Wednesday, November 30, 2016

More senior govt officials held over corruption involving millions of ringgit


PETALING JAYA: Two senior government officials have been remanded in Malacca and Johor over separate cases of graft involving millions of ringgit.

In Malacca, a senior state government official with the title of Datuk was remanded for four days.

The 55-year-old was brought to the magistrate’s court by the Malaysian Anti- Corruption Commission (MACC) officers before the remand order was issued by assistant registrar Syarina Shaarani @ Tan.

On Monday in Putrajaya, MACC also detained and obtained a fiveday remand for a 70-year-old contractor with links to the Malacca senior official, who was believed to have solicited kickbacks in exchange of approval for projects.

It is learnt that MACC had frozen 22 bank accounts owned by the senior official and his family members amounting to RM11mil and 24 accounts belonging to the contractor totalling RM12mil.

MACC deputy chief commissioner (operations) Datuk Azam Baki confirmed the latest arrest, adding that the investigation would zoom in on the projects involving the two suspects.

In Johor Baru, an assistant officer with the Johor Land Office was remanded for six days by a magistrate’s court over abuse of power in a land acquisition case.

Clad in an MACC orange lock-up shirt, the suspect, in his 50s, was brought in under the escort of several officers at around 11am. The remand order was approved by assistant registrar Norhidayah Abdul Manaf.

MACC state director Datuk Simi Abdul Ghani told Bernama that it was in the process of identifying the source of the man’s assets.

The suspect, he said, was believed to have abused his position to obtain land through land offices in other districts as well as acquire these via ownership transfers.

Initial investigation revealed that the suspect owned several pieces of agricultural land as well as a few residential plots and luxury homes.

In another case, a director of a federal agency in Labuan was rearrested by MACC a day after his remand for a graft probe over a RM12mil food court in Tg Purun expired.

This time, the suspect, 59, was held over a probe into a building and infrastructure project worth RM48mil in Labuan.

Yesterday, Labuan magistrate’s court registrar Haizah Tamin granted a seven-day remand order against the director.

So far, MACC has recorded statements from 17 witnesses, including two civil servants and staff from several companies and contractors.

However, sources said no new arrests or seizure of assets and property had been made.

Graft investigators are still sifting through documents and other evidence to determine the number of contracts in the project since the director took over the helm about two years ago.

Two contractors, in their 40s, who were detained with the director earlier over the food court project, have been released.

The director is said to have asked for RM100,000 from the contractors as kickback for awarding them the project.

Confirming the re-arrest, Azam said the director was detained over an ongoing probe under Section 17(a) of the MACC Act for offering and receiving bribes.

So far, 12 bank accounts with cash amounting to RM889,000 belonging to the suspect and several family members have been frozen.

MACC is also tracing several million ringgit allegedly transferred out of the accounts shortly before the suspect was picked up.

Malacca Chief Minister Datuk Seri Idris Haron said MACC’s action against the state senior official reflected its government’s transparency.

There had been speculation that the officer was closely linked to certain key officials in the state, including himself, said Idris.

“Anyone can be seen to be close to me, but when it comes to corrupt practices, I will be the first to stand against it,” he said.

However, he urged people not to jump to any conclusion as the probe was still ongoing.

Senior officials held for alleged graft


PETALING JAYA: Two senior civil servants, one of whom is a Datuk, were detained by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) in Malacca and Johor for alleged corrupt practices.

Sources said the first suspect, aged 55, was picked up in downtown Malacca at about 2pm yesterday and is to be remanded today.

More than 20 bank accounts containing over RM10mil were frozen.

It is learnt that the suspect was soliciting kickbacks in exchange for approval of projects involving local authorities.

The sources said the MACC was currently determining the amount of money and number of projects involved.

More individuals are expected to be picked up to facilitate investigations.

In a separate case, an assistant land district officer was also picked up over alleged corruption.

The suspect, in his 50s, was detained when he appeared at the Johor MACC office to have his statement recorded at about 2pm yesterday.

Sources said the suspect was said to have misused his position to obtain land, including alleged illicit transfer of land ownership.

The case is being investigated under Section 23 of the MACC Act 2009.

Initial investigations showed the suspect owned several plots of agricultural land covering 6.77ha.

In addition, he is said to have acquired a 27.51ha piece of jointly-developed land, residential land and a high-cost luxury unit in seve­ral districts in Johor.

Johor MACC director Datuk Simi Abdul Ghani confirmed the arrest.

He said the suspect would be brought to the court for a remand order to detain him further as part of the probe.

Earlier this month, the MACC arrested two senior office bearers of two government-linked companies over suspected abuse of power and corruption.

Cash and other assets worth millions were seized and bank accounts frozen.

Last week, a federal agency director and two contractors were also detained.

The contractors had been released but the director was re-arrested to assist in a money-laundering probe.

By Simon Khoo The Star/Asian News Network

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Monday, November 28, 2016

What Trump means for Asian investors?


In the lead-up to January 20 when Donald Trump becomes US president, Asians are guessing about the outlook for their savings.

Trump is particularly difficult to read because he made so many wild statements on the campaign trail. Everyone accepts that campaigning politicians promise heaven and deliver mostly hell, but when they win elections, most become much more sober. So far, it looks like Trump’s policy will follow his campaign threats.

The Trump presidency will be bi-polar – either highly successful if he reboots American dynamism, or one that may bankrupt the country trying, including getting involved in another war.
His rise to power has been accompanied by wild swings in investor mood as markets yo-yo from hesitation to rally, with the Dow currently peaking.

So far, Trump family members appear to have more clout than was the case with any previous , with perhaps the exception of President Bill Clinton.

Disappointingly, the favourite to be Trump’s treasury secretary is ex-Goldman Sachs banker Steven Mnuchin, which means Wall Street would have another insider running the status quo. It remains to be seen whether he can simultaneously deliver the promised spending on infrastructure, tax cuts for the rich and containment of effects of a stronger dollar.

All signs are that the dollar will strengthen, bringing echoes of the famous phrase, “my dollar, your problem”. In its latest health check on the US economy, the International Monetary Fund reported in June that “the current level of the US dollar is assessed to be overvalued by 10-20 per cent and the current account deficit is around 1.5-2 per cent larger than the level implied by medium term fundamentals and desirable policies”. The IMF thinks that the risk of the dollar surging in value is high, and estimates a 10 per cent appreciation would reduce American GDP by 0.5 per cent in the first year and 0.5-0.8 per cent in the second year.

Trump is likely to be highly expansionary in his first year because the Republicans, having control of the Congress, Senate and the White House, must revive growth and jobs to ensure voters give them a second term. Note carefully that Trump’s election promises of stopping immigration, scrapping the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, imposing sanctions on China and cancelling the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) are all inflationary in nature.

This is why if the Fed does not raise interest rates in December this year, it may be under pressure next year not to take any action to slow a Trump economic recovery. The Fed’s independence will be called into question, since Trump’s expansionary policy will put pressure on his budget deficit and national debt, already running at 3 per cent and 76 per cent of GDP respectively. A 1-per-cent increase in nominal interest rates would add roughly 0.7 per cent to the fiscal deficit, making it unsustainable in the long run.

Those who think that recovery in US growth would be good for trade are likely to be disappointed. So far, the recovery (which is stronger than in either Europe or Japan) has led to little increase in imports, due to three effects – lower oil prices, the increase in domestic shale oil production and more onshoring of manufacturing. The US current account deficit may worsen somewhat to around 4 per cent of GDP, but this will not improve unless sanctions are imposed on both China and Mexico, which would in turn hurt global trade.

Why is a strong dollar risky for the global economy?

The answer is that the global growth model would be too dependent on the US, while the other economies are still struggling. Europe used to be broadly balanced in terms of current account, but has moved to become a major surplus zone of around 3.4 per cent of GDP. Germany alone is running a current account surplus of 8.6 per cent of GDP in 2016, benefiting hugely from the weak euro.

Japan has moved back again to a current surplus of 3.7 per cent of GDP, but the yen remains weak at current levels of 107 to the dollar. I interpret the Bank of Japan’s QQE (qualitative and quantitative easing) as both a financial stability tool and also one aimed at ensuring that the capital outflows by Japanese funds would outweigh the inflows from foreigners punting on a yen appreciation.

The Bank of Japan’s unlimited buying of Japanese government bonds at fixed rates would put a cap on losses for pension and insurance funds holding long-term bonds if the yield curve were to steepen (bond prices fall when interest rates rise). Japanese pension and insurance funds have been large investors in US Treasuries and securities for the higher yield and possible currency appreciation.

In short, the capital outflow from Japan to the dollar is helpful to US-Japan relations. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was the first foreign leader to call on Trump and likely dangled a carrot: Tokyo will fund Trump’s expansionary policies so long as Japan is allowed to re-arm.

From 2007 to 2015, US securities held by foreigners increased by $7.3 trillion to $17.1 trillion, bringing its gross amount to 94 per cent of GDP, official figures show. Japan already holds just under $2 trillion of US securities and, as a surplus saver, has lots of room to buy more.

The bottom line for Asia? Don’t expect great trade recovery from any US expansion. On the other hand, Asian investors will continue to buy US dollars on the prospects of higher interest rates and better recovery. This puts pressure on Asian exchange rates.

Of course, it’s possible that US fund managers will start investing back in Asia, but with trade sanctions and frosty relations between US-China in the short-term, US investors will stay home. If interest rates do go up in Asia in response to Fed rate increases, don’t expect the bond markets to improve. The equity outlook would depend on individual country responses to these global uncertainty threats.

In short, expect more Trump tantrums in financial markets.

 Think Asian By Andrew Sheng, a former central banker, writes on global issues from an Asian perspective.


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What Trump means for Asian investors?


In the lead-up to January 20 when Donald Trump becomes US president, Asians are guessing about the outlook for their savings.

Trump is particularly difficult to read because he made so many wild statements on the campaign trail. Everyone accepts that campaigning politicians promise heaven and deliver mostly hell, but when they win elections, most become much more sober. So far, it looks like Trump’s policy will follow his campaign threats.

The Trump presidency will be bi-polar – either highly successful if he reboots American dynamism, or one that may bankrupt the country trying, including getting involved in another war.
His rise to power has been accompanied by wild swings in investor mood as markets yo-yo from hesitation to rally, with the Dow currently peaking.

So far, Trump family members appear to have more clout than was the case with any previous , with perhaps the exception of President Bill Clinton.

Disappointingly, the favourite to be Trump’s treasury secretary is ex-Goldman Sachs banker Steven Mnuchin, which means Wall Street would have another insider running the status quo. It remains to be seen whether he can simultaneously deliver the promised spending on infrastructure, tax cuts for the rich and containment of effects of a stronger dollar.

All signs are that the dollar will strengthen, bringing echoes of the famous phrase, “my dollar, your problem”. In its latest health check on the US economy, the International Monetary Fund reported in June that “the current level of the US dollar is assessed to be overvalued by 10-20 per cent and the current account deficit is around 1.5-2 per cent larger than the level implied by medium term fundamentals and desirable policies”. The IMF thinks that the risk of the dollar surging in value is high, and estimates a 10 per cent appreciation would reduce American GDP by 0.5 per cent in the first year and 0.5-0.8 per cent in the second year.

Trump is likely to be highly expansionary in his first year because the Republicans, having control of the Congress, Senate and the White House, must revive growth and jobs to ensure voters give them a second term. Note carefully that Trump’s election promises of stopping immigration, scrapping the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, imposing sanctions on China and cancelling the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) are all inflationary in nature.

This is why if the Fed does not raise interest rates in December this year, it may be under pressure next year not to take any action to slow a Trump economic recovery. The Fed’s independence will be called into question, since Trump’s expansionary policy will put pressure on his budget deficit and national debt, already running at 3 per cent and 76 per cent of GDP respectively. A 1-per-cent increase in nominal interest rates would add roughly 0.7 per cent to the fiscal deficit, making it unsustainable in the long run.

Those who think that recovery in US growth would be good for trade are likely to be disappointed. So far, the recovery (which is stronger than in either Europe or Japan) has led to little increase in imports, due to three effects – lower oil prices, the increase in domestic shale oil production and more onshoring of manufacturing. The US current account deficit may worsen somewhat to around 4 per cent of GDP, but this will not improve unless sanctions are imposed on both China and Mexico, which would in turn hurt global trade.

Why is a strong dollar risky for the global economy?

The answer is that the global growth model would be too dependent on the US, while the other economies are still struggling. Europe used to be broadly balanced in terms of current account, but has moved to become a major surplus zone of around 3.4 per cent of GDP. Germany alone is running a current account surplus of 8.6 per cent of GDP in 2016, benefiting hugely from the weak euro.

Japan has moved back again to a current surplus of 3.7 per cent of GDP, but the yen remains weak at current levels of 107 to the dollar. I interpret the Bank of Japan’s QQE (qualitative and quantitative easing) as both a financial stability tool and also one aimed at ensuring that the capital outflows by Japanese funds would outweigh the inflows from foreigners punting on a yen appreciation.

The Bank of Japan’s unlimited buying of Japanese government bonds at fixed rates would put a cap on losses for pension and insurance funds holding long-term bonds if the yield curve were to steepen (bond prices fall when interest rates rise). Japanese pension and insurance funds have been large investors in US Treasuries and securities for the higher yield and possible currency appreciation.

In short, the capital outflow from Japan to the dollar is helpful to US-Japan relations. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was the first foreign leader to call on Trump and likely dangled a carrot: Tokyo will fund Trump’s expansionary policies so long as Japan is allowed to re-arm.

From 2007 to 2015, US securities held by foreigners increased by $7.3 trillion to $17.1 trillion, bringing its gross amount to 94 per cent of GDP, official figures show. Japan already holds just under $2 trillion of US securities and, as a surplus saver, has lots of room to buy more.

The bottom line for Asia? Don’t expect great trade recovery from any US expansion. On the other hand, Asian investors will continue to buy US dollars on the prospects of higher interest rates and better recovery. This puts pressure on Asian exchange rates.

Of course, it’s possible that US fund managers will start investing back in Asia, but with trade sanctions and frosty relations between US-China in the short-term, US investors will stay home. If interest rates do go up in Asia in response to Fed rate increases, don’t expect the bond markets to improve. The equity outlook would depend on individual country responses to these global uncertainty threats.

In short, expect more Trump tantrums in financial markets.

 Think Asian By Andrew Sheng, a former central banker, writes on global issues from an Asian perspective.


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Sunday, November 27, 2016

Let us do more against graft, bring corrupt culprits to court fast !



BY now, it’s clear that many ordinary Malaysians have the perception that corruption in this country has degenerated into a hugely disturbing situation.

To many of us, rightly or wrongly, corruption has become an entrenched culture involving many in the political and government circle.

But who would have suspected that a seemingly innocent department like the Sabah Water Department could end up being investigated for such a staggering amount of money, in what is now known as our very own Watergate scandal.

The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) seized RM114mil worth of assets – RM53.7mil in cold cash stashed in the houses and offices of two senior Sabah Water Department officials on Oct 4.

Many of the department’s staff, apart from the top two officials, are also being investigated for alleged abuse of power and money laundering linked to contracts for RM3.3bil federal-funded projects channelled to the department since 2010.

MACC has traced RM30mil stashed in foreign banks and another RM30mil in 127 land titles for housing, agriculture and commercial purposes.

That’s not all. MACC also seized nine vehicles worth RM2.7mil, an assortment of jewellery worth RM3.64mil and designer handbags with a value of RM500,000.

To many Malaysians, when the topic is corruption, they would think of the police, customs, immigration, council enforcement officers and authorities with the power to arrest someone, to issue approvals or permits.

These authorities have earned such notoriety through mere generalisation or plain prejudice as there are surely many good and honest officials.

And of course, many Malaysians think lowly of high-level politicians, sniggering over their purported wealth even if they have little evidence and information.

The MACC must be commended for its successful investigations into the Sabah Water Department.

It has, in fact, led to loose talk among Sabahans that the MACC need only check the Facebook postings of some staff, even the low ranking ones, of another government department in the state to see the kind of lifestyle led by some of the workers.

There might not be sufficient evidence but the raid on the department will surely encourage more whistle blowers to tip off the MACC.

Malaysia ranked 54 among 168 countries in the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) 2015 with a score of 50 out of 100.

This is a drop from 50 out of 175 countries in the CPI 2014 with a score of 52 out of 100. High scores indicate a less corrupt perception.

Obviously, the 1MDB issue is a major perception issue and has affected the minds of many Malaysians, contributing to the slide in ranking.

In a 2014 news report, it said that the international accounting firm KPMG’s Fraud, Bribery and Corruption Survey 2013 revealed that an overwhelming 90% of business organisations feel that bribery and corruption is necessary to do business in Malaysia at the moment.

Transparency International- Malay­sia’s first ever Malaysian Corruption Barometer (MCB) 2014 recorded that as many as 45% of Malaysians feel political parties are the most corrupt, followed by the police force, then the public and civil servants, the report added.

It is safe to say that such perception among Malaysians have not changed much over the past few years. It has probably gone worse.

There is little doubt that many Malaysians feel, even with the current blitz on corruption, that the actions against the corrupt have not been sufficiently effective.

The tentacles of corruption, to many, has become so prevalent that no sector in government has become immune – that’s the scary perception even if the reality is otherwise.

It has tarnished the image of our institutions and must have affected investors who want to put money in Malaysia, even if we are seen as a country that is business-friendly.

To be fair, much efforts have been taken such as enacting the Whistle Blower’s Act in 2012 and increasing corruption arrests, as well as publishing the names of more than 1,000 corruption offenders on the MACC website.

There has also been a sharp decrease in business licenses and online publication of government contracts.

But one does not need another survey, although the Performance Management and Delivery Unit (Pemandu) has actually carried out one, which showed that a large segment of Malaysians do not believe that enough has been done to combat corruption.

That’s simply because the perception is that actions have only been taken against those at the lower and middle rungs of government.

If the fat cats – or big fishes – are left untouched, it may actually encouraged the bottom to be corrupt as they may think their bosses are dirty anyway, so why shouldn’t they, too, grease their hands to just pay the bills.

It is incredulous that a country like Malaysia, which has becoming more conservatively religious, are not seeing a corresponding decline in corruption.

Our religious leaders, regardless of their faith, seems to be more preoccupied with religious forms and theological aspects, and forgetting that they can be effective tools in the fight against corruption – not just against the takers but givers.

They should spend more time at their sermons, services and prayers to talk about the ills of corruption, among others – and not be too preoccupied with just politics.

More often than not, we hear the open grumbling of businessmen who lament the corrupt practices, which adds to their cost of doing business but if there are no givers, then, there will be no takers.

Never mind, if others want to give.

Let the policeman issue summons instead of offering a bribe to “settle it”.

If we give, why then are we still complaining about dirty cops?

If we do not do something more resolute now, the young will soon see corruption as an acceptable culture.

If we remember, in 2007, the majority of 1,800 university students interviewed felt it was acceptable to give or take bribes.

Surely, this is troubling. Have we come to this level where many of us can no longer differentiate between right and wrong?

It’s time to wake up, don’t let our beloved Malaysia go down the drain.

On The Beat By Wong Chun Wai 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, November 26, 2016

Ma'sia's skilled labour shortage, engineers not take up challenges, graduates can't solve problems

More trained workers needed to attract new capital investments

Yap says manufacturers have to source for high-quality technology from places such as Taiwan and Europe to upgrade their production.

THE Malaysian economy can sure use a boost to grow sustainably in the long term because the indicators for long-term growth do not look very good.

That boost should come from a focus on human capital. To put it simply, a better proportion of skilled workers is needed for the economy to move up the value chain and be globally competitive.

This year the economy is expected to grow just over 4% year-on-year, after growing 5% last year and 6% in 2014. The economy is expected to grow by 4% to 5% next year although the headwinds buffeting the Malaysian economy will make it challenging to hit the upper band of the target.

Moving up the chain will mean producing goods and services that have a higher value, meaning that productivity will rise. The rise in productivity will mean that workers will get better wages. This is the basic argument of policymakers when they speak of how human capital can help the economy.

However, the reality is different. According to data from the Malaysian Productivity Corp, the average annual labour productivity growth between 2011 and 2015 was 1.8% while the 11MP has a target of 3.7% annual growth. The doubling in labour productivity growth is needed to hit the high-income target of the New Economic Model.

Malaysian Employers Federation executive director Datuk Shamsuddin Bardan notes that the economy saw a labour productivity growth of 3.3% last year but believes that it will be challenging for labour productivity to grow in the years to come because of the lack of skilled workers.
 
Shamsuddin: ‘I doubt very much whether our policy emphasising English will be successful, as statistics indicate that if we ask teachers themselves to take SPM English exam, possibly half of them will fail.’

The 11MP targets skilled workers, that is, those with diplomas and higher qualifications, to reach 35% or 5.35 million of total workforce by 2020. Currently 28% of the total workforce of 14.76 million are considered skilled workers.

Shamsuddin fears that without more skilled workers, the economy will find it more difficult to move up the value chain and will not be able to attract large capital investments.

He tells StarBizWeek that the 11MP target is well below the proportion for skilled workers compared to developed economies, where the proportion is at least half of the total workforce.

Shamsuddin says government plans to raise the skill levels of Malaysian workers have so far only shown mixed results, with a gap between the plans and the actual implementation.

Indeed, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, a grouping of rich economies, says in a 2013 report that the country needs to address long-standing economic weaknesses in the medium term in order to progress toward becoming an advanced economy within the next decade.

“Skill shortages and mismatches and the deficiencies in the education system that underlie them and the low participation of women in the workforce particularly need to be remedied,” it says.

It adds that the talent base of the workforce lags behind the standards of high-income nations. “The country suffers from a shortage of skilled workers, weak productivity growth stemming from a lack of creativity and innovation in the workforce, and an over-reliance on unskilled and low-wage migrant workers,” it adds.

Observers say cheap unskilled foreign labour is the bane of the Malaysian economy. According to the latest official estimates, there are 1.9 million documented foreign workers in the country with the Government having put a cap of the proportion of foreign workers to the total labour force at 15%.

Unofficial estimates of foreign workers, both legal and illegal, could be more than double that with the numbers having a negative effect on total wages.

Socio Economic Research Centre executive director Lee Heng Guie says in the long run, businesses will need to increase automation for the low-value processes in the manufacturing sector in order to reduce their reliance on foreign labour.

“We are not asking everything to be automated as some places you still need labour, but what you want is to gradually move up rather than continue to rely on cheap labour.

“It is not a solution for industries to compete,” he says. There is also a need to review policies in order to identify implementation flaws and weaknesses.

But the work cannot be all one-way. Lee points out that the private sector must come forward to work with the Government to create a sustainable ecosystem for innovation.

While businesses acknowledge the urgency of working efficiently and relying less on foreign workers, they point out that the supporting technology including for automation cannot be found in the country and must be sourced from abroad.

Asia Poly Industrial Sdn Bhd executive director Michael Yap says manufacturers have to source for high-quality technology from places such as Europe and Taiwan to upgrade their production processes. The company, a subsidiary of Bursa-listed Asia Poly Holdings Bhd, is a maker of cast acrylic sheets used to make corporate signages, lighting displays and sanitary ware, has a high proportion of foreign workers in its workforce.

Yap also finds it difficult to get skilled workers or even motivated ones compared to the 1980s and 1990s. He says engineers today are not willing to take up challenges and many graduates cannot solve problems.

His colleagues observe that Malaysians also do not want to work in the manufacturing sector, even if the workplace environment is conducive and they are given opportunities to give their inputs.

Given the increasing importance of the services sector to the economy, Englishlanguage skills are important but again, there is a gap between the plan and the implementation.

The Services Sector Blueprint launched last year targets the sector to make up 56.5% of gross domestic product by 2020.

Shamsuddin says it is critical for the education system to plan for the future requirements of the economy and the command of English is very important to the services sector.

“I doubt very much whether our policy emphasising English will be successful, as statistics indicate that if we ask teachers themselves to take SPM English exam, possibly half of them will fail,” he adds.

Lee feels that a more consistent policy towards English is important, referring to the abrupt change in the teaching of mathematics and science to Bahasa Malaysia after it was taught in English from 1996 to 2012, as a change that has failed Malaysian children.

By ZUNAIRA SAIEED Starbizweek

RelatedLiow: Malaysia needs more skilled workers


Reducing reliance on foreign workers


https://youtu.be/eBG7C3xitL4

More engagement needed with industry to avoid labour shortage in certain sectors

PETALING JAYA: The freeze on the hiring of foreign workers from February reveals how reliant Malaysia’s economy is on low-wage labour for growth.

A rough calculation by Malaysian Palm Oil Association chief executive Datuk Makhdzir Mardan showed that in 2013, when the plantation industry had a shortage of 23,500 workers, the opportunity cost came to RM1.6bil. He points out that in 2013, one foreign worker who works as a harvester equalled RM500,000 in productivity.

While the over-arching industrial policy is to produce higher value-added goods and services, the truth is that large segments of the economy is still very much dependent on low-wage labour, particularly of the low-skilled foreign migrant-worker kind.

Migrant workers Manik and Mohammad Delowar, both 27 years old from Bangladesh, are two such workers working on the multibillion ringgit Sungei Buloh-Kajang MRT line. Manik has lived in Malaysia for the last eight years and has worked on three property projects before being employed to work on the MRT project.

Both earn a salary of between RM1,500 and RM1,600 per month, 75% of which is remitted home to support their families. Manik told StarBiz that the freeze, which came about after a public outcry over an agreement between the governments of Bangladesh and Malaysia to supply low-skilled workers, would definitely affect the flow of workers that wanted to work in Malaysia.

“I do not wish to go back to my country as I’ll not be able to find a job there,” he said, adding that unemployment in Bangladesh was high and he had to support a family of six.

Manik paid RM8,000 to an agent and waited a year before securing a job in Malaysia. He sold land and borrowed money in order to pay for the fees. Mohammad, who has been working in Malaysia for eight months, paid RM12,000 in fees.

Their experience tell the often unheard human story of foreign workers in Malaysia. These millions of workers who come from the most part from Bangladesh, Indonesia, Myanmar, Nepal, the Philippines and Vietnam are familiar faces in various sectors of the economy. The construction and agriculture sectors cannot do without them while the services sector, especially the hospitality, food and beverage and security industries, have large numbers of foreign workers.

Although the low-cost model of growth has served Malaysia well in the 1980s and 1990s, it has also made local firms reluctant to adopt technology or more efficient ways of doing things. Malaysia’s membership of the Trans Pacific Partnership makes higher productivity and efficiency ever more urgent.

Economists argue that without a rise in productivity, measured in the production of higher value-added goods and services, wages will continue to be low. The large number of foreign workers with their lower skill sets and low wages makes things worse.

This is not to say that there are no higher value-added goods or services being produced, or that the Government is not encouraging it. The New Economic Model, together with the National Key Economic Areas, have identified various sectors and subsectors in which Malaysia can have a competitive advantage.

Leadership, clear-cut policy on foreign workers and investment in education as well as technology are just some of the issues that come into play as the country strives to reduce its reliance on low-wage workers and move up the value chain.

Master Builders Association Malaysia president Matthew Tee and Makhdzir agree that the adoption of technology and mechanisation will reduce dependence on foreign workers.

Tee said the Government should provide more incentives for construction firms to adopt more efficient processes such as the industrialised building system (IBS) that could reduce dependence on low-skilled migrant workers. He pointed out that reducing the import duties on construction machinery could also help.

Meanwhile, Makhdzir said more funds should be allocated to oil-palm research and development (R&D) to make the industry more competitive. “If we desperately need to make that progress, we need to put in more talent, and more money to make it competitive in terms of R&D,” he added.

Makhdzir said the policy needed to be more flexible where R&D was concerned as talent must be sourced from outside the country if necessary.

But in the meantime, the freeze on foreign workers is causing a lot of problems as news headlines in recent months show. The problem is particularly acute in the construction and agriculture sectors.

Tee said there was a shortage of 1.3 million workers in the construction sector and predicted a shortage of up to 2 million by 2020. “This will cause delay in projects which could result in liquidated damages by clients translating to thousands of ringgit per day,” he adds.

Tee observed that the government-initiated rehiring programme that in part would also legalise illegal foreign workers had only attracted 3% of the 1.7 million total number of illegal workers in the country. He said the requirements to legalise the workers were inflexible and because of that, many did not fit the requirements – one reason why the overwhelming majority had decided not to get properly documented.

He said firms wishing to hire workers under the rehiring programme found it more expensive than hiring fresh foreign workers. On the other hand, Makhzir said there needed to be leadership in tackling the issue while Tee said there needed to be more engagement with industry as the reaction from the authorities had been slow.


By ZUNAIRA SAIEED

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