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Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Jack Ma's Alibaba to take on Kuala Lumpur’s traffic Artificial Intellligence project

Alibaba Cloud, which set up a datacentre in Malaysia last year, is considering a second one to further develop a local ecosystem, its president Simon Hu said. — Reuters

https://youtu.be/MwixREUJOI0

Jack Ma's Life Advice Will Change Your Life (MUST WATCH) 

https://youtu.be/lYGGpc2mMno

KUALA LUMPUR: Alibaba Group will set up a traffic control system harnessing artificial intelligence for Malaysia's capital Kuala Lumpur, its first such service outside China, as the e-commerce giant pushes to grow its cloud computing business.

Alibaba Cloud, the cloud computing arm of Alibaba Group, said on Monday it plans to make live traffic predictions and recommendations to increase traffic efficiency in Kuala Lumpur by crunching data gathered from video footage, traffic bureaus, public transportation systems and mapping apps.

It is partnering with state agency Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) and the Kuala Lumpur city council to roll out the technology, which would be localised and integrated with 500 inner city cameras by May.

The partnership comes after Alibaba founder Jack Ma and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak launched an "e-hub" facility last year, part of an initiative aimed at removing trade barriers for smaller firms and emerging nations.

Alibaba Cloud, which set up a data centre in Malaysia last year, is considering a second one to further develop a local ecosystem, its president Simon Hu said on Jan 29.

He declined to elaborate on the company's total investments made and planned for in Malaysia, but said it was "no small amount" and that the investments would continue if there was demand for cloud computing technologies.

MDEC's chief executive officer Yasmin Mahmood said there was no estimate of City Brain's impact on traffic in Kuala Lumpur yet. The traffic management system in the Chinese city of Hangzhou had resulted in reports of traffic violations with up to 92% accuracy, emergency vehicles reaching their destinations in half the time and overall increase in traffic speed by 15%.

Najib has forged close ties with China in recent years. Last year, the Malaysian leader announced a slew of infrastructure projects, many funded by China, as he worked up momentum towards a general election he must call by the middle of this year. — Reuters

Related Alibaba To Take On Kuala Lumpur's Traffic In First Foreign Artificial Intelligence Project

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Jack Ma advisor to Malaysian Govt on digital economy to start with e-FTZ

Monday, January 29, 2018

Malaysia to end cronyism?

https://youtu.be/vmqElJnDURI

https://youtu.be/FIuh_cOpcKU

https://youtu.be/zT4LGh2DO2o

KUALA LUMPUR: The Government has vowed to end “crony capitalists” whose wealth came at the cost of ordinary Malaysians, said Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

The Prime Minister said lessons had been learnt from past mistakes in planning Malaysia’s economic transformation, after confronting many “legacy issues” along the way.

“Some of the country’s development under a former leader came with an unnecessary price tag, in the form of a class of crony capitalists,” he said in his keynote address at Invest Malaysia 2018 yesterday.

Citing public transport as an example, Najib said massive overhauls had to be done to rectify the issue.

“For decades, public transport was neglected. It was incoherent, with different owners, different systems and certainly no integration

“One man’s obsession with the idea of a national car – which is now being turned around under international joint ownership – led to Malaysia lacking an efficient public transport system.

“This was a serious obstacle to achieve high-income status and for Kuala Lumpur to be a world-class capital,” he said.

Although no name was mentioned throughout his speech, it was an apparent dig at former premier Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Najib also said that during this time, the Government had signed independent power producer concessions that were lopsided.

“Consumers had to pay far more for energy than they should have, even for energy they were not using.

“This was a real burden to the people, so we renegotiated these concessions – and determined that in the future, we would not allow private companies to earn excessively at the expense of ordinary Malaysians,” he said.

Najib also pointed out that the ringgit had been pegged against the US dollar for “far too long”.

“Investors and global markets lost confidence in us, and it took a long time to win that back. That was a very heavy cost to the country,” he said, stressing that the Government would never repeat that measure.

He also spoke on the challenges at state-owned institutions, such as 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB), which were amplified and used as a tool to suggest that Malaysia’s economy was collapsing.

“I’m not going to brush over this issue. There were indeed failings at the company, there were lapses of governance. There was a valid cause for concern.

“This is why I ordered one of the most comprehensive and detailed investigations in Malaysia’s corporate history, one that involved multiple lawful authorities, including a bipartisan parliamentary body.

“Their findings were taken on board and the company’s board was dissolved, its management team changed and its operations reviewed,” he said.

On another note, Najib rubbished claims that Malaysia was welcoming foreign direct investments (FDIs) by selling out the nation’s sovereignty.

“My Government will never sacrifice an inch of our sovereignty,” he said, adding that while RM63bil in FDI stock came from China and Hong Kong, there was more from Japan at RM70bil.

“You don’t hear anyone warning that we are selling our country to the Japanese.

“Of course not. They are most welcome here. So are investors from Africa, the Americas, China, the European Union, India, Saudi Arabia and around the world,” he said.

Malaysia continues to improve in three key areas

Moving forward: Najib attending the Invest Malaysia 2018 launch together with (from left) Bursa Malaysia Bhd CEO Datuk Seri Tajuddin Atan, Treasury secretary-general Tan Sri Dr Mohd Irwan Serigar Abdullah, Chief Secretary Tan Sri Dr Ali Hamsa, Finance Minister II Datuk Seri Johari Abdul Ghani, Bursa Malaysia chairman Tan Sri Amirsham Abdul Aziz and Malayan Banking Bhd chairman Datuk Mohaiyani Shamsudin in Kuala Lumpur.

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia will continue to develop three key areas – transparency, accountability and efficiency – to attract more investments, said Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

The Prime Minister observed that the country’s excellent economic and financial fundamentals had greatly benefitted local and foreign investors, providing them with stability, strength and certainty.

“We will continue to make our country even more business- and market-friendly, which means we are always working to improve transparency, accountability and efficiency.

“The Securities Commission, Bursa Malaysia, Bank Negara Malaysia and the Finance Ministry have continuously introduced and supported measures to increase the dynamism of our capital market.

“Towards this objective, I can assure you that we can expect further measures in the near future,” he said in his keynote address at Invest Malaysia 2018 here yesterday.

The two-day annual event is jointly organised by Bursa Malaysia Bhd and Maybank. A total of 61 local companies, with a combined market capitalisation of RM767.6bil were featured in the event.

The Prime Minister also cited figures that justified the confidence in Malaysia shown by investors and global institutions.

“Our total trade grew strongly by 20.8% between January and November last year, while in November alone, gross exports reached double-digit growth of 14.4%, with the highest receipts ever recorded, at RM83.5bil.

“Last year, foreign net fund inflow recorded a positive RM10.8bil, the highest since 2012, while corporate bond and new sukuk issuance reached RM111.2bil for 11 months of the year, close to 30% higher than the whole of 2016,” he said.

Najib also observed that Malaysia has enjoyed years of strong growth, with figures that most developed economies “could only dream of”, even during times of economic uncertainty.

“In fact, last year Malaysia exceeded all expectations, with the World Bank having to revise its estimate for our growth upwards not once, not twice, but three times – to 5.8%,” he said.

Najib added the World Economic Global Competitiveness index for 2017 and 2018 rate Malaysia very highly out of 137 countries.

The country is ranked third for Strength of Investor Protection, fifth for Pay and Productivity, fifth for the low Burden of Government Regulation and 14th for the Quality of Education System.

“The International Monetary Fund has also praised our sound macroeconomic policy responses in the face of significant headwinds and risks.

“The World Bank also recently confirmed that it believes Malaysia is on track, and that we are expected to achieve high-income status in the next few years,” he said.

 Source: The Staronline


Related Links

MACC arrests Perlis DID senior officer by awarding projects to Crony Contractors - Nation

Absorb New ways to prevent floods

Sponge City: Solutions for China's Thirsty & Flooded cities

 China's 'sponge city' projects may be worthwhile examples for Malaysia.


"Only about 20~30% of rainwater infiltrates the ground in urban areas, so it breaks the naturual water circulation.- Wen Mei Dubbelaar"

Last week, it was the turn of Petaling Jaya, Gombak and Sungai Buloh to be the latest major urban areas in Malaysia to suffer flash floods (Flash floods wreak havoc in PJ - Nation). Scenes of cars and buildings submerged in muddy water are now almost an everyday thing. The focus should now shift from the bad situations to the solutions.

It was also last week that I attended a briefing organised by civil society groups for Penang and Seberang Perai municipal officials and members. The briefing was on the recent floods.

Later, I came across several articles on how China is turning 30 of its flood-prone areas into “sponge cities” to prevent floods and retain rainwater.

The Chinese plan big and fast. It launched the sponge city project only in 2015, but it aims to retain 70% of rain in 80% of urban areas by 2020. The sponge concept is set to spread rapidly as part of global efforts to reduce the impact of increased rainfall and floods, and climate change.

The concept figured prominently at the briefing chaired by Penang state exco member Chow Kon Yeow. Scientist Dr Kam Suan Pheng introduced it when explaining the floods.

She contrasted the present situation when rain falls with what used to happen. In the past, 50% of the rain seeped through the natural ground cover (trees, grass, etc) and into the ground. There was 10% water runoff (to rivers and drains) and 40% evapotranspiration (water going back to the atmosphere).

The trees and green spaces act as a sponge to absorb the rainwater that infiltrates the soil, preventing the water from building up into flash floods.

Due to urbanisation, the green spaces have been paved over with cement and concrete. Now, only 15% of the rain infiltrates the soil, while the runoff has increased to 55% and evapotranspiration is 30%. The sponge now absorbs 15% of the rainwater compared to the previous 50%.

Dr Kam quoted former Penang Water Authority general manager Kam U-Tee as saying that the October 2008 Penang floods were caused by conversion of the valleys into “concrete aprons that do not retain water”. As a result, the water immediately flowed into streams, causing flash floods, even with moderate rainfall.

Given this analysis, a key part of tackling the floods is to reverse the loss of the sponge. In recent decades, Malaysia has seen the conversion of a lot of farms, parks, trees and grass areas into concrete jungles of roads, houses, commercial buildings and car parks.

There now has to be high sensitivity to the valuable environmental and economic roles of trees, gardens, fields and grasslands, and parks. The aim of garden cities is not just to be pleasing to the eye but to be a very important part of development as well.

Now comes the role of sponge cities. The world is applauding the Chinese initiative to counter floods and improve water security by building up the natural cover (or sponge) in its cities.

In 2010, landslides during flooding killed 700 in three quarters of China’s provinces. Last year, rains flooded southern China, destroying homes and killing around 60 people.

In 2015, China launched the Sponge City initiative, which now covers 30 cities, including Shanghai, Xiamen and Wuhan. The target: by 2020, 80% of its urban areas will absorb and re-use 70% of rainwater.

The many types of projects include:

  • > Constructing permeable roads that enable water to infiltrate the ground;
  • > Replacing pavements on roads and parks to make them permeable;
  • > Building wetlands to absorb and store rainwater;
  • > Constructing rooftop gardens (for example, 4.3 million square feet in Shanghai);
  • > Plant trees on streets and public squares;
  • > Build community gardens and parks to expand green spaces; and
  • > Build manmade lakes and preserve agricultural land to hold water.

“In the natural environment, most precipitation infiltrates the ground or is received by surface water, but this is disrupted when there are large-scale hard pavements,” said Wen Mei Dubbelaar, water management director at China Arcadis, in words similar to Dr Kam’s.

“Now only about 20-30% of rainwater infiltrates the ground in urban areas, so it breaks the natural water circulation and causes water logging and surface water pollution,” said Wen in an interview with The Guardian.

In Shanghai’s Lingang district, the streets are built with permeable pavements. There are rain gardens filled with soil and plants, buildings feature green rooftops and water tanks, and a manmade lake controls water flows, reports The Guardian.

Prof Hui Li at Tongji University said the first thing is to preserve or restore natural waterways as that is the natural way to reduce flooding risk.

The problem in Wuhan is that a lot of small rivers were filled in during building. But Lingang still has agriculture land and a lake to hold more water during heavy rain.

What about the cost factor? So far the cities have received over US$12bil (RM47.4bil) for sponge projects. The central government funds 15-20% of costs, and the rest is from local governments and private developers.

But compare this to the US$100bil (RM395bil) of direct economic losses due to floods in China between 2011 and 2014, plus the human lives lost.

Sponge cities are the way to go for the future. Our own governments – federal, state and municipal – should study this option seriously, as the public braces itself for more floods ahead.

- Global Trends by Martin Khor

Martin Khor is executive director of the South Centre. The views expressed here are entirely his own.


Related Links

China's Sponge City: Flooding Solutions

 

10 measures to prevent (urban) flooding - Wavin

 

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Sunday, January 28, 2018

Make environment our 2018 priority

Our Environment is Our Life - YouTube

THE year has barely started, and already we have so many reports of weather and climate-related events.

Heavy wind, snow storms and below-freezing temperatures paralysed cities in the United States’ East Coast. New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport was in chaos with hundreds of flights suspended.

Yet, just weeks previously, big fires linked to a heat wave were sweeping through parts of California on the West Coast, burning 112.000ha of forest and threatening lives and homes.

Colder weather in one place and hotter temperatures in another are signs of global climate change, which can also cause heavier rainfall and drought in different regions.

While it is difficult to pin down any particular incident as a direct result of climate change, it is recognised scientifically that climate change generally exacerbates extreme weather events and may cause some of them.

We can expect the weather, and more broadly the environment, to figure prominently this year.

The alarm bells sounded long ago on the environmental crisis. But it is not easy to achieve a continuous high level of concern among political leaders.

After a calamity and public outrage, there are pledges to correct the situation. However, the interest fades after a while, and not much action is taken, until the next disaster happens.

In Malaysia, people are now looking at the sky constantly to anticipate whether it is going to rain.

Heavy rainfall has been causing floods in Kelantan, Terengganu, Pahang, Johor, Negri Sembilan, Kedah, Selangor, Sabah and Sarawak.

In Penang, severe state-wide flash floods seem to be occurring every few months, with localised flooding in several areas in between. The mud brought down from eroded hill-slopes into overflowing rivers and then into houses, makes floods an even worse nightmare for those affected.

For some unlucky ones, hardly have their houses and furniture been cleaned than they are under one metre of water again through a new flood.

Heavier rain and more floods is the new normal in Malaysia. There has been an increase in rainfall for most parts of the country in 2000-2009 compared to 1970-1999, with the major increase in 2005-2009, according to a 2012 paper by Yap Kok Seng, then the head of the Malaysian Meteorological Depart­ment (MMD), and his colleagues.

The global temperature increase has led to changes in weather including major wind patterns, amount and intensity of precipitation, and increased frequency of severe storms and weather extremes, according to the paper, Malaysia Climate Change Scenarios.

In Malaysia since the 1980s, there had been increasing number of days of extreme rainfall events, extreme wind events and annual thunderstorm days, added the paper.

Unfortunately the situation will worsen. A study published on Jan 10, whose authors are affiliated with Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, predicted that millions more people will be affected by river flooding as global warming increases severe rainfall in the next 20 years.

In Asia, the most affected region, people at risk from floods will rise to 156 million from the present 70 million in the next 20 years.

Global warming increases the risk of flooding because rain during an extreme downpour “increases exponentially” as temperatures rise, the institute’s Anders Levermann told Reuters.

“We have to adapt to global warming. Doing nothing will be dangerous,” he said.

Countries will have to act urgently and make major investments in flood protection to boost their flood defences, according to the report.

This advice surely applies to Malaysia as one of the countries already being affected by heavier rainfall and extensive river flooding.

Flood mitigation measures must be increased, including de-silting, widening and deepening rivers, improving urban drainage, strengthening river banks, redirecting water flows, constructing tidal gates, and pumping excess water into ponds.

Even more important is flood prevention. A main cause of the floods is deforestation, leading to the loss of the forests’ valuable roles in soil and water retention and climate regulation.

It is really short-sighted and irrational to damage and destroy forests, especially forest reserves and water catchment areas.

Exposed soils are swept by rain into rivers, clogging up streams and drains with mud and causing floods downstream in the towns and villages, while also depriving us of much-needed water supply.

There is a great deal of public concern over recent developments that threaten forests and hill lands in the country.

These include the de-gazetting of the Ulu Muda water catchment area in Kedah; the de-gazetting of hill lands in Penang that previously were protected under the Land Conservation Act and which are now being “developed” with the aid of higher permitted density ratio; the conversion of 4,515ha forest reserve to cultivate oil palm plantations in Terengganu (being opposed by WWF-Malaysia); and protests over the imminent loss of a forested park in Taman Rimba Kiara in Kuala Lumpur to make way for housing.

Federal, state and local governments should give priority to environmental rehabilitation of damaged forests and hills, prevent damage to the coastal ecosystem including mangroves, and take comprehensive flood prevention and mitigation measures.

They should stop approving environmentally harmful projects in ecologically sensitive areas.

They must make major financial allocations to protect and rehabilitate the environment, and implement finance measures to prevent and manage the floods.

As so many scientists are warning, and as more and more local communities and citizen groups are demanding, the time to act on the environment is now. Let us hope that in 2018 these calls will be heeded.

Global trends by Martin Khor

Martin Khor is executive director of the South Centre. The views expressed here are entirely his own.

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Who is sabotaging Penang undersea tunnel project?


Penang govt to blame, says Lau  


PETALING JAYA: Barisan Nasional should not be blamed as it is DAP’s own doing that “sabotaged” the Penang undersea tunnel project, said Gerakan vice-president Datuk Dr Dominic Lau (pic).

He added it began when the DAP-led Penang government failed to provide feasibility reports on the project, which were supposed to be completed by April 2016.

“You missed the deadline and in October 2017, the special purpose vehicle (SPV) said there is no more urgency to complete the reports.

“Based on the original timeline, the first phase of the project was supposed to start construction in the first quarter of 2015 and completed by this year.

“As of now, this first phase has not even started construction,” he said in a statement yesterday.

Despite the multiple delays in the reports and the construction starting date, he said the Penang government did not appear to have penalised the SPV.

He said when the project was awarded, a statement was issued stating that shareholders of the SPV consortium are China Railway Construction Corporation (CRCC), Beijing Urban Construction Group (BUCG), Zenith Construction, Juteras Sdn Bhd and Sri Tinggi Sdn Bhd.

“But today, CRCC, BUCG and Sri Tinggi were no longer listed as shareholders while Juteras Sdn Bhd is listed as winding up – leaving only one (Zenith Construction) out of the four shareholders in the agreement.

“Despite a material change of the financial and technical strength promised during the award and what it is now, the Penang government still does not appear to want to cancel the project or penalise the SPV,” he said.

“Even five years after the contract was awarded, the SPV still only has paid-up capital of RM26.5mil – way below the RM381mil minimum paid-up capital required by the Penang government to deliver the project.

“Meanwhile, the SPV is on course to make billions in two property projects valued at RM800mil and RM15bil respectively,” he said.

Meanwhile, Barisan Nasional Strategic Communications deputy director Datuk Eric See-To said the agreement shown to the media by Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng was different from the one MCA deputy president Datuk Seri Dr Wee Ka Siong said was not stamped.

The agreement shown by Lim in a press conference on Friday was between the Penang state government with Consortium Zenith-BUCG; and not between the state and CRCC.

Previously, the Penang state government had shown a copy of a letter of support from the CRCC to prove that it is a party to the SPV awarded to undertake the undersea tunnel project.

On Tuesday, Dr Wee’s statement noted that the Acknowledgement of Commitment signed by the state government with CRCC was not a legally binding document and was hence not stamped.


Related Link:


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Thursday, January 25, 2018

Penang Landslide occured days after remedial works started

Cracks at Tanjung Bungah site began in June, Commissioner of Inquiry told

Expert panel: (From right) Yeo, Dr Gue and Prof Ramli arriving for the inquiry.
 
GEORGE TOWN: A temporary structure supporting a worksite slope in Tanjung Bungah developed cracks in mid-June, a Commissioner of Inquiry heard.

Soil Mechanic Sdn Bhd director Cheah Wing How, who was a sub-contractor of the project where a landslide killed 11 workers, said he was informed by a clerk to carry out remedial works as the granite wall had cracked.

Cheah said his team left after completing the granite works and soil-nailing works to enhance the stability of the temporary slope.

There was, however, no mention when they completed the works.

“When we returned, we found there were pile cap excavation works carried out near the slope.

“We believe there was soil movement that resulted in the cracks on the granite wall.

“We were carrying out remedial works and 11 days into the job, the landslide happened,” said Cheah, who has 20 years’ experience in the field.

Cheah was testifying on the first day of the public hearing into the landslide tragedy by the State Commission of Inquiry (SCI) at City Hall in Esplanade yesterday.

On Oct 21, last year, a landslide hit the affordable condominium project made up of two 49-storey towers with 980 units in total within the Permai Village township near the Tunku Abdul Rahman University College.

Among the 11 killed was site supervisor Yuan Kuok Wern, 27.

During the proceeding, the Penang Island City Council (MBPP) also presented eight drone videos that showed the slope and the surrounding area after the tragic incident.

SCI chairman Datuk Yeo Yong Poh said they planned to carry out a site visit tomorrow.

He also fixed the hearing to continue until Monday, followed by Feb 8 to Feb 11, March 24 to March 28 and April 18 to 25.

Other members of the commission are geotechnical expert Datuk Dr Gue See Sew and forensic geo-technical engineer from Universiti Teknologi Malaysia Prof Ramli Nazir.

The SCI was gazetted on Dec 21 last year to investigate the landslide after Yang di-Pertua Negri Tun Rahman Abbas gave his consent on Dec 6, 2017, for the appointment of the members of the commission and its terms of reference.

Meanwhile, Penang Citizens Awareness Chant Group (Chant) adviser Yan Lee said the entrance to the Teik Granite Quarry, which is located near the site where the landslide occurred, should be fenced up.

“Anyone can just walk into the site as the safety measure is not up to mark.

“We have voiced our concern to the Penang Island City Council, the Department of Environment as well as the Land and Mines Department,” he said yesterday.

By Chong Kah Yuan and Jo-Leen Wong The Star
 
Related Links:

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Boulders slid down hill prior to disaster - Nation




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Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Tough questions on Penang turnel project; Engineering Consultant arrested in probe



https://youtu.be/ssVkoxxvIAA



https://youtu.be/JRGwMXwkm1c

https://youtu.be/xbSZ55BNyQM

In-depth query: A screen grab of the video where Dr Wee demanded explanations over the controversial Penang undersea tunnel.

Dr Wee, is trained as a civil engineer has a Master’s in traffic engineering and a PhD in transportation planning, believed to have worked as an Environmental Impact Assessment and Traffic Impact Assessment consultant for more than a decade. He is currently a minister in the Prime Minister’s Department.

Wee asks Penang govt tough questions

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Wee raises doubt over paid-up capital and ability of SPV - Nation

Lim: Contract between CRCC and Penang govt legally binding ...


PETALING JAYA: Datuk Seri Dr Wee Ka Siong threw hard-hitting questions at the Penang government, demanding an explanation for the controversial undersea tunnel project.

The MCA deputy president raised major concerns in videos uploaded in two parts to MCA’s YouTube channel.

He zeroed in on the changes in the paid-up capital of a special purpose vehicle (SPV) and how two Chinese construction giants have “disappeared” from the SPV shareholding.

He also touched on the state government’s “agreement” with China Railway Construction Corpo­ration Ltd (CRCC) and Penang’s insistence that no money was paid for the project.

In the videos, also uploaded on Dr Wee’s Facebook page, the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department had a whiteboard to his left showing the changes in the shareholding while a television screen to his right displayed various documents.

Dr Wee wanted Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng to clarify why the SPV Consortium Zenith Construc­tion Sdn Bhd’s paid-up capital was reduced from RM4.6bil to RM70.5mil.

He said while Beijing Urban Construction Group (BUCG) was no longer a shareholder in the SPV, CRCC was never in the picture.

Dr Wee said back in March 4, 2013, the state government’s official newsletter Buletin Mutiara published an article quoting state secretary Datuk Seri Farizan Darus as saying the SPV had a paid-up capital of RM4.6bil, with Zenith Construction Sdn Bhd and CRCC jointly holding a 70% stake in it.

“We are in great shock because just days ago, CRCC went on record to deny ever being a shareholder and developer of the undersea tunnel SPV.

“Without the participation of CRCC and BUCG, the actual capital of the other component SPV back then is only RM8.2mil,” said Dr Wee, who is trained as a civil engineer and has a Master’s in traffic engineering and a PhD in transportation planning.

He, however, said the SPV had a total paid-up capital of RM70.5mil.

Dr Wee added that currently, Zenith Construction has a 47.12% equity in the SPV, Juteras Sdn Bhd (0.75%); Kenanga Nominees (Tempatan) Sdn Bhd (38.92%) and Vertice Bhd (formerly known as Voir Holdings Bhd, 13.21%).

He also revealed that Consortium Zenith BUCG Sdn Bhd was only registered on July 5, 2012, one day before the state government invited the consortium to submit a request for proposal (RFP).

“Chief Minister, you may argue that they formed the consortium just one day before to make it to the tender.

“But bear in mind your state secretary said the consortium was selected based on the financial and technical strength of CRCC and BUCG,” he said, adding that Zenith Construction was only less than three months old when it was then invited to participate in the pre-qualification for the tender.

Dr Wee also said that Acknowled­gement of Commitment signed by the state government with CRCC was not a legally binding document.

“Where is the stamping of documents as required and which is the Court of Arbitration to arbitrate disputes?” he asked.

Dr Wee also questioned Lim’s stand that not a single sen was paid when state exco member Lim Hock Seng replied in the state assembly on March 19 last year that a land swap deal worth RM208mil was identified.

“The said land has been developed and sales of properties for the City of Dreams (which is built on the land) are ongoing. Aren’t you aware of that?

Dr Wee also urged Lim to give a detailed breakdown of how Consor­tium Zenith reaped a significant after-tax profit of RM60mil for the financial year that ended on Aug 31, 2015, when it had only conducted studies and had yet to start any construction work.- The Star

Engineering Consultant arrested in tunnel probe 

'Datuk Seri' remanded for five days in Penang tunnel probe - Nation 

Datuk Seri remanded in probe

Magistrate Ainna Sherina Saipolamin allowed the 62-year-old "Datuk Seri" to be held in custody until Jan 29.

Engineering consultant remanded for five days - Nation


In custody: The consultant being taken out of the magistrate’s court in Putrajaya. — Bernama


PETALING JAYA: A senior engineering consultant in her 50s is the latest to be detained in connection with the probe over controversies surrounding the Penang undersea tunnel project.

The consultant is believed to have forged claim documents for the feasibility studies valued at RM305mil for the mega project of three main roads and an undersea tunnel to the state government, said a source familiar with the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) investigation.

The woman is expected to be remanded at the Putrajaya magistrate’s court today.

She was arrested at MACC headquarters in Putrajaya at 6.10pm yesterday after her statement was recorded.

“The investigators are trying to determine if other individuals were involved in the preparation of the falsified documents,” the source added.

The engineering consultant is the third person to be arrested in MACC’s investigations into the Penang undersea tunnel project.

Two high-ranking Datuks of development and construction companies were earlier arrested on Jan 9 before being remanded for six days beginning Jan 10.

The remand was then extended for another five days from Jan 15.

They were released on MACC bail of RM200,000 each on Jan 19 by the Putrajaya magistrate’s court.

On Monday, MACC deputy chief commissioner (operation) Datuk Seri Azam Baki had said that more individuals would be hauled up over the project.

The RM6.3bil mega project includes building the 7.2km undersea tunnel connecting Gurney Drive on the island to Bagan Ajam in north Butterworth, 10.53km North Coastal Paired Road from Tanjung Bungah to Teluk Bahang, 5.7km Air Itam-Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway bypass and the 4.075km Gurney Drive-Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway bypass.

The MACC has since recorded statements from more than 70 people and visited more than 40 premises in the course of their investigation.

By Royce Tan The Star

State govt can only hold SPV liable, says Wee


PETALING JAYA: Although Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng has reiterated that not a single sen was paid for the feasibility study of the undersea tunnel, the fact remained that it was paid in kind, said Datuk Seri Dr Wee Ka Siong.

Dr Wee, who is MCA deputy president, said the crux of the problem was that the state government had no contractual nexus with the contractor.

“The state government can only hold the special purpose vehicle (SPV) liable, not the contractor.

“Don’t confuse the people with the SPV and the contractor. SPV means you can hold it liable.

“If a contractor is subsequently awarded by the SPV, that’s between the contractor and the SPV.

“If the SPV fails to pay the contractor, the contractor has no obligations (to construct),” he said.

He added that he had conducted a comprehensive research and he knew what happened.

“I welcome this project, but it must be carried out in a proper manner. This is what I want.

“Don’t blame others. If at all you need to blame somebody, it is your SPV that you appointed.

“They keep on delaying the report, not us. We have no say in the report and we’ve not even seen it,” said Dr Wee.- The Star



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Monday, January 22, 2018

The American dream turned nightmare, President Trump's first year ...

A homeless man sleeps under an American flag blanket on a park bench in New York City in this file picture. As of June 2013, there was an all-time record of 50,900 homeless people, including 12,100 homeless families with 21,300 homeless children in New York - Photos AFP
A young homeless woman panhandles on the streets of Manhattan in New York City. According to a new report released by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development New York City’s homeless population expanded by about 4% in 2017.

American culture and a new tax Bill are exacerbating chronic poverty by helping to widen the wealth gap.

SITTING among a jumble of his few possessions on a San Francisco sidewalk, 41-year-old “Kaels” Raybon has begun to accept the bad choices he made.

He was a drug user, and did jail time. By the time he was let out, his wife and four children – two boys and two girls – had left him. Other family members had died and he had nowhere to live. He has now spent over 15 years on the street.

America may be the land of equal opportunity – but like many other countries, there is a thin line between a life on the street and a roof over one’s head. Poverty creates its own loop; a prison record, for instance, makes it difficult to find employment.

Raybon’s voice trembles as he speaks of his children.

“Emotionally, I’m a wreck most of the time,” he admits. “I see kids and dads, and I want that too. But it’s just not in my cards.”

The children came to visit him one day, he says. He was torn. “I wanted them to stay, but at the same time I didn’t, because I have nothing to offer them.”

Raybon is among those who make up the most visible indicator of America’s worsening poverty and inequality – over half a million urban homeless. They are a stark contrast in arguably the world’s richest, most powerful and most technologically innovative country.

But homelessness is only the visible tip of the poverty iceberg. Large areas outside big cities are mired in chronic poverty. The definition of poverty varies, but a commonly used measure from 2015 is an annual income of US$12,000 (RM47,500) or less.

Forty-one million Americans live in poverty – 12.7% of the country’s population. Some 46% of those live in “deep poverty” – on an annual income below US$6,000 (RM23,700).

Among them are 1.5 million households, including 2.8 million children, who live in extreme poverty or on less than US$2 (RM8) per person per day.

“These are people who cannot find work ... who do not qualify for any other (welfare) programmes or who may live in remote areas. They are disconnected from both the safety net and the job market,” Dr Premilla Nadasen, author and professor at Barnard College in New York City, wrote in the Washington Post newspaper on Dec 21.

Poverty is in the news again on the heels of a scathing 15-page statement released late last year by Dr Philip Alston, a tall, lean, 67-year-old New York University law professor from Melbourne, Australia, who is the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights. A special rapporteur functions like an investigator and reports back to the UN.

Dr Alston is not known for beating about the bush. After a 15-day swing across six American states and cities, he is warning that worse is in store for America’s poor, at the wrong end of an increasingly widening wealth gap, and in an environment and official culture in which if you are down and out, it is probably your own fault.

The recent passage of the Republican Party’s tax Bill will make their lives worse, says Dr Alston. The Treasury Department has explicitly listed welfare reform as an important source of revenue in part to make up for the deficit that the tax cut is likely to trigger.

More important, however, is the culture.

“In a poor country, there are two starting points – that there are social rights, and citizens have a right to healthcare, a right to education, a right to food,” Dr Alston says at an interview in his booklined office at New York University.

“Second, the only thing standing in our way is resources; we just don’t have the money.”

“In the US, it’s the exact opposite,” he says. “There’s no such thing as social rights. If people are living in abysmal conditions, it’s their fault because we have equality of opportunity.

“Secondly, it’s not a resource problem. We just found US$1.5trillion (RM6trillion) to give to the super rich. The money would have been there to eliminate poverty if there had been any political will. But there isn’t.”

The US$1.5trillion refers to the Republicans’ tax Bill, passed just before Christmas that will bring the middle class some relief but inevitably, analysts say, end up benefiting the wealthy disproportionately.

America’s wealth gap has been steadily widening. On average in 1981, the top 1% of adult Americans earned 27 times more than the bottom 50%. Today, they earn 81 times more.

Meanwhile, since the 1970s, the safety net has been considerably diminished, Dr Nadasen wrote in the Post recently. “Labour regulations protecting workers have been rolled back, and funding for education and public programmes has declined. The poor have been the hardest hit.”

She added: “The shredding of the safety net led to a rise in poverty. The United States has the highest child poverty rates – 25% in the world.

In the course of his tour, Dr Alston saw houses in rural areas of Alabama surrounded by pools of sewage. “The state health department had no idea how many households exist in these conditions, nor did they have any plan to find out, or devise a plan to do something about it,” he says in his statement.

He could not help noticing that most of the area’s residents were black. But while racial divisions are not far below the surface, it would be misleading to assume that poverty is generally worse in the Native American and African American minorities. It cuts across all ethnicities. There are eight million more poor white people than black people.

Like Rudy Damian, 53, who as a teenager ended up homeless in San Francisco after taking drugs and alcohol and being involved in crime – a common pattern contributing to broken families and financial ruin.

He has several missing teeth – dental care is not covered by most health insurance and the poor, at best, can go only to hospital emergency rooms where invariably a tooth is simply extracted.

Damian says he is sober now, and even works part-time as a security guard, but still can’t afford to rent a home. He calls his sister and his 94-year-old mother sometimes, but they avoid talking about his life. “They are disappointed by my lifestyle,” he says. “I was just a loner. I was the youngest when my father died, I decided to leave (home), and that isolation has lasted throughout my life.”

Fragmentation of families and the weakening of community support contribute to the isolation of homeless people in particular. But there is more.

“Caricatured narratives” drive the debate on poverty and homelessness in America, according to Dr Alston. The rich are seen as “industrious, entrepreneurial, patriotic, and the drivers of economic success”. The poor are “wasters, losers and scammers”.

“As long as you have the mindset that we’re all on our own, it becomes possible that when my own brother falls off the cliff, I’m able to say, ‘Well, he had the same opportunities as me. He’s failed, he has to cope with it,’ instead of saying, ‘I can’t let that happen. I’ve got to do something.’”

In Los Angeles, he found that the objective for the local authorities was to raise the standard of Skid Row, an area less than a square kilometre but containing many hundred homeless, to that of a Syrian refugee camp.

“One of the richest countries in the world, and we’re aiming to meet the standards of a Syrian refugee camp for a large population in one of our richest cities,” he says. “It is sort of stunning.”

Sources: The Straits Times/Asia News Network, by Nirmal Ghosh who is The Straits Times ’US Bureau Chief.

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