Thursday, February 11, 2016

Developers of toppled Taiwan building detained

Executives face charges over professional negligence resulting in death




Questions are being asked about the building’s construction (Picture: AP)

Three Taiwanese construction company executives have been detained on charges of professional negligence resulting in death following the collapse of an apartment building in an earthquake, killing dozens.

The district prosecutor's office in the city of Tainan said Wednesday that Lin Ming-hui and architects Chang Kui-an and Cheng Chin-kui were suspected of having overseen shoddy construction of the 17-story Weiguan Golden Dragon building, which crashed onto its side during the earthquake Saturday.

It said the three were detained to prevent collusion or other acts that could disrupt the investigation. Among the accusations was that only half as many fasteners had been used in the supporting columns as required.

The death toll in the 6.4-magnitude quake stood at 44 on Wednesday, with all but two of the deaths coming in the building collapse. About 100 people are believed to still be trapped in the debris.

The broadcaster FTV and other Taiwanese media said Lin had changed his name after a previous bankruptcy and had run multiple property development companies in Tainan in an apparent attempt to avoid creditors and bilked clients.

Although the shallow quake was potentially devastating, few buildings were damaged as a result of strict construction standards in force in Taiwan, an island frequently struck by quakes. The Weiguan Golden Dragon building, built in 1989, was the only major structure to collapse in the temblor.

Most of the 320 people who were rescued from the disaster were saved in the hours immediately after the quake, in which the building's foundation and lower floors gave way before it toppled onto its side.

Earthquakes rattle Taiwan frequently. Most are minor and cause little or no damage, but a magnitude-7.6 quake in central Taiwan in 1999 killed more than 2,300 people. More stringent building standards were introduced following that disaster and appear to have been tightly enforced.

The quake struck during the most important family holiday in the Chinese calendar - the Lunar New Year. Celebrations of the holiday in Taiwan have been subdued. - AP

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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Start work on Friday for better luck? Sink or swing with the Monkey: Pay peanuts, get monkeys!

THE fifth day of the Chinese New Year, which falls on Friday, is the best day to start work in the Year of the Fire Monkey, China Press reported.

The best time to report to work on that day is from 5am to 11am and from 1pm to 3pm, according to Feng shui Master Wei Xuan.

However, Wei Xuan said it was not a good date to start work for those born in the Year of the Horse.

He said other good dates to start work are on Feb 15, 16, 19, 22, 24 and 27.

According to Chinese belief, a person will have a prosperous year if he or she starts work on an auspicious date and time at the beginning of the lunar calendar.

Wei Xuan also advised the employees to be dressed decently and not to be late on the first day to work as it will affect their luck.

Bosses and their employees should also give angpows to each other on the auspicious day, he said.



Sink or swing with the monkey


There’s a lot to learn about this simian which can be lovable and loathable in equal parts.

WELCOME to the third day of the Year of the Monkey!

I must say it’s a great relief to say goodbye to a wild and woolly Year of the Yang during which we witnessed much sheep-like behaviour and had quite a lot of nasty things rammed down our throats.

A year ago in this column, I shared that yang is Mandarin for a horned ruminant mammal which can mean either sheep (mianyang) or goat (shanyang).

I argued the case for celebrating the Year of the Goat as the animal has more attractive and positive traits than the sheep.

Sheep have been documented as dependent, nervous creatures that require close supervision and are known for being mindless followers.

Goats, however, are a lot smarter, independent, nimble-footed and full of fearless curiosity.

Well, as it turned out that while some Malaysians tried to be goat-like, there were more who were sheep-like and got spooked by scare-mongers who, as usual, used the race and religion cards, and the sheepish ones ended up bunching together even more tightly in fear and suspicion.

So, what now in the Year of the Monkey? What sort of traits does this simian have that can give us some pointers to go by?

But first, we should get some basics right. Just as we had to separate the goats from the sheep last year, I have learned there are 264 known species of monkeys, but the chimpanzee is not one of them. The chimp, like the orang utan and gorilla, is an ape. Monkeys are different from apes, the most obvious difference being apes don’t have tails. So, let’s not confuse monkeys with apes.

Primatologists will tell us that monkeys in the wild behave very much like humans. They are intelligent creatures with the capacity to learn, innovate and live in social structures.

According to monkeyworlds.com, “the hierarchy of the social structure is very detailed. It doesn’t matter if there are only a few members or hundreds of them. They all have their role within that group”.

Interestingly, like humans in political parties, the monkeys can form smaller groups (what we would call factions) within the larger group. What’s more, if the monkeys aren’t happy about their social status within that group, they can leave and create a brand new group.

The similarities don’t end there.

Male monkeys frequently challenge the leaders of the group. Experts say this is to give better opportunities for breeding: a strong alpha male will sire sturdy offspring which will ensure the survival of the species. That happens in monkey groups but sadly doesn’t seem to have the same effect in political parties.

The monkey society is also admirable in that they have a welfare state: they “help each other with finding food, caring for the young, and staying protected” to quote monkeyworlds.com.

But like humans, they can be stressed if they lack food and shelter, which can lead to conflicts. But when there is plenty of food and they don’t feel threatened, monkeys are more likely to live in harmony with each other. Co-existence 101!

Perhaps it is because they are so human-like that the monkey is an animal that evokes both admiration and scorn.

In most African and Asian folk tales, it outsmarts its cunning adversaries like the crocodile and the shark, but in some, the overconfident primate takes the fall.

In Chinese culture, the animal is immortalised as Sun Wukong or the Monkey King, and the main character in the classic novel, Journey to the West.

Sun Wukong is depicted as highly intelligent, mischievous and so bold as to rebel against the Jade Emperor that results in his imprisonment by Buddha for 500 years. He is finally freed to allow him to atone for his sins by accompanying and protecting the monk Xuanzang on his perilous pilgrimage to India to obtain sacred Buddhist sutras to bring back to China.

Then there are Japan’s Three Wise Monkeys. That’s how they are seen – wise – in Asia because their desire to see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil has roots in Confucianism which exhorts people to not look, listen or speak in a manner that is contrary to propriety.

But in Western societies, this behaviour has a negative connotation.

It’s associated with pretending to not see, hear or speak about the misconduct or impropriety of others. It’s similar to the idioms “turning a blind eye” and “looking the other way”.

I must say, I am pretty pleased with the Star Media Group’s clever take on the Three Wise Monkeys by turning a passive response to an active one.

The message urges Malaysians to see with clarity, hear with an open mind and speak with kindness.

These are actions we sorely need to connect with each other again. This is especially so in a year that has been predicted to be seriously difficult and challenging on many fronts.

After all, in simian terms, many people feel like they have already started the new year with a monkey (or two) on their back and wish the authorities will stop monkeying around with them.

And I would add, after months of witnessing a lot of monkey business, especially among politicians who seem to turn the state assemblies and Parliament into a monkey house, people would dearly like less monkey see, monkey do behaviour from both leaders and their supporters.

Of course, some people may see antics in the August House as more fun than a barrel of monkeys but I would prefer to throw a monkey’s wrench into that sort of nonsense.

Indeed, many of us keep hoping to return to a time when sanity, equilibrium, inclusiveness and trust and honour prevailed, but cynics will most likely reply, “I’ll be the monkey’s uncle!”

I have saved the last idiom which I think will resonate with a lot of my fellow citizens, which is a reminder to employers thinking of pay-cuts and hiring cheaper and that is “You pay peanuts, you get monkeys”.

But for this festive season, enjoy your peanuts because the huasheng (as it is called in Mandarin) is an auspicious food representing good health and long life, as well as wealth and good fortune.

That’s the Chinese for you. Gong Xi Fa Cai!

By June H.L. Wong, So aunty, so what?

Aunty was gobsmacked when the pig character Zhu Bajie went missing from the Monkey King 2 movie posters and billboards in Malaysia. If this animal is the cause of so much sensitivity, how in the world are we going to celebrate the Year of the Pig in 2019? Send feedback to aunty@thestar.com.my.


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Monday, February 8, 2016

North Korea: launched a long-range rocket, cannot repeat China’s nuclear weapons path




North Korea launched a long-range rocket on Sunday morning. Pyongyang authorities said they had successfully launched the Kwangmyongsong-4 earth observation satellite, while the US, South Korea and Japan considered the launch to be a long-range missile test.

Pyongyang has made progress in long-range rocket and missile technology, but it is far from mastering mature long-range missile system and building a strategic deterrence. North Korea hopes it can effectively threaten the US homeland, but it views the matter too simply. Washington regards Pyongyang’s rocket launch as “severe provocation.” The majority of the international community doesn’t believe that in the foreseeable future, Pyongyang can miniaturize warheads and have the long-range nuclear strike ability to coerce Asia-Pacific countries and the US.

Long-range missile technology is similar to rocket technology, but there are differences. The deterrence of long-range missiles using liquid propellant is limited due to their restrained mobility and slow response times. According to analysis from the US and South Korean side, Pyongyang's liquid propellant is backward and unreliable. North Korea has no successful record in long-range missile launch. As long as the Kwangmyongsong-4 enters the target orbit, it can be considered successful. But after all, the launch of a rocket and a missile is different.

Long-range missiles need a huge supportive system, for instance, the ability to measure flight attitude, orbit accuracy and landing location, but Pyongyang doesn’t have any of this. Washington and Seoul believe that North Korea has a rather limited missile testing ability. With the missile and rocket launched by the North landing in the ocean with little possibility of it being retrieved, it is extremely difficult for Pyongyang to collect the test data. Its industry is also not able to manufacture all the materials necessary for developing long-range missile and nuclear bomb.

Some believe Pyongyang's research into nuclear weapons and long-range missiles is similar to China's atomic and hydrogen bomb development in the 1960s. Since China succeeded, so will North Korea.

This is a serious misreading. China faced a different environment than North Korea today in developing nuclear weapons. It was before the Non-Proliferation Treaty was adopted in 1968. Plus, China has a vast territory, and has nuclear test sites in the desert, while North Korea’s limited space makes this impossible.

China’s strategic deterrent power of nuclear bomb and missile, limited at the beginning, were enhanced as science and technology improved in the country. It has become even more credible with the mobility of land-based ICBMs and the upgrading of sea-based missile launching system.

Pyongyang is at the stage of developing nuclear equipment and long-range rockets, which however has developed far from the reality of the country's technology and economic development. So far, it is hard to tell whether it brings more strategic security or strategic harm to Pyongyang.

How far can Pyongyang’s nuclear bomb and missile develop? It is not up to the political determination of Pyongyang, since it involves complicated geopolitical forces which North Korea can hardly harness. Pyongyang must think carefully how to extricate itself from the increasingly grave situation. - Global Times

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However, China’s determination to safeguard its national security should be clearly shown, so that the other stakeholders will have to think carefully before they make any decision that might challenge China’s position.

Beijing won’t allow war on Peninsula

China will “by no means allow war on the Korean Peninsula” a foreign ministry spokesperson said Wednesday, stressing Beijing was deeply concerned over Pyongyang’s announced plan to launch a satellite later this month, only weeks after it tested a nuclear bomb in defiance of international sanction

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Chinese New Year Reunion 2016

‘Falling’ in love: A screengrab of Mah Sing Group’s Chinese New Year video that is going viral on social media.


Another year, another reunion


The modern Malaysian Chinese family has come a long way. Many practices have been ‘adjusted’ but some things never change.

NOT many families want to talk about it openly. But the all-important Chinese New Year reunion dinners have become more complicated and in recent years, more stressful for sure.

It is almost impossible and even unfair to expect the patriarch and matriarch of the family to cook the meal, traditionally sumptuous and heavy in some cases, especially when they are getting along in years.

Mum’s cooking sounds good everywhere but in many cases, this has become a fond but distant memory. The maid has taken over this role and of course, our expectations have also become more realistic.

The world has changed. The women family members, whether daughters or daughters-in-law, are part of the work force now.

It is wrong to expect them to take over the kitchen duties. In fact, don’t even expect them to do the dishes. Don’t even think about it if you know what’s good for you especially during the festive season.

Cleaning up the house after a feast is a daunting task. All of us understand and accept the fact that we cannot overwork the maid, who are already grumbling about the weaker ringgit.

So, the modern Malaysian Chinese family settles for a compromised position – have the reunion dinner at a hotel or restaurant. Never mind if the food might be crappy.

For a Penangite like me, where Perakanan dishes are compulsory in the reunion meal, I resign to the fact that I won’t find my favourite jiu hoo char (stir-fried turnip with dried cuttlefish) and lobak (meat rolls) at any hotel banquet.

But you know that’s not all. The family member – perceived to be the most successful in life – always ends up paying the hefty bill. It’s only expected.

And we all know that hotel food, like those served on planes, is bad. But telling the person footing the bill that the meal is “lousy” right after dinner is not exactly the appropriate CNY greeting ....

Next, the giving of ang pow for the kids. While no one wants to admit that the amount in these red packets matter, it does!

It’s not going to look too good on you if the ang pow is small – and I mean the money inside, not the size of the packet – and especially if you are perceived to be better off.

Then, the conversation after the reunion dinner. And that is the most sensitive which can cause friction and great unhappiness.

I am not talking about the 1MDB and the RM2.6bil donation issue but explosive questions to family members, who are past 30 and still unmarried.

Yes, these purportedly choosy types, who think their partner, especially if you are a woman, should have better degrees, bigger car, a house, a club membership, a steady job with hopes of further promotions and of course, good looks, a great sense of humour as well as soft skills. By this, I mean having the ability to appreciate fine food and wine.

For the guys, they expect their partners to be able to cook like their mothers, be as good looking and curvy as the celebrities they see in heavily photoshopped pictures in magazines and of course, have a good career to help pay for the household bills.

But that’s not the end of it. If you are married and have not started a family, you would be offered many unsolicited solutions from busybody aunties – from artificial insemination to eating bull’s penises. Of course, there are subtle accusations of dangerous liaisons in China, what with the frequent business trips there.

No wonder the Chinese population in Malaysia is shrinking fast. But of course, like many Chinese voters, the blame has to fall on the Government. Their failure, or inability or refusal, to start a family, is the fault of the government entirely.

And if you happen to work in the media, all eyes will be on you. In this case, it’s me. With Google and news portals with anti-government slants easily available these days, everyone is now an expert on every issue. We have all become instant analysts and opinion shapers.

Yes, yes, of course, Malaysia’s temperature during the CNY will drop to as low as 16°C and will be the coldest CNY ever.

“That’s what the social media said what, so must be true mah!”

But it’s a reunion dinner. After the interrogation of the poor singles, it undoubtedly has to come to politics. I am not sure if this is a Malaysian thing, like the open house, but do people in other countries whine too?

Probably they do, and by now politicians in modern democracies would have realised that they have to earn their respect.

Don’t expect the people to pay homage to you because no one told you to stand for election and for sure, don’t expect us to be eternally grateful to you because you came begging for our votes with plenty of promises.

They have to learn that they will be belittled, ridiculed and criticised. So don’t run to the powers that be to shut anyone up with sedition charges. Get used to it.

I expect the grumbling and cynical remarks to be louder this year at gatherings with family and friends. There are a lot of unhappy people around.

But politicians do not have to worry too much as the louder yam seng will drown the complaints. To all Malaysians celebrating Chinese New Year, I wish you all Gong Xi Fa Cai!

By Wong Chun Wai on the beat The Star

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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Saturday, February 6, 2016

Journey To The West: More Monkey business; Monkey do, Monkey don't



 
 No, I don’t have a daughter for you to marry and we’re not going on a road trip to hand out wedding invitations. this isn’t that kind of Journey.’- Photos: GSC Movies 

Journey To The West gets a slightly Westernised treatment this time around, and turns out better than the first movie.


The Monkey King 2 Director: Soi Cheang Cast: Aaron Kwok, Gong Li, William Feng, Xiao Shenyang, Chung Him Law, Kelly Chen

CGI- heavy blockbusters from China, Hong Kong, India, or any other Asian countries for that matter – except for maybe Japan and South Korea – have always been hit- and- miss affairs.

Despite scoring US$ 168mil in China alone, there’s no denying that 2014’ s The Monkey King was plagued by cheap- looking and even just plain bad CGI and visual effects, not to mention a slapdash narrative that barely made sense despite being based on something as familiar as Wu Cheng’en’s classic novel Journey To The West.

Returning to the director’s seat for this sequel, up- and- coming genre whiz Soi Cheang ( of cult hits like Motorway, Accident and Dog Bite Dog) again directs this one without any of the cool edge and personality that made him so beloved by Hong Kong genre fans across the globe, but makes amends for the many sins of The Monkey King.

Probably because The Monkey King 2 concentrates on the more familiar chapters in Journey To The West, scriptwriters Ran Ping, Ran Jianan, Elvis Man and Yin Yiyi have kept things simple, linear and relatable, concentrating on the push and pull between the personalities of main characters Sun Wukong, aka the Monkey King ( Aaron Kwok, taking over from Donnie Yen) and young monk Xuanzang ( William Feng), to generate drama and emotion.

After 500 years of imprisonment beneath Five Element Mountain, Wukong is accidentally freed by Xuanzang and is then tasked by the Goddess Guanyin ( Kelly Chen) to escort the monk on his journey West to retrieve some ancient sutras.

The impetuous, impulsive Wukong and calm, benevolent Xuanzang’s contrasting personalities are severely tested when Wukong’s “kill first, ask questions later” approach and Xuanzang’s “enlighten instead of killing” philosophy clash almost every step of the way as they meet all kinds of demons, dangers and challenges.

Also joining them on their journey are Wujing ( Chung Him Law) and the gluttonous, horny halfman/ half- pig Baije ( Xiao Shenyang). Because this sequel is obviously set on Earth instead of the heavenly settings of the first movie, the use of real locations here helps immeasurably in making the CGI and VFX look much better and more believable.

There’s even an obvious attempt to make the fantastical imagery slightly less Chinese and more Western- friendly, with one of the kingdoms they visit looking more like something out of The Lord Of The Rings or Game Of Thrones rather than Legend Of Zu.

This is even more apparent in their approach to the villain of the piece, the White Bone Spirit Baigujing, played by a radiant and show- stealing Gong Li, whose outfits and character design will no doubt evoke memories of Angelina Jolie in Maleficent and Charlize Theron in Snow White & The Huntsman. Even her back story echoes that of Maleficent, in which an innocent young woman is driven to evil because of others’ wrongdoings.

Soi Cheang even gets the humour right this time, thanks to the absurd combination of Aaron Kwok’s slightly more macho approach to playing Wukong and the general monkey business that monkeys get up to, not to mention Baije’s antics whenever he comes across women and food ( yes, in that order).

Ultimately though, these are still very minor updates to a story that’s been told countless times, and it certainly doesn’t come anywhere near the bold approach of crowd favorites like Jeff Lau’s A Chinese Odyssey movies or even last year’s animated hit The Monkey King: Hero Is Back.

But as a Chinese New Year holiday blockbuster to bring the whole family to, it’s done more than well enough to do even better at the box- office than The Monkey King. It is, after all, the better movie, and definitely an entertaining and enthusiastic enough welcome to the Year of the Monkey. Review by Aidil Rusli The Star/Asia News Network

The ‘Monkey Do, Monkey Don’t 

 


Talk about ‘Planet of the Apes’


“What got you here won’t get you there.” – Marshall Goldsmith

Someone once said, “I love people, I really do, it is just their behaviour that I cannot stand.” When it comes down to what really frustrates organisation leaders, it is not the lack of skills or knowledge of their employees. Rather it is a shortfall of desired behaviours.

As we usher in the Chinese Lunar New Year, it is a timely reminder that new results and new performance expectations cannot be achieved with the old behaviours of yesteryears. BAU (Behaviours As Usual) cannot be an acceptable leadership culture if the organisation desires to move collectively towards the place of sustainable high performance.

Upon the threshold of any fiscal year, company leaders are usually abuzz about the strategies going forward and are eager to witness a transformation in results and key performance indicators.

Yet, we all instinctively know that a well-written proposal and a persuasively-designed PowerPoint presentation cannot guarantee the delivery of results. Here is one often-neglected truth about performance – culture produces results.

Here’s one simple diagnostic question to ascertain if behavioural issues are holding your organisation back from achieving the intended key results: If everyone in your organisation continues to think and act in the same manner as they do today, can they achieve the expected results in the stated timeframe?

If the answer is a resounding “No”, then your organisation would need to embark on a cultural design initiative to determine the right cultural standard for achieving the right results. Companies with a thriving business do not leave their culture to chance, rather culture is intentionally designed and delivered.

Left on its own, the culture tends to degrade to a situation of territorialism whereby specific individuals create their own brand of sub-culture – their own monkey kingdoms.

How then do we address this monkey culture and rally the behavioural changes towards a common vision?

Behaviour is caught, not taught

It is what you do when no one is looking that determines the worth of your contribution.

It is interesting that the most common feedback I receive at the end of each behavioural-related training workshop is this, “Is my boss attending the same training as well?”

This highlights our human need for a moral reference when it comes to the motivation for changing our own personal behaviours and attitude.

Here are five common mistakes made by organisation leaders when they are too quick to implement strategic plans without giving thought to the foundational need for behavioural alignment.

Communicating the results without clarifying the overall vision of the company.
Growing the numbers without a specific plan to grow the employees.
Non-performers are still rewarded – sending an inconsistent signal to those who do perform.
Sending employees for training without involving the direct supervisors.
The performance appraisal criteria do not reflect the desired behaviours.

Behaviour requires a moral standard

Everything is not relative.

When it comes to behaviour, one cannot assume that people, by default, would know what to do.

In fact, when left on our own, our behaviour tends to degrade towards the fulfilment of selfish agendas, not that of the common good.

I recall facilitating a visioning workshop where almost everyone in the room had their own interpretation of the company’s values, and it was a challenge coming to a consensus. It was not until we were crystal clear with the expectations of the group chief executive officer that there was a decision on the way moving forward.

In other words, we needed to first establish the true north as the absolute by which all other behaviours are measured against. Without a fixed reference, behaviours are just personal preferences leading to territorial mindset.

Here are three questions to ask when communicating behavioural expectations:

  1. Are the recognition practices consistent with the behaviours we want to promote?
  2. Are the leaders aware of their own behaviour and seen to be walking the talk?
  3. Are managers trained in the skill of having accountability conversations when there are misbehaviour and attitude issues?

Behaviour reinforces values

A child is known by his actions, not his intentions.

Many organisations are too hung up about corporate values until it becomes a copywriting debate. The fact of the matter is that corporate values are there as a directional guide while a more specific delivery guide requires something more observable.

Here is where we need an executable concept called key behaviours. Key behaviours are personal accountability statements that are communicated as behavioural expectations for every employee.

In Leaderonomics, we have five key behaviours which operationalise our core values:

  • Be Accountable: “I take personal ownership to deliver on all expectations entrusted to me.”
  • Be Excellent: “I accept challenges and exceed expectations in all that I do.”
  • Be Synergistic: “I actively seek out and lead collaborative opportunities.”
  • Be Courageous: “I am open to honest and authentic conversations.”
  • Be Agile: “I find opportunity in all circumstances and will adapt myself to thrive in them.”

Does your company have a set of key behaviours which are non-negotiable accountability statements for every employee?

Just propagating core values alone is insufficient to set the tone for real change that will impact productivity, profits and people. If your corporate values are just statements on the walls with little behavioural clarity, then do not be surprised if the culture does not reflect the aspiration.

Monkeys vs donkeys

In social experiments, monkeys have been shown to display mob mentality behaviours i.e. they will all do what is the social norm, but it requires a few brave ones to set the tone and then have it reinforced through a series of risk-and-reward responses.

Now, when it comes to setting the cultural tone of an organisation, we can also take a cue from this observation in that we need a few courageous ones to set the tone and make a stand as to what is expected from everyone else – in other words, change begins with courageous leadership.

The other option is to go the way of the donkey which makes a lot of noise but refuses to budge due to stubbornness. In this year of the monkey, let’s not go down the path of the donkey.

By JOSEPH TAN Leaderonomics.com

Joseph Tan is CEO of Leaderonomics Good Monday. His passion is to work with performance-focused leaders to capture the hearts and minds of their employees through a strengths-based and accountability-driven approach. Much of what is shared in the article above comes from his work as a Gallup-certified strengths coach. If you would like to enhance the engagement level of your organisation, email joseph.tan@leaderonomics.com for more details. For more Be A Leader articles, click here.

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Friday, February 5, 2016

Malaysian home prices may go up 5~8%; heart-warming CNY family ties with EcoWorld 全家福

From Left :- Director of Valuation Services Chee Kok Thim , Rahim & Co Executive Chairman Senator Tan Sri Dato' Abdul Rahim Abdul Rahman, DIrector Real Estate Agency Robert Ang and Director of Research & Strategic Planning Sulaiman Saheh after Press conference and Q&A session - Review on Malaysian Property Market and the prospects of 2016 - on Thursday Feb 4 2016.

KUALA LUMPUR: The property market is expected to remain challenging, with the hike in house prices slowing to between 5% and 8% this year, compared with 7% to 10% last year.

Rahim & Co Chartered Surveyors Sdn Bhd director Sulaiman Akhmady Mohd Saheh expects prices to rise but sees only marginal price gains for the residential sector.

“Depending on location and type of property, some may see price consolidation as the gap between sellers’ asking prices is closing towards the buyers’ expected prices,” he said during the firm’s property market review.

He said that there were concerns that the number of transactions may drop this year, as new property launches could face more challenges and slower take-up.

He said that based on average annual household incomes to the price of average terraced homes, housing affordability could have slightly improved last year compared with 2014 although house prices in general continued to increase.

“Nevertheless, housing affordability is still a big concern especially in urban centres and major towns throughout the country.

“The ratio improved from 3.6 in 2014 to 3.4 last year, which indicates that an average terraced house would cost an average household or family in Malaysia 3.4 times its annual gross income,” said executive chairman Tan Sri Abdul Rahim Abdul Rahman.

Note that the least affordable terraced house in Malaysia last year was in Sabah, with a 5.7 times ratio, Penang, 5.3 times, Kuala Lumpur, 5.2 times and Sarawak, at 4.5 times.

He said that home ownership continued to be beyond the reach of many Malaysians, especially the younger generation.

“The ratio indicate that generally our houses are still moderately unaffordable. For Sabah, Penang and Kuala Lumpur, average prices of terraced houses are even categorised as severely unaffordable,” he said.

He added that the pace of construction and completion for affordable housing needed to be improved in order to address the issue of affordability.

“It is progressing but there should be more effort, for example in PR1MA. Among these, PR1MA is to provide 175,000 units where 74,399 units are currently in various stages of construction. “At present, only 10,000 units is due to be completed by the end of the year.

“That 74,399 units under construction should be intensified instead of completing 10,000 units by the end of the year,” he noted.

For the commercial sector, particularly the office sector, it will still remain challenging as absorption of new supply coming into the market is expected to slow down.

More office buildings are expected to undergo refurbishment to prevent tenants from relocating to newer office buildings.

However, there are concerns on whether the retail property sector might be heading into a glut in supply as a number of malls are being launched within Klang Valley.

Last year, retail sales were affected by the goods and services tax, which was implemented from April as well as a weakening ringgit, driving up costs and lowering consumer spending.

By Nadya Ngui The Star/Asia News Network

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Heartwarning CNY video on family ties goes viral




Building strong ties: A video grab from EcoWorld’s ‘Family Portraits’ on its official YouTube page captures the essence of maintaining family values.

PETALING JAYA: A heart-warming Chinese New Year video showing a man’s life as seen through his family photographs has been released by EcoWorld Development Group Bhd.

The three-minute video titled Family Portraits, which can be seen on YouTube, has been viewed more than 78,000 times so far yesterday. It is meant to educate the viewer on maintaining strong family values. The video shows glimpses of the man’s life-long journey from early childhood until adulthood.



All throughout, viewers will notice that family plays a huge role in the main character’s life as he encounters the pivotal moments in life that are familiar to many of us. The loving embrace of his family is never too far away even as he grows up and leaves his parents to pursue a career and start a family of his own.

Family Portraits successfully conveys its message through very little dialogue, relying mostly on visual images that reflect the mood and spirit of the central theme of the video.

The touching video, while light hearted and filled with funny moments, sends a strong message that clearly emphasises the importance of family ties and the togetherness that is an integral part of the Chinese New Year festival.

“The love of a family is life’s greatest blessing. This Chinese New Year, capture the warmth and happiness with a family portrait and start a collection of beautiful memories to look back on for generations to come,” posted the company on its YouTube page.

Those who wish to view the video may do so at EcoWorld’s official YouTube page.

Earlier this week, the company announced that it was offering a special Chinese New Year treat for buyers of the few remaining units of EcoWorld’s Eco Meadow Phase 1 homes by giving rebates of RM22,888 on top of an additional 5% early bird rebate from now until Feb 22.

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http://ecoworld.my/

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Thursday, February 4, 2016

Public Bank Q4 profit up 19%; RM5bil earnings for 2015

Public Bank Head Office in Kuala Lumpur - Founder and chairman Tan Sri Teh Hong Piow said expectations were for intense competition for market share

Public Bank Q4 profit up 19% but warns of challenges ahead


Public Bank Bhd, the country’s third largest bank, reported an increase of 19% in its fourth quarter net profit which stood at RM1.49bil compared to the net profit of RM1.25bil for the same period a year earlier but warns of challenges ahead.

Founder and chairman Tan Sri Teh Hong Piow said expectations were for intense competition for market share.

“And the more stringent capital and liquidity requirement will continue to put pressure on net interest margin and return on equity,” Teh said in a statement.

The bank’s increase in its fourth quarter ended Dec 31, 2015 net profit was boosted largely by a net writeback of loan impairment allowances and higher net interest income, it said in the statement yesterday.

It also announced a second interim divided of 32 sen per share for shareholders, bringing total dividends for the year to 56 sen per share or a total payout of 42.7% of the bank’s net profit last year.

For the entire FY15, Public Bank’s net profit stood at RM5.06bil which translates to a net return on equity of 17.8%, against a net profit of RM4.52bil in FY14 while revenue stood at a higher RM19.18bil compared with RM16.86bil earlier.

Public Bank continued to be the most efficient banking group in the country with its low cost-to-income ratio of 30.5% compared to the banking industry’s average cost-to-income ratio of 45.5%. It also continued to maintain a healthy level of capital with its common equity Tier 1 capital ratio, Tier 1 capital ratio and total capital ratio standing at 10.9%, 12.0% and 15.5% respectively as at the end of 2015, after deducting the second interim dividend, it said.

In FY15, the bank grew its loans by 11.6%, aided by its retail banking segment and extension of credits to small and medium enterprises while total customer deposits saw a growth of 8.9%.

Its domestic customer deposit grew by 7.5%, higher than industry’s growth of 1.8%.

As at the end of 2015, the group’s impaired loan ratio was at 0.5%, significantly lower than the industry ratio of 1.6% while its loan loss coverage ratio of 120.8% as at the end of last year was also higher compared to the local banking industry’s ratio of 96.2%.

Teh said growing fee-based revenue remained a key strategic focus of the Public Bank group.

“Arising from the group’s initiative to drive growth of its non-interest income in order to sustain better return for its shareholders, the group’s non-interest income increased by 22.4% in 2015 as compared to 2014, mainly contributed by higher income from its unit trust business, foreign exchange related transactions and fee income from banking operations,” he said.

Shares of Public Bank finished yesterday higher at RM18.38, up 4 sen.


Public Bank's 2015 earnings cross RM5bil mark 

 

 
Public Bank's Founder and chairman Tan Sri Teh Hong Piow

KUALA LUMPUR: Public Bank Bhd recorded a stellar set of results, with net profit surpassing RM5bil for the financial year ended Dec 31, 2015. It rewarded shareholders by declaring a second interim dividend of 32 sen per share, bringing the full-year dividend to 56 sen.

The total dividend paid and payable for 2015 amounted to RM2.16bil and represents a total payout of 42.7% of the group’s net profit for 2015.

Public Bank posted a net profit of RM5.06bil, up 12% from RM4.52bil it recorded a year ago, translating to a net return on equity of 17.8% for 2015. Revenue was 13.8% higher at RM19.18bil compared with RM16.86bil in 2014.

In its filing with Bursa Malaysia on Wednesday, the bank said it owed its improved earnings to higher net interest income, higher non-interest income and lower loan impairment allowances.

However, these were partially offset by higher operating expenses due to higher personnel costs.

Gross loans grew 11.6% to RM273.4bil driven by growth in property financing, financing of passenger vehicles and lending to SMEs.

Deposits from customers were 8.9% higher to RM301.2bil, which partly contributed to the higher net interest income during the year.

"The results reflected the consistent execution of the group’s organic growth strategy which continues to deliver favourable results to our customers and our shareholders,” said founder and chairman Tan Sri Teh Hong Piow in a statement.

He added that the bank's robust funding position was mainly supported by its strong retail franchise and large domestic depositor base of over five million customers who continue to place their trust and confidence in the group in safeguarding their funds.

Public Bank’s impaired loan ratio improved to 0.5% as at end-December 2015.

For the fourth quarter, the bank posted a 19% year-on-year gain in net profit to RM1.49bil while revenue was 8.8% higher at RM4.93bil.

Moving forward, the group said it will leverage on its internal strength and capitalise on its customer service and service delivery to maintain its leading market share in the domestic retail segment, supported by steady demand for home mortgages, vehicle financing and SME lending.

By Wong Wei-Shen The Star/Asia News Network

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Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Reconsider TPPA in public interest

Use the next two years to think about the TPPA and its many implications for present as well as future generations of Malaysians.

LAST week, Malaysia’s Parliament authorised the government to sign and ratify the 6350-page Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA). Thankfully, as the Minister has emphasised, countries will not need to ratify the deal for about two years, and can withdraw after that, though neither option will be costless. Hence, it is important to use the next two years to have a careful consideration of the TPPA and its many implications for present as well as future generations of Malaysians.

Who gains how much?

Most people think the TTPA is about greater growth from freer trade. Nothing could be further from the truth. Even the overly optimistic computable general equilibrium (CGE) projections, made on methodologically moot grounds, recognise that more trade does not mean more growth. After all, freer trade not only means more exports, but also more imports. Without adequate compensatory mechanisms, nothing guarantees that all will benefit.

The net gains for growth from increased trade are difficult to estimate reliably, and depend very much on crucial assumptions made for modelling. Even the CGE models used for TPPA advocacy acknowledge limited net economic benefits from trade liberalisation. Hence, while the TPPA will result in greater trade, there is no reliable basis for assuming that increased trade will improve economic welfare for all.

More production for export will partly replace production for domestic markets. Exports are less labour-intensive and use more imported inputs than production for domestic markets. Businesses become more competitive by cutting labour costs, negatively affecting income distribution, thus further weakening domestic demand.

Both the USA and Malaysia are among the world’s most open economies, with little more trade to be gained by further reducing tariffs. The TPPA does not address many non-tariff barriers, e.g. the campaign against Malaysian palm oil.

The only US government study of the TPP’s growth effects did not see much growth from increased trade. The World Bank and Peterson Institute studies claimed more significant growth gains from large, but dubious projected increases in foreign direct investment (FDI). But there is no evidence that FDI reliably increases tax revenue, especially with the generous tax incentives offered by the authorities.

Cheap labour

As a middle income country, it will be difficult for Malaysia to compete successfully with Vietnam and other such developing economies on the basis of labour costs for the labour-intensive primary commodity and export-oriented manufacturing envisaged by the TPPA. All this is likely to work to keep Malaysia stuck in the middle income trap.

Yet, despite the exaggerated claims of its advocates, the TPPA provisions for the trade in goods are probably its least dangerous aspects. For example, TPPA provisions for further liberalisation of financial services will undermine national prudential regulation, exposing Malaysia to greater vulnerability from abroad, as if we have not learnt from the 1997-98 Southeast Asian financial crisis as well as the 2008-09 financial meltdown and ensuing protracted Great Recession.

Partnership?


Many ostensible provisions and safeguards in the TPPA have asymmetric implications. For instance, compared to Malaysia, the US federal government has much less scope for discretionary spending compared to its state governments which are, in many instances, larger than many other TPPA economies. Thus, exempting state governments from TPPA provisions, e.g. on government procurement, will have very different implications in the two countries.

Instead of trade, for Malaysia, the TPPA is mainly about greatly strengthening investor rights, including intellectual property rights (IPRs). But stronger IPRs hardly promote research. Instead, most contemporary IPR regimes actually impede innovation, besides undermining public health and consumer welfare by limiting competition and raising prices. The TPPA will thus allow ‘Big Pharma’ longer monopolies on patented medicines, keep cheaper generics off the market, and block the development and availability of similar new medicines.

Corporate interests

The collective drafting of the 6350 pages of the TPPA was ‘assisted’ by over five hundred official corporate advisers to the US Trade Representative (USTR) Michael Froman, greatly strengthening foreign investor rights at the expense of Malaysian business and public interests.

The TPPA’s investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) system obliges governments to compensate foreign investors for the loss of expected profits in binding private arbitration, even when profits are made by causing public harm.

US corporate interests claim that ISDS is necessary to protect property rights where the rule of law and credible courts are lacking. But instead of reforms to improve the judiciary’s performance and reputation, the TTPA will expose Malaysia to new risks and liabilities.

ISDS provisions make it hard for governments to fulfil their basic obligations such as to protect their citizens’ health and safety, to ensure economic development and stability, and to safeguard the environment.

For example, the world’s most widely used herbicide has been declared by the WHO to be carcinogenic. By banning such toxic materials, with the ISDS, the government would be liable to compensate its manufacturers not to harm our people, instead of forcing them to compensate those already harmed! Thus, the ISDS may even deter the government from banning the substance, putting people at risk.

Multilateralism

Like many other recent bilateral and plurilateral economic agreements, the TPPA has less to do with freeing trade, but instead advances the interests of powerful foreign business interests.

Concluding the TPPA before the mid-December Nairobi World Trade Organization (WTO) ministerial was then used by USTR Froman to try to kill the WTO Doha Round of trade negotiations, apparently also in line with the current European Commission commissioner’s preferences. The negotiation had begun in late 2001, after 9/11, with the promise of rectifying the anti-development and food security outcomes of the previous Uruguay Round following the Seattle WTO ministerial failure.

In spite of their denials, Asean members joining the TPPA have also effectively undermined existing commitments to the Asean Free Trade Area (AFTA) and Asean Economic Community (AEC).

The main US motivation for the TPPA has been to exclude China. At his State of the Union address, President Obama triumphantly announced, “With TPP, China does not set the rules in that region, we do”.

After being blocked from greater commensurate influence in the Washington-based Bretton Woods institutions, broad support for the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), even from traditional US allies, was a major embarrassment to the US.

Neutrality

The political re-alignment also abandons the late Tun Razak’s commitment to make Asean a ‘zone of peace, freedom and neutrality’ (ZOPFAN), an irony for the host of the last Asean summit.

One may understand why Vietnam, at war with the US until four decades ago, is keen to join the TPPA, to strengthen its hand viz a viz China, but it too will be compelled to pay a high economic price for Uncle Sam’s ‘protection’.

Yet, despite its own problems with China, Philippine President Benigno Aquino Jr chose not to participate in the negotiations. Pre- and post-military coup Thailand, with an economy even more open than Malaysia’s, also chose to stay away. Why?

Singapore’s existing bilateral economic arrangements with the US go much further than the TPPA in line with its own unique strategic considerations. Of course, no serving government leader is going to offend the US by rejecting the TPPA outright.

Misgivings

Already, some other, mainly European governments have privately expressed their dismay at the TPPA provisions as it will weaken their own negotiating positions for the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). It is the US which has secured ‘first-mover’ advantage. It is unclear to most observers what great advantage Malaysia secured beyond some NEP ‘carve-outs’.

Since negotiations ended in Atlanta in October 2015, the minister in the new centrist Liberal Party Canadian government, an experienced former Financial Times editor, has already called for reconsideration of the TPPA provisions.

Australia and New Zealand, the public and parliamentarians are outraged about the onerous investment provisions of the TPPA after a 2016 World Bank report projected paltry gains for them.

Despite touting the TPP in Asia as his main foreign policy priority for 2016, Obama only spent 28 seconds of his hour-long State of the Union address on it, triumphantly announcing, "With TPP, China does not set the rules in that region, we do" (China excluded), making clearly the main US motivation while realising its widespread unpopularity with the American public, including his Democratic Party base. Even the libertarian Cato Institute has denounced the TPP as the tool of corporate lobbyists.

Caution needed

More careful consideration through more informed public discussion of the TPPA's many provisions can only help the nation.

According to a mid-2015 Pew Research survey, the strongest support for the TPP is in Vietnam, where 89% of the public backed it, while the weakest support was in Malaysia (38%) and the US (49%). The greatest outright opposition was in Canada (31%), Australia (30%) and the US (29%).

Malaysians (14%) were the least supportive of closer economic relations with the US while the most support for deeper economic ties with China was in Australia (50%) and South Korea (47%). Large numbers of Malaysians (43%) and Chileans (35%) wanted stronger commercial relations with both China and the US.

The greatest opposition to the US defence pivot was in Malaysia, where 54% believed it is bad because it could lead to conflict with China.

TPPA not costless

If the TPPA is simply a trade deal, there would be less grounds for concern. Unfortunately, its other provisions will undermine Malaysian development prospects and the public interest in the longer term, with diminished ability for the Government, Parliament and the public to set things right.

Many well-intentioned Malaysians opposed to abuses of various kinds, support the TPPA, hoping that it will somehow eliminate corruption, improve governance and address other problems in the country. Unfortunately, this is merely wishful thinking. The TPPA is not a costless ‘hop-on, hop-off’ option, as some think.

By Dr Jomo Kwane Sunddaram

> Dr Jomo Kwame Sundaram was an Assistant Secretary-General in the United Nations system from 2005 to 2015 and received the 2007 Wassily Leontief Prize for advancing the frontiers of economic thought. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.


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