Saturday, 30 June 2018

(NST) Agile Bukit Bintang launched

KUALA LUMPUR: Agile Bukit Bintang, a freehold mixed residential project located in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, was officially launched today.

The launch of the project follows the excellent sales performance of Agile Mont Kiara project which had recorded a take-up rate of 90 per cent.

Agile Bukit Bintang is a freehold project which covers a total area of approximately 3.76 acres with a gross development value (GDV) of RM 2.2 billion.

The development is a joint-venture between Agile Group and Tropicana Corporation Berhad.

Agile Malaysia chief executive officer Chai Keng Wai said Agile Bukit Bintang showed a strong alliance of top developers of Malaysia and China.

“This joint-venture project with Tropicana from China is a great partnerships and we are proud to bring you another project from us.

“We invested more than RM3.4 billion for both projects that we are running and we aim to reach RM12.6 billion in the next three years.

“In the near future, we would love to branch out in Penang and Selangor as well,” he said.

Tropicana Corporation Bhd managing director Ngian Siew Siong said the launching ceremony is to celebrate the prestigious land mark of Kuala Lumpur.

“Today we celebrate successful collaboration of Tropicana with Agile Malaysia where we reached this great milestone.

“We both had shared each other strength and expertise in order to make this possible. This collaboration also mark our future joint-venture together.

“With the bold and cutting-edge properties in Kuala Lumpur, we are confident that this will mark one of the exclusive properties in Bukit Bintang,” he said.

Within three weeks upon obtaining the Advertising Permit and Developer Licence (APDL), Agile Bukit Bintang has released 300 units prior to the launch and more than 50 per cent were sold.

This project is a mix development comprising three residential towers with a total of 1501 units, 66 SOVO units and 14 commercial lots.

To date, Agile Bukit Bintang has launched Tower B, which is the first phase of the project. The 60-storey of Tower B consists of 21 SOVO units and 678 residential units and it is one of the few 60-storey residential projects in Kuala Lumpur.

The 10th floor of the building is designed with a tropical rainforest which is centred around ” Five Gardens” concept to create a wholesome lifestyle within a green environment.

Agile Bukit Bintang is located along Jalan Bukit Bintang, just a stone throw away from Pavilion Shopping Mall and 300 metres away from Malaysia’s most exclusive golf course - Royal Selangor Golf Club.

Upon the completion of Agile Bukit Bintang by December 2022, it will definitely be a new landmark in the heart of Kuala Lumpur.

(The Star) Lavish offerings for a late-night meal

Not many restaurants serve food past 10.30pm but there are some operators kind enough to keep their kitchens open for the hungry.

If you are in the vicinity of Pavilion Kuala Lumpur and not particularly interested in hawker fare around that time, then the food at Saro Lounge might help appease hunger pangs.

The lounge and restaurant on Level 8 of Pavilion Elite can be tricky to find but look out for a big wooden door with the words “Saro” in an inconspicuous corner.

Saro Lounge offers a lavish experience in terms of the setting. — Photos: FAIHAN GHANI/The Star

Saro is Italian for “I will” and is the restaurant’s testament to providing its guests quality service.

Kesavan Purusotman, one of the partners at Saro, said it was their vision to offer patrons more than just food and drinks but an entire experience.

“An exquisite cocktail paired with flavourful dishes complemented by eclectic tunes and comfortable setting is what Saro is all about,” said Kesavan.

With Nopporn Nutto heading the kitchen and Mohd Faizal Mohd Zaffar as his right hand, the menu comprises a variety of small plates and some main course dishes.

Saro’s six bite-sized pieces of crispy fillo pastry topped with a variety of toppings such as beef, chicken, tomato, mushroom, avocado and smoked salmon are ideal with drinks.

Saro Sour (front) has cinnamon, star anise and rosemary that are burned and covered with a glass to smoke the glass.

Known as Signature Shells, these likeable minis are priced at RM32.

Village Wings (RM27) featuring deep-fried chicken wings in fish jus are served with lemon mayo and spicy green sauce.

Pizza Quesadillas (RM32), Beef Burrito (RM28), mini burgers (RM30), Saro Nachos (RM28) and curly fries (RM21) are other finger food options for late-night snackers.

The good news is that the price for these small-plate items gets reduced by 10% from 11pm to 2.30am.

For heartier meals, Saro has fusion pesto sauce with chicken or soft shell crab.

Signature 47 cocktail and Grilled Prawns with Cherry Tomatoes in shooter glasses.

The Fusion Australian Beef on Skewers and Garlic Fried Rice is popular with diners. So is the lamb version. Both are priced at RM46.

The beef, recommended by Saro’s representative Mark Nejad was juicy and nicely marinated with garlic, pepper and capsicum.

Nejad said Australian beef was preferred for this treat.

There are also likeable croquettes on skewers and tasty grilled prawns with cherry tomatoes in shooter glasses to delight in.

Mini burgers are also popular here.

Prepared with 100% beef or chicken patties, the meat is marinated with salt and pepper, and served with multigrain bun and potato wedges (RM30).

However, Saro’s sushi can be improved as they appeared somewhat unattractive so we gave them a miss.

Saros mini burgers with potato wedges on a tile slab.

With dark tones in its space, Saro’s interior comes across as masculine with its attractive bar a feature in this nightlife venue.

While there are various cocktails to try, Saro Sour, Passionfruit Martini and Signature 47 are some recommended items.

Kesavan said Saro opened its doors in November last year but was only launched in March.

“We get an office crowd from 6pm to 9pm and a dinner crowd between 8pm and 10pm.

Saro is open from 4pm to 1am (Sunday and Monday), 4pm to 3am (Tuesday to Saturday).

For reservations, call 03-2110 4080.

This is the writer’s observation and not an endorsement by StarMetro.

Fusion beef on skewers and garlic fried rice featuring Australian beef marinated with garlic, pepper and capsicum.

(The Star) A fine place to dine and shop for food

Finding a connection to a shopping centre is important when in need of retail therapy.

Some shoppers are attracted to malls with plenty of floor space and rows of shops while others prefer cosier destinations like Shoppes at Four Seasons Place.

The avant-garde facade of Four Seasons Place, which features the designs of renowned architect Benoy, integrates retail and lifestyle in one destination with Shoppes, Four Seasons Hotel Kuala Lumpur and Four Seasons Private Residences.

The new retail destination on Jalan Ampang is another interesting addition to the Kuala Lumpur City Centre (KLCC) commercial district for its handpicked retail partners, exquisite restaurants, boutique grocer and even hawker offerings.

Malaysia Boleh is a popular destination for various types of hawker food.

With six levels of shopping space, lifestyle brands such as Robinsons, Sushi Hibiki, Atlas Gourmet Market and Decadent by Four Seasons are among the attractions here.

Venture into Shoppes’ B1 and find an enclave fitted with gourmet offerings which will resonate well with Malaysians.

The pleasant surprise is in finding upscale restaurants alongside eateries dishing out hawker fare.

Malaysia Boleh with its elaborate non-halal hawker fare is quickly becoming the talk of the town, attracting customers from the minute this kopitiam opens at 10am.

Needless to say, lunch hour is a busy time with office workers in the vicinity making a beeline for Malaysia Boleh.

Its clean appeal with evergreen Chinese melodies playing overhead, high columns with Peranakan balconies, chicken coops as well as bird cages artistically incorporated into the decor give the place character, reminiscent of a kampung.

A variety of imported products can be found at Atlas Gourmet Market.

Interesting caricatures and drawings on the walls make for conversation pieces over lunch or dinner.

Malaysia Boleh and the halal Encik Tan are Singaporean brands, and their successful branding was why they were included among the attractions at Shoppes.

Fei Siong Food Management Sdn Bhd operation manager Alexander Oo said there are 14 stalls in Malaysia Boleh with cooks specialised in hawker offerings.

“We have various local dishes. The taste of dishes may differ from what we have in Singapore as we cater to local taste buds.

“Our Hokkien mee, char kuey teow and wantan mee are popular with diners. So, is our cendol as it can sell up to 650 bowls a day,” said Oo.

Alternatively, those who want some place a little more upmarket will enjoy dining at the classy Atlas Bistro.

Decadent offers handcrafted artisanal chocolates, luscious gelato and sherbet.

This modern day bistro is linked to the boutique Atlas Gourmet Market (AGM) where Atlas Fine Meat and Poseidon Reserve are located.

The fine meat section has a range of cuts, marbling grades including Sanchoku Wagyu, Miyazaki A5 Wagyu, Tomahawk, and Black Angus among others while Poseidon prides itself on its live lobsters, oysters, caviar, king crab and a variety of crustacean.

There are also fresh wild oysters, royal oysters, Irish Gallaghers and French Fine de Claire, air-flown weekly from France and Ireland.

Fresh local produce are a highlight as well with fresh Sandakan prawns available at the market.

Diners can select their cut of meat or preferred seafood from the range of fresh ingredients displayed.

“All our ingredients are inspired from the product offerings from our very own grocer with the chef picking ingredients and spices from the shelves to ensure diners freshness on a plate,” said Atlas Gourmet Sdn Bhd chief executive officer Bernard Ng.

At the bistro, attention is given to details with Wagyu burger patties hand chopped, while fries are hand cut and double-fried to ensure crispiness.

Chickens are sourced from local organic farms, brined in a selection of herbs and juices for 24 hours and roasted to perfection for that juiciness and flavour.

At AGM, diners can visualise freshness on a plate just by walking through the colourful display of vegetables, fruits and imported ingredients.

Here, shoppers can find Kusmi tea, Hui Le Blanc Oils (J.Leblanc – one of the best producers for gourmet oils), Castaing Foie gras, and Venchi chocolates as well as a variety of truffle products, truffle butter, oils and sauces.

AGM houses 40 types of cheese.

Ng says Atlas Gourmet is the only grocer in Kuala Lumpur offering Iberico sausages.

Wholly Cheese has an impressive variety of hard, semi-hard, soft and blue cheese from various countries including Holland, France, Switzerland, Italy and UK.

With an in-house sommelier to guide guests, there are old and new world wines with more than 400 varieties stocked up at AGM including premium types such as Chateau Petrus, a Bordeaux wine estate in France.

AGM also has the finest quality of Iberico, Jamon Iberico, cured meats, house-made sausages and hams.

Ng said, “We are the only grocer in Kuala Lumpur offering Iberico sausages. All sausages are freshly made without preservatives.”

Let us not forget Atlas Pizzeria.

Lifestyle foodcourt and retail for Four Seasons Shoppes KL. — Photos: FAIHAN GHANI/The Star

There are no shortcuts at this eatery as pizza dough is made in-house and so is the tomato sauce using the freshest of ingredients.

To savour traditional thin crust and hand-tossed pizza, make a date with Atlas Pizzeria.

There are classic favourites as well as new and innovative flavours like rendang pizza.

Expect cooks to use a combination of ingredients such as Italian pecorino cheese and Swiss Emmenthal Cheese with local ingredients such as bunga kantan and serai.

Just a short walk away is Decadent by Four Seasons where handcrafted artisanal chocolates, luscious gelato and sherbet using quality seasonal fruits and natural flavours tempt those with a sweet tooth.

Malaysia Boleh’s cendol is so popular with diners that it can sell up to 650 bowls a day.

Let us not forget the dreamy chocolates, pastries, baked treats and delicate cakes.

If decadent sweets are not your thing, then perhaps artisanal hand-roasted coffee ranging from nitro coffee to espresso might be the better option to have at Decadent.

To complete the experience, Fleur by RLD is the local florist and gift shop provider providing artistically designed flower arrangements for all types of occasions.

Shoppes also has a money changer, laundry shop and news stand.

(The Star) A development too far

A couple of years ago, a group of Taman Tun Dr Ismail (TTDI) residents protested when they discovered that about 1,800 high-end serviced apartments and a separate 350 units of affordable housing will be built on about 12 acres of the 25-acre Taman Rimba Kiara.

They are not opposed to the 350 units meant for family members of former rubber estate families who have been living there for about 40 years.

They are against the additional 1,800 units.

Over in Taman Desa, off Old Klang Road, residents are also opposing a slew of high-rise residential projects being planned on a narrow strip of Tenaga Nasional Bhd land after power line cables were “embedded” in the ground along the border of the land, thus freeing the land for other uses.

The co-ordinating committee member M. Gunasekar says the land was alienated to a private company and the directors then sold the company to the current developer.

In Taman Wahyu, residents want Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) to review the proposed mixed development on Lot PT 26934 Jalan Kepong. The project involves building 1,000 high-rise units on a “filled-up” retention pond.

All three cases share common threads. They are located within the Federal Territory involving projects that will add thousands of units into the city’s skyline at a time when thousands of completed units from developers remain unsold for the first three months of this year, valued at RM2.77bil.

These units exclude those available for sale from those who had speculated on the last property boom, which peaked in 2012.

At each of these protests by residents, stories about losing their park, their homes or over-development form the common theme. They also question the land deals involved and why there is flexibility of switching land use, and the moving goal post involving density.

They question why planned open spaces were not gazetted after so many years; why the Kuala Lumpur master plan has not been gazetted. Former FT Minister Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor said in February 2018 that the KL City Plan was done in 2008 and “time has overtaken events.”

Universiti Teknologi Mara professor of property investment Ting Kien Hwa says land and housing can be emotive issues.

At the lowest level, there is the abandoned land or project, or squatters left homeless. At the highest level, over-development.

Demolition job: Kepong community service centre head Yee Poh Ping looking at DBKL officers demolishing the houses at parcel F, Jinjang Selatan Tambahan, Kuala Lumpur.

There are also the social, political or economic aspects.

For the longest time, land has been a tool to gain patronage, political mileage and other favours, or so it seems. Giving out contracts is another.

“It is like the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) and other infrastructure projects. The only difference is land and housing is now the medium,” says Ting.

May 9, 2018

It is hoped that May 9, 2018 will be a watershed. It was an event which gave this country the turning point it needed in more ways than just changing the government.

A whiff of land-for-patronage came to light when 64 land deals, all within Kuala Lumpur, were reported by the media recently. Details of the 64 plots were made available in a Parliamentary written reply from the FT Ministry before the May 9 general election.

The 64 plots have a combined area of 424.29 acres and a total transaction value of RM4.28bil.

Ting says land, in its raw form, has little value. But when resources are on it, buildings for example, this gives it value.

Agriculture land has a lower value, while commercial-titled land is of higher value. The higher the density, the greater the value because developers can then build higher.

They get more units of condominiums on that plot by going up to 50 storeys, as opposed to 20 storeys.

The Taman Rimba project has several blocks of about 50 storeys, increasing the density ratio there many times over.

Density has its costs and benefits. But when density is increased to benefit some at the expense of many, raising density levels ceases to be a benefit.

When a retention pond is “filled” so that 1,000 units can be sited on it, it may be a security issue, postponed for the future.

Not all 64 of those deals are questionable. Some may be fairly valued. But land, and the wealth that follows closely behind, can be divisive.

Deals and contracts oil the economy. But sometimes, deals can be made to benefit a few, at the expense of many.

If the built-up area is 900 sq ft compared to the space families currently have, it looks like a zero-sum game.

Selva Kumar Krishnan, assistant secretary of the Jinjang Selatan Tambahan Lot 9714, says about 500 families were offered units of 900 sq ft in a low-cost development when they currently live in 40ftx60ft houses.

“The unit costs RM42,000. It is a difficult exchange. Many made that exchange because they have no choice, or were forced to do so because the bulldozers were just outside their houses,” he says.

Lot 9714 comprises 115 acres, of which 54.66 acres were transferred to a developer for about RM280mil in November 2017.

Selva is fighting for Lot 9714, or plot number 61. The land deals around the Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur are not limited to just 64.

“We are number 65,” says Save Taman Rimba Kiara lead strategist and coordinator Leon Koay.

The people of TTDI are not against the 350 units for families of the former rubber estate workers. They are against the extra 1,800 units.

The total gross development value of the Taman Rimba Kiara project, or the value the units can fetch, is about RM3bil. The 350 units of social housing cost RM15mil.

Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan said the 25-acre Taman Rimba Kiara was never gazetted as a public park, but zoned as open space for 13.3 acres.

“This development would not touch on the 13.3 acres at all,” he had said in a statement in December 2017.

There are many claiming to be number 65. Not all are vocal as the people of TTDI, or as determined as the Jinjang residents, who have been asking for their land grant for some 50 years.

Many do not have a Leon Koay, or a Selva, to champion their case. But a roof over one’s head is a basic need. Their silent frustration, together with other factors, was what brought about May 9, 2018.

The draw of the city

Lina Kee, 56, left Kuala Lumpur to return to her hometown about five years ago. She yearns to return to the city to seek work because there are “fewer options” in her home state. The pay is also low. But unless she succeeds in getting employment, she will not come to the city.

The poor and the rich make up the city. The poor come to the city because they want to enrich themselves with the opportunities they can find there.

Lina has human capital, in the form of skills, which she wants to “rent” to the financial market. So, the Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur allows the labourer and the capitalist to thrive. The labour market is more important than the property market.

But because land is limited, it can - and is - often exploited.

For some time now since the Global Financial Crisis in 2008, politicians have been dangling home ownership like carrots.

Even affordable housing can be politicised.

About 24,000 units of affordable and low-cost housing were planned for that 64 plots. But not everyone will be able to afford their own home. To dangle that carrot, with a bank loan tied to it, may not be the wisest of decisions for the urban poor.

Promoting development disguised as giving the masses the affordable housing they crave is politicising land and home ownership. They do not jive.

Socio-Economic Research Centre (SERC) executive director Lee Heng Guie says the previous government had, over various past budgets, implemented various home-financing schemes to promote home ownership.

There was this proposal to create a housing guarantee agency – Syarikat Jaminan Kredit Perumahan Bhd (SJKP) – under the Finance Ministry to enable those who do not have a stable income to get housing loans which would be guaranteed by the government.

“Any loans guaranteed by the government, whether explicitly or implicitly, represent potential contingent liabilities directly assumed in the federal government’s balance sheet, if the guaranteed entity cannot service the loans. This will add to fiscal cost.”

Lee offers a strategy. Mitigate risky debts by having the government and the insurance industry implement schemes to cover first-time home buyers against loss of income risk such as unemployment and health-related illness.

“Such insurance schemes not only help to minimise financial risks, but also improve the accessibility and viability of affordable home financing,” he says.

Lee says the government has to evaluate the financial risks and potential fiscal cost, minimise moral hazards and set additional reserve requirements to minimise government risk.

Although that tie-up between the two government agencies, one a credit guarantee entity and the other a housing agency, raises many questions, the then-second finance minister Datuk Seri Johari Abdul Ghani justified the move by saying that the partnership would enable “more... to purchase their own dream home.”

“While SJKP’s guarantee for SPNB homes could have an impact on the contingent liability, it is fine as long as deserving Malaysians benefit from the initiative,” Johari was reported as saying. Hopefully, that proposal is canned.

Luring the masses to take up home-ownership when they can ill-afford it is a disservice.

May 9 changed all that. But it is the politicising of land and housing which gives rise to issues like those 64 plots.

(The Star) S&P reaffirms Malaysia’s ratings, outlook stable

It may raise ratings in next 24 months if strong performance continues

KUALA LUMPUR: S&P Global Ratings has reaffirmed Malaysia’s foreign currency and local currency ratings as “stable”, indicating it may raise the ratings over the next 24 months if the strong economic performance continues.

The ratings agency said it expects Malaysia’s core credit strengths, including its robust external position and highly credible monetary policy settings, to continue to support the ratings following the recent change in government. Yesterday, it reaffirmed the country’s ‘A-/A-2’ foreign currency and ‘A/A-1’ local currency ratings.

“The considerable depth of expertise in the new government, led by returning Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, should ensure a reasonably smooth power transition,” it said.

As for the replacement of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) with the narrower Sales and Services Tax (SST), it said this would increase reliance on commodity-based revenues, in the absence of additional structural revenue measures.

S&P Ratings said the stable outlook balances Malaysia’s strong net external position, its above-average growth performance, and its track record of monetary flexibility against the risks inherent in the ongoing political transition, and its sizeable government debt stock. The stable outlook also expected the well-established institutions to remain in place following the change in government.

“We may raise the ratings over the next 24 months if the strong economic performance observed over the last few years continues, and in turn, produces a fiscal performance that’s better than we expected, reducing debt levels further than anticipated,” it said.

However, S&P Ratings said its ratings on the country could face downward pressure if it assessed a weaker commitment to growth and fiscal consolidation that could in turn hurt the Government’s debt standing.

Indications of downward pressure on the ratings are net general government debt and the annual change in net general government debt surpassing 60% and 4%, respectively, in a sustained way.

The ratings agency said Pakatan Harapan’s (PH) May 9 election victory over the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) government was without precedent in post-independence Malaysia.

BN had, in various iterations, administered the Malaysian government without interruption for 61 years prior to its recent defeat at the polls.

Dr Mahathir has taken the reins of the Government from Datuk Seri Najib Razak, who resigned as party chairman of UMNO and leader of the BN coalition following the election defeat.

“We consider Malaysia’s institutions to have supported generally effective policymaking for a long time, and believe that the depth of capacity at these institutions will be sufficient to ensure an orderly power transition.

“In particular, we emphasise that Prime Minister Mahathir boasts a long career in politics, including 22 years as prime minister from 1981-2003,” it said.

Dr Mahathir was instrumental in Malaysia’s rise to middle-income status during his previous tenure, and this track record is a substantial endorsement of his capacity to support sustainable public finances and economic growth.

He has surrounded himself with policymakers from across the political spectrum, including many who served under previous BN governments, underpinning S&P’s expectations for an orderly transition.

(The Star) Renewed hope for Country Heights

In the 1980s and 1990s, Tan Sri Lee Kim Yew was among the biggest names in the property sector.

The business tycoon, known to be close to the then and current prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, was responsible for the sprawling Mines Resort City in Sungai Besi, which hosts the iconic Palace of the Golden Horses hotel.

After a few rough years for the businessman and his company, the 64 year-old now sees renewed hope – and has set out ambitious plans to transform his listed company, Country Heights Holdings Bhd (CHHB).

The group, which has been loss-making for the past three years, is now looking to raise RM1bil for its “war chest” and to fund four new business ventures.

“The new government represents a new hope for the private sector,” he told a recent press conference.

Lee says he has been “suffocated” along with his company over the past few years, due to higher costs including higher electricity tariff, the GST, and following a public battle with the Inland Revenue Board (IRB) last year.

In 2016, Country Heights Sdn Bhd (CHSB), a unit of Country Heights, was ordered to pay the Government tax arrears amounting to RM22.49mil.

Lee became embroiled in a battle with the IRB, which ultimately led to the seizure of RM126mil of his fixed deposits placed with a foreign-owned bank.

The unit’s outstanding tax amount was for the 1997 and 1998 years of assessment.

In December 2016, CHSB had appealed to the then Finance Minister and former Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak against the IRB’s decision, stating that the tax liabilities of CHSB were incurred during the Asian financial crisis in 1997 and 1998.

Later, in filings to the stock exchange, the group said while the Finance Ministry had accepted a cash settlement proposal from CHSB, it was later informed “that the said proposal was not acceptable to the IRB”.

“I was treated as though I was guilty before proven innocent,” he says.

Dr Mahathir was among those who spoke up in support of Lee at the time, calling the move “daylight robbery in which tax is levied on money without legitimate reason,” in a blog post.

Unfortunately, even after the tax payments were settled, Lee’s problems did not end there.

The businessman has struggled to get financing for his company despite Country Heights having over RM2.5bil in assets and only RM200mil in borrowings.

“I am going to write to the Prime Minister and I hope the new government can look at our case.

“I want to make everything transparent, I want to clear my name,” he says.

Lee, however, says he is ticked off when people call him a “crony” of the prime minister.

“We businessmen make money and pay our taxes. All our money is hard earned but they brand us as cronies,” he says.

Even with over RM2.5bil in assets, Lee says they have been unable to get borrowings of RM1bil.

He says he wants the new administration to know their plight.

“We just want them to listen to the private sector and give us a conducive environment,” he says.

Many other companies, he says, are faced with the same problem of not being able to obtain funding despite having significant assets.

“During the suffocation period, it was so difficult to deal with banks.

“It was not just the income tax problem, even after that, banks did not want to entertain me,” he says.

New business ventures

Last week, Lee unveiled four ambitious projects set to run concurrently once the group secures the RM1bil it intends to raise.

It says the company plans to raise funds either via direct borrowings or by issuing bonds.

“We are transforming ourselves to being not just a pure property player. Going forward, we believe property must be supported by industry.

“The war chest fund is also a standby fund for us to invest in new acquisitions in the future to expand the business,” he says.

One of the projects, expected to be the biggest among the four, is a “car city centre” which Lee describes as a one stop centre for car enthusiasts, with a GDV of RM1.5bil.

The project, which will be led by Lee’s son and group executive director, Lee Thai Young Matahari, will see the Mines exhibition hall transformed into the car city centre, whereby customers can buy or do anything automotive-related under one roof such as loan applications and Puspakom checks, as well as purchase car accessories.

Another plan under this project is a potential collaboration with a China company which runs the China GT Championship racing event.

Lee says they want set up an Asean GT to bring in racers from the region and fill the void left after the removal of the Formula One race in Malaysia.

“We are creating an ecosystem to link together the real estate, exhibition and automotive industry.

“This will be a pioneering project within Asean itself,” he says.

Lee aims to complete the automotive project within 24 months.

The group also wants to restrategise its hospitality and resorts division, by bringing in a wellness aspect, offering additonal health services to its customers.

It also wants to expand into the wellness, anti-ageing and aesthetics business, tying in property with wellness and health checks and also a retirement home concept.

“We will build a wellness property spanning 1mil sqf from the Palace of Golden Horses hotel right up to our business park,” he says. The GDV for this is also between RM1.2bil and RM1.5bil, he says.

The group’s fourth project involves its 62-acre landbank in Malacca, on which it plans to build a trade and Islamic financial centre.

For these projects, the group is actively looking for strategic partners.

He says they are already in talks with local as well as foreign parties.

“For strategic partners we will be looking at industry players within each each individual business model.

“So for example, for the car city, our strategic partners would be automotive event owners, car dealers, accessory providers,” he says.

He adds that the group may take up stakes in these companies and make them associates. “If you ask me how long it will take us to complete these projects, we don’t have an exact timeline but I want to do it fast.

“We want to do this quickly – as soon as we raise funds,” he says.

Lee says the transformation of the group represented the comeback of Country Heights, calling it “Country Heights 2.0”.

Asked if these projects will help turnaround the loss-making property player, he simply says “of course”.

(The Star) Sources say MRL would not have signed ECRL contract given a choice

Malaysia Rail Link Sdn Bhd (MRL) would not have signed the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) project contract if given a choice in the first place, according to sources.

A source says that MRL representatives revealed this to the Council of Eminent Persons (CEP), who noted that the contract was heavily skewed against Malaysia’s favour.

“Among the reasons was the 15% upfront payment. After information was revealed to the public of the unfavourable contract terms to Malaysia, even China government officials were quite embarrassed about it and agreed to changes in the agreement,” says a source.

It was reported earlier that the previous Barisan Nasional government signed for an entire project amount of RM66bil, and a 15% upfront fee amounted to around RM10bil.

After further scrutiny from the new government, the ECRL project will now undergo cost cutting measures that will see some RM26bil or more being shaved off the cost of the entire project.

“The project which was mooted by the previous BN government would have to be carried out by the new government because commitments have already been put into place. A cancellation would entail higher additional costs of more than RM21bil,” the source says. “So given this scenario, despite the new government having the right to cancel the ECRL project if it went against national interests they have decided to proceed,” he adds.

After the proposed cost cutting measures, costs for the ECRL project is expected to drop to RM40bil from the initial RM66bil.

The effect of the cost cutting would now see both Phase 2 and 3 of the ECRL project being cancelled, the sources say.

Phase 2 is the railway route from Gombak to Port Klang costing some RM9bil while Phase 3 is the double tracking portion & route to Pengkalan Kubor that costs RM11bil.

There are also proposals to only defer the Phase 2 of the project and to eventually award them to local contractors in an open tender. “But this is still being studied in-depth but the priority is to cut costs at this stage until the RM1 trillion debts come under control,” the source says. There are also other adjustments that will be made to the finer details of the project.

Among the proposed changes to the present ECRL project include to cut the total number of stations and to do away with the smaller ones.

“The aim of this is to really cut costs as there are grounds to believe that the mainland Chinese have over-designed it if the smaller details are observed,” a source says.

It is also understood that the number of tunnels will also be slashed from 50 to around 25.

“All these tunnels had exponentially added to costs and thus an alternate route without tunnels but surface railway will likely be chosen so that it will be more friendly to costs. While the design or even the total number of bridges will also be re-looked again,” he adds.

According to, the ECRL had initially incorporated a total length of 100km in bridges with 50km of tunnel length that will cross the Titiwangsa Range.

MRL said earlier in the month that progress for the project is near 15% and they project team has already set up base and satellite camps in all eight sections of the project, land acquisition, site clearing and the construction of road access.

The company also said then that the construction had also included multiple road access of about 95km in length and temporary bridges spanning 1,067 metres that have been constructed at many of the ECRL project sites in the east coast states.

Other areas that will be reconsidered or re-looked include number of depots and the size of these depots.

The sources also said that the mainland Chinese have also offered to build a rail school for knowledge transfer purposes.

Changes will also be seen in the composition of local contractors participation so that it will be a more Malaysian project.

“Accordingly, the project managers also wanted to shed the image that this is purely a mainland China project that is being merely being deployed to Malaysia. I believe the Chinese contractors were in agreement and thus local content is expected to increase to at least 45% from 30% before,” the source says. The source said that the proposal was to allow for all civil, tracking and some systems works to be done by local contractors.

“The mainland Chinese have agreed in principle that this is acceptable since it is being built on Malaysian land. It will also give more stability to the ECRL project as it eliminates foreign exchange risks,” the source says.

(The Star) Work on RM104mil hospital delayed

REMBAU: Work on the RM104mil Rembau Hospital has been further delayed and the facility will now only be ready in the first quarter of next year, says Health Minister Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad.

The construction of the 76-bed hospital was supposed to have been completed in September 2016 but the contractor was given till June this year to finish the job.

“This is one of the projects that has been brought to my attention and I want to make sure it is fi­nished quickly.

“Although the contractor said the project is around 90% completed and should be opened by year end, I think it is only 80% done,” he said after a tour of the project site.

Work on the hospital started in September 2013 but the contractor was replaced after checks showed the project was beset with structu­ral and design problems.

Asked about the cause of the further delay, Dr Dzulkefly said it was mainly due to technical and design issues.

Former health minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam last Decem­ber had given the contractor till June this year to finish the job and said it should be operational by September.

Rembau Hospital was among those built to provide various medical services to those from here, Port Dickson and Tampin.

On a separate matter, Dr Dzulkefly said 23 ongoing projects of the ministry which include the construction of the Rembau Hospital as well as other health facilities had been categorised as "sick".

He said “sick” projects were those in which work was delayed by 20%.

Citing an example, he said the Government had to fork out an additional RM8mil to complete the construction of the Rembau Hospital.

Measures would be put in place to ensure these projects were completed without the Government having to incur additional costs, he said.

“These are projects which are in the red zone category.

“I will check these projects one by one and remind the contractors that they will have to deliver on time," Dr Dzulkefly said.

“We cannot afford delays as this would cost the Government more money.”

Friday, 29 June 2018

(The Star) Mission to beautify KL’s dingy alleys

Dirty and dingy lanes in Kuala Lumpur will soon be a thing of the past.

Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) is collaborating with Think City to kick off its mission to transform alleys into clean, safe and functional spaces.

The pilot laneway improvement programme will start with the rejuvenation of the 100m-long Lorong Bandar 13.

It went through a six-week trial, where Think City created a sample of what it would look like in order to get feedback as well as engage with stakeholders to achieve a win-win situation.

At the ground-breaking ceremony, Think City programme director Dr Neil Khor said the project would cost RM300,000 and was expected to be completed in October.

“The lanes and alleys were selected based on their current condition, connectivity and potential for improvement. Ideally, we want to enhance the vibrancy of Kuala Lumpur through functional and creative spaces to facilitate pedestrian traffic, showcase good environmentally-friendly practices and deter bad habits.

“The problems in Lorong Bandar 13 include improper rubbish disposal, lack of lighting, washing activities, uneven pavement and potholes, among other things. The public started avoiding this area and it became a place for drug addicts and the homeless.

“We engaged with the businesses and property owners there to find solutions.

“For example, businesses that do washing of dishes outside their premises were given grants to improve their kitchen facilities and the waste collection schedule was improved to ensure that residents take out their rubbish only during collection time,” he said.

Dr Khor added that stakeholders were also empowered to take care of the back lane.

“For example, if there was a planters box, there must be someone who is going to water the plants.

“The community also developed guidelines on how to use and care for space. Their feedback led to the design brief for the detailed drawings by Linear Vista, the appointed architect for the project.

“We will start work on eight other lanes and alleys soon and it is expected to be completed by the end of 2020.

“The rejuvenated lanes may even create job opportunities because there were interest by certain parties to set up kiosks, as pedestrians would use that lane for their daily commute,” he said.

Other alleys selected for the project include Lebuh Ampang, Lorong Hang Lekiu, Lorong Tun HS Lee north, Lorong Tun HS Lee south, Lorong Yap Ah Loy, Lorong Pudu, Lorong Tun Tan Cheng Lock and Lorong Hang Kasturi south.

DBKL project management executive director Datuk Mahadi Che Ngah said the initiative by Think City to revitalise unused space in the heart of the city was a good idea.

“More and more people are moving into the city. More open spaces are being used to build buildings to accommodate the rise in population.

“We cannot afford to waste available space.

“There are many such lanes in the city and if they can all be put to good use, it will greatly benefit the people. DBKL is always finding ways to make the city safe, sustainable and prosperous.

“These lanes may even become an attraction for local and international tourists.

He said DBKL will form a task force to manage the area.

Also present at the launch of the project was Bukit Bintang MP Fong Kui Loon.

(The Star) Selangor pays for parking via app from July 1

The Selangor government will officially roll out a new parking payment app across five local councils in the state on July 1 as part of its Smart Selangor initiative.

Motorists will now be able to use the app to pay for parking on the street under the Shah Alam City Council as well as Ampang Jaya, Sepang, Kajang and Selayang municipal councils.

The Smart Selangor Parking (SSP) app is created by Leading Innovative Technologies and Systems Sdn Bhd in collaboration with Selangor Menteri Besar Incorporated (MBI) through the Smart Selangor Delivery Unit (SSDU).

It can be downloaded from the Apple App Store and Google Play.

State Local Government, Public Transport and New Village Development committee chairman Ng Sze Han said the app was the first stage in addressing traffic problems in the state.

“The app was developed as an integrated parking payment system that will eventually be used across all local councils,” he said during the official launch of the app.

The app allows enforcement officers to issue compounds, which users can check and pay for, also via the app.

The enforcement officer only has to scan the car registration number or key it into the app to check if parking has been paid.

SSDU managing director Dr Mohammad Fahmi Ngah hoped to integrate the system with other local councils by next year.

Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ), which initially planned to participate in the parking app, however, has put the plan on hold.

On this Dr Mohammad Fahmi said: “As far as we are concerned the method of procurement and evaluation was done based on procedures endorsed by the state government. This app is offered at no cost to the local authorities.”

He added that SSDU was given a grant of RM1mil to study the entire parking system for the state, including indoor parking.

Earlier in the MBPJ full board meeting, Petaling Jaya mayor Datuk Mohd Azizi Mohd Zain said the council decided to look into the terms and conditions of one of the selected app service providers authorised by MBI before going ahead with it.

MBPJ took a stand to approve the system provided by a company only when all conditions are made known and put into the agreement.

He said the councillors were afraid there would be a monopoly in the parking app industry.

“They are also afraid that the agreement may not be a fair one and result in more problems for the council in the future.

“They also raised the issue of intellectual property of the system which is said to belong to one company,” he added.

Mohd Azizi agreed that there should be no monopoly and gave his assurance that there would not be a monopoly in the parking system in Petaling Jaya.

“We concluded that we will approve the system only with conditions,” he said.

(The Star) High time to relax lending rules, says MD

KUALA LUMPUR: Mah Sing Group Bhd said it is time that lending guidelines for first-time house buyers are relaxed, as market sentiment and demand for affordable housing are improving.

“It is high time that lending rules are relaxed – it has been about four years since the cooling measures were imposed on the property sector,” group managing director Tan Sri Leong Hoy Kum said after the Mah Sing AGM.

“Demand for property is there but many first-time house buyers are still unable to secure loans,” he added.

Early this month, the Pakatan Harapan government announced plans to review the loan application process to make it easier for Malaysians to buy their first home.

Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said there would be a new mechanism to facilitate the bank loan application process for first-time home buyers in the country.

Bank Negara had enforced several cooling measures for the sector in 2013, including tighter lending rules, to address high property prices.

Leong noted that Mah Sing would be a major beneficiary if lending guidelines for first-time house buyers were relaxed, as 74% of its 2018 targeted sales for residential properties are priced below RM500,000.

A large portion of the group’s target market are first-time house buyers, with 70% of its buyers below the age of 40.

With the potential measures to relax lending guidelines and improving market sentiment, Leong said the group was optimistic for the year ahead.

“Market sentiment is also improving, as the government is implementing measures to address the cost of living through petrol subsidies and and the zero rating of the goods and services tax,” he said.

Leong added that the property market was supported by the demand-supply gap, whereby there was an average of 123,902 new households emerged per year between 2012 and 2017, but only an average of 88,000 new houses completed during the period.

The group is maintaining it RM1.8bil sales target.

Asked if Mah Sing was looking to expand overseas, Leong said it was open to the possibility, but was currently “very busy” in Malaysia.

Mah Sing has RM2.2bil worth of project launches planned for this year, and said it would continue to push for more launches towards the second half of the year.

Separately, in a filing with Bursa Malaysia, the group announced the resignation of its chairman Gen (R) Tan Sri Yaacob Mat Zain, and the redesignation of Tan Sri Siti Norma Yaakob from independent director to chairman.


(The Star) KUB still looking to sell A&W

SHAH ALAM: KUB Malaysia Bhd is actively looking for buyers for its quick service restaurant chain A&W Malaysia Sdn Bhd.

The group targets to complete the sale by the end of the year.

Speaking after the group’s AGM here yesterday, KUB president and group managing director Datuk Abdul Rahim Mohd Zin (pic) said the group required funds to kickstart its refrigerated liquified petroleum gas (LPG) terminal project at Westports in Port Klang.

The group has completed the pre-engineering design phase of the project and planned to commence construction next year,

“The proceeds from the sale of A&W will definitely alleviate the cash flow requirements.

“This is because, under the franchise agreement, we are supposed to roll out about eight to nine new stores each year, which will strain our resources as well.

“We have to choose to either expand our core business, particularly the LPG business, which contributes to 70% of KUB’s revenue and 60% of our earnings or focus on the food business which only contributes about 10% of KUB’s revenue,” Abdul Rahim explained.

However, he said the group remained committed to strengthening the A&W business until it finds a buyer to maximise the sale value.

KUB expected to fetch a valuation for A&W that is close to the other food and beverage companies, at about 10 times their cash flow. There would likely be a 20% to 30% discount to the valuation as KUB is a listed company.

Discussions on the sale has been ongoing for the past two years, with 10 to 11 potential buyers.

“We are evaluating their proposals but have yet to arrive at the right price and terms.Valuation and terms of payment are the areas of concern, as we will also incur transfer fees and other charges with the master franchiser,” said Abdul Rahim.

KUB planned to open five to six new A&W outlets by year-end, to achieve a target of 50 outlets by 2019 as per the three-year franchise agreement signed in 2016.

There are a total of 40 A&W stores in Malaysia.

As for the monetisation of the plot of land which A&W Petaling Jaya sits on, Abdul Rahim said the group has obtained the development order for the land from Petaling Jaya City Council, which comes with a gross development value of RM245mil.

KUB is expected to finalise talks with developers by year-end.

“We are in the process of talking to several property developers to give their expressions of interest whether to buy or jointly develop the 1.05-acre land.

“During the submission for the development order, the land was valued at RM28mil.

“However, I believe there is now a premium to that, given that we have obtained the development order for the land and its location next to the Taman Jaya LRT station.

“Under the development order, we were also given the approval to add five levels to the transit oriented development, which will give an additional valuation of RM25mil to GDV,” he said, adding that he would like to see an extra RM10mil valuation to the land.

While development plans are still not concrete, Abdul Rahim said the commercial development would be suitable for co-working office space.

Meanwhile, under the information and communication technology (ICT) division, KUB planned to build 30 telco towers over the next two years, in locations outside the Klang Valley.

The building cost for each telco tower is RM300,000.

Currently, KUB’s ICT division has an order book of RM90mil and a tender book of an estimated RM300mil, which has a success rate of 30% to 50%.

(The Star) EcoWorld Malaysia EBIT up 31% to RM81.3mil

PETALING JAYA: Eco World Development Group Bhd (EcoWorld Malaysia) recorded core earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) of RM81.3mil from its Malaysian operations in the second quarter ended April 30.

The property developer announced yesterday that its core EBIT was 30.9% higher compared with RM62.1mil a year ago.

“This is mainly attributable to three of its Malaysian joint ventures (JVs) – Eco Grandeur, Eco Ardence and Bukit Bintang City Centre (BBCC) – having commenced revenue and profit recognition,” it said.

These JVs enabled EcoWorld Malaysia to recognise RM9mil as the group’s share of profit from its Malaysian JVs versus a loss of RM5.3mil a year ago.

“As at the second quarter, EcoWorld Malaysia achieved sales of RM923mil while EcoWorld International recorded RM698mil sales in the first seven months of financial year 2018 (FY18),” it said.

EcoWorld Malaysia president and CEO Datuk Chang Khim Wah said the second quarter began well with sales interest picking up following a successful Chinese New Year campaign and positive response to various localised marketing activities undertaken by its projects in the Klang Valley, Iskandar Malaysia and Penang.

However, in the lead up to the 14th general election (GE14), buying momentum slowed – uncertainties on the outcome caused many customers to hold back from making commitments in April up until early May 2018.

Chang noted that post-GE14, the public mood has improved markedly. However, sales were still slow in the month of May, as many Malaysians continued to be caught up with post-election news fever.

“Post-GE14, customers have also expressed a renewed optimism and greater confidence regarding their personal futures and that of their families, going forward,” he said.

“Through #OnlyEcoWorld we will be working hard over the next four months to catch up on our RM3.5bil sales target from our Malaysian projects for FY18. Response so far has been tremendously encouraging,” he said.

In the second quarter to end April, its net profit was RM34.45mil compared with RM33.68mil a year ago. Its revenue was RM498.68mil compared with RM670.02mil previously. Earnings per share was at 1.17 sen compared with 1.16 sen before.

For the first half, its earnings were RM58.54mil compared with RM149.84mil in the previous corresponding period. Revenue came in at RM1.06bil compared with RM1.26bil previously.

(The Star) BCorp sinks into the red in fourth quarter

PETALING JAYA: Berjaya Corp Bhd (BCorp) sank into the red, suffering a net loss of RM95.19mil in its fourth quarter ended April 30, compared with a net profit of RM3.24mil in the previous corresponding period, mainly due to a significant drop in profit from operations.

In a filing with Bursa Malaysia yesterday, the company said this was mainly due to lower contributions from the retail distribution business, property investment and development business, hotel and resorts business as well as gaming operations.

“Excluding the impairment provision of various assets and unfavourable foreign exchange difference of about RM101mil, the group would have recorded a pre-tax profit of about RM57.95mil.

“The lower revenue achieved in the quarter as mentioned in the previous paragraph resulted in the reduction of pre-tax results,” it said. Revenue in the fourth quarter dropped to RM2.11bil from RM2.23bil a year earlier.

For the financial year ended April 30, 2018, BCorp recorded a net loss of RM377.07mil compared with a net profit of RM149.29mil in the previous corresponding period, while revenue slipped to RM8.67bil from RM9.18bil before.

BCorp said the marketing of consumer products and services segment reported a lower revenue in the current financial year as compared to the previous year, as the retail distribution business was affected by weak consumer spending sentiment, particularly in the local market.

“In addition, the intense competition in China also contributed to the decrease in revenue in the current financial year.

“The motor distribution business recorded a marginal drop in revenue mainly due to the drop in sales volume of its new car sector in the current financial year. The property investment and development segment registered lower revenue in the current year, as the remaining units of a property project in China were disposed of in the previous financial year.” Though the marketing of consumer products and service segment was significantly impacted, BCorp said the other segments showed improvement in revenue.

“The restaurants and cafes segment reported a higher revenue mainly due to additional Starbucks cafes operating in the current year, as well as same-store-sales growth.

“The hotels and resorts segment reported a higher revenue mainly due to higher occupancy rates and room rates in the current financial year, as well as the full year’s revenue contribution from a new hotel which started operations in the second quarter of the previous financial year.”

BCorp said the higher revenue from the gaming operations was mainly due to the full-year’s revenue contribution from the Vietnam operations, which started its operations in the second quarter of the previous financial year.

On its prospects, the company said: “Given the prevailing economic conditions and global financial outlook, the directors are of the view that the group’s operating environment will be challenging, going forward.”

(The Star) Dr Dzulkefly: RM848mil women and children’s health centre ready in 12 more weeks

KUALA LUMPUR: The completion of the Women and Children Hospital (WCH) has been delayed by two years and the contractor promises to do so in 12 weeks, says Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad.

The Health Minister said the hospital, built in the Hospital Kuala Lumpur (HKL) grounds, would eventually be fully operational before the end of the year.

“After 12 weeks or three months, we will conduct a joint inspection,” he said after paying a surprise visit to HKL and WCH yesterday.

He also made a visit to the health clinic in Jalan Fletcher earlier.

The WCH’s completion date was Oct 21, 2016.

Dr Dzulkefly also said that the bone marrow transplant unit of the WCH did not meet specifications.

But other technical issues, such as problems with manholes and sinks, are nearly resolved.

He said the project was based on a public-private partnership.

“And it is the onus of the contractors to meet the specifications.

“If the experts still find the issues unsatisfactory, the contractor has to continue to do it up,” he said.

The construction cost of the building is RM848mil.

Asked whether the WCH would be able to meet the daily demands as it had fewer beds in the new building (and the old maternity ward would have to be given up), Dr Dzulkefly said there were 600 beds in the WCH and another 400 would be added once the Paediatric Unit was refurbished.

“That will meet the demand, although more needs to be done,” he said.

Asked if the hospital would have enough specialists, Dr Dzulkefly said doctors would be re­deployed but that there is a moratorium on new posts.

“We want to see how housemen, who become medical officers on contract for two years, can be re-absorbed.

“We are considering asking the Public Services Department to give extra posts to the ministry,” he said.

Dr Dzulkefly also confirmed that Dr Lee Boon Chye had agreed to take up the post of Deputy Health Minister.

He said he looked forward to working with the Gopeng MP, who is a cardiologist at a private hospital in Ipoh.