Saturday, June 30, 2012

Exploiting the Hillside

Ravishing the hillside to develop scenic high-rise buildings, bungalows and other housing units, is now a common sight. Lush green and soothing hillsides are suddenly "raped" by huge bulldozers exposing large tracks of raw brown earth for several months or even years before the construction of concrete jungles are begun. before the construction of concrete jungles are begun.

That's modern development, folks, the way to creating a modern, progressive nation,full of scenic urban centers and housing development.Such rape of the green virgin forest can occur even in the center of large tracks of virgin jungle to lay the foundation of a new city. Every country in the world has been doing that. Some wisely, some in an idiotic and unscrupulous fashion.

Malaysia is reputed to be the 21st most biodiversified country in the world, about 60% of which is covered by virgin forest some 130 million years old.We've some 2,199 endemic species of forest vegetation 18% of which are threatened with extinction.As a result of land development, especially on the hilly slopes adjacent to the city centers, there has been a spade of landslides and land-spills in recent years, some of which killed hundreds of people with high-rise towers and bungalows crashing down or being buried in mud.Building construction on hill slope with some 20 degrees ingredient has been prohibited but you can still see it being done. After all any hillside can now been terraced with the giant tractors and caterpillars available. Even a 90 degree slope can be filled in and reduced to a 15-20 ingredient.

So, don't be surprised if a scenic green hill some hundred yards away from your house suddenly sports a red-brown scar which kept increasing until it swallows the whole hill. Some months later a brick, steel and glass jungle with grow its place.

No, nobody can stop this from happening unless we want to build houses on the trees.But like the time when Felda was biding residential homes for the settlers, must the ground be leveled and cleared of all beautiful tress before construction begins. Can't we allow some of the glorious green crowns to remain. The giant tress can also help to ensure that landslide dan landslips will not happen. More importantly we don't destroy nature's beauty entirely by replacing it with our odd idea of a beautiful housing scheme in the development of a modern, urbanized nation.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Are We Reviving the Subsidy Mentality?

Close to a general election the government - any government for that matter - will be in the mood to woo public support with a lot of financial assistance and monetary gifts. Ask in the spirit of the election campaign or a protest movement, and thou shall be given. This is in addition to a spade of citizen-friendly projects and programs stretching beyond the life of the current government, to ensure that it will be voted back to power.

This is a political culture of the world and there is no way of hiding the fact nor should we feel ashamed about it.

But in as far as as Malaysia is concerned, the people especially the Malays, had just been salvaged from the subsidy-mentality syndrome. There was a time when everything has to be subsidized by the government to allow the lower income group to catch up with their more prosperous friends and neighbors. There was a time when every little development project to be undertaken by villagers needed government support and financial assistance.There was a time when there was a quota reserved for the the less privileged community - the Malays- in almost every aspect of government policy from public housing to study awards and places in the universities.

That time is now gone. The poorer Malays in the rural areas are now expected to buck up and compete with the other economically more advanced communities. The subsidy mentality was to be wiped out and replaced by a more self-reliant and progressive attitude.

But now the financial assistance programs, a new form of subsidy though they sometime involve a once-over programs, are back. Students have been given an RM100 assistance and an RM200 book coupon to ease off the financial burden of their parents. BRIM I had given an RM500 hand-out to those earning less than RM3000 pm and there is a promise of BRIM 2 and3. Many funds have been set up to help the SMS entrepreneurs and petty traders. Just announced is a program to supply a pair of new tires per year to registered taxi drivers.

And what is little known except to the economically educated population of the country, several Banks, Commercial Houses and Business Enterprises have been receiving huge assistance and bail-outs ( in other words subsidies) from the government to keep going. The government, i.e. the public, are now subsidizing the money-earners and wealth-spinners of the nation which are supposed to help the public. And these private sector people boast of high salary and huge bonus every year - salaries and alliances which the government cannot match.

So, are we not reviving the subsidy mentality not only among the lower income and less progressive people but also among government-related institutions, companies and business bodies in the country? There is certainly a case for the former. But do we have a case for the latter whose executives live in palatial homes, drive luxury cars and be regarded as corporate executives?

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Haze....

For a number of days already, many parts of Malaysia had been shrouded in thick haze with an EPI reading of more than 140-150 in some places like Klang Valley. It's a laugh to hear the Malaysian Authorities warning everyone to stop open burning like burning the dead leaves in your garden and the rubbish that you've piled up, while forest fires in Sumatra are sending all the smoke and pollutants this way. Even some factory chimneys in and around the country are spouting up black smoke without being booked for polluting the air.

Some heavy trucks doing earth- and machinery-moving work for the government or some vehicles belonging to the government authorities themselves are doing the same. Even some public transport vehicles like buses and taxis, can be seen to spout black pollutants without being pulled off the street.

Ya, we can't blame the government for the air, water and , environmental pollution in the country. If the haze is caused by a foreign country, the water and many other forms of environmental pollution are caused by developers and pollution-insensitive people.Even with todays high standard of education, we still see people throwing off plastic and paper bags, wrappers, bottles and cigarette butts from their cars to the clean road. In some places, especially in and near the city area, the roads themselves are littered with all sorts of tissue papers and junk food wrappers. Worse still, the roads in some areas, though metaled are not level and full of potholes. Contractors responsible for laying water-hose and electric cables are seen to be covering the holes they have dug, themselves, without anyone from the authorities checking on the standard of work done.

That's the main problem today. Who checks on the standard of work done by the private contractors and ensure that the required standard had been achieved? That goes for building construction, road work and repairs, bridges, maintenance job, clean up work and everything? No point in having standards for everything developed if no one regularly checks on the the standards of work achieved in reality.Do the authorities have certain standards fixed for everything, to be followed by contractors or do contractors set their own standard? Even traffic control enforced by road workers when certain busy roads are under repair, seemed to be left to the worker on site who might not even know how to drive a car let alone control the flow of heave traffic. You don't expect to see traffic policemen when there's a jam up. They are busy hauling up speedsters on straight and uncrowded roads, sometimes stopping them at the narrowest point along the busy road.

So, is the haze bad? Maybe not for it can cover up a lot of inadequacies and oversights in our law enforcement quarter.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Similarities and Differences

All comparisons are normally based on similarities and differences. People draw comparison when things or people are so similar in forms, functions or purposes, and when they are so different or contradictory.

Such comparison is often made between people when setting up a partnership in marriage,
social or business association, and political parties in the pursuit of common goals.The common goals become more important than their similarities of differences.The similarities would be used the reinforce each others interest while the differences can be used to complement each other's shortcomings.

Political parties are famous for setting up a partnership based on common goals irrespective of conflicting and contradictory characteristics and even dogmas. Even when each party represents a different segment of society, when put together they can represent all the segments. That I believe is the philosophy of Barisan Nasional.

That philosophy has worked for more than half a decade. It worked well under able leadership who could integrate all interests amicably. If any other parties try to emulate this and failed it's not the philosophy that's bad but the inability of the leadership to come to terms with each other.

The Barisan philosophy has proven that differences in culture, mother tongue and religion need not be a stumbling block to a political partnership. As long as certain basic rules of tolerance and birthrights are observed, common objectives can be achieved by cementing a partnership or coalition. Why should cultural differences stand in the way if each party is ready to respect the other's culture? Why should mother tongue be an issue when a common national language has been agreed upon? And why should religion be a stumbling block when no one segment is forced to embrace the religion of the other segments or be subjected to its rules and regulations?

Only when the basic rules of tolerance and acceptance of birthrights are violated can there be problems. It's a failure of the internal process of negotiations and interest
integration within the partnership that caused the problems.The leaders of the component parties should be able to represent the interests of their supporters without violating the basic rules and birthrights of the other parties. A failure to do so can only reflect on the failures of the leaders as the philosophy of forming a partnership among parties with different interests and dogmas has been proven to work for more than half a decade in Malaysia.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Getting Rich Through Borrowing

There are two terms my parents used to advise me not to be involved in, ie "getting rich through borrowing" or "rich in debts". I guess they amount to the same thing although the word "rich" in the second term is an euphemism. But modern financing has it that in order to get rich in business one must borrow from the bank and invest the money in some highly profitable projects and projects with a very high rate of return.
Can that principle be also applied in running the business of a nation? There are many forms of borrowing though. Borrowing from the local or World Bank is one way.From rich countries on a G-t0-G basis is another. Selling bonds with a future date of maturity, is also a form of borrowing to be paid later when the bond matures. And there are so many types of business that a country can enter into with another country or countries. Import-export agreements achieved through Memorandum of Understanding, multilateral or bilateral help and assistance, counter-trading etc.etc.
One other form of business promotion is to open up the country to foreign investment with several forms of tax incentives and liberalization of trading laws and regulations.Any businessman from any country with money to invest can come in and be provided with the land and infrastructural facilities, also the protections to ensure that his business venture will prosper, even at the expense of protection to the local business and industrial activities and initiatives.
Two considerations, therefore become very crucial. One is how much of borrowing can a country make including selling bonds which must be redeemed over a period of time? Two, to what extend can inducement and protection be give to a foreign business venture before they begin to hurt the local initiatives? In conducting the business of the nation in Malaysia, I'm sure our experts have considered these matters very thoroughly in order to protect the interest of the nation first, and making "profits" as a second priority.
However, in some cases we begin to feel that "profits" and the availability of cash or credits for development in order to achieve the status of a high-income nation, are given first priority. Extensive borrowing reaching to more than 50% of the GDP is a case in point. Some development experts say that above 24% is already bad. But, of course, some developed countries like Japan also has a high rate of foreign borrowing while Greece overshot the 100% mark. The spread of foreign-owned super- and hypermarkets can definitely affect the business of local traders and shopkeepers, although they rehoused in shopping complexes open local traders.

To what extent do the various supermarkets or supermarts affect the business of local businessmen, we don't really know. No studies have been done. But we know that the loans and bonds sold outside the country must be redeemed one day by the young people of today. So, should a nation stretch its economic capacity and future potentials to afford a higher standard of living for the current generation than the standard that it can actually afford now, by borrowing and selling bonds as much as possible? Is it ethical or desirable to raise the income of the nation by other than actual productivity increase ( call it superficial increases) in order to achieve the status of a developed nation? To me it's like getting rich by borrowing, which must be paid for by the future generation.

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Super Rich Malaysians...

I wonder how many Malaysians can rattle out the names of the 40 or so billionaires and multimillionaires of the nation, the greatest number in South East Asia? More importantly know them by some of the great contributions they had made to the nation and the business they are in? I do believe that many Malaysians do know the names of the great billionaires and multimillionaires from other countries especially USA, UK, Japan etc. Why? Because they have contributed directly to the welfare and well-being of the common people, and not just to the economy of the nation in general.
How and what's the difference? All billionaires and multimillionaires certainly have played a major role in developing the economy of the nation and developing the area of business they lead such as in the sugar industry, rubber, tin, forest product, telecommunication, entertainment, casino, banking, real estate, oil palm etc. etc. They are of course famous in their field of expertise and industry, and among the other rich Malaysians who have some dealing with them.
But they might be totally unknown to the common Malaysians unless they have some institutions , service or industrial products, or other philanthropic contributions that have benefitted the common men and women directly. The late Lim Goh Tong for example is famous for his Genting casino and entertainment city visited by all Malaysians ( not the casino which is out of bound to the Malays). Robert Kuok maybe famous as the Sugar king but do the man-in-the-street know him unless he or she reads the papers and listens to the national news often enough in order no to miss the name being mentioned. Do the average Malaysians, especially at the village level, know know Ananda Krishnan? Or do they know the ex-Globe chief Tan Sri Kishu better.

I'm pretty sure that most of the names of the billionaires ( I don't want to mention names, just google if you want to know) are completely foreign to the average Malaysians in the city and the more so in the rural parts of the country. Their contributions to the economy of the nation and to the nation in general just do not touch or effect the life of these common men and women. Not as much as Tan Chong through Tan Ching Motors, or Hong Leong through the Hon Leong Bank, or Lim Kok Wing through his educational institutions or Loh Boon Siew through his Honda motor cycle outlets.
What I want to say is that the super rich and mighty could be so busy managing their mighty financial empires that they forgot to do something for the common men in the street and in the 'kampungs'. Their contributions to the the powers-that-be in the nation or the government could run into millions but not a single cent might rich the common folk. Are there schools, libraries, medical centers, centers for the disabled or retarded, low budget stores etc,etc, initiated and funded by these super rich tycoons to benefit the ordinary folks. Are there some institutions, funds, grants, scholarships etc. established by them which the ordinary folk could appreciate? The universities and institutions of higher learning are always short of funds to do research, to commission writers to do some studies or write some literary work, to undertake experimental works for some innovation etc. Don't they ever think of contributing to these institutions if not to establish new ones in their names?

If they have already done so in some unknown ways, it's not enough to make the common Malaysians appreciate and applaud their status as a Malaysian billionaire or multimillionaire. The common folks might still think and feel that these supper rich are only interested in doubling and tripling their wealth.