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Friday, May 31, 2013

Right move for the planned car prices reduction 20% ~ 30% in Malaysia

The Government's plan to reduce car prices gradually by between 20% and 30% within the next five years is the best mechanism for consumers and the automotive industry without disrupting the ecosystem, said an industry expert.

“Five years is the right timing to reduce car prices because a sudden reduction would impact the second-hand car industry,” Malaysia Automotive Institute chief executive officer Madani Sahari said.
He said although the car price cut plan had recently received wide publicity, the exercise itself started last year with some popular car brands reducing their car prices by 2% to 5%.

“The Government has had the car price reduction plan in the yet-to-be-announced National Automotive Policy since 2011 and had started to implement it since last year in a silent way,” he said on the sidelines of a forum on “Business Time Insight The National Automotive Policy” here yesterday.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak reiterated the Government's commitment to gradually reduce car prices by 20% to 30% within the next five years.

Madani said the car price reduction did not involve a cut in the excise duties, as Malaysian companies in reality were only paying about 40% of excise duties, even though it hovered at around 65%-105%, depending on the segment, due to value-added activities undertaken in the country.

“Completely-knocked-down (CKD) cars which are assembled in Malaysia basically have value-added activities, and are therefore receiving the privilege of lower excise duties. “Based on our calculations, most of our CKD cars enjoy excise duties in the range of 40%,” he said. Meanwhile, Volkswagen Group Malaysia managing director Dr Zeno Kerschbaumer said the car price reduction policy showed the Government's effort to put consumers into the focus of their attention.

“This perfectly matches our (Volkswagen's) policy to continuously bring the latest technology to customers at the best price possible. I think it's a big message to consumers and gives them the confidence that the Government was giving the consumers interest in the focus of their policy,” he said.

He said the move was also in line with the principle that the customers had to drive the policy. “We need to leave all our options to the customers, and the customers in the end need to decide what better fits their requirements,” he said. - Bernama

Related post:
Car prices in Malaysia will be reduced gradually 

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Car prices in Malaysia will be reduced gradually

Car prices will be reduced gradually until 2017, says International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed.

As outlined in the 13th general election of the Barisan Nasional manifesto, Mustapa said the government had promised to trim car prices between 20 per cent and 30 per cent over five years.

“Infact, since October last year, the price of 10 popular models in the country have come down an average 7.3 per cent,” he told reporters yesterday after attending the ministry’s monthly gathering, the first after Mustapa was re-appointed to the Cabinet.

He said the price reduction was part of the market process as a result of more efficient and competitive players in the automotive industry.

Mustapa said the price reduction exercise should be done in an orderly manner so as not to affect the industry’s growth and existing jobs in the automotive and related industries.

“As such, we have had discussions with automotive manufacturers and they are aware of ongoing negotiations to conclude a free trade agreement which would be implemented soon,” he said.

JF Apex Securities in its research note on Monday said the ruling coalition will likely take some time to implement car price reduction considering the potential outcome which would dampen the national carmaker, Proton’s market share.

The research house said that a feasibility study needed to be done on the overall impact so as to avoid disruptions to the automotive ecosystem.

“We do not foresee changes for months to come while awaiting update from the revised National Automotive Policy,” said JF Apex.

In the meantime, Mustapa said industry players must now be ready to step up their competitiveness edge in tandem with the industry which was becoming more competitive in Malaysia and abroad.

Besides bringing down car prices, the government was also reducing traffic congestion by setting up a more efficient transport system in the country, he added. — Bernama

Related post:
Right move for the planned car prices reduction 20% ~ 30% in Malaysia

Monday, May 27, 2013

Too many graduates in Singapore, multiple skills are important

Singapore leaders start to talk about the importance of having multiple skills rather than just obtaining a degree.

A NUMBER of political leaders have appealed to Singaporeans not to place too much faith on university degrees in an apparent effort to manage public expectations.

This is the clearest sign yet that the authorities are expecting a sustained period of relatively low economic growth and slower employment opportunities.

Singaporeans, especially parents, who have long regarded the university degree as a key to a good life will likely be shocked.

For decades, the government has been en­couraging youths to study hard or lose out in a competitive world. This apparently spells a change in education strategy.

It has also thrown more light on a baffling revelation made earlier by a senior Education Ministry official to American diplomats.

This revelation was that the global economy embraced by Singapore has made it much less conducive for over-educated societies.

Having a large number of graduates, once thought crucial for Singapore’s prosperity, is now considered not conducive to the changing manpower market, at least in Singapore.

However, none of the political leaders – the Prime Minister and three ministers – has mentioned another reason for the excess of graduates – the mass intake of foreigners.

Led by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan, the leaders
are now advising Singaporeans to consider non-university routes to success.

Khaw said: “You own a degree, but so what? You can’t eat it. If that cannot give you a good life, a good job, it is meaningless.”

He added that Singapore could not have an entire nation of graduates.

“Can you have a whole country where 100% are graduates? I am not so sure. What you do not want is to create huge graduate unemployment,” he said.

Then it was the turn of Education Minister Heng Swee Keat, who said that a good qualification alone does not guarantee a career, let alone a job.

Thirdly, Acting Minister for Social and Fa­mily De­ve­l­opment Chan Chun Sing said it is not the degree or diploma that is most important for graduates, but the ability to learn a different set of skills.

“The soft skills in life have to be acquired and have to be continuously refreshed. If not, even with the best degree from the best universities in the world, we may find ourselves obsolete one day.”

They were taking the cue from Prime Minister Lee who had earlier told polytechnic students that getting a degree is not the only option. He encouraged them to work for a few years or start their own business.

“You will gain experience and understand yourself better and then be better able to decide what the next step will be,” he said at Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s 50th anniversary celebration.

All these political leaders have served to clarify a comment made by a senior education ministry official that the government does not encourage more Singaporeans to get higher education.

As revealed by Wikileaks last year, assistant director of planning Cheryl Chan told the United States diplomats that it would instead cap graduate enrolment rate at 20%.

The reason, she said, was: “The labour market does not require too many graduates.”

She also admitted that only 23% of Singaporean students who entered primary school would ever complete a four-year tertiary education, a figure far below that of the United States (50%) and Taiwan.

This gave confusing signals to a worried population, which probably ranks as one of the most enthusiastic in Asia about getting a degree for their children.

Many continue to make great personal sacrifices to help their children and are unlikely to abandon this just because of what the government says. The new emphasis is for multiple skills and drive.

So far, the government has not reduced the places in university but has instead increased them. The number of universities were raised to five with a total enrolment of about 13,250 students, with about a third being foreign students. Cutting down tertiary education is obviously not in the cards – but “discouragement” is now taking place.

The ruling party is dependent on the scholarship system to recruit its future leaders, and it is still bent on attracting bright foreign students to its shores.

In addition, nearly 18,000 Singaporeans are studying in foreign institutions, mostly in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom. According to local media reports, the market is unable to absorb the large number of graduates coming onstream.

One report quoted a McKinsey & Co study as saying that almost half of the graduates are holding jobs that do not require a degree.

The over-supply is having a dampening effect on graduates’ salaries (again no mention of the foreign arrivals), it added.

In the past 10 years, undergraduate numbers have doubled.

The effort to get Singaporeans to abandon the paper chase for their children is almost like mission impossible. Many have begun to spend thousands of dollars a month on private tuition for their kids starting as young as seven years old.

What is the new drive aimed at? One possibility is that it is trying to reduce the number of below average students from joining the paper chase but still encouraging the bright ones to carry on.

Economically, Singapore has barely escaped another technical recession. A revised first quarter GDP shows a rise of 1.8%. Gone are the days of double-digit growth, probably never to return.

So what work can non-graduates do? One suggestion from Prime Minister Lee is: “Become hawkers.”

Singapore plans to build 10 large hawker centres. It’s a chance to develop entrepreneurial skills in a business no Singaporean customer can avoid for long – if the products are good.


Related posts:

High salary and high performance require book smart and street smart!
Singapore kiasu (怕输) in a rising China
Singapore job growth high, unemployment low ...

Sunday, May 26, 2013

High salary and high performance require book smart and street smart!

Heera: ‘Qualifications bring credibility to the job’. Heera: ‘Qualifications bring credibility to the job’.
WHEN it comes to hiring suitable talents, it would be ideal to have a potential employee with the relevant qualifications as well as one that has practical experience.

But what if there was just one vacancy available – and the organisation had to choose between the two candidates? In a hypothetical situation between a candidate that’s “book smart” (has the relevant qualifications) and one that’s “street smart” (has the practical experience), who would be the more likely choice?

More importantly, is a high-paying job unattainable for those without formal education? Or is there still a chance for a candidate that does not have that oh-so-important diploma or degree?

The book smart candidate

Heera Training and Management Consultancy principal consultant Heera Singh believes a candidate with the relevant qualifications would generally be “technically competent” in that job.

“It certainly brings credibility to the job. For example, if someone has a Masters in Human Resources (HR) Management, then the qualification enhances his credibility,” he tells StarBizWeek.

“It also assists greatly in the recruitment and selection of employees. For example, if a job is advertised and does not specify technical qualifications, but only states practical experience required, then every Tom, Dick and Harry will apply and this will ensure lots of extra work for the HR department,” Heera says.

Leaderonomics finance and human resources leader Ang Hui Ming concurs that having the right qualifications adds more credibility to an individual seeking employment – at least on paper.

“Generally, the employee might probably have a wider knowledge-base theoretically of the function he is hired for and has some form of certification of his ability to understand at least the basic concepts of the function,” she says.

However, it has often been said that what one learns in theory can be quite different in practice.

Heera believes that the “book smart” candidate, though technically qualified, still lacks experience – an important element that may be vital in certain jobs.

Ang: ‘Being technically qualified doesn’t mean they can do the jobs well’. Ang: ‘Being technically qualified doesn’t mean they can do the jobs well’.

“Being technically qualified does not mean that they can do the jobs well. They may be more academically inclined rather than hands-on.

“They may be technically qualified but may not like the job. Many people, for example, go to university and do courses that their parents want them to do, or courses which their friends are doing. All they want to do is to get their qualifications.”

Ang, meanwhile, feels that not having the relevant experience is not a big deal – as it is something that can be acquired over time.

“There is no real disadvantage, experience is to meant to be built anyway.

“At most, it’s the lack of reality. If a person is all academic, it is uncertain how he or she will handle real life situations where the theories they learn needs to be adapted to the situation, environment and culture of any given place and time.”

The street-smart candidate

The advantage of hiring an employee with experience means that they can do the job straight away with minimal disruptions, says Heera.

“There is minimum need for any job orientation and at interviews, you can ascertain the type of practical experience they have and see if it suits or meets your job expectations.”

Ang concurs: “Generally, the employee might have deeper expertise in the function and would have experienced real-life situations in the function. This makes the person more adaptable and adept to handle similar natured situations more wisely and calmly.”

“The type of experience is important. If they have the wrong type of experience, then it is of no use to the company. For example, if a person has worked in a HR capacity in a government department, then his experience may not necessarily gel with what is wanted in the HR department in the private sector.

“Experience can be a bad teacher as it is always difficult to mould a person who has the experience but has picked up some bad habits along the way.”

Ang feels there’s no real disadvantage to hiring someone that has no paper qualifications but is oozing with experience.

“At most, probably a possible lack of what’s new in the market, or what’s happening on a global scale or what new technology is out there that can better equip him or her in the function.

“This is only an assumption as people that are hands-on can still learn market trends and future technology if they read up and do research on their own. There is just no paper qualification – that’s all.”

Does it really matter?

According to an article on online investment site Investopedia, “Is It Better To Be Book Smart Or Street Smart,” its author, Tim Parker, points out that one does not need to have the relevant paper qualifications to be truly successful.

“Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, is widely regarded as one of the best businessmen of his day. He didn’t have a college degree and neither did Steve Wozniak, the other founder of Apple.

“Other successful businessmen without college degrees include Dell Computer founder Michael Dell, Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Virgin Brands founder Sir Richard Branson. People all over the world have found success without a college degree,” he writes.

But is that the rule or the exception, he then asks.

“Unemployment data shows that more than 8% of the population looking for a job (in the US) can’t find one.

However, for those with a bachelor’s degree, the unemployment rate is only 3.9%. The unemployment rate is 13% for people without a high school diploma.

“A college degree doesn’t guarantee success, but Bureau of Labour Statistics unemployment statistics show book smarts more than double your chances of finding a job.”

Of course, having an employee with both the relevant paper qualifications and practical experience would be the optimum choice, naturally.

“This would definitely be an ideal combination,” says Heera.

Ang says having both qualities would indeed be a plus point, adding however that having both relevant qualification and practical experience does not make one a best employee.

“It’s a person’s character, values and attitude that makes him or her a good employee. Qualifications and experience are all things that can be accumulated as long as one has the right attitude and desire.”


Invest earlier, get real estate-tic

Income earners in their 20s are fast making their presence felt in the property market. But getting there takes discipline.

HE acquires one property a year. He has been doing this for the past five years. Today, at the age of 38, his one regret is that he didn’t start earlier, when he was in his 20s.

Entrepreneur JS dishes out advice that he himself takes seriously. He tells young people all the time that they should invest in property from a young age, or the money that could have gone into real estate would be frittered away.

He believes that investment in property delivers the best returns. Apart from property, where else can young investors leverage on a 10% investment for a stable future gain? Any other transaction, whether in silver or shares, requires payment in full.

As real estate is based on supply and demand, one has greater control over it compared to paper investments like unit trusts and shares.

JS believes that if a person is determined to own a piece of property, he can do so when he is in his 20s.

His formula is simple: the minute you start working, you should start saving for a property.

Put aside a sum of 20% of your salary every month for two years towards a property. But the challenge will be to live within the balance 80%, especially if it means giving up Starbucks, clubbing, smoking and shopping.

If your take-home income after several years of working is RM4,000 and you put aside RM800 a month, by the end of 24 months, you would have saved about RM20,000.

And that is good enough for a 10% down payment for your first foray into the property market, probably a small apartment in the fringe of the city.

While the cheapest high rise properties in inner Petaling Jaya and Kuala Lumpur are in the region of RM400,000 to RM500,000, it is still possible to buy properties close to RM200,000 in outer KL areas like Puchong, Sentul, Cheras, Seri Kembangan, Serdang, Cyberjaya, Bangi, and in Shah Alam.

With Klang Valley’s population at 7.2 million and expected to rise to 10 million in another seven years, there will be a constant demand for living quarters.

If you are renting out your property (the average yield is about 5%) you will probably have to top up the rental you collect on your property to cover your loan repayment.

As a simple ballpark, the loan repayment would be estimated at RM1,200 a month based on 20-year loan for a RM200,000 loan.

But after a year or two, you can increase the rental and eventually your property will be self-financing.

One father who is completely sold on getting his kids to start young is Ten. He got his daughter, 29, and son, 25, to fork out RM13,500 each to purchase their respective three-bedroom apartments in Puchong for RM135,000 more than a year ago.

His daughter sold her unit a year after the purchase for RM170,000. After the real property gains tax and other costs, she was able to make a net profit of RM25,000. The capital appreciation on her apartment was about 20%, not including her rental income that year.

With that, she now has close to RM40,000 (seed money plus profit) for her next – and higher value – property. In fact, the senior manager of a multi-national is now eyeing a RM600,000 condominium in Petaling Jaya and Ten is fully supportive of her next purchase (only a 10% downpayment is needed for the first two existing loans).

A great believer in property investment, Ten, a retiree, is all smiles these days as his total property investment which was valued at RM3mil in 2010 has since more than doubled. His own house, a double-storey corner lot in Section 17, which he bought for RM63,000 in 1978 after working for five years, is now worth about RM1.5mil.

The phenomenal increase in property prices in the past few years, shares the CEO of a realty firm, is unprecedented. He attributes it mainly to a prevailing low housing loan interest rate of about 4.1%, which is barely above the 4% government housing loan rate.

According to a report by Oriental Realty and Zeppelin Real Estate Analysis Ltd, the residential property market in Malaysia has seen an overall price appreciation of 78% from the first quarter of 2000 to the third quarter of 2011.

While the CEO thinks that buying a property or two for a young adult is a good form of forced savings, he cautions that one must buy within one’s means and be careful with one’s cash flow.

“What if you lose you job tomorrow? Don’t overstretch. As the Chinese saying goes, don’t try to cover 10 woks with nine covers,” says the real estate man who has been in the business for more than 30 years.

A tip he shares for “good deals” is to look out for “leftover” property – often balance or unsold units developers want to clear cheaply or bumiputra units – which are not advertised but handled by the bigger real estate agents. Usually, there will be innovative schemes to make the units affordable. New launches are a good place to start too.

Sometimes, it’s also a fine balance between patience and research and paralysis by analysis.

Leigh, 35, was on the lookout for a property to buy when he was in his 20s. But every time he found something in a new development that he liked, his real estate businessman father would pooh pooh it.

“The first property I looked at was a studio apartment going for RM90,000. My dad was not keen as it was a new area. Today, it’s worth RM250,000.”

On his fourth attempt in 2009, he managed to buy a condominium unit still under construction in Subang at a good price from someone who had an overseas posting. He sold it two years later at RM600,000 and pocketed more than RM200,000.

When Leigh bought his current home in Mont Kiara, he took his time and studied the area, went to the ground and spoke to owners instead of researching only via online portals.

“Most of the owners were asking for RM580,000 to RM620,000. So I told real estate agents that if there were any units going for below RM550,000, please alert me,” says Leigh who joined his father’s realty firm four years ago.

After three months, he got his break when a Singaporean owner wanted to sell his unit and Leigh paid RM530,000 for it!

His advice to young investors: do your homework. Study the master plan; look into the background of the developer, quality and design of the product. Be clear on what you want: are you looking for capital appreciation or rental income? If you need the rental income to cover the bulk of your monthly housing loan, you would choose the latter.

For an investment of RM20,000 plus a housing loan, your return after three years upon completion of the property could be more than two fold.

And the key to your first property – based completely on your own finances – is to save for it.

When it comes to saving, don’t worry about the amount, worry about the habit. Says a financial coach, if you’re an employee and you’re not earning the income you need to make that first property, look at how you can add value to your boss to get that increment. If there’s a will, there’s a property waiting….

Common Sen-se by LEANNE GOH

Note: A recent chat with a 29-year-old colleague was enlightening. She has already sold one property, bought the one she’s living in and has invested in another. Among 10 of her friends, four have already bought property. 

Related posts:
Make the right money moves: investing in a property is still best 
Rising tides of currencies globally cause inflation, 
Chance to invest in distressed assets

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Currency Wars: the Unloved Dollar Standard from Bretton Woods to the Rise of China

A yen for the unloved dollar standard

Tan Sri Andrew Sheng gives analyses the populist and expert views of how the yen measures against the “unloved US dollar standard”.

TRAVELLING around the South-East Asian region last week, the mood was all about currency fluctuation and impact on markets.

Things do look different when the Thai stock market daily turnover touches US$2bil and is higher than that of Singapore. But the headline that Thai growth slowed quarter-on-quarter but still grew 5.3% year-on-year gave rise to fears that export-driven economies in the region are beginning to slow.

The guru on the dollar relationship with the East Asian currencies has to be Stanford Professor Ronald I. McKinnon. McKinnon made his name with his first book, Money and Capital in Economic Development (1973), where he took forward the pioneering work of his Stanford colleague, Edward S. Shaw on the phenomenom of “financial repression” the use of negative real interest rates as a tax to finance development. His second book, The Order of Economic Liberalization: Financial Control in the Transition to a Market Economy (1993), was an influential textbook on how to get the sequencing of financial and trade reform right.

McKinnon's second area of expertise is the international currency order, explaining the macro-economics of the US dollar and its relationship with other currencies, particularly the yen and other East Asian currencies. The trouble was that his analysis did not “jive” with the populist policy view that “revaluing the other currency” would reduce the US trade deficit.

This began with the concern in the 1970s that the US-Japan trade imbalance was due to the cheap yen relative to the dollar. The Plaza Accord in 1985 was the political agreement to strengthen the yen and depreciate the dollar. From 1985 to 1990, the yen appreciated from 240 yen to 120 yen per dollar, followed by a huge bubble and two lost decades of growth.

In his important new book, McKinnon explains some uncomfortable truths with regard to what he called The Unloved Dollar Standard: From Bretton Woods to the Rise of China, Oxford University Press. The dollar standard is unloved because of what one US Treasury Secretary told his foreign critics of US exchange rate policy “our dollar, your problem”.

McKinnon argues that US monetary policy has been highly insular, despite globalisation making such insularity obsolete. He thinks that three macroeconomic fallacies were responsible the Phillips Curve Fallacy; the Efficient Market Fallacy and the Exchange Rate and Trade Balance Fallacy. In the 1960s, the US belief in the Phillips Curve that higher inflation generated lower unemployment resulted in the US pushing the Europeans and the Japanese to appreciate their currencies. When they refused, Nixon broke the link with gold in 1971.

In the Greenspan era (1987-2008), there was a strong belief in Efficient Markets, which encouraged global foreign exchange liberalisation, despite high volatility. But the most enduring fallacy is the belief that the exchange rate's role is to correct trade imbalance, hence the Japan bashing in the 1980s and the China bashing in the 21st century in order to push for their exchange rates to appreciate in order to reduce the US trade deficit.

McKinnon considers the third fallacy as the most pernicious conceptual barrier to a more internationalist and stable US monetary policy. Chapter 7, which is written by his student Helen Qiao, gives a robust argument why the third fallacy is wrong. She argues that while a depreciation of an insular economy with no net foreign liability may result in improved trade balance, it is not clear whether the depreciation of the dollar with a large net global liability is to the benefit of the United States.

In the case of Japan, a rising yen since the 1970s did not “cure” the Japanese trade surplus with the US. Between 2005 to 2007, when the yuan appreciated, the Sino-US trade surplus doubled. Qiao worries that China could follow Japan's steps into deflation and even a zero-interest rate liquidity trap if the yuan continues to appreciate.

The central thesis of this book is that the US should recognise that the dollar standard is actually a global standard, with many privileges and responsibilities. Depreciating the dollar is not to the US advantage, because it would only lead to future inflation. Instead, the US should concentrate on improving its competitiveness and manufacturing prowess. This requires having positive real interest rates.

The logic of the McKinnon thesis is irrefutable, although his American colleagues may find the conclusions somewhat unpalatable. The logic is that whoever maintains the dominant currency standard must maintain strong self-discipline, because the benchmark standard cannot be on shifting sands. If the dollar is weak because the US economy is weak, then all other currencies will be volatile, because they float around an unsteady standard.

For small open economies that maintain large trade with the US, having dollar pegs require them to keep their economies flexible and they must maintain fiscal and monetary discipline. This is the experience of the Hong Kong dollar peg.

Flexible exchange rates have not resulted in countries adjusting their overall competitiveness. What happened instead is that flexible exchange rates often allow governments to run “soft budget constraints” and try to depreciate their way out of the lack of competitiveness.

It is the refusal to make structural reforms that cause overall competitiveness to decline and these economies then go into a vicious circle of over-reliance on the exchange rate to keep the economy afloat. This is not sustainable, since if everyone tries to devalue their way out of trouble, rather than making structural adjustments, then the world will enter into a collective deflation.

The solution to this requires the US and China to work cooperatively at the monetary and exchange rate levels. This makes a lot of sense, which is why perhaps presidents Barack Obama and Xi Jinping are meeting soon to achieve rapport.

Anyone who wants to understand currency wars must read this book. It is an honest and frank appraisal of how we need common sense to get out of the current fragile state of global currency arrangements.

Tan Sri Andrew Sheng is president of the Fung Global Institute.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Wishing all a blessed Wesak…

All our dreams can come true, if you have the courage to change and pursue them
- Walt Disney

Today marks three important events in Siddhartha Gautama’s life – his birth, enlightenment and death. Two thousand years after his parinirvana, Gautama’s teachings still thrives because in one’s darkest hours and bleakest moments, his wisdom gives hopes, strength and joy to the sorrowful heart and tormented soul. Such is the greatness of this prince we called Buddha or the Enlightened One. Have a blessed Wesak.

May 24, 2013 by Ipohgal

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Penang Sungai Nibong Express Bus Terminal management takeover postponed

Operator stopped paying rent as the council failed implementing an e-ticketing system

Disquiet in the air: A confrontation between Sungai Nibong Express Bus Terminal management staff and MPPP enforcement personnel at the main gate of the terminal in Sungai Nibong, Penang.
EFFORTS by the Penang Muni-cipal Council (MPPP) to take over the management of the Sungai Nibong Express Bus Ter-minal were halted following a three-hour confrontation with the current operator.

The council postponed its action to take vacant possession of the terminal following the resistance, and called off some 50 council enforcement personnel at the scene.

Several enforcement personnel had arrived there as early as 7.30am Tuesday.

Their arrival was anticipated by the operator Aspirasi Utara Engi-neering (AUE) and a few of its staff members and representatives confronted the MPPP personnel.

Their exchange heated up from around 8.30am, and the group steadily grew to about 50 MPPP enforcement personnel and 20 people from AUE about three hours later.

MPPP Valuation Department deputy director Mohamed Idrus Saleh then briefed the enforcement team that their operation was being postponed.

In a written statement issued to reporters at the scene, the council said it had terminated the appointment of AUE as the operator of the terminal effective June 30, 2012.

It also said that AUE had on July 24, 2012, obtained an ex-parte order from the High Court to pro- hibit MPPP from taking any enforcement action concerning the bus terminal.

“The High Court then on Dec 28, 2012, set aside the ex-parte order after dismissing AUE’s inter-parte application for an injunction.

“The court also dismissed AUE’s application (pending its appeal) for an Erinford injunction on the same day, and dismissed its application for stay of execution on Feb 22 this year,” read the statement.

It also stated that MPPP, as the local authority and owner of the bus terminal, wanted to take over the management of the terminal in the interests of the public and users.

AUE legal advisor Mohd Noor Sirajajudeen Mohd Abdul Kader said they resisted the operation by MPPP because the personnel had come without a court order.

“They just came and pasted the notice to take over the management on the window of our office here on Monday morning,” he said.

He added that MPPP’s action was not in accordance with the law.

Company director Mohd Faisal Sirashahabudeen Mohd Abdul Kader said MPPP’s attempt to take over the management and the termination notice were still subject matters in court.

“The issue is still in court and MPPP’s action is deemed a disrup-tion to the administration of justice and contempt of court,” Mohd Faisal said.

He then ordered the council personnel to leave the terminal within 45 minutes.

He said the company had been appointed by MPPP to be the operator since 2010 but stopped paying the monthly rental of RM22,500 in January 2012 as the council had failed to implement an e-ticketing system.

The terminal was built by the MPPP in 2004 and has 41 ticket counters, five stalls, a restaurant, a bakery, 10 parking spaces for buses and 12 route platforms



Penang Sungai Nibong Bus Terminal

Sungai Nibong Bus Terminal is the centralised long distance express bus terminal on Penang Island. It was opened in May 2005, before that long distance express bus runs from Komtar, Georgetown. Though most express bus companies have relocated their operation to Sungai Nibong bus terminal, even until today, there are still some express bus companies departing from Komtar, Georgetown. For these groups of buses, they depart from Komtar then go to Sungai Nibong to pick up another group of passengers before leaving the island for the destinations. This is especially convenient for tourist who usually spends time and stays hotel in Georgetown area.

Sungai Nibong bus terminal is located about mid-way between northern and southern end of Penang Island. It is near the famous Penang bridge about 20 minutes to the city centre. Many city bus coaches arrive and depart from this terminal. Please check MyRapid for Penang city bus network details.

How do get to Sungai Nibong Bus Terminal?

The best way to get to Sungai Nibong Bus Terminal are by taxis and city buses.

Taxi fare from Georgetown area to Sungai Nibong Bus Terminal is around RM 25-35, whereas the travelling time is about 15 minutes.

Bus fare is RM 2 from from Georgetown area to Sungai Nibong Bus Terminal, whereas the travelling time is about 20 minutes. Do prepare yourself earlier if you are rushing for bus, in case of heavy traffic and longer waiting time for the bus.

How do get to city, Georgetown, from Sungai Nibong Bus Terminal?

The best way to get to city from Sungai Nibong Bus Terminal are by taxis and city buses.

Taxi stand is just in front of the Sungai Nibong Bus Terminal.

As for city bus, you can easily find the it from the two bus stops at the Sungai Nibong Bus Terminal. One is located at the front entrance of the terminal (along Jalan Sultan Azlan Shah) and the other one is located at the side entrance of the terminal (along Jalan Sungai Dua, at the opposite site of the terminal for town direction).

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Racist Malay groups boycott Chinese businesses will be self-defeating

 The call by pro-Umno bloggers and Muslim groups for a boycott of Chinese businesses is racist and will harm the country’s economic growth, according to businessmen from the community - The Malaysian Insider

PETALING JAYA: Boycotting products made by Malaysians, regardless of their race, is self-defeating, said a local business group.

Small and Medium Industries Association president Teh Kee Sin said the workforce of these companies are made up of all races and so are their shareholders.

If Malaysians started boycotting these products, it would also affect their export potential and both local businesses and consumers would lose, he said.

“Boycott doesn’t make sense as it would hamper the chances for Malaysian businesses to compete at a global level.

“The current business market is very competitive thus local businesses should complement each other to make our products more competitive,” he said when contacted yesterday.

Teh was commenting on calls by certain non-governmental organisations for the Malays to boycott Chinese traders and their products.

Prior to that there was a campaign in social media forum urging the Chinese to boycott certain products produced by a Malay company.

Teh said that the biggest losers as a result of such boycott were not just the consumers and the producers, but also the workers of the companies due to the spill-over effect.

The chain reaction from such boycott would also affect the suppliers, distributers, traders and shopkeepers.

Teh explained local businesses should instead prepare themselves for the Asean Economic Community initiative.

“The initiative presents a lot of opportunities provided we are ready.

“If we are not ready and squabble among ourselves, then we stand to lose,” he said.

He said one of the benefits of the AEC was less red-tape in starting businesses overseas.

“For example, one can set up a company in Malaysia and run a business in Thailand.

“In short less bureaucratic procedures in doing business,” he said adding that the competitiveness level would surely increase.

Teh urged groups calling for boycotts to cease immediately as it would only lead to huge losses for the nation.

“We should focus on working together rather than against each other,” he said.


Mustapa against call to boycott products of Chinese firms


PETALING JAYA: International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed sa

“I can understand why some of my Malay friends have reacted in such a manner. However, as the dust is settling down and as we lead our normal lives once again, I am confident that the spirit of 1Malaysia will return,” he said through SMS yesterday.

He was commenting on reports that some groups had called for Malay consumers to boycott products by certain Chinese companies, which they alleged had funded Pakatan Rakyat’s campaign during the general election.

The products involved in the call for boycott include several brands of cooking oil, tonic drink, food outlets and bread.

It appears to be a retaliation against an earlier boycott called by Chinese groups against a brand of wheat flour and bread produced by a Malay company.

Muslim Wholesalers and Retailers Association (Mawar) president Amanullah Mohd Maideen said the boycott would be a double-edged sword and advised its 700 members to stay clear of politics.

“If it continues, the affected businesses will lose customers, but the groups which boycott them will also lose public support,” said Amanul-lah.

Domestic Trade, Co-operatives and Consumerism Minister Datuk Hasan Malek said the ministry also did not approve of the call to boycott Malaysian Chinese shops and companies.

Selangor Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry president P. Muguntha said the call to boycott the products was pointless.

“Malaysian consumers are more intelligent than that. I don’t think anyone will listen to this call for boycott,” he said.

Malaysian Institute of Economic Research (MIER) executive director Dr Zakariah Abdul Rashid said it is counterproductive to segregate the market based on political affiliation.

Commnent: Unless steps were taken to strongly “discourage” the instigators of the boycott, investors still wary over the “politicisation of businesses” may choose to explore opportunities elsewhere and this would affect Malaysia’s foreign direct investment (FDI)
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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Mutual love and marry, so what?

Forty-year-old Riduan Masmud who allegedly had sex with a 13-year-old girl,
 KOTA KINABALU: He allegedly had sex with a 13-year-old girl and saw no wrong in it.

Riduan Masmud, the 40-year-old who shocked the nation after being charged with raping the minor and later declared that he had married her in the midst of the case, has opened up for the first time on why he decided to take the girl as his second wife.

The restaurant manager defended his action, saying it was a case of suka sama suka (mutual consent), adding that it was acceptable under Syariah law.

It could not be ascertained whether the girl met Riduan while she was at school or whether she had been working for him. She is from a very poor family.

As his rape case came up for mention at a Sessions Court yesterday, Riduan told reporters that he had known the girl for about six months and felt he had the right (to marry an underage girl).

“There are many cases of men marrying underage girls. I do not see why my case should be any different,“ said the father of four children, aged between two and 17. He declined to say if any of them is a girl.

Riduan was speaking to reporters outside the courtroom after Sessions Court Judge Ummu Khatom Abd Samad set July 1 to 4 to hear the case.

Judge Ummu Khatom gave the Attorney-General's Chambers until June 6 to make a decision on whether to proceed with the case.

Riduan was charged on Feb 28 with raping the girl inside a car parked by the roadside in Inanam near here at 10am on Feb 18.

On May 7, DPP Ahmad Nazmeen Zulkifli told the court he had no objection for the case to be withdrawn after the girl withdrew the rape report against the man April 18.

It is understood that it was the girl's aunt who lodged the police report after she found out about the “affair”.

The courtroom was packed yesterday with concerned groups turning up in full force. Many women interest groups and NGOs turned up for the hearing yesterday, including Befrienders Kota Kinabalu president Datuk Seri Siti Rubiah Abdul Samad, the wife of Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman.

All eyes were on the girl who appeared briefly in court. She has a childlike face, wore some make up, and tied up her long hair in a pony tail. Thin and looking under-developed, she was dressed in a T-shirt and jeans.

Riduan said he would let his child-wife finish her studies first and “maybe later take up a cosmetic course with my first wife”, adding that she was a make-up artist.

His wife also told the press that she had accepted the teenager to be her husband's second wife and promised to guide her through her studies.

However, Riduan stopped talking and moved away from the media when he was signalled by a lawyer not to talk.

The girl's father, who was also at the court, said he accepted his daughter's marriage to Riduan as they liked each other.

“It is best for her that they get married. What else can I do?” he added.

As the case came up for mention yesterday, DPP Chaw Siang Kong told the court that he needed time to review the case as it involved public interest.

Lawyers Datuk Mariati Robert and Mary Lee held watching briefs for Sabah Law Association and the Sabah Women Action Resource Group respectively.

Counsel Loretto J. Padua informed the court that the Syariah marriage certificates had been presented to the investigating officer and confirmed that the two were now married.

The court ordered that the man's RM8,000 bail be extended till June 6.


Monday, May 20, 2013

Right, bring back English schools would be a smart move for Malaysians

Bring back English schools

It is unhealthy for race relations when the student population in Chinese schools is 99.9% Chinese, Tamil schools is 100% Indian and national schools, dubbed Malay schools, is 80% to 90% Malay.

SERIOUSLY, the government should allow the use of English as a medium of instruction in schools again. If there are Chinese and Tamil primary schools alongside national schools, there is no reason for Malaysians not to have other options.

At present, the other option for better English proficiency is in private schools, which allocate more time for the teaching of English despite following the national school syllabus. However, it is an expensive option that only a few can afford.

Why should the right of Malaysians to study in English-medium schools be enjoyed only by those who can afford to study at international schools?

There are many good reasons for English-medium schools to be reintroduced, chief of which must surely be the language's neutral status whereby no one can claim ownership to it.

Older Malaysians who went to English-medium schools can testify that it was in such an environment that they made many friends of all ethnic backgrounds.

The English schools, as they were popularly referred to, were neutral grounds and were real cultural melting pots.

Friendship cultivated at primary school level among Malaysians of different races and religions would always be strong and deep. Our current primary school system basically does not provide such opportunities for our young ones to mix.

We do get to mix with one another later on in life, but working relationships that are untested or superficial are not true friendships.

Older Malaysians can narrate long stories of how they used to sleep over at their friends' homes, eating with their friends' families and parents of their friends treating them like their own children. These friendships continued even after they went to university, entered working life, and got married.

These are the kinds of friends who would be part of the wedding entourage, either on the side of the bride or bridegroom.

I am now 52 years old. I believe I was among the last batch of Malaysians who had the privilege of being taught in English.

While some may dismiss what I have said as elitist or an attempt to glorify English at the expense of the national language, let me set the record straight. In Form 6, I opted to study Malay Literature and sat for the exam in Upper Six, which was then called Higher School Certificate and is the equivalent of the STPM today. It was also the entrance exam into local universities. I also studied Islamic History.

During my first year at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, I also chose Malay Letters as one of my three majors. At UKM, it is also compulsory to pass the Islamic Civilisation course, which was a basic course on Islam. I have also amassed a huge collection of books on Islam in my private library, and the works of Malay artists like Yusuf Ghani and Ismail Latiff continue to inspire me.

I dare say many of our politicians and leaders of so-called non-governmental organisations, who loudly make statements with racial overtones, do not even have such credentials.

But the point I am making is that more and more Chinese parents are sending their children to Chinese primary schools because they believe the standard of teaching and discipline in these schools is better. For the same reason, the number of Malay students at such schools has also increased.

But most Malay parents send their children to national schools where they form the bulk of the student population. Over the years, the national schools have been seen by many Chinese as becoming more religious in nature.

It's a Catch 22 situation. If the Chinese are shunning national schools, then the students in these schools would be predominantly Malay.

The Federal Constitution guarantees the position of Chinese and Tamil schools. No politician, whether in Barisan Nasional or Pakatan Rakyat, would dare to make any statement against these vernacular schools.

But the reality is that it is unhealthy when the student population in Chinese schools is 99.9% Chinese, Tamil schools is 100% Indian and national schools, dubbed Malay schools, is 80% to 90% Malay!

It is meaningless to talk about 1Malaysia when our children have no friends of other races in their formative years! Many Malaysians in their 30s and 40s now are already in this situation.

Just ask Malaysians at random how many real friends of other races, not colleagues, customers or bosses, they have. Be honest.

Is it any wonder then that the Malays are incredulous when they see Chinese Malaysians who can't speak Bahasa Malaysia well or even refuse to speak Bahasa among themselves?

The Chinese, on the other hand, still wonder why some Malay quarters continue to ask what else the Chinese want when they find that some policies are working against them and make them feel discriminated.

This is happening because race relations have taken a beating. The various races are not talking or trying to understand one another. Each side only sees its own viewpoint without appreciating that in a complex and plural society like ours, no one group can have its way completely.

We have churned out bigots in our schools. It also doesn't help that the various races are only watching channels in their own languages on Astro. The only time they probably watch the same channel is when an English Premier League football match is on.

If we are serious about restoring the standard of English in schools and improving race relations in this country, bring back the English-medium schools. Let Malaysians choose.

On the Beat by WONG CHUN WAI

Yes, bring back English schools

I AGREE with Wong Chun Wai’s views as expressed in his On The Beat column to “Bring back English schools”.

It is timely for our Prime Minister and his new Cabinet to seriously consider bringing back English-medium schools to help foster racial unity among Malaysians.

Racial unity begins in the most formative years of our children, which is the time when they are in primary and secondary schools.

This is the time when they can easily relate to one another as true friends without even thinking of race, religion or social background.

I am 51 years old and a practising Buddhist. I was educated in a mission school, the St Xavier’s Institution in Penang, of which I am very proud of until today.

During our formative years, we had many close friends of all races. We played games together with the Malays and Indians after school, and usually ended up enjoying their families’ home-cooked food and hospitality.

It was during such moments that we not only appreciated the spicy curry dishes, but we also learned about their cultures.

These fond memories and happy moments with classmates like Mohd Farid, Mohd Salmi, Razak, Ismail Manaf, Chandran, Ravi, Richard Clarence and many others are still vivid in my mind.

But my own children, who are now in their teens, are not able to share similar moments.

Another good reason to bring back English-medium schools must surely be to improve our command of the language, both written and oral.

Many of our local university graduates have a very poor command of the language.

As a human resource practitioner for more than 15 years, I have met many of these fresh graduates who cannot speak properly, or even complete a conversation in English during interviews.

They prefer to speak either in Bahasa Malaysia or Mandarin because they did not grow up in an environment where they could use English more frequently.

It appears to me that those who go to government schools are greatly disadvantaged in this respect when compared to their peers who go to private or international schools.

In my time, we have no choice but to speak in English, as that was our common language in school.

Bringing these schools back will also give us a global competitive edge and help the nation in its economic transformation programme.


English-medium schools seen as right move 

The Penang Free School is the first English School in Malaysia that was started in 1816 (It's still around!). As the population grows, more schools were built ranging from the Straits Settlement of Penang, Perak, Selangor, Malacca and Singapore. This has benefitted the urban people as they received education from these English schools.

PETALING JAYA: Bringing back English-medium schools as an option would be a smart move, say many groups.

Sarawak Teachers Union president William Ghani Bina said English is a global language.

“If we want our children to be global citizens, there are no two ways about it,” said Bina when commenting on The Star executive director and group chief editor Datuk Seri Wong Chun Wai's On the Beat column on bringing back English-medium schools.

In his column yesterday, Wong said that the Government should allow the use of English as a medium of instruction in schools again.

Wong added that if there are Chinese and Tamil primary schools alongside national schools, there is no reason for Malaysians not to have other options.

At present, he said the other option for better English proficiency is in private schools, which allocate more time for the teaching of English despite following the national school syllabus.

Parent Action Group for Education (PAGE) Malaysia chairman Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim said English is the language of knowledge.

“As our students are not being taught in English, what we see is a loss of opportunity to acquire knowledge,” she said.

Microsoft Malaysia Legal and Corporate Affairs director Jasmine Belum said English is the language of business and technology.

“We want to make sure that Malaysians are proficient so that they are not at a competitive disadvantage,” she added.

Malaysian English Language Teaching Association (Melta) president Dr Ganakumaran Subramaniam agreed, saying that English-medium schools does not mean converting to a non-Malaysian curriculum.

“We also need to remember that if English is the medium only at international schools, then we are polarising our students further.

“There needs to be equal opportunity,” he added.

StarEducate columnist Mallika Vasugi said the neutrality of the English language also acts as a binding agent.
“What we see now in secondary schools is that different races tend to remain separate, based on their language.

“But what we also see is that those who mix around the most are the ones who speak English,” said Mallika who is also an English language teacher.


Sunday, May 19, 2013

My home, my school

More and more Malaysian parents are turning towards homeschooling today for various reasons. 

IF you ask Jeremy Lee* how much he likes school, chances are you'll get a rather frank reply.

“I don't like school. I get very restless, and then the teacher will make me stand in the corner and pull my ears,” he says.

Until three years ago, Jeremy, 11, was in a public school. And he had trouble fitting in.

“We put him in a public school for Year One and Two. From the start, it was clear he had difficulty adapting. We kept getting complaints from teachers that he could not concentrate, he couldn't stay in his seat long, he asked too many questions and was too opinionated.

“Soon, he was labelled as a difficult student and constantly punished,” his mother Sharon Lee*, 38, explains.

Jeremy adds that he had very few friends in school. “If you want to be friends with the good students, you have to be very, very good yourself. The other students are bullies. You have to pay them RM20 to be their friend,” he says.

Sharon says Jeremy had always been a bubbly and active child, but his personality began to change and his grades suffered. “He was so depressed and miserable, it was frightening. Going to school was like torture for him. He had tonnes of homework, but it was clear he wasn't learning anything. It was merely a process of doing lots of homework, and sitting for test after test.”

Jeremy's father Simon Lee* adds: “Initially, we thought maybe it's because we had been too easy on him, and so if we pushed him a little more, he would be able to do better. So we pushed him and we caned him ... but nothing worked.

“One day in the middle of all the caning, he just cried back You can cane me until I die, I still won't learn this!' That was when we knew it just wasn't working.”

Simon and Sharon began to explore other options, including homeschooling

“We read up, attended workshops ... we even visited families who practised homeschooling. After about a year of researching and weighing this option, we decided to give it a try,” Sharon says.

Dr Chiam: ‘Parents need to make sure that the (homeschooled) child is exposed to other environments.’ Dr Chiam: ‘Parents need to make sure that the (homeschooled) child is exposed to other environments.’
 They took Jeremy out of the school system when he was nine, and Sharon started teaching him at home. Today, Jeremy has been homeschooled for three years, and has his nine-year-old brother Matthew* for a classmate.

“I think homeschooling has helped him a lot. He likes to find things out on his own, rather than being force-fed information. He wasn't getting that opportunity in school. Back then, the system was forcing him with information, and expecting him to regurgitate it. He couldn't learn that way.

“Now he explores and learns at his own pace, and he's definitely doing much better. In fact, he's giving me so much more than what the programme books are covering. He reads up extra material on topics he's interested in and really enjoys it,” she explains.

Sharon applies a mix-and-match syllabus and keeps academic lessons to a maximum of three hours per day. The rest of the time, her children learn through activities or pleasure reading.

“I'm using a little bit of the AOP (Alpha Omega Publications a Christian-based syllabus from the United States) and Singapore mathematics. That's one advantage of homeschooling, I can pick and choose what curriculum I want to use.”

The Lees decided to homeschool Matthew for a very different reason.

“Matthew would have fitted perfectly into the public school system. He's intelligent and very obedient ... the perfect law-abiding citizen. If the teacher says No drinking water in class,' he won't drink water the whole day. If the teacher says No going to the toilet,' he will actually hold his bladder the whole time he's in school,” Simon says.

“We believe he would have been an above-average student in a public school, but we didn't want him to be a fearful child who didn't know how to express himself. So after a year in public school, we decided to take him out too.”

The Lees are not alone in homeschooling their children. They say many other families are also turning to homeschooling as an alternative education system.

There are essentially three variations of homeschooling:

> parents tutoring their children at home (like the Lees);

> a few families banding to teach their children together in a casual setting;

> centres which apply homeschooling methods and syllabus.

Over the last four months, Jamie Ong*, 45, has been sending her daughter Jolyn Ong*, 12, to a homeschooling centre near their home. Jolyn had spent the last five years in a public school.

“My husband and I want our children to experience the public school system, where they get to make friends from the different layers of society. We want them to experience that first,” she says.

“Our plan is for them to go to a regular school for five years, but we pull them out in Year Six. We don't really see the need for them to sit for the UPSR, where they're just drilled for the exam the whole year.”

Jolyn has two younger siblings in public schools. Jamie plans to take them out, too, after Year 5.
Why homeschooling?

“We want our children to have a better quality education. We've seen the public school syllabus and we're not comfortable with it. The education blueprint ... on paper it looks wonderful, but the reality is a different story altogether,” Jamie says.

“We also considered private schools, but the fees are too expensive. Schools we inquired at were charging around RM10,000 a year, or more. Currently, we're paying RM450 a month for Jolyn's school fees. It's a lot more affordable.”

Indeed, quality and cost seem to be two major factors why homeschooling centres are mushrooming nationwide.

Emily Wong*, a principal at one such centre in the Klang Valley, says there are over 60 students in her centre (between the ages of seven and 18), and she knows of at least 80 other similar centres in Malaysia.

“Students can come in at any time of the year; there is no intake period. They are given an entrance-assessment to see what grade they should start at, and then they learn at their own pace,” she says.

“Many people think homeschooling centres are only for children with problems, but it's not true. We have very bright students, and we have slow students too they can learn at their own pace.”

The centre applies the Cambridge IGCSE (International General Certificate of Secondary Education) curriculum, where students sit for the O-Levels when they are ready. This allows them to later pursue the A-Levels, if they choose to do so.

Junior students at the centre learn the basic subjects of English, Mathematics, Bahasa Malaysia, Social Studies (basic introduction to history and geography), and Science.

In Year Six, the sciences are split into Biology, Chemistry and Physics, and in Year Nine, students have the option of taking up additional subjects such as Business Studies, Accounts and Additional Mathematics. Classes are from 8.30am to 1.45pm, Monday to Friday.

Students have optional additional activities such as Mandarin classes, and the Emerging Leaders programme. They can also take up sports, such as badminton and basketball.

“The students learn through modules books and online. If they have problems understanding their lessons, we have supervisors who will assist them,” Wong says.

“Senior students even have live-conference classes. They can interact with the teacher and ask questions. These teachers are experienced ... some are even lecturers in the subjects they are teaching.”

She adds that students are required to set out daily goals what they set out to do for the day. When class ends, they recap to see if they've achieved those goals.

“When a student has completed a module, he sits for a test to see if he has really understood what he has learned. We hold very high standards for our students. Our passing mark is 80,” she says.

While homeschooling seems to have gained popularity in Malaysia in the last 10 to 20 years, it is not a new concept, says Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Council president Datuk Dr Chiam Heng Keng.

“If you go back to history, you will see that homeschooling has been long practised, where affluent families hired governesses to tutor their children at home. That is homeschooling. Later on, it was more popular for the rich to send their children to private boarding schools, so even Prince Charles (Prince of Wales) went to school.

“In the 1970s, homeschooling regained popularity, particularly in the United States, which is why many homeschooling syllabuses come from the US,” says Dr Chiam, formerly a Professor of Social Psychology at Universiti Malaya, and an authority in child development and early childhood education.

According to the US National Center for Education Statistics, there were about 1.5 million homeschoolers in 2007. Today, the US National Home Education Research Institute estimates that there are about two million homeschoolers in the country.

Across the Atlantic, the Home Education UK website ( estimates that “there are around 60,000 (approximately 0.6%) UK children of compulsory educational age who are currently being home-educated”.

In Malaysia, data is harder to come by, but industry insiders estimate that there are 3,000 to 5,000 Malaysian homeschoolers, the majority of whom keep a low profile as a primary school enrolment is compulsory by law in the country.

Under Section 29A of the Education Act 1996, parents who fail to enrol their children in school can be fined up to RM5,000, jailed up to six months, or both.

However, parents such as Simon believe that they are not breaking the law.

“I believe that this law was enacted to prevent child labour, to make sure children get an education. I may not be sending my children to school, but I'm giving them quality education,” he says.

Homeschooling, however, is not totally free from criticism. A main concern is whether homeschooled children have adequate social interaction with their peers.

“Socially, they may be impacted, but parents can make up for it by ensuring the children have opportunities to interact with other children their age (for example, through sports activities). Parents need to expose their children to other environments,” Dr Chiam says.

The Lees have done just that Jeremy and Matthew have competitive swimming lessons three times a week.

“They have friends from their swimming classes, and they are also very active in church. Jeremy and Matthew both play the drums for the children's service. Jeremy plays the guitar too,” Sharon says.

“We also belong to a support group of homeschooling families, and the children get to play with the other homeschoolers.”

Is homeschooling for everyone?

“It's a very personal decision, and there are many factors to consider. For Jeremy, school couldn't bring out the best in him, so we turned to homeschooling.

“People often ask us What's the end goal?', but we don't have fixed answers. We're just trying to do the best by our children. What we have in mind is for them to find out what they really enjoy doing. When they enjoy what they do, we believe they will excel,” Simon concludes.

*Names have been changed to respect the privacy of the individuals.


Online banking Trojans going after your money!

Online banking users in Malaysia need to be wary of sophisticated Trojans. 

IMAGINE a burglar hiding in your house and slowly cleaning out your valuables, bit by bit, without you even realising it.

According to security firm Symantec, that is the common modus operandi of banking Trojans today, which have grown so sophisticated that they are almost impossible to detect and very difficult to get rid of.

As its latest white paper the World of Financial Trojans reveals recently, malware (short for malicious software) attacked over 600 financial institutions worldwide last year.

With this growth, bank hold-ups or ATM robberies, the bank heist of choice in Malaysia these days will soon be a thing of the past.

The phenomenon is no doubt partly due to the growing trend of online banking. As banks move online to make their transactions fast, easy and convenient for customers, cyber criminals are also finding the digital route the faster, easier and more convenient mode for looting.

A big threat, the report highlights, is the rate at which banking Trojans are now developed: with state-of-the-art mechanisms to circumvent the more complex security systems and exploit their weaknesses.

“Trojans have indeed evolved and the attackers have become more specialised and sophisticated,” Symantec Corporation (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd director (systems engineering) Nigel Tan concurs.

Most worrying, is that while the United States and Japan remain top of their target list, the banking Trojans are increasingly targeting emerging economies with high Gross Domestic Products (GDP) in Asia and the Middle East like Malaysia.

Tan notes, “Malaysia is on the radar of these cyber criminals and our financial institutions experienced attacks out of the 600 reported globally last year. We are not in the top 10 of countries attacked but the threat for Malaysia is no less dangerous.”

Internet banking has grown steadily in Malaysia since it was first launched in June 2000, and is now offered by 29 banks in Malaysia. As of September last year, there were 12.8 million registered users, rising from 3.2 million in 2006 and eight million in 2009.

Predictably, cyber crimes in Malaysia have also increased, with some RM2.75bil losses recorded over five years, from 2005 to 2010, especially in the financial sector.

The fact that cyber criminals are starting to eye Malaysian banks means we need to be more vigilant and tighten up our cyber security, says Tan.

End-users need to keep abreast with what security measures there are. - Nigel Tan End-users need to keep abreast with what security measures there are. - Nigel Tan
“They need to look at the malware threats they are risked to and look for measures to mitigate them because any organisation will face these threats.”

However, one problem is that many of these institutions cannot keep up with the constantly evolving sophisticated attacks. Another is the gap in the ability of certain organisations to detect threats on customers systems, according to the report.

Tan concedes that the security of our financial institutions can be improved.

Another challenge is that the Trojans are beginning to work out which banks have less security, and going after them, he warns.

“There is a difference in quality between the different banks in terms of how much of the protection and fraud detection methods they put in place.

“And if you are a robber trying to decide between two houses one big house with full security or one smaller house with minimal security; it is secured with only a padlock and chain which one will you target?” Tan quizzes.

As the report sums it, banking Trojans now “enter through the backdoor, strike with clinical precision, and have evolved to a degree of sophistication that allows attackers to conduct high-value transactions while evading traditional fraud-detection measures.”

It is not that banks have been unaware of this growing threat. Since online banking was first introduced in 1994, cyber criminals have looked for various ways to attack them. By 2003, around 20 distinct banking Trojans have existed including simple keylogging Trojans and phishing, said the report.

In response, the banks bolstered their security and fraud detection capabilities.

The problem is, the cyber criminals started adapting, until most security systems and measures were neutralised.

Tan calls these cyber criminals a specialised hacking community that is no longer searching for notoriety and fame, but is in it for the money.

“Hackers now are less noisy than five years ago, but just because there is less noise right now, it does not mean that they are not there. Trojans now stay in your computer as quiet and as long as possible to steal as much money as possible,” Tan cautions.

As mentioned, an attack technique increasingly used is called “man-in-the-browser” which basically involves an application hooking into the browser and manipulating data before it is displayed.

Sophisticated thievery

The report explains, the users will not be able to detect any malicious activity but the Trojan will intercept their transactions and inject a form in the browser requesting sensitive information. Once the user submits the requested personal information, it steals the data for future thievery.

The more sophisticated Trojans can automatically execute transactions in the background, the report highlighted.

What makes it difficult to notice with the naked eye, says Tan, is that “the domain is legitimate and the security page is accurate. It is your computer that is affected, so it can steal your personal data or attack your bank.”

One thing that makes it difficult to clamp down on the attackers behind these Trojans is that it is not easy to pin the crime on them.

“Just writing malware is not an offence. It is hard to pin it as a crime, as long as the writer does not go out and sell it,” Tan points out.

It also does not help that they are reportedly organised underground groups who are not only experts at scripting and automating attacks, but are also knowledgeable about the sophisticated global financial industry and supported by a service industry of widely available malware.

It is akin to organised crime, he opines.

As the report puts it, “The financial fraud marketplace is also increasingly organised. It is a service industry where a wide variety of financial Trojans, webinjects, and distribution channels are bought and sold. Services being offered are dedicated to each aspect of a financial fraud campaign. These offerings will improve effectiveness of established techniques.”

The Top Three of the “Most Wanted” malware list in 2012 were the Zeus Trojan, also known as Zbot (+ Gameover), having compromised more than 400,000 computers worldwide; followed by Cridex at more than 250,000 computers compromised and Spyeye at more than 50,000.

Symantec also points to third-party remote webinjects which can circumvent security countermeasures, targeting a large number of financial companies “concurrently and intelligently” as posing a threat to financial companies.

According to the report, it is not only the main financial organisations like commercial banks that are high on the list of targets, but also organisations that perform online financial transactions such as automated clearing house payments systems and payroll systems.

It is thus crucial for the “good guys” to be alert all the time. They can't slip up and must put in place adequate security mechanisms and take strong measures to deter attackers from targeting these institutions, Tan urges.

Ultimately, users cannot leave the responsibility for security solely to the institutions, he warns.

“End-users need to raise their awareness of the threats out there as at the end of the day, the criminal will go through the end-user to attack the financial institutions.”

The best measure, he stresses, is not to get infected in the first place, so installing a good anti-malware programme on your personal devices is crucial.

As he puts it, anti-malware solutions can stop the malware, even if you were already infected, shares Tan.

“The scanning will pick it up and delete it off your system.”

Tan also emphasises ongoing education in security, as the threats are constantly evolving.

“There will not be a point where you can say this is it. This is what everyone should do. End-users need to keep abreast with what security measures there are.”

Good practice needs to be adopted such as reading the message box or running an anti-virus before downloading anything from a website.

“Most of the time when people get a pop-up to say that you have a malware, they just cancel it or click it close, or when it says your computer is infected, they just ignore it.”

Significantly, Tan says this is not a call to say that Internet banking is bad.

“Quite the contrary. Internet banking has a lot of benefits.

“But as we embrace any new technology or media, we just have to be aware of what the threats are on the Internet. As long as we take adequate protection, we will be safe.”