Fire breaks out at Hospital Bahagia

Fire breaks out at Hospital Bahagia

IPOH — The quick action of the Hospital Bahagia Ulu Kinta emergency response team helped control a fire that partially razed a ward and a store yesterday. A section of Ward 11 and 90 per cent of the store were destroyed by the fire which was believed to have started at about 1.10pm. Perak Fire and Rescue Department director Datuk Yahaya Madis said patients were moved to another ward as they investigated the cause of the fire. “We will make safety recommendations based on the results of our investigation,” he said. It was the latest hospital blaze after a short-circuit at a bed panel caused a fire at Ipoh’s Hospital Raja Permaisuri Bainun on

Nov 9 last year. Two weeks earlier, a fire at Johor’s Sultanah Aminah hospital killed six patients.

Ramon: Onus on accused to prove innocence

PETALING JAYA — In corruption cases it must be up to the accused to clear their names, said former Transparency International Malaysia president Tan Sri Ramon Navaratman

The veteran anti-corruption advocate was commenting on the arrest of several people, including high-ranking government officials, for alleged corrupt practices in recent months.

Ramon, who was also a former secretary-general of the Transport Ministry, said he was shocked that corruption had reached the highest level of the civil service.

“For high-ranking officials to allegedly commit such crimes is shocking. Those at such high levels of government service are paid well and their welfare taken care of,” he said.

He said the lack of motivation and a feeble sense of civic duty could be reasons why these officials committed such crimes.

Their actions could stem from watching politicians get away with corruption, thinking they might be able to engage in such activities without repercussions.

It was also possible their actions were derived from a lack of inspiration from their superiors, he said.

According to Ramon, there is a need to change the way anti-corruption bodies fight corruption, through transformation in legislature and how to detect corruption.

“It is always difficult for an investigative body like the MACC to discover what is going on, get evidence of specific wrongdoings by any particular person and prove it in a court of law,” he said.

“That is why we must reverse the law and place the onus of proof on the accused, to produce evidence to prove their innocence.”

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More assets seized in MACC probe on sec-gen

PUTRAJAYA — The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) seized additional assets consisting of gold and cash totalling RM2.6 million yesterday in its investigation into alleged corruption involving a ministry secretary-general.

MACC Deputy Chief Commissioner (operations) Datuk Azam Baki told Malay Mail the assets were seized from two safety deposit boxes in two locally-registered foreign banks.

“One of them had 8kg of gold in it, worth RM1.6 million, while another contained cash, totalling RM1 million, including A$80,000 (RM261,676),” he said.

Azam said the deposit boxes were registered to relatives of Rural and Regional Development Ministry secretary-general Datuk Mohd Arif Ab Rahman.

Also seized was a Toyota Estima.

“He and his family members also had 10 plots of land around the Klang Valley registered in their names. However, we are still establishing the status of these lots,”
he said.

Azam said MACC would work with the Inland Revenue Board to verify whether Arif had paid his taxes.

He said that at least four more people were being sought in connection with the case.

“They are not ministry officials but businessmen who had previous business connections with Arif,” he said.

“Our officers are tracking down these suspects.”

Arif, 59, and his two sons, Ahman Luqman, 29, and Ahmad Zukhairi, 34, were arrested on Wednesday for alleged corruption and misuse of power.

Yesterday, a seven-day remand order was granted by the Putrajaya magistrate’s court against the trio to assist in the investigation into alleged corrupt practices since 2010.

They will be held at the commission’s lockup in Putrajaya until Wednesday.

Magistrate Nik Isfahanie Tasnim Ab Rahman granted the remand order under Section 117 of the Criminal Procedure Code.

The trio, who were picked up from their home in USJ, Subang Jaya, were brought to court by MACC enforcement officers at about 9.40am.

Arif is being investigated under the MACC Act 2009 for allegedly accepting bribes and abusing his position for self gain, and under the Penal Code for allegedly obtaining valuables as a public servant from parties engaged for business purposes.

He is alleged to have solicited bribes and apparently had a direct say in the appointment of contractors, vendors, and suppliers since 2010.

Arif, who was appointed secretary-general in October 2015, is also alleged to have channelled funds, gained through illicit means, to his sons.

His two sons are being investigated for allegedly abetting and being accomplices in his activities.

The raid by MACC on their home in Subang Jaya yielded cash — ringgit and foreign currencies — and gold bars worth RM3 million, along with 63 designer handbags and 15 luxury watches.

“The total worth of items seized is approximately RM6 millon at this point,” said Azam.

It was learnt that Arif and his family had recently returned from a golfing trip in the United States, after staying there for more than a week, flying business and
economy class.

Rebound to fair value likely in third quarter

KUALA LUMPUR — Deputy Finance Minister I Datuk Othman Aziz yesterday agreed with bankers’ forecast the ringgit will rebound to a fair value of 4.1 against the US dollar in the third quarter of the year.

Bankers had forecast the rebound based on improving commodity prices such as rubber and palm oil, as well as steady economic fundamentals, he said.

At 4pm yesterday, the ringgit stood higher at 4.4830/4870 against the greenback, after opening at 4.4870/4900 at 9am, following improved oil prices which were expected to rake in higher revenue for the government.

Brent crude futures, the international benchmark for oil prices, are still hovering above US$55 (RM245.76) a barrel.

“This is a cycle and it is not the first time we are experiencing this because we have seen worse levels before,” Othman told a press conference after visiting the Credit Counselling and Debt Management Agency yesterday.

He said investors would continue to remain on the sidelines until US President-elect Donald Trump’s swearing-in on Jan 20.

“Some people say something worse will be coming, but we will first wait for Trump’s swearing-in. What you are hearing now is not a firm thing, it’s just hearsay,” he said.

Treasury secretary-general Tan Sri Mohd Irwan Serigar Abdullah said the ringgit was expected to strengthen in the second half of the year.

He reiterated that the government would not resort to capital control.

The decline in the ringgit and other emerging market currencies is due to Trump’s promise to revive the US economy by bringing back more jobs to the country.

“It is a short-term phenomena,” he told reporters in Putrajaya.

However, he hoped that with the various steps taken by Bank Negara Malaysia, the ringgit would be much better in coming months. — Bernama

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Irwan: Economy on track to meet target

PUTRAJAYA — The economy is doing well and the country is on track with the targeted growth of 4.5 to 5 per cent, Treasury secretary-general Tan Sri Mohd Irwan Serigar Abdullah said.

He dismissed rumours accusing the government of mismanaging the economy, saying these were merely perceptions created by certain quarters.

“We are not in difficulty, we are not in trouble and the economy is manageable. Our debt is manageable and we are taking steps to resolve issues regarding 1MDB (1Malaysia Development Berhad) but it will take some time because it is very complicated,” he said at a press conference here yesterday.

“That is why we need to correct the perceptions and it is the domestic noises that are creating the problem. I urge those who are making those noises to also try to give the real picture of the economy and real picture of what is happening with the economy.”

Irwan said the prices of commodities would improve as the Chinese government had agreed to buy more palm oil from Malaysia, and Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak was negotiating with India to also buy palm oil.

“Rubber prices are increasing. There will be challenges but I hope this year will be better than last year,” he said.

Commenting on BR1M, Irwan said the assistance would continue as it was targeted to help the poor.

“We promise that BR1M will go up to RM1,200 (maximum) unless there is a new decision with the ministry,” he said.

“BR1M was designed to help individual households to help cater to daily needs. The poor really need BR1M, they are expecting the next BR1M some time in February.

“If you look at it, on the one hand, BR1M is helping to reduce the burden of household income and on the other hand, it is benefiting the economy when they spend at the shops.

“Over seven million people are benefiting from BR1M, and that is a huge population. If you take away BR1M, you are depriving the poor.”

Asked how BR1M was benefitting the economy when middle-class income-earners were suffering from the rising cost of living, Irwan said it was the fault of alternative media.

He said the perception must be corrected and “hopefully by the media publishing positive statements it will help strengthen the ringgit”.

“When I went to San Francisco and London and gave investment briefings, people are asking whether our country is going through a political turmoil,” he said.

“I told them they are reading a lot of alternative media and certain things are not true. It is all about perception, it is not about the real economy, because we are managing it properly.”

Things will get worse for ringgit, says research firm

HONG KONG — The ringgit, one of Asia’s worst-performing currencies over the past year, has further to fall, according to BMI Research.

One reason is because it is affected by the yuan, which is going to remain under downward pressure, BMI said in a note on Wednesday.

There will also likely be a narrowing of real interest-rate differentials between the United States and Malaysia, with the latter probably staying on hold this year while the Federal Reserve increases rates by a total of 50 basis points.

Further weakness in the global bond market would also put the ringgit under pressure given that about 40 per cent of Malaysian bonds are held by foreigners.

BMI has lowered its forecast for the ringgit. It expects it to average 4.50 per US dollar this year and 4.40 in 2018, from 4.00 and 3.88 previously. The currency, which fell 4.3 per cent against the greenback last year and 18.5 per cent in 2015, has not posted an annual gain since 2012.

“The Chinese economy remains mired in a medium-term slowdown as the structural weaknesses such as overcapacity in the industrial sector and dominance of inefficient state-owned enterprises persist,” the note said.

“Given that China is Malaysia’s largest export partner, we believe that Malaysia’s export-driven economy remains exposed and is likely to be negatively impacted.”

The ringgit is, however, likely to claw back some losses over the longer term, supported by the rising price of commodities such as oil and improving terms of trade, which will be positive for domestic savings and investment, BMI said.

Malaysia’s relatively positive fiscal position relative to the US should also keep inflationary pressure subdued, it said.

The risks to BMI’s view are to the downside. If the Fed increases rates faster than expected it could lead to higher outflows from Malaysia and put the ringgit under greater pressure.

Donald Trump’s presidency also raises the likelihood of a global trade slowdown, while Malaysia’s export sector would suffer if additional protectionist measures are imposed, it said. — Bloomberg

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‘Here we go again’

KUALA LUMPUR — Consumers and traders are anticipating a tough start to the new year as prices of food items continue to go up.

Here is what they had to say:

Renee Tan, 32, sales executive, George Town

“The prices of chicken, fish and other seafood items served during reunion dinners on the eve of Chinese New Year have gone up. Things are just too expensive and even food stall operators and restaurants have hiked their prices.”

Sanjay Kumar, 49, self-employed, Bandar Kinrara

“My wife and I usually survey the prices at three or four hypermarkets, and we would buy at the place offering the lowest prices. As consumers, we have to be smart to cope with the ever-rising cost of living. It’s frustrating but what can we do?”

Juliana Rosdi, 36, food stall operator, Klang

“The prices of vegetables like water spinach and kangkung have gone up. Once the monsoon ends, hopefully they will come down.”

Tan Lin Hai, 40, architect, George Town

“I’ll just reusing the old decorations for Chinese New Year. Things are so expensive these days, food being one of the many items. I won’t spend on non-essentials.”

Peng Yong Jian, 27, hawker, Petaling Jaya

“The cost of red chillies has drastically increased over the past four months. It is always the same during the festive season.”

Steven Heng, 32, sales manager, Kuala Lumpur

“The price hikes will not dampen my spirit during Chinese New Year. There are certain items that we buy to keep with tradition. We cannot replace them with other items.”

William Chiam 35, noodle stall operator, Klang

“We are left with very few choices, as our profit margin depends on the prices charged by suppliers. If the suppliers marks up their prices, we have to choice but to also raise prices to remain in business.”

Ch’ng Hui Jiun, 29, supervisor, George Town

“The cost of living is rising and even the traders have mouths to feed. It’s unfair to solely blame them. We just have to use our money wisely.”

Mary Goh, 49, mixed rice stall operator, Klang

“The price of kembung has gone up from RM9 per kg to RM12. I usually buy fish every day for freshness and was shocked with the price increase. I won’t increase my prices but will limit the ingredients as the cost is too much to bear.”

Karen Christina, 50, manager, Kuala Lumpur

“The prices hikes will burn a hole in my pocket. Business is already bad and now this?”

CAP: Price hikes due to unscrupulous suppliers

GEORGE TOWN — Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) expressed its dismay over the hike in prices of vegetables, fish and meat ahead of Chinese New Year.

Its president S.M. Mohamed Idris said such price hikes were common before festive seasons over the years.

“It is usually attributed to high demand, especially for seafood, vegetables and fruits, during this period,” he said.

“Some unscrupulous suppliers will stock up seafood and other food items popular with the community to make big bucks.”

He said based on their research, many wholesalers freeze their stocks so that it can be sold at a higher price ahead of the festive season.

“The price of fish such as the pomfret, often served during reunion dinners, has gone up by leaps and bounds. It is already selling at RM12 per kg at wet markets here,” he said.

“Fresh fish are often reserved for hotels and restaurants, from whom traders are able to fetch higher prices. The lower quality items are sold to the public.”

He also said there must be strict enforcement not only against traders, but also against those who encroach our waters to fish.

He also urged the government to encourage more people to embark on urban farming.

Malaysian Indian Restaurant Owners Association president T. Muthusamy said the association advised members not to raise prices during the festive season.

“But raising prices is not just about raw materials … we also take into account overhead costs,” he said.

He asked if the Domestic Trade, Co-operatives and Consumerism Ministry would agree to meet and decide if it was possible for the association’s members to buy raw materials at a fixed price throughout the year.

“Prices of such items can be reviewed annually to ensure our members do not pass the buck onto consumers,” he said.

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Prices of greens, seafood shoot up

PETALING JAYA — Be prepared to dig deeper into your pockets in the next few weeks ahead of Chinese New Year as farmers and fishermen have warned of more price hikes.

Some food items are already costing as much as 50 per cent more, according to the average prices recorded by the Federal Agricultural Marketing Authority (Fama) in mid-December and yesterday.

Highland round cabbage was priced RM3.65 per kg just weeks ago but was sold at RM6.75 yesterday. The price of standard sized process chicken has also gone up, from RM6.70 per kg to RM7.80. Other meat and seafood have also seen drastic price indreases.

Farmers’ and growers’ associations cited several factors affecting the pricing, including the weakened ringgit and theb unusually long monsoon season this time around.

Cameron Highlands Agriculture Association chairman Ng Tien Khuan said produce by farmers there had been affected as much as 50 per cent because of the weather.

“Farmers are having a tough time as what they have planted cannot be harvested. The lack of sunlight and cold weather have affected the growth of vegetables,” he said.

“This will lead to higher prices of greens. There is nothing the farmers can do as the planting to cope with the demand over the Chinese New Year season started two months ago.”

Ng said vegetables planted now would not grow in time for the festival, adding that the situation affected all farmers, even those on lowlands.

Farmer T. Thayalan, 27, said the production at his Simpang Pulai farm had dropped because of the rain.

Thayalan, who grows eggplants, cabbages and beans, said he was able to harvest one tonne of vegetables daily previously but this had dropped to 500kg in recent days.

He said the low production would push prices up further.

Kuala Lumpur Vegetable Wholesalers Association president Chong Tek Keong said production began to drop over a month ago, with prices increasing since early last month.

“The lower ringgit makes it more costly to import and the Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry Ministry places an import quota on certain vegetables,” he said.

Chong said the wholesale prices of local vegetables had now gone up by as much as 50 per cent.

Federation of Livestock Farmers’ Associations of Malaysia president Datuk Jeffrey Ng said it was also possible that meat prices would go up.

Asides from the weakened ringgit, Ng said, the price of corn and oil globally played a role. The labour shortage in the industry did not help either.

“With enough workers, one can control many factors. Broiler chickens thrive in cold weather as they grow faster. But chicks can also easily fall sick,” he said.

“Insufficient labour prevents us from working optimally, potentially jeopardising production.”

Ng was confident the supply of chicken meat, eggs and pork would be sufficient to cope with the festive demand.

National Fishermen’s Association chairman Ahmad Rudin said fishing activities would still be carried out from time to time nearer to the coast to cope with the festive demand.

“Chinese New year favourites including crab and prawns are still sufficient. So it is likely they will still be sold at normal prices,” he said.

However, Manjung Indian Fishermen Association president Raja Kumaran, 55, said his members were unable to head out to sea because of choppy waters.

“The visibility is also poor. The strong winds and high waves could also damage fishing boats. Most rather stay behind and mend their nets,” he said.

“If there is a shortage in supply, it will definitely lead to an increase in prices,”

Raja said the price of large prawns, which had been at RM45 per kg for the past two months, had gone up to RM55 since Jan 1.

He said the price of mud crab had also gone up from RM25 to RM40, which those of price particularly grey pomfret had increased from RM45 to RM70.

Bernama reported fishermen at six villages near Pasir Gudang port in Johor were bracing for losses because of an oil spill following the collision of two container vessels on Tuesday.

Southern Johor Fishermen Association chairman Azli Mohd Aziz said the 137 fishermen were from Kampung Pasir Gudang Baru, Kampung Pasir Putih, Kampung Kuala Masai, Kampung Asli Kuala Masai, Kampung Asli Pasir Putih and Kampung Asli Teluk Kabung.

“When I visited the area, work to clean the oil spills was in progress, but there were still traces of oil on the sea surface which could have adverse effects on fishing equipment,” he said.

“So, I’m not sure whether they (fishermen) can go out to sea or not,” he said.

The association is waiting for a full report from its affected members before any action, including demanding compensation, is taken.

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