecturer said with the revised quota, the bumiputra allocation will increase the number of  students from 22,500 to 36,000.

He said, in comparison, the number of non-Malays will increase by only 1,500 students, beyond the current 2,500.

“I’m taken aback by the Cabinet’s decision. We have failed to move forward. It appears as though the Cabinet was not prepared to take a bold decision in increasing the intake of non-Malay students, particularly Indians.”

Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik, in defending the new policy, said all students deserve a “better opportunity” when they apply for matriculation placement, adding that “the bumiputras will still enjoy their 90% quota”.

Dr Maszlee reportedly said the increased intake for matriculation students was based on a Cabinet decision to get more students into tertiary education and to accord all races equal opportunity.

He also said the Cabinet had instructed his ministry to discuss with the Finance Ministry the government’s burden in bearing the cost of the increased number of matriculation places.

This looks like another case of putting the cart before the horse. Announce first and work out the maths later.

Instead of emphasising need-based programmes, the government has, instead, strengthened a race-based system.

As a student at university, I was often queried by my well-intentioned Malay varsity mates about which scholarship I had obtained. I jokingly told them it was FAMA – father and mother.

I’ve always been grateful for having secured a place in a local university, particularly since there were only five then – and certainly no private universities – and that gratitude has only grown since that degree helped change my life.

And that conveniently brings me to my point: Let’s not deny our children, regardless of their race, a place in our universities, which are funded by multi-ethnic tax payers.

If parents are financially sound, no prayers would be needed for students to earn slots in our public institutions of higher learning, it’s that simple.

Wong Chun WaiBy Wong Chun Wai

Wong Chun Wai began his career as a journalist in Penang, and has served The Star for over 27 years in various capacities and roles. He is now editorial and corporate affairs adviser to the group, after having served as group managing director/chief executive officer.

On The Beat made its debut on Feb 23 1997 and Chun Wai has penned the column weekly without a break, except for the occasional press holiday when the paper was not published. In May 2011, a compilation of selected articles of On The Beat was published as a book and launched in conjunction with his 50th birthday. Chun Wai also comments on current issues in The Star.
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It’s time for Penang to reinvent itself; RM70bil to be raised from the 3 man-made islands to finance LRT, PIL infrastruture under PTMP


Looking ahead: An aerial view of Penang’s Free Industrial Zone. Penang
is banking on land reclamation to the south of the island to help fund
the state’s economic development.

ALMOST three decades ago, my then news editor Nizam Mohamad tried to convince me to work in Kuala Lumpur instead of remaining content in Penang, but like most Penangites, I enjoyed the slower pace of life on the island.

The food was good, the beach was marvellous, and I could be with my sweetheart, now my wife. I had my friends, who were my schoolmates, and my family members.

Finally, when the Commonwealth Heads of Government summit was held in KL in 1990, Nizam asked me to “help out with the coverage”.

When I reported for duty, he handed me my transfer letter on the spot. It was as simple as that, and I remember he told me that “you would go nowhere if you remain in Penang”.

For decades, skills migration and brain drain, and the lack of high-quality job opportunities, has been Penang’s Achilles heel.

Shoe designer Datuk Jimmy Choo wouldn’t have become a world icon had he remained in George Town. The same fate could have befallen sports personalities Datuk Lee Chong Wei and Datuk Nicol David had they, too, not moved to KL.

Munich-based Datuk Ooi Chean See would have no renowned orchestra to conduct if she were still in Penang, and Hong Kong-based fund manager, Datuk Seri Cheah Cheng Hye, wouldn’t be a billionaire had he stayed put in the state.

Nizam was right, and I am thankful for his foresight. Like many of my fellow islanders, our careers have moved up and onwards since moving to the nation’s capital, given its greater opportunities.

Penangites, many of whom now work outside the state, generally also lack properties in the state because we no longer live there. The rental yield simply doesn’t make business sense for investment.

The truth is, Penang is stagnating and hasn’t been able to reinvent itself. The state remains dependent on the electrical and electronics (E&E) sector. Putting it more accurately, with a GDP of RM80bil, half of Penang’s economy is reliant on this sector with the other half on tourism and the services industry.

Despite having achieved a high growth rate of 11% per annum between 1970 and 2008, growing from RM790mil in 1970 to RM49bil in 2008, GDP growth rate has slowed down to 5% for the past 10 years.

The past decade also saw GDP per capita easing off to 4% per annum, and with inflation at 3% per annum, the standard of living for Penangites has been on the decline, relative to the past four decades.

Growing up on the island, where I spent much time at the Batu Ferringhi beaches, we all know why it’s now hard for Penang to compete against the likes of Bali, Phuket and Koh Lipe as its beaches and water have simply lost their lustre.

Penang can no longer call itself the “The Pearl Of The Orient” or even “Penang Leads”, a tagline locals revelled in during the era of then Chief Minister Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu.

The state is losing ground in tourism, especially with it having not invested sufficiently in this sector, a situation compounded by how cities around the world are reinventing themselves.

In the E&E sector, we are trapped between China and Vietnam, two fast-moving low-cost locations, while Singapore and Taiwan portray highly skilled research and design centres. Basically, we’ve lost out on both ends.

More discouraging is how Penang, especially the island side with its premium value, has run out of land for safe development, open spaces and infrastructure.

Much of the state’s people are unaware that almost 40% of Penang’s land is classified as Class III or above. This classification means that the terrain is sloped at more than 25 degrees, measured from a horizontal plane.

These are the foliaged hilly and sloppy terrains subjected to undue pressure from hillside developments. Recent catastrophes of landslides, floods and fatalities remain etched in our minds.

It has become increasingly difficult to buy homes on the island, and it’s common knowledge how rich Singaporeans have snapped up the pre-war homes in heritage sites there for a song.

As land becomes scarcer, the manufacturing and services sector will not be able to grow and will remain stunted.

That could all change soon with the state and federal governments now under the rule of the same political coalition. The state needs to accelerate its inevitable transformation which will fundamentally change the way Penangites live and work, and it needs to embrace digital economy, globalisation and urbanisation. To put it succinctly, Penang must brand itself a Smart City.

In other countries, there is always a second city – Beijing and Shanghai, Sydney and Melbourne, Hanoi and Ho Chin Minh, New York and Los Angeles. However, George Town has never been able to capture the second city status (partnering KL), and it must now compete with Johor Baru for that prestigious identity. Penang has severely lagged.

Understandably, most Penangites are averse to change. Putting up buildings doesn’t mean development, and besides, no one comes to Penang to see skyscrapers. The quality of life is important, and it’s fortunate that Penang has a vibrant civil society.

The non-governmental organisations are alert and outspoken, and that’s what a mature democracy should be like – keeping a close eye on politicians.

But Penang can’t remain stagnant, so it needs land. All around the world, land reclamation is a norm. Just look at Singapore and Hong Kong. Manhattan wouldn’t exist if New York didn’t add land to it. And if Johor hadn’t done the same, Singaporeans can see Johoreans from their flats, as they reclaim without any debates.

“Location, location, location” is the mantra of land developers. The plan to create three man-made islands, totalling 1,821ha (4,500 acres) under the Penang South Reclamation Scheme (PSR) is proof of heading in the right direction. The RM70bil deal involves the construction of the RM9bil rail transit (LRT) line, the RM9.6bil Pan Island Link 1 (PIL1) and other supporting infrastructure projects under the Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP). see more below …

Land may be in abundance on the mainland, but the island is the preferred choice, because in terms of value, it has always fetched higher prices. Having the three islands next to the Bayan Lepas Industrial Zone, the Penang International Airport and the Second Penang Bridge is the right thing to do.

Malaysia’s E&E industry is centred in Bayan Lepas, contributing RM120bil in exports, and these islands will help boost this crucial sector further, and encourage Penang to reinvent itself as a digital economy.

A properly planned transport link is long overdue. For years, I have made it a point to return to Penang for the reunion dinner days ahead of Chinese New Year, simply because I can no longer handle the stress of traffic jams on the island.

The final straw was when a jaga kereta boy demanded RM10 for my car, which was parked near Kek Lok Si temple where my wife used to live, because “you have a KL number plate” and “you are not a Penangite”.

Although Penang was the first state in Malaya to introduce a tram system (in the 1880s), the streets there are simply too narrow. So, while it sounds good in theory, it’s just not practical.

Going above the streets – like what modern rails do – is the right thing, and such an “elevated” move will remove the chaos each time it rains and transforms George Town into a huge canal.

The bottom line is, the E&E sector is stagnant, tourism earnings have reduced, Penang isn’t on the global business map, traffic congestion is horrendous, housing on the island is unsustainable and worse, the best brains will not come to Penang for career advancement.

You can have investments, but it doesn’t make sense if the best talents are not attracted to work in the state. There is only so much char koay teow one can eat in Penang.

It’s no good for Penang to be a pick for expatriate retirees. Instead, we need it to be a choice for the workforce, both Malaysian and foreign, from the knowledge economy, supporting services, manufacturing and renewed tourism industries. Penang must move up the value chain to reclaim its lost stature of “Penang Leads”.

By Wong Chun Wai – comment The Star

RM70bil will be flowing in from here 

 

Penang can expect to raise over RM70bil through projects

This is the plan – set up three man-made islands under the Penang South Reclamation Scheme and then, rake in enough to finance the state’s economic development for the next 30 years.

GEORGE TOWN: Over RM70bil is expected to be raised from the three man-made islands under the Penang South Reclamation Scheme (PSR), enough to spearhead the state’s economic development for the next 30 years.

Sources told The Star that out of the more than RM70bil, about RM46bil would be used for the construction of the RM9bil light rail transit (LRT) line, the RM9.6bil Pan Island Link 1 (PIL 1), and other supporting infrastructure projects under the Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP).

According to a prominent Penang developer, the present price of industrial land on the island would be around RM70-RM200psf, depending on its status as leasehold or freehold land.

Because the industrial lots on the island are freehold land, the pricing is around RM20psf.

“When the reclamation of the islands starts in 2020, there could be at a 10% appreciation. The island will be sold via an open tender process,” he said.

It will take at least six years for the reclamation, which will be done in stages, to be completed.

It was previously reported that sources had said that about 75% of the three islands were for sale, with some 30% of the enquiries received so far being for industrial land.

When contacted, a local manufacturing company said it would be interested to bid for the lots once an open tender was called.

“There’s currently a slowdown in the manufacturing sector. When the reclamation is done, the global economy should also see a recovery,” said its spokesman.

The National Physical Planning Council is expected to approve the reclamation of the three islands, totalling 1,821ha (4,500acres), before the end of this month.

The SRS Consortium – a 60:20:20 joint venture involving Gamuda Bhd, Loh Phoy Yen Holdings Sdn Bhd and Ideal Property Development Sdn Bhd – is the project delivery partner, appointed by the state government to oversee the implementation of the LRT, PIL 1 and PSR scheme, components of the PTMP.

It was also earlier reported that the tender to reclaim the island would be out in the third quarter of this year.

Island A will house industrial projects – which lots will be developed for sale to foreign and local investors to generate funds for PTMP – and residential development, while Island B will accommodate the state administrative offices and commercial properties.

Residential properties will be developed on Island C.

The LRT is an integrated transport solution comprising a monorail link, cable cars and water taxis to solve traffic congestion in Penang while the 19.5km PIL highway project connects Gurney Drive to the Penang International Airport.

The LRT begins from Komtar in the northeast corner of the island and passes through Jelutong, Gelugor, Bayan Lepas and the airport before ending at Island B.  – The Star

Read more  

 

Middle class malady


Struggling and frustrated: Most aid goes to the B40, leaving the M40 feeling adrift and on their own.

The economic future of the country looks scary, and if the young bankrupts and imminent retires are not atteended to soon, we could be in truly tough times.

THE economy is the most talked about topic among Malaysians, with issues including the increasing cost of living, shrinking ringgit, continuing weak economy and sadly, the endless politicking.

While attention has been cast on the Bottom 40, or the group known as B40, as they make up the lowest earners, the middle class, the Middle 40, or M40, shouldn’t be forgotten either.

Malaysians are categorised into three different income groups: Top 20% (T20), Middle 40% (M40), and Bottom 40% (B40).

To be in T20, a household’s monthly income should at least be RM13,148, while the M40 and B40 groups have raised their bars to RM6,275 and RM3,000 respectively.

We don’t need a survey to know that the people in the bottom half of M40 and B40 are barely making ends meet and struggling to maintain a decent lifestyle.

At the lowest end, 70% of these poorest are the bumiputeras, while the rest are Chinese and Indians, which proves the poor comprises all races.

The M40 – which forms 40% of Malaysia’s population – includes mostly wage earners, in both public and private sectors.

The bulk of their income goes to paying the car and housing loans, rent, and groceries. After deductions from the essential bills, such as phone, Astro, petrol, and children’s education, there’s barely anything left to save.

It’s harder for those who need to take care of their ageing parents, a noble endeavour which naturally includes settling healthcare bills, and even expenses for care takers.

And since the majority of the M40 lives in the cities, the household income of RM6,275 is almost negligible, and they can hardly be faulted for feeling that their standard of income has dipped drastically while the cost of living has increased.

The M40 essentially comprises the most frustrated lot since most aid goes to the B40, leaving the former feeling adrift and on their own.

Most of them don’t have alternative revenue streams besides their monthly wages, and they are dependent on corporate performances, so the overall economy is key.

They are unlikely to care that the Department of Statistics’ Household Income and Basic Amenities survey indicated that the mean income of households in 2016 reached RM6,958, a 6.2% annual appreciation from RM6,141 in 2014.

The survey also revealed the incidences of poverty decreased from 0.6% of the population in 2014 to 0.4% in 2016. Compared with the population of 30.7 million in 2014 and 31.7 million in 2016 (from the same portal), the numbers also decreased from 184,200 to 126,800 from 2014 to 2016.

The 11th Malaysia Plan (2016 – 2020) Mid-Term Review stated that the mean household income is predicted to reach RM8,960 by 2020.

The term “middle class” has different meaning and measurement to economists and academics from those classified in the M40 category.

As one analyst rightly pointed out, a household of four living in the Klang Valley with an income of RM4,000 per month, would be classified as urban poor due to the higher cost of living. However, that income would be comfortable to live in Pasir Mas or even Taiping.

It won’t be wrong to suggest that at RM4,000, that’s only enough for a single person to live in the Klang Valley.

We need to understand that the key people driving the country’s economy are the middle-income and top earners, many of whom feel they have fallen between the cracks of progress.

At every Budget, they seem to be the forgotten Malaysians, and each year, they hope for lower level tax bands for themselves, so they can have extra disposable income, but that never happens.

Khazanah Research Institute’s (KRI) State of Households 2018 revealed a steady increase in the income gaps between the Top 20% (T20), M40 and B40 groups since the 1970s. In 2000, the estimated real mean household income differences between T20 and M40, M40 and B40, and T20 and B40, were RM6,000, RM2,000 and RM8,000 respectively.

By 2016, however, it increased to RM9,000, RM4,000 and RM13,000.

These figures show that T20 households are gaining wealth at a faster rate than the rest.

Despite the improvement in mean household income figures, the gap between income groups continues to rise, and the survey added that “the escalating cost of living has put financial pressure on the M40 and B40 groups.”

“With income growing at a slower pace compared with the cost of living, the M40 and B40 groups are experiencing an abridged disposable income, which could be detrimental to future consumption, activity, emergency or debt services.”

Combining data from the Department of Statistics’ Household Income survey (2016 and 2014) and KRI household reports (concerning population increase), it’s clear that the percentage of households living under the 60% median grew from 2014 to 2016 by 41.8% to 43.5%, with an estimated 2.8 million households in 2014 and three million households in 2016.

The increase also suggests that more M40 households have slipped into the B40 category – and this is where the alarm bells go off.

In the 11th Malaysia Plan (2016-2020), targeted subsidies, cash handouts, healthcare benefits, education, along with employment and entrepreneurship opportunities, include the usual strategies to ease the burden of B40 households.

One of the major concerns among the young M40 family is that they can no longer afford to buy a “middle class” home, and the difficulties have been aggravated by how they need to live relatively close to their workplace.

As much as the government expects housing developers to build affordable houses, let’s not forget that most of these developers have bought land at premium prices, and as private concerns, they still need to make profits.

But homes in Malaysia have become “seriously unaffordable” by international standards, and there’s no need to point fingers at developers when the governments have basically failed to do the job, unlike Singapore’s Housing Development Board (HDB), which builds and upkeeps flats that don’t degenerate into urban slums.

Their HDB flats are so well-designed and maintained that they can pass off as high-end apartments by Malaysian standards.

Bank Negara reported that from 2007 to 2016, house prices grew by 9.8% while household income only increased by 8.3%. While developers blamed rising construction costs – including labour outlay – and stagnant salaries for the increase in house prices, all this means nothing to the M40, because ultimately, they still can’t buy houses.

The rent-to-own scheme which the B40 has enjoyed from the low cost houses, needs to be extended to the M40, so they, too, can enjoy the same benefits, and while such help is expected to come via PRIMA Corp, a federal government-linked developer which supposedly caters for M40, it’s still falling behind schedule.

While it could be easy for the M40 to request more support, including allowances for school-going children, and even free student passes for public transport, it’s time that financial literacy be introduced at school level.

A study by S&P Global Literacy Financial in 2014 showed that the financial literacy rate in Malaysia is only at 36%, compared with 59% in developed countries.

“The low financial literacy rate is among the factors that has contributed towards high levels of debt – including worrying bankruptcy problems – among the youth.

“Between 2013 and 2017, a total of 100,610 Malaysians were declared bankrupt, of which 60% were between 18 and 44 years old,” according to Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng.

Apart from the youth, Lim noted that older Malaysians are also facing serious financial challenges, particularly when it comes to their retirement.

Based on estimates by the Employees Provident Fund (EPF), he said that as of 2019, an individual requires savings of at least RM240,000 by age 55 to retire comfortably.

However, based on the EPF 2017 Report, active contributors aged 54, have average savings of only RM214,000 in their accounts.

“What is even more worrying is that two-thirds of contributors aged 54, only have RM50,000 and below in their EPF accounts in 2015,” he reportedly said, adding that this was well below the recommended amount for savings.

Lim noted tha the low amount of savings was inadequate and estimated it to run out within five years of retirement, although the average life-span of Malaysians is 75.

Basically, the B40, M40 and, our young and old Malaysians, are all either grappling with financial problems, don’t know how to handle their money, or don’t even earn enough in the first place.

This is unlike the situation for the T20, which has disposable income where their wealth encourages investment and wealth creation, the main principles of the T20 group.

But of all people, politicians should know the importance of the people wanting to have money in their pockets and feeling well heeled.

Easier loan payments, good refinancing packages and transport allowances should be considered to help the M40.

If the market continues to slide, there will be many unhappy people, and the resentment will translate to protest votes. For them, it simply means the government is doing a lousy job, and they couldn’t care less for the reasons, however valid they may be.

Wong Chun WaiWong Chun Wai

Wong Chun Wai began his career as a journalist in Penang, and
has served The Star for over 27 years in various capacities and roles. He is now editorial and corporate affairs adviser to the group, after having served as group managing director/chief executive officer.

On The Beat made its debut on Feb 23 1997 and Chun Wai has penned the column weekly without a break, except for the occasional press holiday when the paper was not published. In May 2011, a compilation of selected articles of On The Beat was published as a book and launched in conjunction with his 50th birthday. Chun Wai also comments on current issues in The Star.

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The persistent pipe dream: some politicians play religion and race cards ended up becoming rats themselves


It’s been more than six decades since Malaysian independence, yet, more than ever, some politicians continue to wield the race and religion cards to divide us.

PATHETIC and disgusting. That’s surely an understatement in describing the continuous racist slurs non-Malays have had to endure.

Using non-Malays – particularly the Christians – as bogeymen hasn’t ended, even more than six decades after independence.

The situation has probably worsened because social media has made things more evident and amplified them. Thankfully though, politicians selling venom to their target audience can no longer be a covert affair.

These chameleons used to stir the hornet’s nest of race and religion with the Malays, portraying themselves as champions of their community. And then, they have no qualms attending events at Chinese new villages, where they try to please the residents by professing to be one people. Just to add value to the “show”, even a calligraphy writing session is entertained.
Next on their “tour” – get on stage, put their palms together, and greet the people in Tamil, and then do the dance bit, of course. And we bought all that, believing they portrayed the real Malaysia.

Incredibly, some are still doing the rounds. For a fresh twist, the LBGT element has even been thrown in now, and despite the charade being recorded, clarification must be issued to say otherwise. You know, I didn’t mean it.

Someone has forgotten that it isn’t only the ghosts, drunkards and LBGT community who are still awake at 11pm and need to use the toll.

These commuters include nurses, doctors, policemen, security guards, hawkers, taxi drivers, restaurant employees, firemen, factory workers, food deliverers and of course, journalists too, and we often work the infamous graveyard shift.

Scoring points and teaming up with an equally repulsive partner to create suspicion against other fellows, with fictional threats of race and religion, is just unacceptable.

While we cringe over the thought of how there are listeners who buy their hate speech, we expect these politicians to at least rise above these nauseating tactics and convince the people that they can provide better governance and deliver more than the present government.

They should prove to the people that the new government’s failings include not fulfilling its election promises, allowing the cost of living to go up and watching the ringgit’s value shrink. And to add ammunition, highlight how some ministers have even failed their probation.

That’s what a fault-finding Opposition is supposed to do – ensure check and balance, and behave like a government in-waiting, but here we have opposition Members of Parliament who can’t wait to broker a deal by defecting to the government’s side of the fence.

There’s another distateful story. It’s about an Umno MP who crossed over to Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia and had the gall to admit that he was doing it for the constituents.

So, we have an odd situation where opposition MPs mourned the defeat of the previous government even after almost a year, and now plot to join the new government. Not plot to topple, of course, not that again, but plot to join. Naturally, it’s in the interest of the people.

We believe you, well, some of us do. Most of us know it’s just a lie, but hey, we are in the era of malu apa …

Then, there are the “remnants”, who probably won’t be accepted by the new government, and figure that the only way for them to get back on the gravy train is to stoke the fires of racial and religious sensitivity. You’ve got to give it to this lot, though. They are, at least, fighting back, although their methods are pretty despicable.

However, the hate speeches will likely work in some constituencies, where, like oil, it burns the minds and hearts of angry voters who are already struggling to put food on the table for their families.

Still, it’s the pits when someone like Barisan Nasional secretary-general Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz resorts to claiming that having a non-Muslim Attorney General is not “lawful” since he took oath without swearing on the Quran. Nazri, of course, is bluffing, but he’s like those snake oil peddlers who will say anything to make a sale.

Nowhere in the Federal Constitution does it state that an AG needs to take an oath using the Quran. And surely, we won’t expect the likes of Nazri to concede that in the history of Malaya, there were six British AGs.

Cecil Sheridan, who died aged 88 in 2000, was the last British Attorney-General of Malaya and helped in drafting the constitution of its successor state, Malaysia.

When Malaya attained independence in 1957, Sheridan was promoted to Solicitor-General and in 1959, became the country’s Attorney-General. He also helped in the preparations for the formation of Malaysia in 1963 and in the process, worked closely with Tunku Abdul Rahman, the Prime Minister of Malaya, Tun Razak Hussein, its deputy Prime Minister, and Lee Kuan Yew, of Singapore.

True, the eight subsequent successors were Malays, but there’s no race and religion criteria in the appointment of the top-ranking public prosecutor of the country.

The first Lord President of Malaysia – now renamed Chief Justice – was a Scot named Tun Sir James Thompson, who assumed the post in 1963 when Malaysia was formed. He held the post until 1966.

Likewise, after independence in 1957, Malaysia’s first two finance ministers were ethnic Chinese – Tun H.S. Lee and Tun Tan Siew Sin. However, from 1974 until very recently, the post had been held by Malays.

So, what we are effectively saying is that our founding fathers had no issue with the ethnicity of these important posts such as chief judge, attorney general and finance ministers. However, as six decades have worn on, we have become more degenerate, insisting on focusing on race and religion, instead of qualifications, credibility and integrity as the main criteria?

Certainly, these men, who held the loftiest positions, did well then, and many of us can accept that they didn’t collude with individuals to loot the wealth of this country and the Malays – who make up the bulk of Malaysians.

The harsh reality is that the pilfering and corruption are shamelessly executed by those claiming to fight for their race and religion. They shouldn’t blame anyone else or try to fan the flames of racial discontent to save themselves. Malaysians are tired of such perversion, so we can’t allow such incorrigible politics to proliferate in our beloved country.

One Chinese Finance Minister, a Christian Chief Justice and an Indian Attorney-General aren’t going to be able to control a country of 31 million people, where Malays and the indigenous people make up 61.7%, compared to the the shrinking Chinese (20.8%) and Indian (6.2%) population.

As for religion, according to a 2010 estimate, Muslims number most at 61.3%, Buddhists 19.8%, Christians 9.2%, Hindus 6.3% with Confucianism, Taoism and other Chinese practices at 1.3%, others 0.4%, no religion 0.8%, unspecified 1%.

As for the 1.6 million civil servants – the then-Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim told Parliament that as at December 2014, the ethnic composition of the civil service was as follows: 78.8% Malays, Bumiputera Sabah (6.1%), Bumiputera Sarawak (4.8 %), Chinese (5.2 %), Indians (4.1 %), other Bumiputera (0.3%) and others (0.7%).

As for the police force, then-Home Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said non-Malays only made up 5% of the 133,212-strong force.

“Of the total, 80.23% or 106,871 are Malays, while Chinese make up only 1.96% (2,615), Indians 3.16% (4,209), Punjabis 0.21% (275) and others 14.44% (19,242),” he said in replying a question by Raja Kamarul Bahrin Shah (Amanah-Kuala Terengganu).

And we haven’t even counted the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and the Malays holding key posts in the Cabinet, and of course, the overwhelmingly Malay armed forces, numbering 420,000 personnel. It’s downright contemptible for our politicians to make fictional claims of non-Malays gaining control of the country, when the facts and figures clearly speak for themselves. For most rational Malaysians, we just want to see a clean government and civil service, which can safeguard our national interest, regardless of race and religion.

The late Chinese premier Deng Xiaoping famously said that it doesn’t matter if the cat is black or white, so long as it catches the mice.

Wong Chun WaiOur recent history has showed that our big fat cats didn’t catch the mice but ended up becoming rats themselves.

Wong Chun Wai

Wong Chun Wai began his career as a journalist in Penang, and has served The Star for over 27 years in various capacities and roles. He is now editorial and corporate affairs adviser to the group, after having served as group managing director/chief executive officer.

On The Beat made its debut on Feb 23 1997 and Chun Wai has penned the column weekly without a break, except for the occasional press holiday when the paper was not published. In May 2011, a compilation of selected articles of On The Beat was published as a book and launched in conjunction with his 50th birthday. Chun Wai also comments on current

issues in The Star.

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For the love of our troubled nation in full parade


Casting whining and whinging aside, it’s time we pull our socks up, put our best foot forward, and show the world what Malaysia is all about.

IT’S time for Malaysia to change its narrative. For a start, our leaders must end the hyperbole of how the previous Barisan Nasional government stripped and looted the country’s wealth.

We generally know enough about the financial crime of the century, the hunt and arrests of those implicated in the cases.

Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and his wife, Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor, are facing a barrage of corruption and money laundering charges, and they are expected to spend the next five years in court.

The main character, the infamous Jho Low, and his family, are on the run, and it’s a given fact that the long arm of the law will eventually reach them.

A corrupt government has collapsed, and it’s now coming to a year since the new federal leaders took charge.

Malaysia can’t continue telling the world how we’re a troubled country with a deep financial hole, and neither should we keep contradicting our stand.

We can’t be saying we’re near bankrupt one day, and the next, concede that our economy is in good shape.

The Pakatan Harapan government marks its first year at office in May. So, its ministers can’t still be whining about inherited problems of a 60-year-old government forever.

Many of the current leaders, including the Prime Minister, were part of the system, and in the case of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, he was at the helm for 22 years, lest we forget.

Admittedly, an eye-watering amount of money has been pilfered, so, the government needs to retrieve what’s stolen.

Ironically, PH was elected to fix these problems.

Malaysia can’t seem like an attractive business proposition with our troubled nation in full parade, especially when investors have many countries to choose from.

The country’s economy for the next two years will be turbulent, but forming the Economic Action Council is a good start to indicate that we intend to tackle the issues together, with public and private participation.

The Prime Minister has made the right move, but the EAC must run fast to come up with confidence-building measures.

Against the backdrop of a challenging environment for global equity markets and a US-China trade war, Malaysia has continued to tread on a steady economic path. It’s slower than we want to, but at least a recession isn’t looming.

Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng must continue his positive tones, as he has finally been doing, to renew confidence both locally and internationally.

The idea of revenue through taxation should be canned, but grumblings among the small base of individual taxpayers is ringing out loud.

It’s unfair to keep scrapping for crumbs from these taxpayers. A more progressive tax regime should be in place. Give it a name if necessary, but importantly, a firmer consumption tax is required because it will be fairer. It’s simple, if you don’t spend, you don’t pay.

In a way, it needs to be balanced out since individuals can’t be paying both income tax and consumption tax.

Lim has taken the right direction to keep selling the messages of how Malaysia has introduced policies and measures to invigorate the capital market.

“Our stock market has remained resilient in comparison with our peers in Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong and China.

“Amidst large capital outflows among emerging markets and Asean countries this year, the FBM KLCI benchmark index registered a year-to-date decline of 5.8% as at end-November, compared with other Asian markets that have experienced declines ranging from 9.1% to 22.7%.

“And, we are the second-best performing stock market in the Asia Pacific region,” he said recently.

There is other good news which we’ve yet to shout out loud enough for, like Malaysia currently ranking 15 from 190 economies in its facilitation of commerce, according to the latest World Bank annual ratings.

Malaysia’s ranking improved to 15 in 2018 from 24 in 2017. Ease of Doing Business in Malaysia averaged 18.18 from 2008 until 2018, reaching an all-time high of 24 in 2017 and a record low of 6 in 2013, it was reported.

Although we may have lost crucial time, we still have a year to make Malaysia look good because two major events take place next year.

Highlights for 2020 include Malaysia celebrating Visit Malaysia Year, and hosting the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) leaders’ summit, some 22 years after doing so for the first time.

Let’s do it right and make Malaysia proud. It’s not just an occasion befitting Dr Mahathir, but all Malaysians as stakeholders.

The government’s proverbial tale of empty pockets isn’t an excuse anymore. It just doesn’t work that way. If we need to spend, we need to find the money, because we expect a return on investments.

We need to finance-telling a good story internationally, it’s that simple.

However, the lack of momentum to galvanise the nation hasn’t been motivational.

The world doesn’t want to keep hearing our negative stories and neither do Malaysians.

Tell the world we have fixed it and now we’re on the road again.

Come May, and it’ll be crunch time for underachieving ministers.

Everyone invariably tries their best, but those who are unfit just shouldn’t get the nod. After all, the last thing PH needs is painting a picture of a failed administration, but the coalition should be wary of many Malaysians believing the Barisan government fared better.

It’s unfair how some ministers are passing the buck to the PM because they lack the confidence to decide or are just indecisive because the responsibilities of their portfolios exceed their ability.

Visitors to Dr Mahathir’s office have noticed the growing mountain of uncleared documents, which is surely too much a task for anyone, what more a 93-year-old man.

We need to take advantage of the new Malaysia to construct a fresh national narrative which emphasises Malaysia and Malaysians.

There is a need to build national pride over the coming years, one which makes trust and integrity its main framework.

A shared vision beyond 2020 is crucial. Also, to bring Malaysians together and not let race and religion hijack the national discourse.

The question now is, do our leaders have the gumption for this, or will they just let New Malaysia be another piped dream?

By the time world leaders take the stage in KL, Malaysia should be ready to display a new sense of direction, purpose and plan.

Wong Chun WaiWong Chun Wai

Wong Chun Wai began his career as a journalist in Penang, and has served The Star for over 27 years in various capacities and roles. He is now editorial and corporate affairs adviser to the group, after having served as group managing director/chief executive officer.

On The Beat made its debut on Feb 23 1997 and Chun Wai has penned the column weekly without a break, except for the occasional press holiday when the paper was not published. In May 2011, a compilation of selected articles of On The Beat was published as a book and launched in conjunction with his 50th birthday. Chun Wai also comments on current issues in The Star.

chunwai@thestar.com.my https://twitter.com/chunwai09 http://www.wongchunwai.com/

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Malaysia files criminal charges against Goldman Sachs, ex-bankers in 1MDB probe

 

Najib is guilty of incompetence, he says: board to be blamed for 1MDB debacle, not me, I don’t know !

 

Ex-PM Najib, his treasury sec-gen Irwan & spy boss Hasanah charged with CBT RM6.63bil

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