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Awareness on diabetes encourages healthier lifestyle

KUALA LUMPUR — Young Malaysians and parents have begun making efforts to lead healthier lifestyles as the awareness of diabetes increases.

SMK Convent Bukit Nanas student Prettyjeet Kaur, 15 said her family had always practised health eating habits as there had been a case of diabetes within her extended family.

“My grandfather has been suffering from diabetes since he was 20 years old and might have to amputate his leg soon,” she said.

“This is the main reason my parents make sure we do not consume too much high sugar content food.”

Prettyjeet said her mother made it a point to always pack food for her so she would not consume unhealthy food sold outside.

“My mum usually packs sandwiches or pasta for me whenever she can as she feels there are more nutrients in food which she makes at home,” she said.

She would also have fruits instead of sweet delicacies.

“If my mum is too busy to cook for me in the morning then I will buy noodle soup as it is an healthier option among the other food the canteen operators sells,” she said.

Prettyjeet said sports activities were also a must for her as it was the main factor to reduce the chances of being diagnosed with diabetes.

“I usually play netball or volleyball to keep myself fit,” she said.

Sri Anusha Vallavan, 14, said she had reduced her sugar intake by almost 50 per cent as her mother was constantly reminding her to watch what she was eating.

“My mum always shouts at me if she sees me eating sweet food as she knows I have a sweet tooth and will not stop at one or two pieces of chocolate,” she said.

Sri Anusha said she had started packing food from home since the beginning of this year as she wanted to be careful of what she consumed.

“One of my New Year’s resolutions was to start eating healthy so that I will be able to have a balanced diet,” she said, adding that she treated herself with fastfood once in three months.

Mother of three Asma Ida Mustafa, 31, said she kept a close eye over what her children ate as diabetes ran in the family.

The kindergarten principal said she had gestational diabetes with all three of her pregnancies, which resulted in high birth weight in her children.

“My parents have diabetes, and both my grandparents on my mother’s side passed away because of diabetes,” she said.

“I make it a point to watch what my children eat, but we do have cheat days over the weekends but in a moderate sense.”

Asma Ida said her children were not given carbohydrates at all for dinner and had their sugar intake controlled to moderate levels as she did not wish to “rob them of their childhood”.

Homemaker Normala Maarof, 56, said she had to learn it the hard way after being too lenient with her three adult sons when they were younger, which resulted in them being overweight.

Over the years, she had started controlling the sugar intake of her children, especially her 12-year-old daughter.

“I used to buy bottled sugary drinks and juices almost every week but now I have stopped and encourage them to drink more plain water,” she said.

“I tell them to eat less rice as it results in more sugar in the body and I discourage snacks between meals.”

In George Town, Penang, Christina Tan always reminds her children to remain health conscious and keep away from consuming excessive sugar.

The 42-year-old hotel director of communications said her two children, aged 10 and 12, exercised regularly to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

“My children are aware of diabetes and they are too afraid of gaining weight. My elder daughter is cautious and she is already stopping sugary intake in her diet,” she said.

“We, on our part, encourage them to eat more vegetables and drink lots of water at school and at home.”

In Ipoh, father of four Khairizul Basharudin said he monitored his children’s meals at home and advised them on proper dietary habits while at school.

“I tell them to avoid sugary drinks and junk food. I control how much they eat sweets and chocolate and I make sure they drink lots of water,” Khairizul, 37, said.

“This morning, they had cereal for breakfast, and whenever I have time, I give them packed lunch for recess that is a proper balanced meal.

“At the same time, communication about a healthy lifestyle is important because we can’t always control what they eat.”

Jaswinder Singh, 31, said he was careful about the food his two children, aged four and three, ate.

He said he kept the amount of sugary snacks to a minimum, while ensuring they got the necessary exercise.

“I try to make sure they only take sweets once a week, including yogurt drinks and isotonic drinks. I regularly bring my eldest boy for a run around the field nearby,” he said.

“It’s about cultivating good habits from a young age. I want them to have a long and healthy life so it’s best that they start these habits now.”

Customs officer Ahmad Shahrizal Ahmad Shaip, 37, said he constantly advised his two children about the need for healthy eating.

“From an early age, I try to instill good habits in my kids. I tell them that eating unhealthy might get them sick,” he said.

“At home, I always try to make sure they eat home cooked meals instead of outside food.”

Shahrizal said it was important to increase awareness of healthy eating habits among children.

“All parties must play their role, including parents and schools,” he said.

Also see Page 26

Malaysia records highest number of cases in region

PETALING JAYA — Today is World Diabetes Day and in what appears to be an alarming trend, the rate of diabetes among Malaysians is reported to be the highest in the region.

The Health Ministry’s Medical Development Division director, Datuk Dr Azman Abu Bakar, said among adults 18 years and above, 17.5 per cent of the population or 3.5 million are diabetic.

A study has shown that up to 73 per cent of diabetes-related healthcare costs are taken up by hospitalisation and ambulatory care as a result of complications due to poor blood sugar control.

“As the country with the highest number of diabetics in the region, I would like to encourage everyone to prioritise their health with the right exercise regiment and diet habits, so as to stem the rise of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and keep it at bay,” Dr Azman said on the last day of the “Let’s Take 5” carnival at a shopping centre over the weekend.

Checks by Malay Mail revealed parents and children are aware of the health risks related to diabetes, and have embarked on inculcating proper eating values in their children.

They know that taking a healthier lifestyle approach can prevent diabetes.

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Horror floods still on residents’ minds

IPOH — Residents of Cameron Highlands are concerned about the risk of severe flooding if nothing is done to check indiscriminate dumping and wanton land clearing.

Despite several government operations and crackdowns, they fear the floods and landslides in 2013 and 2014 could happen again during extreme weather conditions.

Cameron Highlands Parti Sosialis Malaysia secretary Suresh Kumar said the residents had cause for concern as long as the activities were allowed to continue.

“It is unlikely we will see floods in Bertam Valley as the river has been significantly widened. However, places like Ringlet, Kampung Raja and Kuala Terla are still vulnerable,” he told Malay Mail.

“As long as the land clearing and dumping continue, the risk will always be there.

“Widening rivers is merely to tackle the symptoms of the disease. The real problem remains unresolved.”

Yesterday, Malay Mail reported the highlands faced more flooding because of a build-up of sedimentation and rubbish in the rivers and Sultan Abu Bakar dam.

The build-up reduces the water-carrying capacity of the rivers and the dam and increases the risk of floods during the year-end rainy season.

During heavy rain, muddy brown sediments and garbage make their way into the rivers.

Cameron Highlands Farming Operators Association chairman Ng Tien Khuan said the risk of flooding would continue until the rampant land clearing stopped.

He said a solution would be to replant trees along the bald slopes of cleared land that dot the highlands’ landscape.

“Millions are being spent to dredge the sediments and trash in the dam. It would be better if a portion of that money was spent to replant trees along the hill slopes. We could also build more collection points and recycling centres,” he said.

Wholesale vegetable seller Cheng Nam Heong hoped the weather would continue to be good.

“Over the past two years, we haven’t seen the type of rain like the deluge that lashed the highlands in 2013 and 2014. But we can see the siltation and the dumping are still clogging the dam,” he said.

“All we can do is hope disasters don’t return.”

Four face charges of hoarding cooking oil

PETALING JAYA — A trader was charged by Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism Ministry in Sepang yesterday for hoarding cooking oil, while three other traders will be charged later in the week.

Its secretary-general, Datuk Jamil Salleh, said the ministry was shoring up efforts to prevent errant suppliers from hoarding cooking oil, subsidised or otherwise, thus creating a massive gap in the supply chain.

“One trader was charged in Sepang today (Monday), while two cases in Kelantan and one in Sarawak will be done this week,” he said at the launching of the MyData SSM portal at the Glenmarie Golf and Country club yesterday.

“We have also seized property in Pahang after the proprietor was found guilty of misusing subsidised oil,” he said.

“We have 44 arrests to date since the announcement was made and eight have been charged in court.”

Jamil said the current trend of inconsiderate buying of subsidised oil had contributed to the lack of supply.

“We see a shift among consumers. Even those who can afford to buy unsubsidised cooking oil are now buying subsidised 1kg polybags instead, leaving the more desperate users in a lurch,” he said.

“We appeal to those who buy subsidised cooking oil in bulk for themselves to be considerate of others as well.

“Consumers should also stop the trend of panic buying as there is enough oil to go around,’’ he said.

Asked about Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s suggestion that the ministry look into a mechanism for price check on cooking oil, Jamil said the ministry will find means and ways to mitigate the effect.

“We will conduct a ministry-level meeting soon to look into possible mechanisms,’’ he said.

Waiter, there’s a tooth in 
my noodles!

IPOH — A fried noodle meal turned into a horrific experience for a man who found a tooth among its ingredients last week, and almost swallowed it!

To further add to his indignation, A. Agilan has now found himself possibly facing a police investigation after he raised his grouse with the restaurant management.

The 25-year-old carwash assistant had gone to the restaurant in Chemor where he ordered the meal.

“When it was served, it did not look anything out of the ordinary until I bit into something hard,” he told Sinar Harian.

“I was shocked to find a tooth when I spat out the object,” he said.

He then approached the restaurant manager to express his shock and to complain.

According to Agilan, the manager had promised to reimburse him if he suffered any health complications.

“I started having an upset tummy an hour after the meal, and when I wanted to seek compensation to go to the hospital, the manager refused to pick up my calls,” he said.

“I ended up taking medication I bought from a shop.”

The matter did not end there as the manager later lodged a police report against him.

Agilan, who also lodged a counter police report against the restaurant, hoped the Health Ministry would conduct checks on the restaurant.

“I was made to understand several customers had also lodged complaints about the restaurant’s cleanliness,” he said.

When met at a function yesterday, state health director Datuk Dr Juita Ghazalie said the department did not receive a report on the matter.

“The complainant has to bring the tooth to the district health office for us to investigate,” she said.

Homes for youths part of KL’s RM150m housing budget

KUALA LUMPUR — City Hall has allocated RM150 million for public housing projects in its Budget 2017, including RM80 million for the construction of council homes designed especially for working youths.

Mayor Datuk Seri Mohd Amin Nordin Abd Aziz said the council homes, to be located in Kampung Sungai Udang, Segambut, Razak Mansion, Sungai Besi and Kampung Keramat in Titiwangsa, would be different from the People’s Housing Project (PPR) as it catered to different groups of the city population.

“Due to the misuse of PPR homes, where some units have been sublet to third parties for RM500 to RM600 a month, we build this project to cater to families who are able to rent space for the same price but with condominium facilities, such as swimming pool and parking space,” he said at the tabling of the Budget yesterday.

“After enforcement carried out this year, we seized over 400 units of PPR homes that had been misused.”

Mohd Amin said there were more than 50,000 applicants on the waiting list for PPR homes, but fewer than 1,000 units to cater to the demand.

“For existing PPR units, we are prioritising those who have urgent needs, such as single mothers or cancer patients,” he said.

“The new council homes project is to meet the growing demand for rental housing since there are no new PPR houses coming up.”

He said the council homes were for rent only for a five-year tenure to encourage youths to buy their own property once financially stable.

The project includes 1,025 units measuring 900 sq ft in Sungai Udang to be rented out for RM500 to RM600 per month, 500 units of 600 sq ft units at Razak Mansion to cater to newlyweds and available at RM350 to RM400 month, and a dormitory-style apartment block with five rooms per unit with expected monthly rental of between RM50 and RM100.

Work on the projects has started and is expected to complete in 2018.

Besides the council homes, RM166.7 million has been allocated for maintenance works on PPR homes, and RM50.4 million will be used for replacement and upgrading of elevators, systems upgrades for electricity, internal water supply, and other utilities in PPR and existing public housing.

A total of RM2.871 billion is allocated for City Hall’s Budget 2017, an increase of RM840,000 from last year, with 60 per cent or RM1.727 billion allocated for administration and the remaining 40 per cent or RM1.143 billion for development.

The Budget includes an allocation of RM16.1 million for culture, arts, and sports and a special programme for the hosting of the SEA Games next year.

Mohd Amin said focus would be on beautifying the city, accommodation, and food and beverages in preparing for the Games.

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Collapsed stretch may be reopened this weekend

GEORGE TOWN — The stretch of road connecting Teluk Bahang and the city could be reopened to traffic this weekend as authorities are working round the clock on remedial and slope strenghtening works.

It was closed to traffic following a landslide near Jalan Ujong Batu.

Public works, utility and transportation committee chairman Lim Hock Seng, who visited the site yesterday, said more work needed to be done before the stretch was reopened.

“So far, the Works Department and the contractor Belati Wangsa Sdn Bhd have done the most difficult part, which is piling 85 metal sheets up 5m deep,” he said.

“The next process is filling up with sand and laying premix on the surface.

“They are trying very hard to complete their job. It has only been four days since they started. We hope the work can be completed by this weekend.”

Penang Public Works Department (PWD) director Salleh Awang told Malay Mail last week the collapsed stretch would be reopened yesterday.

Lim said PWD engineers would determine if there was a need to further strengthen the stretch and would wait for federal funding if necessary.

He said the road would be safe to use when it was reopened.

“According to the engineer, the soft soil has been cleared and what remains is the hardened earth. The PWD is stabilising the slope by installing cement canvas,” he said.

A pre-dawn downpour on Nov 7 caused a 5m stretch of the road to collapse.

Only motorists and pedestrians are allowed to use the road during stipulated times — from 6am to 9am, 5pm to 8pm and 11pm to 1am — to allow access for employees at hotels in Batu Ferringhi.

Others have to take an alternative route to travel from George Town to Teluk Bahang — through the Paya Terubong-Balik Pulau road before entering Teluk Bahang, covering a distance of 42km and taking 90 minutes.

Lim also said the 3km stretch from Mount Erskine to Jalan Lembah Permai near Jalan Pepper Estate, which collapsed last month, would only be reopened by the end of the month.

He said the contractor had built a retaining wall and was carrying out micro piling together with rubber pitching to strengthen the foundation of the collapsed stretch.

“To ease traffic congestion during peak hours in the Tanjung Tokong area, the contractor had agreed to open half the road for one-way traffic,” he said.

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Preventing sexual abuse against children

PARENTS and adults have a responsibility to look after children. We have to ensure that children are educated, cared for and protected, even if they are not our own flesh and blood.

Lately, we find that children in this country are exposed to various dangers such as kidnapping, abuse at childcare centres, physical and emotional abuse by parents or step-parents, accidents outside the home or in school, and most disturbing is sexual violence against children.

Sexual violence against children has short-term and long-term effects. If the trauma faced by the victims are not addressed and given proper counselling and psychiatric treatment, victims could suffer from clinical depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, sleep disorder, loss of appetite, paranoia, difficulty in trusting others, tendency to become abuser in their adulthood, and a variety of other symptoms.

Media reports revealed that in the first three months of this year, there were 571 cases of child sexual abuse, including incest and from friendship via social media, which were filed in courts throughout the country.

Since 2010, the police had received more than 400 reports of Internet-related rape cases, in which 339 children were involved. Unfortunately, the reported cases is only the tip of the iceberg.

The arrest of a British citizen, Richard Huckle who was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum term of 25 years for his sexual abuse against children in this country should be a wake-up call for everyone, particularly parents, on the serious threats by paedophiles.

There are paedophiles in our midst and it is not easy for us to identify them.

The rapid pace of technology such as the Internet and mobile gadgets make it easier for paedophiles, regardless of geography, to have access to children wherever they are, including at home.

We now have a new, comprehensive law to protect children, which is the Child (Amendment) Act 2015. This Act carries heavier penalties, namely a maximum fine of RM50,000 and a jail term of up to 20 years for those convicted of child abuse, mistreatment and neglect of children; compared with the previous law that had a fine of not more than RM10,000 and a jail term of 10 years.

Meanwhile, all Malaysians are waiting for the Child Sexual Crime Bill to be tabled in Parliament and subsequently approved and gazetted as soon as possible.

The Child Sexual Crime Bill proposes a special court for children, where judges and prosecutors are specialised in child sexual crimes, and resolution of child sexual abuse cases made within a year.

Primary prevention begins at home where parents and guardians play an important role in instilling awareness among children, followed by teachers in schools, the police and the community in general.

Parents should:

1. Provide exposure to children by explaining child sexual crime so that they will not become an easy victim to sexual predators.

2. Advise children to be cautious when they are touched by adults, whether they know the adults or not. Children must be able to differentiate whether the physical contact is sexual or not.

3. Provide religious and moral education to children on illegal sexual acts, including incest.

4. Remind children not to accept invitations by strangers or people whom they have only met for meals, drinks, sightseeing or follow them to their room or house.

5. Remind children to be watchful of food and drinks given by strangers or casual acquaintances, as they may contain drugs, sedation or sexual stimulants.

6. Be open with their children so that their children will not feel inhibited to share their problems and not afraid to expose sexual misconduct or abuse committed against them.

7. Provide support when their children open up about sexual abuse against them and provide assurance to them that you will help and be with them throughout the way.

8. Be sensitive and aware of the adverse impact from the sharing of information, including photos of children and their daily activities in social media because this will provide an opportunity for criminal activity. Children’s personal information posted on social media will directly or indirectly expose them as target of malicious intentions because the information about them can easily be accessed via the Internet worldwide.

9. Have better knowlegde of digital technology and Internet than their children so that they can monitor the activities of children in cyberspace more effectively.

10. Establish a specific time for Internet use by children at home and understand how children communicate with the outside world through the use of social media and text acronyms that are sexual in nature as they might be communicating with paedophiles.

Meanwhile in schools, teachers must be sensitive to changes in attitude and behaviour of pupils and students to detect signs of physical, emotional and sexual abuse.

Schools in Malaysia currently do not have adequate counselling teachers because only one counselling teacher is assigned to each school, with approximately 500 pupils. Therefore, all teachers should prepare themselves with knowledge so that they are ready to provide support to students in need, and in this case, the victims of sexual abuse.

Members of the police force need to be well trained to detect child sexual predators especially via online. They also need to be trained to obtain information from children, many of whom are traumatised by sexual abuse, in order to make a prima facie case against the accused. Judges, lawyers and prosecutors should also be well-versed in child abuse cases.

Members of Sexual, Women and Child Investigation Division should be both reactive and proactive. They should not only start investigating after a complaint is lodged but also track sexual predators online before any complaint is lodged. To identify sexual predators, paedophiles and sexual criminals, enforcement officers should go undercover in Internet chat rooms.

Here, I would like to express my support for the proposal that Malaysia join the WeProtect Global Alliance, a global movement comprising multiple stakeholders with a mission to end the exploitation of children online.

I believe we will benefit greatly if we are part of WeProtect Global Alliance as this alliance involves a cross-section of global stakeholders, including 70 governments, information technology experts and child rights advocates.

This alliance enables the international network of law enforcement agencies to share information on sex offenders and send alerts to member countries of child sex offenders headed to Malaysia.

Malaysia should learn from the experiences of advanced countries in dealing with the online crimes of paedophiles because this crime occurred earlier in those countries than in Malaysia due the rate of Internet penetration there.

Finally, the responsibility to protect children from cruelty, violence and mistreatment does not lie with the authorities only, but society as a whole must play its part. Everyone in the community needs to report to relevant enforcement agencies if there is a child abuse case.

TAN SRI LEE LAM THYE

KUALA LUMPUR

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Xi dismantling party’s unwritten rules

FOR those who do not follow the elite politics of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) closely, the news of President Xi Jinping given the new title of a “core leader” might seem like a big fuss over a small matter.

Yet, the new reference to Xi is a significant one. It opens the way to a gradual dismantling of the CCP’s unwritten rules and norms that have governed elite behaviour and leadership succession for almost three decades.

It also signals a new era of growing unpredictability in the power struggles within the CCP, tearing apart existing playbooks.

The term core leader in the CCP is similar to the conch shell in the novel Lord of the Flies: A manufactured symbol of power that is inherently meaningless.

For decades, party leaders such as Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping did not require it to wield power.

Its first mention came on June 16, 1989, 12 days after the bloody Tiananmen crackdown. On that day, Deng said that “a collective leadership must have a core; without a core, no leadership can be strong enough”.

He labelled Mao as the core — or hexin in Chinese — of the People’s Republic of China’s first generation leadership and said he himself was the core of the second generation.

More importantly, Deng bestowed this newly-invented title on then-new leader Jiang Zemin.

“Deng’s purpose was to strengthen the authority of a weak new general-secretary selected in a context of crisis and emergency,” wrote veteran China expert Alice Miller in the China Leadership Monitor in July.

Deng’s move worked. After seeing his two predecessors disgraced and purged, Jiang was able to consolidate his power.

When his successor Hu Jintao was not given the title, it was widely seen as a sign of leadership weakness.

Now, after an absence of 14 years, it is back. Xi, in a relatively short span of under four years, has amassed enough political sway to dust off the neglected crown.

Just like the conch, the core has taken on a meaning and life of its own, transcending its origins. Xi’s power will not be challenged in the short term.

A key implication of the return of the core leader is the expected removal of several unwritten rules in the CCP.

Since the 1980s, Deng had attempted to establish a set of norms governing elite politics and introduce more orderly leadership succession.

He wanted to end the habit of purges. Mao destroyed two of his three anointed successors, while the third was removed after the Great Helmsman died.

To do so, Deng made the Party Congress a regular event, to be held once every five years. During the height of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, the congress lapsed for 13 years.

More importantly, he also introduced the principles of age caps, term limits and systematic succession.

All these gave the opaque world of CCP elite politics a veneer of transparency and, with the exception of the Tiananmen incident, they led to a relatively predictable era in the party’s history.

Deng put an end to lifelong tenure of cadres — a principle that was subsequently exploited by Jiang and his allies to outmanoeuvre rivals.

In 1997, Jiang imposed a new retirement cut-off of 70-years-old to force out legislative chief Qiao Shi, who was 70. Jiang, who was 71, was exempted, presumably because of his status as a core leader.

Five years later, in 2002, the retirement age was brought down to 68, costing top adviser Li Ruihuan another term.

This move began a new guideline known unofficially as qishang baxia (“seven up, eight down”). It means those 67 years old or younger could stay, while those above 68 had to retire.

The CCP has stayed faithful to this convention. In 2007, three politicians in the Politburo Standing Committee who were older than 68 retired. In 2012, seven, including Hu, stepped down.

But do not expect Xi to keep to it. He has incentives to ignore the guideline so as to allow allies such as anti-corruption chief Wang Qishan, who is 68, to stay on during the next major leadership transition at the 19th Party Congress next year.

Such a likelihood increases after a director at the party’s Central Policy Research Office told the media on Monday that qishang baxia is “something from folklore, and cannot be trusted”.

It was a telling statement. The new core leader is laying the ground for a change.

To further consolidate his power, Xi is also likely to defy a Deng-established tradition of a clear successor in waiting.

When Deng pushed Jiang to the top, he made it a point to also appoint a much younger politician, Hu, to the Political Standing Committee.

The intention was to end speculation over leadership succession early on, smoothen political transition and create stability in the party.

The habit continued, when Xi was clearly annointed as Hu’s successor in 2007, five years before he eventually took over.

If the script is followed, that means Xi’s heir apparent should be elevated to the Politburo Standing Committee next year.

But given his fresh and firm grip on power, Xi is unlikely to countenance having a crown prince in waiting and stealing his limelight.

That brings us to the third rule of Deng which Xi could break — a two-term limit as leader of the party.

If he succeeds in removing the age caps and delaying the leadership succession, Xi would have set himself up nicely for a third term. His term is supposed to end by 2022, when he will be 69.

China’s constitution sets a two-term limit for presidents, but there is no cap for the CCP’s general-secretary. So he can relinquish his state title, but hang on to the far more important and powerful party rank. Such an arrangement has precedents in the CCP, with the most recent in 1993.

Most indications suggest he would. Since coming to power in 2012, he has shown that, unlike his predecessor, he is not afraid to bend conventions and smash unwritten rules.

For instance, the arrest and conviction of the powerful former security czar Zhou Yongkang broke the long-held rule that Politburo Standing Committee members had immunity.

Deng’s unwritten rules have always carried a fragility in a party where institutionalisation remains forlorn.

They look set to be dismissed as folklore and discarded as peripheral norms ill-suited in the core leader’s new horizon.

Leadership politics in China is about to take a turn for the unpredictable.
— Today

Peh Shing Huei is author of When the Party Ends, winner of the Singapore Literature Prize 2016, and former China bureau chief of The Straits Times. He is also the founding partner of The Nutgraf, a writing and communications agency.

Bank Negara Malaysia Reuters

Bank Negara seen
cutting OPR to 2.75%

KUALA LUMPUR — Analysts are expecting Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) to cut the overnight policy rate (OPR) by 25 basis points to 2.75% when its monetary policy committee convenes for its bimonthly meeting on Nov 23.

This would be the second such cut this year, after the central bank slashed the OPR for the first time in seven years to 3% (from 3.25%) in mid-July this year.

“In terms of official forecast, we are expecting BNM to cut the OPR rate by 25 basis points from 3% to 2.75% at this (Nov 23) meeting, but there’s risk to this call.

“They might keep it on hold because the gross domestic product numbers were a lot better than expected (4.3% growth in the third quarter of 2016), so there could be a possibility that this would not take place,” Standard Chartered Bank head of Asean economic research Edward Lee told Malay Mail over the phone yesterday.

While many analysts believe Donald Trump’s win in the US presidential elections have thrown a wrench in the expected US Federal Reserve (Fed) rate hike in December, yet others are forecasting that his election could prompt the Fed to raise rates more quickly.

ForexTime (FXTM) chief market strategist Hussein Sayed said Trump’s transition will remain a big factor influencing financial markets the weeks ahead especially as he starts revealing the names of people who will serve in his administration.

“Investors are pricing in 81% chance for a rate hike in December, and Fed presidents who spoke after the election seems to be in line with the market expectations. Vice chair Stanley Fischer welcomed the prospect of expansionary fiscal policies and believes that the case for removing accommodation is quite strong.

“I think what’s more interesting than a Fed rate hike in December is to see whether the dots ‘which shows the interest rate projections of the 16 members of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC)’ start climbing after falling for several years.

“On Thursday, we will hear from chair Janet Yellen who will testify to the Senate’s Joint Committee. She’s likely to keep December rate hike alive as Trump’s Christmas gift,” Hussein said.

This in turn, could send the OPR in the opposite direction. It was almost a year ago when the Fed approved a quarter-point increase in its target funds rate from 0-0.25% to 0.25-0.5%, but BNM did not act until more than half a year later in July.

Lee remarked that market expectations now are relatively split on the OPR, as half the market wants the OPR to be cut and the other half is expecting otherwise.

“The FOMC meeting is on Dec 15, and the last meeting for the year for BNM’s monetary policy committee is on Nov 23, so it is possible that if BNM were to cut the rates, it would be before the Fed meeting,” he said.

Also expecting an OPR cut is HSBC Asean economist Lim Su Sian, who found Malaysia’s GDP breakdown for the third quarter rather disappointing, despite the headlines surpassing HSBC and market expectations.

“The GDP report does not change our view that the Malaysian economy remains weak, with domestic demand in particular showing no signs of a recovery. The very low rate of private consumption growth (in quarter-on-quarter terms) is especially worrying, and as wage and labour market conditions continue to gradually deteriorate over the next few quarters, this key pillar of the economy looks poised to remain depressed. We also note that, for three straight quarters now, sequential investment growth has either been contracting, or only slightly positive.

“A fair amount of this ‘investment’ appears to be primarily in the (bubbly) residential housing sector — as corroborated by the construction numbers in supply-side GDP — rather than outlays on machinery and equipment; in other words, businesses have not been looking to expand operations for some time,” she said.

With domestic activity slowing and inflation not an issue, Lim has one more 25 basis point rate cut pencilled in for BNM’s final meeting this year, which would take the OPR to 2.75%.

“Given the unexpected outcome of the US presidential election, however, financial market volatility in the lead-up to that meeting is also likely to be a key consideration for the monetary policy committee,” she said.

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