Monday, 31 August 2015

(The Star) Popular animation series Ninjago comes to Legoland

NUSAJAYA: The first ever Lego Ninjago Live Show has made its debut at Legoland Malaysia Resort, captivating audiences.
Entitled Lego “Ninjago and The Realm of Shadows”, visitors to the theme park can now watch characters of popular animation television series Ninjago — Masters of Spinjitsu perform in a 20-minute show incorporating puppetry, video mapping, illusion, stage effects and music.
The resort’s general manager Mark Germyn said the show would feature a total of six puppets, each standing at approximately 1.2m in height with every puppet uniquely designed and hand built by specialists.
He explained that it took a team of some 12 to 15 craftsmen slightly over 180 hours to complete the puppets.
“We are proud to be the first Legoland Park in the world to launch this attraction,” he said during the launch.
Germyn said that the mix of technology with traditional Banraku style puppetry should prove a hit.
In the live show, the ninjas namely Kai, Nya, Zane, Cole, Jay and Lloyd are on a mission to protect Bandit, a dragon, who would one day grow up to be powerful.
The Ninjas would also have to work together to protect the land from evil Clouse and his shadow minions, who want to steal Bandit and plunge Ninjago into the Realms of the Shadows.
Scripted by award-winning Hollywood movie writers Kevin and Dan Hageman, the show was created by an international team from seven countries and will be performed between three to six times daily.
“Initially we thought of bringing in foreign puppeteers but we realised there were locals who were very much interested to learn the art of puppetry,” he said adding that a team of 17 puppeteers took about a month to prepare for the show.
Children from two to 12 years old will get a 50% discount, with any paying adult, if they come dressed in a Ninja outfit until Sept 30.
Tourism Malaysia director-general Datuk Mirza Mohammad Taiyab who was present, said the new attraction would help boost tourism.

(The Star) State agrees to find suitable name for Nusajaya

JOHOR BARU: The Johor government will be having discussions soon to come up with a new name for its administrative centre Nusajaya.
Johor Mentri Besar Datuk Mohamed Khaled Nordin said talks to rename Nusajaya would be held following Sultan Ibrahim Ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar’s decree for the name change.
The Johor ruler had on Friday decreed that Nusajaya be replaced with a new name and the district of Kulaijaya be reverted to its old name Kulai.
“The state government welcomes Tuanku’s instructions and will act accordingly,” he told reporters during a walkabout to check out the street art and murals painted on five walls for the National Day and Malaysia Day celebrations.
Meanwhile, Mohamed Khaled said the way the younger generation celebrated the National Day was different from previously.
“Murals are a good way for the younger generation to express their love of the country and the building and business owners are commendable as well for allowing them to do so,” he said, adding that more corporate bodies should follow suit but only with suitable themes.
On the proposal to relocate Johor Zoo in Jalan Gertak Merah due to space constraints, Mohamed Khaled said the state was working out the budget for the relocation to Nusajaya.
He, however, did not reveal the exact site for the new zoo but said they were still working on the kinks for the new location.
“To build a zoo from scratch takes a lot of cost and it will also depend on state funds as well,” he said.

(The Star) Klang Valley urban rail service turns 10

This year marks the 10th anniversary of RapidKL Sdn Bhd, a division of Prasarana Malaysia Bhd and it is an apt moment to relook its achievements and plot its way forward.
In this regard, RapidKL had undertaken to publish a limited-edition coffee table book that looks at the three core lines (excluding KTM Komuter) that form the backbone of the Klang Valley’s passenger rail transport –known respectively now as the Ampang line, Kelana Jaya line, and the monorail.
Malaysia proposed the inaugural urban rail system known as Sistem Transit Aliran Ringan (Star), the predecessor of the Ampang line, in the 1980s.
The 27km-Ampang line opened on Dec 16, 1996, and serves the Ampang and Seri Petaling areas by connecting commuters all the way to the Sentul area and now serves 25 stations.
This was followed up very soon by the Projek Usahasama Transit Ringan Automatik Sdn Bhd (Putra LRT), which opened in stages beginning Sept 1, 1998 when trains ran from the Lembah Subang depot to Pasar Seni, slightly less than a fortnight before the 16th Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur that year.
The 29km Putra line eventually became known as the Kelana Jaya line, serving 24 stations.
A Rail Journey encapsulates the 10-year history of Rapid KL Sdn Bhd, which took over the running of two LRT lines and monorail after they were built.
Elsewhere, KTMB unveiled its Komuter in 1995, with the network now covering Sentul to Port Klang, as well as connecting areas between Perak’s Tanjung Malim and Sungai Gadut in Negri Sembilan.
The underground portion of Kelana Jaya line from Pasar Seni until the Putra Terminal commenced service on June 1, 1999.
Joining the two LRT lines was the 8.6km monorail that opened on Aug 31, 2003, with 11 stations.
Due to unfortunate circumstances, Projek Usahasama Transit Ringan Automatik Sdn Bhd was wound up by Kuala Lumpur High Court on April 26, 2002.
Five months later, Putra LRT came under the management of Syarikat Prasarana Negara (now Prasarana Malaysia Bhd) as part of the first phase of the restructuring of Kuala Lumpur’s public transport system that also included Prasarana taking over Star LRT and renaming it Starline.
The second phase of the restructuring process took place in November 2004, when the operational aspects of the two lines were transferred to Rapid KL, though ownership of the assets remained with Prasarana.
The most outwardly visible aspect of the restructuring was in July 2005, when the name Putraline was dropped in favour of Kelana Jaya line.
Name changes means little for commuters, who had to put up with the lack of a common cashless ticketing system for a few years. But some good news came on Nov 28, 2011, when the Masjid Jamek station of the Kelana Jaya and Ampang lines became fully integrated in the truest sense – both physically and ticketing-wise – a good 12 years after the trains started running.
In the ‘bad old days’, a commuter had to tap out, walk in the sun or rain cross busy Jalan Tun Perak, and buy a new ticket in order to switch between the two lines.
Today, the three lines collectively carry an average of 500,000 riders a day, giving an annual ridership of nearly 100 million, and the number is projected to grow about 5% each year.
At the launch of the book, former Kuala Lumpur mayor Tan Sri Elyas Omar said former premier Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad gave him three tasks in 1981.
“The first was the question of a light rail and aerobus system for Klang Valley. Second, the beautification of Kuala Lumpur, and third, the cleanliness of the city.
“At the time, he (Dr Mahathir) said my predecessor could not decide which system to use – aerobus (monorail) or light rail. I said why not both?” said Elyas, who was mayor from 1981 to 1992.
“We decided to have the LRT when the roads were starting to get choked up with cars.
“We didn’t want trams like in Europe but chose an elevated system instead to avoid obstructions, and so that there would be no stoppage of trains due to passing traffic.
“It was a good decision, made at the right time. Kuala Lumpur was growing. The city had become quite big and travelling distances had become much longer. Our only concern then was whether the people would be receptive to the LRT. Like everybody else, I was worried that we could have made a mistake.
“When you introduce a new system, people are hesitant. It takes a bit of time. But now, it’s obvious that the LRT line has been fully accepted, so much so you need longer trains with more frequent schedules.
“From a population of 300,000, today the LRT serves Greater KL, which has almost seven million people, and has played a big role in Kuala Lumpur’s rapid development. Only with the ease of travel can a town or city grow. When towns grow, businesses flourish, jobs increase, and people have better incomes,” said Elyas, who said he did a lot of research into other countries’ examples before advising the country to go for elevated LRT and monorail systems.
“But I didn’t do too many on-site overseas visits. Mahathir didn’t like that – he had confidence in my own knowledge to do things. Still, I went to see different systems. I checked out the French Metro (the Paris Metro is now 115 years old, and is mostly underground). I also went to Japan and then to Belgium to study their LRT system. From there, I crossed over to the Netherlands. And that’s how it all started,” he mused.
Since the launch of the book, the Sunway Bus Rapid Transit had commenced operations, and by October 2016, the Line Extension Programme of the two LRT lines should be open for passenger service.
All these are expected to bump up ridership significantly, though no one is guessing by how much as it is highly dependent on the success of the Stage Bus Transformation Programme initiated by the Land Public Transport Commission in cooperation with Prasarana.
The objectives of urban rail cannot be fully met when people have to drive to get to the train stations.
Even with the building of the MRT as well as the Federal Highway Bus Rapid Transit, much work remains to encourage people to give up driving totally, so that public transport as a whole can succeed.

(The Star) EKVE project reps meet Bukit Antarabangsa residents

Residents of Bukit Antarabangsa and nearby neighbourhoods were given a chance to learn more about the East Klang Valley Expressway (EKVE) project during a special briefing on Saturday.
Organised by the Taman Bukit Mulia Residents’ Association (TBMRA), the briefing saw representatives from EKVE project proponent Ahmad Zaki Resources Bhd (AZRB) as well as the Sungei Besi-Hulu Klang Expressway (Suke) providing technical information on the two projects.
The heads and representatives of 36 different residents’ associations turned up for the briefing.
TBMRA secretary-general Raymond Jagathesan said a majority of the residents were in support of the highway projects.
“The meeting was to provide the necessary data and information for residents to make an informed decision.
“Because of the lack of space, we could only invite the heads or their representatives to join the briefing.
“Overall, it was an informative briefing as we were provided with information on all the upcoming highways in the area, including the DUKE phase three project, and its significance to the residents,” he said, adding that about 200,000 residents were expected to benefit from the project.
Raymond said at least 90% of the issues raised by residents were addressed at the briefing.
“As the project will take at least four years to complete, we know there will be continuous queries and we hope to organise more sessions like these to address them,” he said.
An EKVE representative who declined to be named said all the necessary procedures had been adhered to prior to getting approval for the project.
“The EKVE highway will serve as part of the main traffic dispersal system between Kajang and Rawang.
“As part of the KL Outer Ring Road (KLORR), EKVE will fill in the missing link for the system,” he said, adding that it would also help to solve traffic congestion on the MRR2 highway.
The EKVE project drew public outcry when it was made known that the Ampang and Ulu Gombak forest reserves would be cut down.
Since news broke about two weeks ago that MPAJ had approved the project, residents and environmental groups such as WWF Malaysia, Treat Every Environment Special (TrEES) and the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) had voiced their concerns over the project.
In February last year, the Selangor Forestry Department announced a proposal to degazette 106.65ha of the Ampang Forest Reserve for the construction of EKVE.
A proposed Phase Two of the project was not approved as it would have cut through the Ulu Gombak forest reserve north of the Klang Gates Dam, which is a water catchment area.
Also present during the briefing were Ampang MP Zuraidah Kamaruddin and MPAJ deputy president Hasrolnizam Shaari.
On the status of the Suke project, Hasrolnizam said the project had been approved by the state and the Malaysian Highway Authority.
“The developers are currently in the last processes of submitting their design documents to MPAJ,” he said.
The proposed Suke highway is a 31.8km, three-lane, dual carriageway expressway that will start in Sri Petaling and pass through Sungai Besi, Alam Damai, Cheras-Kajang, Taman Bukit Permai, Taman Putra, Taman Permai Jaya, Taman Dagang Permai, Taman Kosas, Ampang and Taman Hillview before exiting at Ulu Kelang.

(The Star) Ampang to implement car-free days for cyclists

The Ampang Jaya Municipal Council (MPAJ) is considering implementing a car-free morning campaign in the coming year.
MPAJ president Abdul Hamid Abdul Hussain said it was looking into the feasibility of an idea similar to Kuala Lumpur City Hall’s KL Car Free Morning which takes place twice a month.
“Our main hurdle is to figure out an appropriate route for the participants.
“Ampang is made up of mostly residential areas and we need to find a route that will not disrupt residents’ movements, especially since the campaign would take place on a weekend,” he said during the council’s Program Kayuhan Santai Jalur Gemilang MPAJ 2015 yesterday.
During the event, some 600 avid cyclists were flagged off from the Padang Perbandaran Pandan Indah.
This is the second such event organised by MPAJ in conjunction with National Day celebrations.
Participants were seen decked out in their National Day-themed clothes with some even in old police uniforms and traditional outfits.
The 17.9km-long cycling event saw the cyclists passing through Jalan Wawasan, Jalan Kosas, Jalan Bunga and ending back in Padang Perbandaran.
The cyclists also made a pit stop at the Bukit Indah cycling track before making their way back.
Participant Bernard Loo, 29, said the event was a good way to explore the neighbourhood.
“Most of the time, it is too dangerous to ride on our own. But, when it is an organised event such as this, the safety and security of the participants can be ensured,” he said.
Loo, together with 29 members of the KL Foldies Club, added they were amused to see the variety of costumes worn by the other participants.
Pandan Indah resident Mohd Badrul Shah, 45, said it was a unique experience to cycle in the neighbourhood.
“These roads are usually jam-packed with vehicles and not safe to cycle. But, with the roads closed to traffic, it was a chance for us to take in the sights and sounds of Ampang,” he said.
Other activities organised alongside the cycling event were awards for the best dressed participant and a lucky draw session where hampers and a RM2,000 bicycle were up for grabs.

(The Star) Survey: Steady occupancy rates for upscale hotels in KL

PETALING JAYA: Upscale hotels in Kuala Lumpur and its surrounding areas continue to see steady occupancy rates, despite a slight increase in average room prices, according to a property survey.

With the weaker ringgit seen as a welcome boost for the tourism industry, hotels in the city are expected to continue to attract new investments.

“With the extensive new supply of branded residence market, more new hotel entrants are expected,” CH Williams Talhar & Wong’s (WTW) said in a report on the sector.

The firm said occupancy rates remained stable particularly on upscale hotels.

“Room rates still have room to grow as Kuala Lumpur is relatively low compared with neighbouring countries.”

An estimated 27.44 million international tourists visited Malaysia during Visit Malaysia Year (VMY) 2014, up 6% compared with 2013.

“There was a slight drop on mainland Chinese tourist arrivals subsequent to the MH accidents.

“In the second half of 2014, occupancy remained at 70% and average room rate was RM267, up 4% compared with previous review period. This is mainly driven by increasing tourist arrivals after numerous promotional activities by Tourism Malaysia in VMY 2014,” it said.

It said upscale hotels remained stable and outperformed except for three-star hotels dropped to 61%, likely affected by the decline in mainland Chinese visitors.

“Average room rate increased 4% to RM267. Market observed marginal growth in room rate for most hotels due to increasing operation costs.”

Menawhile, WTW, in its property market report 2015, said hotel supply in the Klang Valley was 167 hotels (48,047 rooms) in 2014, up 6.2% compared with 2013.

“Up to 2018, there are 15 new hotel developments including 12 five-star hotels. The developments include St Regis, Harrods, Four Season Place and Fairmont Hotel.

“Fairmont Kuala Lumpur is expected to open in 2017 with 750 rooms. Moving into 2015, the weakening of Malaysian currency made the country appealing as a low-cost travel destination, which will spur the demand of hotel rooms,” the report pointed out.

(The Star) CapitaLand reviews strategy

Details of RM8bil Danga Bay project being ironed out with JV partners in view of soft property market

PETALING JAYA: Singapore-based CapitaLand Ltd, which is also South-East Asia’s largest real estate developer, is reviewing its RM8bil joint venture (JV) project in Danga Bay, Johor.

A senior executive of the group in charge of property development in Malaysia said that the authorities had already given the approvals for the mixed development project.

“We have got the necessary approval from the authorities. We are now reviewing the details of the project with our JV partners,” said CapitaLand Commercial (M) Sdn Bhd managing director Lim Wie Shan in an interview here recently.

CapitaLand Commercial is a wholly-owned unit of CapitaLand Ltd and it manages property projects in Malaysia.

The development in Danga Bay, Iskandar Malaysia is slated to be one of the biggest developments of CapitaLand. CapitaLand Malaysia will hold 51% of the JV stake, Iskandar Waterfront Holdings Bhd 40% and Temasek 9%.

The 71.4 acre site will be turned into a waterfront residential community comprising high rise and landed homes, as well as a marina, shopping mall, restaurants, serviced residences, offices and recreational facilities.

CapitaLand is not the only developer to review its strategy due to a subdued property market. UEM Sunrise, which focuses largely in Johor, has also changed its strategy to invest more in the Klang Valley.

There are many large-scale property development projects launched by developers from China in Johor.

Despite the slowdown in the property segment, CapitaLand is still looking at increasing its presence in Kuala Lumpur, the Klang Valley and Penang.

“Looking at our track record, we have been in Malaysia for the last 20 years, either through our subsidiaries and joint ventures. We have been through the ups and downs. We are a long-term player and not a fly-by- night developer,” Lim toldStarBiz recently.

CapitaLand’s maiden project in Malaysia was a township development in Johor Baru in the 90s.

It later embarked on other projects in KL Sentral, Jalan Pinang, Mont’ Kiara and Bangsar.

Lim said Malaysia offered good demographic trends.

“Growing affluence of the population, growing household formation and low unemployment rate – these trends show that the Malaysian real estate market is a viable market that CapitaLand will remain in,” he said.

He added that the group was currently reviewing a few potential projects within Malaysia. Many developers have acknowledged the slowdown in the property sector and are taking measures to ride it out, and CapitaLand is no exception.

“The measures taken by the Government in late 2014 to clamp down on excessive speculation, and the goods and services tax have had the effect of cooling the market. People are watching their spending,” he said.

However, Lim is confident that CapitaLand’s latest project – genKL – will do well based on its location and the product offering. The project is the company’s third joint venture with Juta Asia, and is located in Jalan Kuchai Lama, Kuala Lumpur.

The project, tagged with a gross development value of about RM360mil, comprises 322 apartments of which seven are villas.

“Instead of doing the conventional penthouse, we detached it and brought it down. So you get to stay in a landed house but within a gated guarded condominium with facilities,” says Lim.

The units are priced at RM750 per sq ft.

“Developments along Jalan Klang Lama ae going for RM850 per sq ft.

“We are targeting the middle or middle higher income families. These are true owner-occupiers,” he says.

Lim expected construction for the project to start in October, with completion targeted for the third quarter of 2019.

“For the second half of 2015, we think things for real estate could be slow. We hope that the economy would see a turn hopefully next year and we will then see a recovery.”

(The Star) Bypass track for cargo trains

Merdeka joy: Liow waving the Jalur Gemilang together with some of the 1JPJ Young Squad members, who took part in a campaign to spread the Merdeka joy to the less fortunate nationwide.
Merdeka joy: Liow waving the Jalur Gemilang together with some of the 1JPJ Young Squad members, who took part in a campaign to spread the Merdeka joy to the less fortunate nationwide.

IPOH: Plans are afoot for a bypass railway track to be built for cargo trains travelling the Serendah-Port Klang route, said Transport Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai.

This, he said, was to reduce railway congestion in the KL Sentral area and allow the Ipoh-KL Sentral trains to arrive earlier.

“Every time the trains reach Rawang, they will have to slow down to allow many cargo trains from Serendah to enter KL Sentral first.

“With this new bypass, we will also be able to cut short the route for cargo coming in from the north like Thailand and Penang.

“These trains do not have to pass through KL Sentral anymore before heading towards Port Klang,” he told reporters after opening the Perak MCA annual state convention here yesterday.

The current route, added Liow, was actually longer for the cargo trains.

The Government, he said, was also looking forward to receiving 10 more units of six-coach train sets early next year to increase the frequency of the Ipoh-Padang Besar route.

“Once we have the 10 trains, we plan to order another 10. We need at least 20 of these train sets to enhance the efficiency of our services for the northern route.”

On the final report of the downing of the Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 which would be published on Oct 13, Liow said he hoped that it could shed some light on the cause of the incident.

“We will have MAS to keep in touch with the next-of-kin of Malaysian victims.

“We hope to hold a briefing session with them after we have received the final report ,” he said.

On the Bersih 4 rally, which was mostly attended by Chinese, Liow, who is also MCA president said:

“We respect the wishes of the participants – regardless of race – but we always tell them that whatever rally you want to attend, it has to be legal.

“They should also look at the time and the place of the rally,” he said.

Later at another event in Putrajaya, Liow received a convoy of big bikers who have been revving up the patriotic spirit by going around the country to bring joy to the less fortunate while also helping to raise road safety awareness.

The bikers are part of the Road Transport Department (JPJ)’s voluntary squad.

Some 5,000 members of the 1JPJ Young Squad had been hitting the roads nationwide in stages since Aug 20 to visit single mothers and orphans and help clean up kampung.

The activities were part of its National Day programme that went on until today.

Along the way, the bikers also made an effort to raise safety awareness among road users.

Yesterday, more than 1,000 of the members arrived in Kuala Lumpur to hand over the Jalur Gemilang – passed from state to state – to Liow.

Liow said that the 1JPJ Young Squad provided a platform for young people to take part in healthy activities while helping to promote road safety.

He added that the group had nearly 200,000 members across the country.

(The Star) More homes to be built for Felda settlers

KUALA TERENGGANU: More homes will be built for the second generation of Federal and Land Development Authority (Felda) settlers, as a sign of the government’s gratitude to them.

Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said the houses would cost between RM60,000 and RM70,000.

“Recently I announced that house prices for the second generation of Felda settlers be reduced from RM120,000 to RM90,000. But now, I would like to announce that more houses will be built for them and these houses would only cost between RM60,000 and RM70,000.

“This is because Felda settlers have risked and sacrificed everything they had and placed all their trust in the government.

“Today, they are benefiting from those sacrifices made,” Najib said before launching the 2015 national-level Felda Settlers Day celebration, held at the Gong Badak indoor stadium here yesterday.

On the price of palm oil, he said he had no means to control the rise or plunge in the commodity’s price but assured settlers that the Government would manage Felda.

“The price of the Felda Global Ventures (FGV) shares will rise and fall and that is normal. My advice to settlers is, keep your shares and not to sell them. Let them accumulate and the price will rise.

“For the short term, what we have is the dividend. Last year, we paid a total of RM59.2mil in dividends, I can assure you that Felda has enough of reserves to continue paying such dividends for a long time,” he said.

Najib said the Government was constantly finding ways to ensure that Felda settlers benefit from any major venture.

In June, FGV signed a deal with the Rajawali Group of Indonesia, which plans to strengthen downstream palm oil businesses.

FGV recently bought 37% shares in Indonesian company PT Eagle High Plantation (EHP).

On the Bersih rally, the PM said the organisers were not concerned about the people’s welfare, especially those in the rural areas.

Citing Felda settlers as examples, he said they should know who they could turn to in difficult times.

“Can you ask Bersih 4 people for help? Can we even put a little hope on them?” Najib asked.

“Do you even think those who were involved in Bersih 4 would even develop Felda or care for the welfare of the rural people?” he said.

Quoting reports which estimated that about 20,000 people attended the Bersih rally on Saturday, he said this meant that the 20,000 could have been a little dissatisfied.

“I would like to believe that the rest of the population are with the Government,” Najib said.

“Gathering your supporters is not a big deal. What is 20,000? If we want, we could also gather hundreds of thousands of people. Felda settlers alone could make the numbers,” he said.

Najib said that each government had its own problem.

“We have been going in and coming out of it including major crises in the past,” he said

(NST) KTMB to tap non-rail potential

KUALA LUMPUR: Keretapi Tanah Melayu Bhd (KTMB) plans to develop land along the KTM railway tracks and around its stations, which have the potential to generate more than RM30 billion in gross development value (GDV). 

Chairman Datuk Nawawi Ahmad said KTMB wanted to develop integrated projects, either through a public-private partnership or joint venture with property developers. 

KTMB was eyeing a business model similar to Mass Rapid Transit Corp Sdn Bhd (MRT Corp) and Prasarana Negara Bhd, he said. 

Not only is MRT Corp and Prasarana building and operating their respective MRT and LRT lines, the two companies are also developing land in joint ventures with property developers to grow their revenue. 

Nawawi said KTMB wants to do this to expand its non-rail business (currently focused on leasing advertising space), which has been contributing less than three per cent to total revenue. 

The bigger picture was to return the ailing company to profitability, he told Business Times. 

KTMB operates passenger and cargo trains on about 1,600km of railway tracks in Peninsular Malaysia and this has been contributing more than 95 per cent to its revenue. 

“We are proposing to the government to allow us to develop parcels of land along these railway tracks and around the 165 stations. There are 53 KTM stations in the Klang Valley that are of high development value. The business model used by MRT Corp and Prasarana is the best in the world. If KTMB does not utilise a similar model, then we are behind time. 

“We are looking at ways to improve KTMB and increase its revenue. If KTMB does not expand and diversify its revenue stream, we will have to continue to ask for subsidies from the government. 

“We are asking the finance and transport ministries for a master lease agreement where we can share the assets parked under Railway Assets Corp (RAC) for development. 

“These assets belonged to KTMB for over 120 years prior to the company’s privatisation in 1992, so we think it is only fair that we be allowed to develop them under a mutual agreement,” Nawawi said. 

The rail assets (rolling stocks and locomotives), land and the KTMB headquarters in Kuala Lumpur, which are parked under RAC, are estimated to be worth about RM50 billion. 

Nawawi said KTMB wanted to develop its non-rail business to at least 40 per cent of revenue contribution, so that it could be less dependent on cargo and passenger fares. 

“We need to make more than RM700 million in revenue to earn a profit.” 

Since KTMB’s corporatisation in 1992, its audited collective revenue as of December 31 2013 was RM7.4 billion. 

However, during the same period, KTMB recorded collective losses amounting to RM2.5 billion. 

Last year, it recorded a revenue of RM370 million and losses of around RM80 million.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

(The Star) Is owning a house in KL and Penang beyond most people’s reach?

DATUK Charon Mokhzani says it is “funny” how when someone wants to invest in the stock market there is heaps of data about what exactly happened in the past and the prediction for the future but the same cannot be said about housing.

“When you want make a huge investment in a house, you don’t know what new developments are coming up and how many people want houses.

“There is no data. It’s really quite amazing,” he says.

Charon is the managing director of Khazanah Research Institute (KRI) that came out with the Making Housing Affordable report.

There are 7.3 million houses in the country. Of these, three million are “informal” houses, which are houses built without a development order or those built by villagers like kampung homes.

If we give incentives to developers, we could have a far more efficient system and everyone can make far more money. - Charon Mokhzani

The National Property and Information Centre only takes into account formal housing, so their records show there are 4.3 million houses in the country; the Department of Statistics includes informal homes in their figures and the difference is a whopping three million.

You get the picture: There is no comprehensive integrated data base on housing here.

Charon points out that the closest thing Malaysia has to complete data on housing is the fact that over one million people have registered for houses with PR1MA.

“That tells you something.

“At some point in time, we have to provide one million houses for them. We are not sure if one million need houses or if they are renting but they have registered with PR1MA. Until we see the data, we won’t really know. But at least it’s a start and better than not knowing anything.

“But if we had a proper data base, then we would be able to do better planning,” he says.

PR1MA (Program Perumahan 1Malaysia, or the 1Malaysia People’s Housing programme) is a government homebuyer assistance programme to help people in the middle income group buy homes.

Those who register must be above 21, have a household income either individually or combined, between a husband and wife, of RM2,500 to RM10,000 a month. They should also not own more than one property between them.

Charon says the research institute report on affordable housing shows that houses in Kuala Lumpur and Penang are “severely unaffordable” and if nothing is done to address this as the country grows more urbanised, 40% of the lower income and 40% of the middle income groups would need some kind of social housing in the future.

In KL, based on the median household income, affordable houses should cost about RM280,000 and yet in 2014, there were no new property launches in KL below RM250,000 and the bulk of new launches were in the RM500,000 to RM1mil bracket.

“No wonder people in KL complain about housing! Urbanisation is happening all over the country. We are concerned that if we don’t do something now, KL and Penang will get worse and this might spread to the rest of the country.”

Charon believes that it is very possible for developers to offer affordable houses.

“Look at Malacca. They have an affordable range of houses costing around RM180,000. And a number of their new launches are near the affordable mark,” he says.

Developers argue that houses are expensive in KL because land is expensive.

But Charon says it is in fact the other way around.

“Why is five acres of land in KL more expensive than five acres of land in a small town? The reason is because you can sell a house in KL for far more than a house in a small town,” he says.

Be efficient to make more money

One interesting fact the report found is that cost of construction, building materials, and labour have actually all gone down.

Which is one reason why Khazanah Research Institute director of research Dr Suraya Ismail believes house prices can and should come down.

“Savings can be done at the project level. I’ve seen a lot of wastage at the project level on construction sites.

“House prices can come down if all these savings are done, but they have to make sure that the savings are passed down to the consumers.”

She points out that when the Government gives incentives to developers, the quid pro quo is for them to provide affordable homes for people.

For Dr Suraya, there is a great need for efficiency and innovation in the housing sector.

She says Malaysia should stop promoting a mentality and system which puts up with inefficient construction processes and inefficiency at construction sites.

She warns that if Malaysia keeps going the way it has, it will never have a very efficient sector that will be able to sustain the housing industry for the next 20 years.

The foreign contractors are coming in. They are very efficient. If we don’t make improvements, they will do it for us. - Dr Suraya Ismail

“The (China) Chinese contractors are coming in. They are very lean, they are very efficient. If we don’t make all these improvements at the construction site at company level, all these people (the Chinese and foreign contractors) will come in and just do it for us.

“Are we saying that it is fine? We should be looking at our own construction sector furnishing our own people with good housing units.

“But if we keep doing it the old way, our construction sector will not be modernised, it will not be able to be responsive and will be left behind.

“It is going on now, and we are always talking about it. Yet when KRI wants to put in the innovation, the first thing they say is that it is expensive, they won’t pay for it and it won’t bring house prices down.

“Someone has got to start intervening right now,” she says.

Both Dr Suraya and Charon cite Philippines 8990 Holdings Inc as an example of a developer hugely successful in providing affordable quality housing to the lower-income and medium-income group.

The company is able to do this through efficient project budgeting processes, product innovation, and reduction of production costs, which it passes on to the home buyers.

Charon says the Philippines’ model shows that developers can provide affordable housing and still make a good profit.

But will Malaysian developers be willing to do this?

“One of the things we say is that if we give the right incentives to private property developers and public sector developers, we could have a far more efficient system and everyone can make far more money,” says Charon.

“If someone is doing this for profit, it doesn’t matter how their profits are made, whether from selling penthouses or affordable housing. As long as they make sufficient returns.”

He says developers will provide houses for those who have the money and want to buy into a country club kind of lifestyle.

“But developers can and should provide other products to fit other people’s income level. And they can do it making reasonable returns.”

Charon says in Malaysia houses take a long time to get built.

For him, a more innovative and efficient way would be to build prefabricated houses in a factory that can be assembled on site.

“The 8990 is a home-grown system.

“That comes through innovation and the supply chain and people being responsive to the sector.

“That idea hasn’t caught on here,” he says.

The Khazanah Research Institute report makes some policy recommendations on how to reduce the pressures leading to rapid house price escalation.

One is to impose a five-year moratoriumon selling the new stock of houses built through the “new designated procurement route” so as to curb short-term speculative behaviour.

The second is to undertake a national housing survey because at present there is a mismatch between supply and demand for affordable housing; the survey can provide guidance to the federal and state governments as well as local authorities to plan for a steady supply of housing at affordable prices.

The report also says that if the information in the survey is made public, it would be helpful because it would give people the “requisite knowledge” to plan for the purchase of a house.

They would be able to choose between the different types of houses at different prices, which will lead to better financial planning as a whole, especially since a house takes up a huge chunk of one’s income.

Developers need to buck up

But is renting such a bad idea?

Dr Suraya says studies in many countries show that renting is not a choice.

“It happens because you can’t own but it is not what you want.”

She points out that many Malaysians finish off their EPF savings within three years after retirement, which is worrying.

“So it is better to give them the ability to own a house.

“Because we don’t have a social welfare system that is robust,” she says.

However, Charon says some people might argue that it is better they put what they save in paying house instalments into a well diversified portfolio of assets, which will earn higher returns than owning a home.

And that will pay for their rent.

Dr Suraya says that over one million have registered with PR1MA because these people believe the private sector cannot give them “affordable housing”.

She says the Philippines 8990 example the Khazanah Research Institute used as a case study shows Malaysian developers that they have to buck up and be competitive because others can do it.

But wouldn’t liberalising the housing sector and opening it up to foreign developers force Malaysian developers to be competitive and help bring house prices down?

“Let’s advocate to our own developers and contractors to be more competitive, innovative and efficient rather than open up and get someone else do it.

“Advocacy and awareness is the first step before we open up,” she says.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

(The Star) RM120mil for flood mitigation

MALACCA: An RM120mil express allocation from the Federal Government for a flood mitigation programme should ensure the historic city would no longer be plagued by flash floods.
Chief Minister Datuk Seri Idris Haron said the mitigation project will be expedited by the Drainage and Irrigation Department (DID) and should be completed by June 2017. “We sympathise with the predicament faced by residents in areas like Kampung Chetti, Kampung Lapan, Kampung Tujuh, Bukit Cina and Pengkalan Rama.
“DID will ensure the project will materialise as soon as possible, “he said. Idris added the project will also comprise beautification aspects, deepening the Malacca River’s tributaries and constructing a new waterway system for better flow during heavy downpours.
Areas like Kampung Chetti only started experiencing flash floods fairly recently.
Idris said such occurrences could be avoided if there was systematic management of the barrage at Malacca River.
He said the barrage could control the inflow of water during heavy downpours.
Idris also directed all four local councils to reopen the bunds at floodprone areas to prevent water from collecting at certain areas.
He said pumps should also be placed at low-lying areas to channel water into the drainage system.
He also announced an additional Exco portfolio on International Trade that will be helmed by State Transport and Project Rehabilitation committee chairman Datuk Lim Ban Hong.
He said the additional portfolio was crucial with the vast investment projects by Guangdong province into Malacca.
Idris said Lim’s portfolio will now be State Transport, Project Rehabilitation and International Trade, effective September while the additional anti-drug portfolio will be headed by state Health and Sports Development committee chairman Datuk Ab Rahaman Ab Karim.