Don’t brush aside the goodwill, Mahathir !


Fruitful friendship: National carmaker Proton
was given a boost when Chinese automaker Zhejiang Geely Holding Group
came to its rescue last year.

A graphic being circulated on social media has the Chinese flag planted all over a map of Peninsular Malaysia, suggesting that Red China has taken over our land. The political message is clear: the Najib Administration is hawking the country.

Framed against the backdrop of a heated general election, everything is fair game, with no sacred cows, but the anti-China campaign is detrimental to the country and people.

Besides reeking of racism, it will drive Chinese investors away from Malaysia if the country is perceived as being hostile.

The reality is that many other countries will roll the red carpet for China, inviting the eastern giant to pour money into their countries, but in an emotional elections campaign, rhetoric seems to have prevailed above rationale and logic.

It didn’t help that Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, in a recent interview with Reuters, warned that Chinese investors in Malaysia will face more scrutiny if he regained power in the upcoming election.

He reportedly said that Chinese investment was welcome if companies which set up ope­rations in Malaysia employed locals and brought in capital and technology to the country, but “this wasn’t the case now.”

“Lots of people don’t like Chinese investments,” the former prime minister claims, saying “we are for Malaysians. We want to defend the rights of Malaysians. We don’t want to sell chunks of this country to foreign companies who will develop whole towns”.

Last week, Dr Mahathir said Malaysia will stop borrowing from China, adding he would review Chinese investments if his political coalition was put in charge.

He told the Associated Press that “in the case of projects, we may have to study whether we would continue, or slow down or negotiate the terms”.

However, China is Malaysia’s top source of foreign direct investment, contributing 7% of the total RM54.7bil it received last year. That’s not a revenue stream to dismiss flippantly.

Recently, the Chinese Ambassador to Malaysia, Bai Tian, gave a firm reassurance that the republic would import more Malaysian palm oil and palm-based products, stressing there would be no cap on its imports.

He said: “We will not set any limit”, and “there will be no ‘glass ceiling’ for the import of Malaysian palm oil and related products”.

In the first six months of 2017, the total export of palm oil and palm oil products to China grew 9.8% to RM8.52bil, up from RM7.76bil a year ago.

As for the export of rubber and its products to China, Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Datuk Seri Mah Siew Keong revealed that China has overtaken the United States and the European Union to become the top export destination for Malaysia. The total export of rubber and related products to China in the first 11 months last year jumped by 76% year on year to RM7.45bil, compared to RM4.23bil in the same period in 2016.

These are real facts and figures. This is not fake news.

All these huge imports by China will directly benefit Felda settlers.

Surely we need to treat our No. 1 customer well, and not kick them in their derriere or allow ourselves to be viewed with fear and ridiculed in election rallies, which we seem to be adept at.

Palm oil is straining under the weight of huge challenges from unfriendly EU countries, which are dead against the industry.

In a move to lift oil seed prices and encou­rage domestic supply of soybean and grapeseed, even India has raised its import tax on crude and refined palm oil to its highest level in more than a decade.

As one news article reported, “over the last 30 years, China’s economic growth has been phenomenal. A country of 1.3 billion with the biggest number of poor people, has propelled more than 600 million into the middle class.

“She is adding 30 million (incidentally, Malaysia’s total population) to this number every year. Most respectable studies are predicting the Chinese economy will be bigger than the US’ before 2030. Bloomberg says this will happen in 2026.”

As commentator John Lo correctly wrote in Free Malaysia Today: “President Donald Trump’s inward-looking policy is hastening the decline of the US. The US and her allies have ruled the world and imposed their will on other countries in the name of democracy and promise of prosperity for a few hundred years.

“Very few countries have benefited, and many have suffered by adopting or submitting to the US’ will. China’s economic growth model has shown to be better than that of the West’s.

“The US’ presence in Malaysia has helped little to build up our economy. They have been pumping our oil for years but have not given us an oil industry. They have invested a lot more, I really mean a lot more, in Singapore’s oil industry.”

In June 2017, trade with China totalled RM22.75bil, up by 8.7% from RM20.92bil – and the cash registers will ring louder as China’s wealth increases.

Of course, then there’s Proton Holdings, which registered losses of up to RM1bil in 2017. No one dared touch the national car maker, which, to put it politely, was well past the ICU stage. Even a defibrillator was useless.

For decades, Malaysians had to pay so much for imported cars, having to put up with protectionist measures and the obligatory national pride. No one was prepared to tell Dr Mahathir that the business model wasn’t workable anymore.

Then, China stepped in. Chinese automaker Zhejiang Geely Holding Group came to the rescue and took up a 49% stake in Proton. Geely is also the owner of Volvo, Boyue and the London Taxi Company, which produces the city’s iconic cab.

After Proton was sold to Geely, Dr Mahathir said he was saddened, but in 2014, it was he who travelled to China to meet the manufacturer to seek a Proton partnership, a bid which ultimately fell through.

On the tourism front, Malaysia is expected to hit the four million mark for inbound tourists from China this year. This is a trickle from the Chinese point of view, but with a fast-expanding middle class, the figures will surely spike.

One report said that Chinese investments in Malaysia “have continued to be on an uptrend despite the stringent capital control introduced by the Chinese government last year, signalling China’s commitment to pursue long-term investments in Malaysia. Among the projects that have seen significant Chinese investments in recent years are the Forest City in Iskandar Malaysia (RM405bil), the East Coast Rail Link (RM55bil) and Melaka Gateway (RM29bil).

“While the outlook for China’s ODI (overseas direct investments) appears to have dimmed, Malaysia has become the fourth largest recipient of China’s ODI globally this year.

“In the latest China Going Global Investment Index 2017 report by the Economist Intelligence Unit, Malaysia has jumped to fourth position in 2017, compared with 20th in 2015.”

“The significant improvement is mainly a result of Malaysia’s important participation in BRI-related projects, apart from the welcoming attitude towards Chinese investment.”

The stakes are simply too high for politicians to turn China into a bogeyman and instil fear in the voters’ minds, particularly in the Malay heartland.

“I am willing to take a bet that should the Opposition take over the government, they will run to Beijing first for investment. The reason is simple, the US will not invest much here. Europe is down.

“Japan has been in the doldrums for more than 20 years. They need investments more than Malaysia does. It is not wise to run down China’s investment for the sake of political campaigning,” Lo wrote.

He added that “the proper way to address any issue on China’s investments is not to blame the Chinese. They have come because the Government has lobbied hard for China’s investments.

“If the Opposition has any reservations, they should direct their criticism at the Government and not implicate China. To say that China is giving kickbacks is in bad taste and shows insensitivity and crudeness.”

Another favourite China-bashing target concerns Johor’s Forest City project. Claims abound about the loss of sovereignty when, in fact, the properties were constructed on reclaimed land, and not on existing plots in the state. The sprawling property will be built on land that never existed prior.

The developer, Country Garden Holdings, isn’t a fly by night operation. Instead, it is China’s sixth most successful property developer in terms of sales, and has a market capitalisation of US$61.87bil (RM241bil). The owner, Yang Guoqiang, has family assets worth 45.5 billion yuan (RM28bil).

Another bit of nonsense implicating China is the claim that the Government had granted tax exemption to federal projects, such as the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) built by the Chinese, a move designed to anger the Malays. But during Dr Mahathir’s time, under the Sales and Services Tax (SST) system in the 1980s, exemption was given to several mega projects, including the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA), Express Rail Link, Smart Tunnel, Bukit Jalil Stadium, as well as to independent power producers.

If GST relief was not offered to China Communications Construction (CCC) Sdn Bhd for the ECRL project, it would have cost a lot more, thus increasing the country’s debt and incurring huge losses.

But leading up to the elections, rhyme or reason get thrown out the window, and facts and figures take a back seat. For some people, in their anger, truths are brushed aside at the expense of damaging the goodwill extended by China.

Those who have dealt with China will tell you they value friendship. They remember their friends – and their foes, too.

Source: 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 the group’s managing director/chief executive officer and formerly the group chief editor.

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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Malay & bumiputra rural voters will determine the winners or losers of coming Malaysia’s GE14


Down the wire with the Malays

– With urbanites caught up in social media debates, it will be the quiet rural folks who determine the winners (and losers) of GE14

IF you haven’t already heard this one before, it will be the Malay and bumiputra voters, mainly in rural areas, who will determine what the next government looks like.

Despite the racket from urbanites, be it in private discussions or from the many irate postings on social media, it will come down to the relatively quiet rural folks who make up the decisive voices.

Out of the 222 parliamentary seats, there are now 117 rural Malay seats in Peninsular Malaysia, following the delineation exercise – up from the previous 114 Malay majority seats in the previous general election. There are 19 seats each in Sabah and Sarawak, with predominantly bumiputra voters.

These 117 seats include the 52 constituencies in Felda settlements regarded the heartland of the Malays, where the primary concerns are racial and religious in nature.

Another election monitoring group, Tindak Malaysia, reportedly estimated the Malay majority seats at 115 – up one seat from the previous 114, before the delineation.

To form the government, all that’s needed is a simple majority of 112 seats. Prior to the dissolution of Parliament, the Barisan Nasional had 130.

Donald Trump won the United States presidency firmly backed by the rural areas, and not from that of New York, Los Angeles or Washington DC. In fact, he lost the popular vote by a bigger margin than any other US president in history, but he won, via the country’s electoral system, which saw each state assigned several votes that go to the candidate who wins the public vote in that state.

His Republican party won in what is regarded as swing states, such as North Carolina and Ohio, with huge rural votes. In fact, he won 67% of the rural American votes.

In Malaysia, our voting system is much simpler with its “first past the post” format, based after the British electoral system. Again, popular votes don’t count. But like in the United States, it will be the rural folks who will be the determinants. In Malaysia, it won’t be the traditionally anti-establishment Chinese voters in cities.

In the 2013 elections, there were 30 Chinese majority seats or 13.5% of the parliamentary seats, according to a recent news report, quoting social media analytics firm Politweet.

“The proportion of ethnic Chinese voters in these seats ranged from 52.27% (Beruas) to as high as 90.94% in Bandar Kuching.

“These seats can be found in Penang (7), Perak (5), Kuala Lumpur (5), Selangor (1), Melaka (1), Johor (3), Sarawak (6) and Sabah (2),” it said. From the 30 Chinese majority seats, the DAP won 29 and PKR one.

But Tindak Malaysia has claimed that the number of Chinese majority seats has dropped to 24. There is also another stark fact; even without the delineation exercise, the number of Chinese voters has continued to shrink sharply.

According to Malay Mail Online, despite blaming Chinese voters for the decline in votes for Barisan, they, in fact, only formed about four million of the total 13.3 million registered voters. It quoted Politweet founder Ahmed Kamal Nava as saying that the Chinese vote “is going to become less relevant to both Barisan/Pakatan Harapan over time because the Chinese majority seats are going to become mixed seats and eventually, Malay majority seats”.

The report also said that a comparison between the GE13 electoral roll and the electoral roll for 2017’s first quarter showed that the Chinese voters’ projection has already fallen by over one percentage point in seven states and in 79 of the 165 seats in the peninsula.

Going by current trends, the projection is that the number of non-Malays will continue to drop further, with some saying that by 2050, there could be 80% bumiputras and just 15% Chinese and about 5% Indians.

In 2014, 75.5% from the live birth total were bumiputras, followed by Chinese, at only 14% with Indians 4.5%, and others 6%.

Based on calculations, the Chinese birth rate at 1.4 babies per family in 2015 from 7.4% in 1957 means that their position in Malaysia will fall from 24.6% in 2010, 21.4% in 2015 to 18.4% or less in 2040.

In the 2013 elections, realising that it is the majority Malay votes that will tip the scale, the DAP readily tied up with PAS, hoping they would be able to capture Putrajaya. The DAP aggressively pushed the Chinese to vote for PAS, and many did willingly, but the pact failed to materialise. PAS paid a heavy price for sleeping with the enemy, because the rural Malays simply couldn’t accept the Rocket.

A random survey on PAS’ core voter base – rural Malays – by online portal FMT, found that many viewed its alliance with the “kafir” party DAP suspiciously.

PAS emerged a major loser in the 13th general election, managing to grab only 21 of the 73 parliamentary seats it contested. It even lost Kedah. In the 2008 polls, it secured 23 parliamentary seats.

PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang must have found his dabbling with danger a painful one. It didn’t help that the relationship between the DAP and PAS had soured following the elections.

Fast forward to 2018. The DAP, again, is explicitly aware the Chinese cannot hope to dump Umno without the Malays, so a new pact with PKR, Parti Pribumi Malaysia and Parti Amanah Negara has been forged.

It is even prepared to drop its iconic Rocket symbol, its organising secretary Anthony Loke admitting the Malays are wary of it.

The test now is whether the Malays in the rural areas will accept the idea of having Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Lim Kit Siang, whom the former had demonised the past 30 years of his political life, as emblems of a party taking care of their interest.

If no Malay tsunami materialises, and if the Chinese, again, place their chips on the Opposition – which seems to be the sentiment currently in urban areas – then, it will be the third consecutive elections in which the Chinese would have bet on the losing side.

The implications will be far-reaching for the community, especially if the Chinese representation in the government is weakened or non-existent when it involves legislation with religious overtones. It will also mean the possibility of being cut off from the mainstream involvement in crucial policy making and areas of development.

More so with whispers of a tie up between Umno and PAS, in some form, after the general election.

If the Barisan continues to get the mandate, as expected, DAP could end up occupying the biggest seats on the opposition bench since the rest of the Malay parties are generally untested, with PKR the exception.

Not many city folk, with the rising political temperature, want to hear or accept that this is simply a fight in the rural Malay heartland. Reality check: it will be the Malays and bumiputras who will have our fate in their hands.


By Wong Chun Wai, who 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 the group’s managing director/chief
executive officer and formerly the group chief editor.

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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Telling fact from fiction, fake news


Easy target: Fake news is a big problem here because many of us are too impressionable when it comes to news on the Internet.

HARDLY a day passes without someone sharing a video with me. No one bothers to check, not for a minute, if this could be nothing more than a fake video gone viral. Yet, amazingly, they are quick to forward such things to me.

And that doesn’t even include the unsolicited political messages, through which senders expect their receivers to echo their political enthusiasm.

More alarmingly, residents chat groups on uncollected rubbish or poor maintenance, suddenly see political messages popping up in them. Even prayer and old classmates chat groups aren’t spared, my goodness.

Blame it on what is often dubbed “silly season”, leading up to the general election, but don’t test our patience by diverting our attention to something trivial. It is downright irritating and insulting. And who cares about these politicians, anyway? Not everything in life is about politics, after all.

On Friday, a video went viral on what looked like a gun fight between the police and a notorious gang in Kuala Lumpur.

Some truth-seekers took the trouble to check with the media, but most would have despatched it to their friends in no time at all.

As trained journalists, we obviously scrutinised the video to look for give-aways. It doesn’t take a detective to pick out the holes, but then, there are many gullible Malaysians.

For one, the tiny yellow taxis in the video don’t exist in KL. There is no such building with that staircase structure in the capital, either, and there was a camera crew in plain view running around filming the action scenes, clearly indicating a movie set.

Most of the cars in the video aren’t even models we regularly see in Malaysia, and there was also a guy who ran by wearing what appeared to be heavy clothing.

On Thursday night, it got even sillier.Leaping out of the world wide web was a video of what’s been made to look like a Malaysian student being bullied in a classroom.

The comments by some racist airheads really infuriated me. With the victim appearing Chinese, the bully possibly Malay – he looked Indian to me – it became fertile ground to sow the seeds of hate.

At no point did it occur to them that this video could have come from Singapore. It didn’t even cross their minds that Malaysian students no longer wear uniforms entirely in white. The last time students were decked completely in white was probably in 1979 – during my time as a student. And desks and chairs in green? In our schools?

The Education Ministry has come out to confirm that the incident in that widely-shared video happened in Singapore on Feb 9.

Describing the footage as a “severe case of bullying”, Deputy Education Minister Datuk P. Kamalanathan urged netizens to stop spreading the clip.

“This happened at Westwood Secondary School in Singapore. Please don’t spread this video and claim that it happened in Malaysia.

“Before forwarding anything, it would be wise to authenticate its veracity to avoid confusion and misinformation,” he added.

A group of students from Westwood Secondary School were filmed punching, kicking and throwing chairs at a classmate in a video that then went viral, reported Singapore’s The Straits Times on Feb 18.

In the video posted on Facebook page Fabrications About Singapore on Feb 15, a student can be heard egging his friends on to “teach” one of their classmates a lesson.

Two students were captured throwing chairs at a boy seated at his table in a classroom while on his mobile phone. The boy is stunned when a chair hits his head.

A student then slaps the boy, before throwing a series of punches and kicks at him.

Then, the student overturns the boy’s chair, shoves him to the floor and continues to pummel him.

Then, there was the fake sex video, which purportedly featured national badminton hero Datuk Lee Chong Wei as a “movie star”.

I meet my fellow Penangite regularly, and I can safely say that I have observed him up close and personal.

I can tell that Lee is much more muscular than that skinny, presumably, porno actor in the video, and the hairstyle doesn’t even match our sports idol’s.

Lee has done right by making a police report, and let’s hope the police, with the help of the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission, swiftly track down the culprits of this vicious smear campaign.

It’s obvious that some people not only want to discredit the three-time Olympic silver medallist but are looking for maximum mayhem by aligning their dubious act to coincide with the release of his feature length biopic Lee Chong Wei: Rise of the Legend next month.

And that’s far from the end of the tall tales. There’s also this pathetic fake news about rejected Musang King durians from China – timed to perfection to be “reported” right before the International Durian festival in Bentong.

The Internet burned with a doctored picture depicting a mountain of the “rejected” fruits, which were said to have been exposed to extremely high levels of insecticide.

Those who shared that piece of poor journalism – either because they were sincerely concerned, genuinely ignorant or politically motivated – didn’t know, or cared to find out that Malaysia doesn’t export durians in its original fruit form but rather, as frozen pulp in packages.

And for sure, the Chinese wouldn’t have wanted to bear the freight charge to return these bad durians to Malaysia. The life span of our durian is only a day or two. How could it have been stacked up like that in the picture?

Durian lovers who inspected the picture could tell they were not Musang King, but instead, something of Thai origin.

With the general election looming, the recycled rumours of Bangladeshi phantom voters arriving by the planeloads at KLIA2 have resurfaced. Even an opposition state assemblyman, in her Chinese New Year video criticising the #UndiRosak activists, cheekily added that “even the Bangladeshis want to vote.” Can you picture 40,000 of them milling at our airport?

Although not a shred of evidence has come to light to back up the incredulous claim, the myth continues to be perpetuated, and it’s a given it will be rinsed and repeated. Perhaps it’ll be the Nepalese or Rohingya this time?

While the ordinary Malaysian can be forgiven for being easily swayed, it’s an entirely different story when journalists find themselves duped, or God forbid, spreading the “news”.

In the 2013 general election, a prominent TV presenter posted on his Facebook page claiming a blackout occurred at the Bentong counting centre, which led to the Barisan Nasional winning the parliamentary seat, slyly implying the coalition cheated during the result tabulation.

He got his network into hot water when he returned to his FB profile to say, “when my child is born, I will ask him to write an essay with the title ‘The Blackout Night’. The beginning of the essay would be on May 5, 2013, there was a stiff fight in the Bentong seat. Someone had said that he would cut his ears if it is lost, and then the counting process started, blackout …”

To credit MCA president Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai’s opponent, DAP challenger Wong Tack denied the rumours. But let’s hope this presenter has since matured, and perhaps, become more cynical as a journalist or presenter, at least.

The most frequent fake news that sparks to life every few weeks would be the dates of the Parliament’s dissolution and polling.

Interestingly, in the case of the polling date “report”, it involved the Prime Minister having an audience with the King, accompanied by the Deputy Prime Minister and Speaker.

It’s all very simple, really – the PM doesn’t need anyone tagging along, and after meeting the King, he surely can’t be fixing a date since that job belongs to the Election Commission.

A news portal reported that fake news is a big problem here because many of us are too impressionable when it comes to news on the Internet.

The Asian Correspondent reported: “Without questioning the veracity of certain claims and announcements, it seems that oftentimes, anything resembling a news story – whether shared on social media or via mobile messaging apps – is swallowed wholesale.

“Let’s look at how WhatsApp has become a popular platform to spread news. How many of you have received forwarded messages that clearly resemble fake news and could have easily been dismissed as such? I’m sure so many have, and speaking from experience, it definitely gets frustrating.

“The worst part is that when you question the person who unwittingly forwarded the news, he or she would say, ‘I don’t know if it’s true or not. I received it from someone else, so, I’m just forwarding.’”

This has happened continually because no one is punished for their unscrupulous and reckless deeds, even if their actions lead to undesirable consequences amounting to racial tension, riots and even death.

And the campaigning hasn’t even begun! So, let’s put on our thinking caps and brace for the inevitable soon – a deluge of fake news.

On the beat 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 the group’s managing director/chief executive officer and formerly the group chief editor.

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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Pooch and prejudice: years of the Dog 2018 and Pig 2019


No puppy love: To immortalise Hachiko’s loyalty, a shiny bronze sculpture stands near the Shibuya train station.

I decided to celebrate Chinese New Year away from Malaysia this year, so my wife and I chose Tokyo as our destination.

We wanted somewhere that was a short flight’s distance for a brief getaway to celebrate our 28th wedding anniversary, an occasion marked auspiciously by Valentine’s Day and of course, this time around, the Chinese New Year holidays too.

Now, the problem with Tokyo is the absence of any form of Chinese New Year mood there since it is not observed by the Japanese. But the cool weather was a refreshing change from the stifling heat currently enveloping Malaysia.

That said, the Year of the Dog would not be complete without tipping the hat to Japan’s most revered dog at Tokyo’s Shibuya metro station.

There, a statue of the faithful and fabled canine Hachiko has been erected as a homage, where selfie opportunities are mandatory for anyone visiting Tokyo to realise their trip.

The dog, from the Akita prefecture, has long become a symbol of faithfulness, a trait familiar with dog lovers.

This legendary canine was born in the city of Odate but ended up being owned by university professor Hidesaburo Ueno, who lived in the Shiba neighbourhood.

Hachiko would wait patiently at the same spot in the train station for his owner to return on the 4pm train from his workplace, the Tokyo Imperial University.

But one day in May 1925, the professor never returned to greet his loyal friend after suffering a fatal cerebral haemorrhage on campus.

A forlorn Hachiko would return to that same spot for the next 10 years, hoping to be reunited with his master.

“It is said that the dog would wait outside the station every evening – a model of fidelity and patience,” the Japan Times reported.

To immortalise the canine’s loyalty, a shiny bronze sculpture stands at the Shibuya station. The art fixture was put up in 1934 and has since become one of the area’s main tourist attractions.

The story inspired the 2009 film Hachi: A Dog’s Tale, starring Richard Gere. And less known, perhaps, is Hachiko Monogatari from 1987, which relates the same tale.

The body of golden-brown Hachiko, which has been described as the most faithful dog in history, was found in a Tokyo street in 1935. He had died of old age. To keep his memory alive, he was preserved and placed on display at the National Science Museum.

He also has his own memorial beside his master’s grave at the Aoyam cemetery.

In 2015, a new statue was installed at the University of Tokyo, the new name of the imperial university, to mark the 90th anniversary of Ueno’s death and the 80th of his dog’s.

“The statue depicts a joyous image of the professor and his loyal dog being reunited. It tells a happy tale of master and dog reunited forever at last,” a news article reported.

As we celebrate the Year of the Dog, the Malaysian Islamic Development Department must be applauded for assuring Muslims that using images of dogs for Chinese New Year celebrations “is something that must be respected by all” and “according to the Islamic concept of co-existence, as well as Malaysia’s practice of moderate Islam”.

Jakim director-general Tan Sri Othman Mustapha’s statement was certainly welcome and was even a pleasant surprise for many non-Muslims, who often view the authority as conservative.

After all, this is the same agency that insisted popular pretzel chain Auntie Anne change the name of its “Pretzel Dog” to “Pretzel Sausage”.

Non-Muslims have always been respectful of how Muslims consider dogs unclean under Islamic tradition.

Some have gone to ridiculous lengths to ensure that such sensitivity is observed – even leaving out the likeness of two animals, the dog and pig, from the Chinese zodiac!

Believe it or not, a T-shirt maker printed tops like these to represent the 12 zodiac animals for the Chinese New Year recently.

And some malls even chose not to use image of dogs in their Chinese New Year decorations.

Not surprisingly, the over-reaction of these business entities have irked their Chinese customers, judging from the response on social media.

It may seem surprising that Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) has produced some of the best veterinary doctors in this country, the majority of them Muslim.

My late dog Jezz, a gorgeous white Spitz, lived for 16 years and endured that long because of the loving affection of a Muslim vet at UPM.

She showed her care, not just as an animal doctor, but as someone who consistently reminded her students and visiting pet owners that dogs are also God’s creations.

A young tudung-clad Muslim vet from a clinic in Aman Suria, Petaling Jaya, has also been doing a wonderful job of looking after the health of my poodle, Paris.

In all my visits to consult these two doctors, neither has ever displayed any apprehension or disdain in handling my pets. They have always been professional and are true animal lovers, even graciously accepting dogs.

Next year, the Chinese will celebrate the Year of the Pig. For whatever reason, we have become more afraid these days, a situation far different from the past.

Well, the last time we celebrated the Year of the Pig in 2008, nothing untoward happened and the chubby animal didn’t disappear into thin air then either.

I have always had complete faith in the sense of reasoning and maturity of our people, and I believe no one will lose their head over a zodiac sign.

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 the group’s managing director/chief executive officer and formerly the group chief editor.

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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When tongues wag and tales grow: be aware of politicians gone to the dogs!


With the GE imminent, politicians are already snarling at each other, hoping to score points early.

I love dogs. I’ve always had one, from since I was a child, and now, I have three – two Siberian huskies and a poodle.

Despite their differences – in age and breed – they truly love each other, and it’s a real blessing to have this trio of girls in our family.

But I can’t echo that sentiment for some of our politicians. Politics in Malaysia has gone to the dogs. The concerned players are already in dog fights and the general election hasn’t even been called yet.

It’s still early days, although everyone reckons polling is on the horizon. And we’re all too familiar with the dog-eat-dog nature of politics.

Politicians are already snarling, slobbering and barking at each other. Everyone seems to be calling each other liars and running dogs daily.

Therefore, this has left many of us confused. Who is telling the truth? The incessant snapping doesn’t seem to be seeing an end. There is no light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak.

Well, it was the Penang undersea tunnel that got the ball of nastiness rolling. There’s no resolution in sight, for sure, and if you think we should only cross the bridge when we get there, forget it. It’s under-utilised, at least one of them, anyway.

Well, as the saying goes, every dog has its day, but at some point, it’s going to be dog-gone for any politician who can’t stick to the truth or remember the lies he told. For certain, it will be one hell of a dog day afternoon when that happens.

Meanwhile, opposition leader Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has been criss-crossing the country telling his audience that Malaysia will go to the dogs if Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak remains Prime Minister. Yes, those are his exact words – go to the dogs.

There’s still plenty of fire in his belly, like a dog with a bone on issues, although he called off a few functions last week, presumably because of health reasons.

On Friday night, he was admitted to the National Heart Institute. Guess he must be dog tired. He’s still a crowd puller and has the knack of explaining issues in simple language and in a low, calm voice, as opposed to the thunder and lightning approach favoured by his DAP partners.

His deadpan expressions and trademark sarcasm are enough to draw laughter and keep the crowds entertained. But he has been continuously dogged by the ghosts of his past. The palaces are in an unforgiving mood for what he has done previously, when he was at the helm for 22 years.

It was Dr Mahathir who launched the campaign to amend the Federal Constitution to remove the Sultans’ immunity in the 1990s.

Dr Mahathir has also been asked to return his DK (Darjah Kerabat Yang Amat Dihormati) title, the highest award in the state, which was conferred on him in 2002. The move by the Kelantan palace to revoke the Datukships of two top Parti Amanah Negara leaders from the state has sent ripples through political circles.

Amanah vice-president Husam Musa and his state chief, Wan Abdul Rahim Wan Abdullah, returned their titles to the palace several days ago after being instructed by the State Secretary’s office to do so.

In December, Dr Mahathir returned the two awards he received from the Selangor Sultan, a move believed to be related to the palace’s outrage over his remark on the Bugis, whom he describes as pirates, irking many, including several Sultans.

The chairman of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Pribumi) was the recipient of two medals of honour from then Selangor Sultan in 1978 and 2003. One of them was the Darjah Kebesaran Seri Paduka Mahkota Selangor (SPMS) (First Class).

Dr Mahathir reportedly told a Pakatan Harapan rally that Malaysia was being led by a prime minister who is a descendant of “Bugis pirates”.

That comment triggered outrage from the Johor Palace, Bugis community and associations in Malaysia, and even from some parts of Indonesia.

Selangor Ruler Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah was also incensed by Dr Mahathir’s remarks in an interview with The Star.

Last January, the Sultan of Johor said he was “deeply offended and hurt” by the political spin used by certain politicians against mainland Chinese investments in the state, saying if left unchecked, would drive away investors. A visibly upset Sultan Ibrahim Ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar singled out the nonagenarian for “putting political interests above Malaysian interests, particularly Johor”.

To put it simply, it appears that Dr Mahathir has run into serious problems with the powerful Rulers, and anyone who understands Malay politics will surely appreciate the relationship between the executive and the Rulers.

The Pakatan Harapan may feel that they should unleash our former PM since he was their top dog to best reach the Malay audience, but plans have run aground somewhat.

Politicians come and go, but Rulers remain, at least for longer than politicians. Rulers determine the laws, in many ways, and it would be foolish for a politician to take on these highly-respected royalty.

It will be hard for Dr Mahathir’s younger party colleagues to communicate with him – he comes from another generation all together. And as the adage goes, it’s hard to teach old dogs new tricks. He’s known to be stubborn and one who will doggedly talk about the issues of his choice.

The odd situation is that it is unlikely that any of the Pakatan Harapan leaders will come out openly to defend him. It’s a classic case of tucking their tails between their legs, with the whining kept private.

It’s truly the Year of The Dog. Let’s hope the GE will be called soon because most Malaysians just want to get it over and done with. We have already let the dogs out, and we hope to bring them home soon!

A happy Chinese New Year to all Malaysians celebrating. Gong Xi Fa Cai.

Wong Chun Wai

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 nd roles. He is now the group’s managing director/chief executive officer and formerly the group chief editor.

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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Malaysia’s economy: stronger but eroding purchasing power


The story is the same everywhere – the rising cost of living has not been accompanied by an increase in wages.

HERE we go again – another set of impressive growth figures. Bank Negara has announced Malaysia’s latest economic growth at a commendable 6.2% in the third quarter of 2017.

The pace of economic growth for the three months up to September was faster than the 5.8% registered in the second quarter of the year.

This growth rate was the fastest since June 2014.

On a quarter-on-quarter seasonally adjusted basis, the Malaysian economy posted a growth of 1.8% against 1.3% in the preceding quarter, according to the Statistics Department.

Malaysia’s robust economic growth has been attributed to private-sector spending and a continued strong performance in exports.

To quote Bank Negara governor Tan Sri Muhammad Ibrahim last Friday: “Expansion was seen across all economic sectors.”

But try explaining this impressive economic growth rate to the average salaried worker struggling to pay his monthly household bills.

Stretching the ringgit is especially great for those living in urban areas, and Malaysia is increasingly becoming urbanised.

The story is the same everywhere – the rising cost of living has not been accompanied by an increase in wages.

Compounding matters is the depreciation of the ringgit, reducing the purchasing power of the ordinary folk. They can’t buy the same amount of food as they used to previously.

Employers are being forced to cut operating costs to match declining profits.

Job security is becoming paramount. Many are fearful of losing their jobs, as companies cut cost to cope with the challenging business landscape.

And the reality is that many companies are not hiring, as evident from the unemployment rate of 3.4%.

The Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) has cautioned that more people would be out of a job this year due to the current economic challenges.

Apart from the challenging landscape, technology has disrupted several brick-and-mortar businesses, forcing them to change their way of doing business.

According to MEF executive director Datuk Shamsuddin Bardan, economic challenges will compel bosses to review their workers’ requirements.

While official statistics show that the economy is charting a strong growth path, the trickle-down effect is not being felt.

Why is the sentiment on the ground different from what the politicians and officials are telling us? Why is there a disconnect in the economy?

Are the figures released by the government officials more accurate and authoritative compared with the loud grumblings on the ground that are anecdotical in nature devoid of proper findings?

We hear reports of supermarkets and hypermarkets closing down, but could that be because their business model no longer works as more Malaysians turn to online shopping, with e-commerce companies announcing huge jumps in traffic?

It is the same with the malls – retail outlets are reporting lower sales and this is compounded by the fact that there is an oversupply of malls.

International restaurant chains such as Hong Kong’s dim sum outlet Tim Ho Wan and South Korean bakery Tous Les Jours and South Korean barbeque restaurant Bulgogi Brothers have ceased operations.

But then again, it could be that their offerings and prices had failed to compete effectively against the local choices.

According to the central bank, demand is anchored in private-sector spending.

“On the supply side, the services and manufacturing sectors remain the key drivers of growth,” Muhammad said.

Looking ahead, the governor said that the economy this year is poised to register strong growth and likely to hit the upper end of the official target of 5.2%-5.7%.

The trickle-down effect is not being felt simply because there is uneven growth in the various sectors of the economy.

The property sector, which provides the biggest multiplier effect, continues to be in the doldrums.

The weak ringgit has had a big impact on the price of food, especially processed food and beverages that make up 74.3% of Malaysian household spending.

It was reported that Malaysia had imported a whopping RM38bil worth of food between January and October last year.

In recent weeks, the ringgit has strengthened to about RM4.16 against the US dollar. But it is still far from RM3.80 to the dollar and the outlook of the currency remains uncertain.

We can’t even hold our heads up against the Thai baht and Indonesian rupiah – two currencies that have appreciated against the ringgit.

The headline economic numbers are showing good growth, but Malaysians’ purchasing power has dropped and our living standards have eroded. That is the bottom line. We are living in denial if we do not admit this.

This column first appeared in StarBiz Premium.
Source: On the beat by Wong Chun Hai, TheStaronline

 

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Turning a blind eye: The grumblings over exposed hills are growing louder but little is being done to rectify the situation

//players.brightcove.net/4405352761001/default_default/index.html?videoId=5636613745001

 Grievances from residents warning of environmental damages must not fall on deaf ears

 “Leaders who don’t listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say.

MY family home in Kampung Melayu, Air Itam in Penang, is more than 56 years old. That’s about my age, and it has never been hit by floods. Not once!

But last week, my parents – dad is 92 years old and mum, 86, – had their sleep rudely interrupted sometime after 1am by water gushing into their home.

They have been sleeping on the ground floor for years now because they are too old to climb the stairs to their bedroom.

The water that flowed into their room almost touched the top of their bed but fortunately, one of my nephews and his wife from Kuala Lumpur were staying over that night.

It was so fortunate that they were there to calm my anxious parents down and assure them all would be fine. They managed to comfort my stunned folks, who had never experienced such an unpleasant situation before. My father had to be carried to the room upstairs as the house remained flooded throughout the early morning.

Our home was filled with layers of mud the next day and the cars parked outside were all damaged. They sadly look like write-offs.

My father’s pride and joy, his first-generation Proton Saga car – which he bought in 1985 – is now unusable.

A week on, my brothers and nieces are still cleaning up the mess from the massive flood. They haven’t had the time or mood to even assess the financial losses.

And bound by a common sentiment as Penangites, they are tired of the blame game, a trade the state’s politicians have plied to near-perfection.

How many times can the finger be pointed at the previous government, with the incumbent almost 10 years in power? And how many more times can we blame it on torrential rain, which came from Vietnam – or wherever? Worst of all is, when discussions are mooted on flood issues, the voices of the people are swiftly silenced.

It appears that even to talk about hillslope development, one would have to contest in the elections, or be perceived to be challenging the state government, or more extremely, be some kind of lackey in cahoots with the Federal Government.

Blaming everyone else except oneself is simply a way of covering up one’s weaknesses. But the discerning public, in a maturing democracy with heightened transparency and a huge middle class like Penang, will not tolerate such short-term manoeuvring for long.

Suddenly, civil society – a buzzword among politicians – has vanished, with NGOs now regarded as irritants and an affront to the state establishment. Politics is apparently the monopoly of politicians now.

As the National Human Rights Society aptly puts it, “With the benefit of hindsight, we are sure that the Penang government now realises that they should not so readily malign civil society, howsoever obliquely – for the legitimate and well-founded articulation of matters of great concern to civil society.

“This is because it undermines the fundamental values of a functioning democracy and the fundamental human rights of the populace at large.”

Perhaps, the state political elites, many of whom aren’t pure blood Penangites, don’t realise the state is the home of a vibrant civil society, with many active NGOs and activists who are respected influencers of society.

Having walked through the corridors of power and appreciated power’s pleasures, perks and the adulation it brings, maybe it is becoming much harder for people to take criticism. This is, in fact, a reflection of the arrogance of power.

Many have developed thin skin now, with little tolerance for the slightest form of criticism. If anyone even dares raise their voice, an army of cybertroopers, hiding behind anonymity, are unleashed to attack them.

Freedom of speech, it seems, is only the domain of the opposition, with some media (regarded as unfriendly) unceremoniously ridiculed and questioned for their attendance at press conferences.

There are politicians from the Federal Government, too, who are shamelessly cashing in on the flood situation in Penang.

Their relief work must be splashed across news pages, and they have to be seen wading through the flood waters for dramatic purpose. Phua Chu Kang’s iconic yellow boots could likely be the hottest item in the state, as politicians bask in the media’s glare.

Ridiculous remarks have also been passed, one even blaming the state government, saying it has earned the wrath of God.

The rain and floods will go away, eventually. Penangites are stakeholders in the state, and they don’t only make up politicians. The state doesn’t belong to the state government or the opposition.

Caught up in the thick of the action, we seem to have forgotten that the hills are crumbling even without rain. As a stern reminder, just last month, a landslide buried some people in Tanjung Bungah. Investigations on that tragedy are still ongoing.

Basically, the trees – which act as sponge on the hills – are gone. We don’t need to be soil experts to know that.

The grumblings are growing louder because the hills have been progressively going bald in recent years. But the voice of discontent has fallen on deaf ears.

Penangites are alarmed at what they are seeing, and they don’t like it one bit, as much as they understand that land is scarce on the island and property developers need to source some to build homes on.

While it’s easy to hang the Penang state government out to dry for its follies, it’s difficult to ignore how the floods in the east coast states have become annual affairs, too. So, what effective flood mitigation plans have been put in place there?

Kelantan has suffered senselessly, and after more than a year of having been subjected to Mother Nature’s havoc, many victims have yet to recover from their losses. Flooding is obviously nothing exclusive and doesn’t discriminate. Every state has, unfortunately, experienced it in some shape or form.

So, irrespective of location, when life returns to normal, you can expect the politicians to resume their old denying ways.

If there’s a thread that binds our politicians – regardless of which side of the political divide they come from – it is their inability to apologise for their mistakes, despite waxing lyrical about accountability.

Don’t expect them to say sorry, because an apology would be admission of guilt, or worse, a sign of weakness in their realm of inflated egos.

And to put things into perspective, perhaps we could learn a lesson from a quote by prominent American pastor Andy Stanley – “Leaders who don’t listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say.”
On the beat 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 the group’s managing director/chief executive officer and formerly the group chief editor.

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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