Coupling technology and enforcement for sustainability

ONE of the biggest problems in Malaysia is that we do not have the audacity to truly automate and regulate whatever laws we have, let alone the latest one we introduced.

Consider the following – the Ministry of Health recently introduced a regulation barring Malaysians from smoking at open-air spaces in eateries, with a penalty of RM2,500 imposed on the eatery and RM10,000 for the smoker.

While they managed to implement this regulation in Parliament, fining eight people, how are they going to do it throughout Malaysia?

Are they going to plant someone in each and every restaurant, roadside stall, mamak restaurant and even roadside stall in the country to implement it? Are they expecting every security guard at a mall to ride a Segway and conduct a citizen’s arrest, like the movie Paul Blart: Mall Cop?

Even more vexing was a statement from the deputy health minister saying that vaping will not be policed unless it contains nicotine.

In my mind, this conjured up an image of a mamak restaurant being raided like a nightclub, with each patron being told to hand over their IC and every vape device being tested for traces of nicotine before being asked to leave.

The problem is still the same when implementing a non-smoking law at every national park. What is the government going to do to implement it? Have the authorities hike into reserve forests and issue summonses to each and every smoker in the park?

All of these seem nonsensical to any logical and rational thinking Malaysian, even if they hate the smoke emitted from smokers.

The issue of automation would make all these easier. For example, why are restaurants and eateries not equipped with smoke detectors as a nationwide initiative? In fact, why don’t we have such a policy for apartments and high density residential and mixed development units?

In fact, this was the purpose of having an automated enforcement system (AES) in the past. While the privatisation of the deal was lopsided and unacceptable, that has been made right by the current government.

However, such a system can be used to enforce more than just speeding laws for cars.

The AES can be upgraded to monitor emissions, yet another regulation that is not viewed seriously, even if the Ministry of Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change wants to push the blame on to factories and Lynas, when it should look to our roads and highways.

At the same time, the AES can be a boon for pedestrians, to monitor motorists who beat red lights and put them at risk, which can happen even in residential zones and schools gazetted with speed limits of 30km an hour.

Furthermore, such automation can also be implemented to monitor the biggest problem with public transport – reliability.

For far too long, buses have been given leeway for being late due to traffic. A Global Positioning System (GPS) has been used in express buses since 2014, attached to a so-called “black box”.

Why not implement a similar programme for feeder buses? The technology to monitor the traffic via the AES, coupled with a Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) system and the GPS monitoring technology would be able to provide accurate times to each and every bus stop, allowing people to time their journey without having to wait, clueless as to when the next bus will arrive.

Of course, with better resolution for CCTVs towards high definition imagery, it could even be used to monitor littering – yet another regulation that has failed in implementation.

And that reliability will translate into better ridership. Coupled with increase enforcement in the form of emissions monitoring and the AES, this will take more cars off the road both in urban and rural areas. Of course, it will also lower emissions as well.

These technologies, of course, are not new. We have even seen police panic button technology implemented into smartphones using GPS technology to find out where they are needed. This same technology is implemented for senior citizens to call for first responders and an ambulance.

Yet another implementation that should be done rather than expect these individuals to somehow make the journey to a clinic even with a B40 insurance plan.

Again, nothing above is new in terms of implementation in other countries, which can be seen in cities like London, New York, Tokyo, Seoul and even going just down south to Singapore.

The problem in Malaysia has always been lacking in political will to implement such plans.

So that is how you can couple sustainability, automation and enforcement altogether.

The technology and systems are available, the regulations have been used in other cities, and yet, our policymakers seem to be oblivious to such adaptations, regardless of how many times they go out of the country for a “working visit”.

Yes, initial implementation and maintenance will have costs, but having it implemented to the point of not even forgiving a single speeding summons regardless of the person’s rank or profession (read: politicians) will guarantee revenue for the government while ensuring that Malaysians adhere to proper regulations or find an alternative for themselves.

Hafidz Baharom is a public relations practitioner. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

A lesson in sustainability

THE announcement made by the Housing and Local Government Ministry recently is something to celebrate. Zuraida Kamaruddin said the government will embrace waste to energy (WTE) technology nationwide, aiming for a plant in every state within two years.

The details of such an undertaking are still being discussed, but Zuraida said contractors were aplenty in offering their services.

With the announcement, I do hope we are looking at more projects to create a sustainable country in terms of energy generation. However, not everyone shares the same thought process. Case in point, Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal still insists on powering the state with coal due to its low cost of generating energy.

He’s not wrong – green energy in Malaysia in all forms has still not matured to the point of costs decreasing exponentially in order for it to be a viable alternative. It is a fact that our country is powered by coal energy to the tune of 53% of our total supply.

Gone are the days when those of us born in the 1980s had to memorise hydroelectric dam names in our primary school’s ‘Alam Dan Manusia’ subject to show that it was the highest supplier of our needs – it now supplies a mere 5%.

Moving forward though, we do need to monitor the performance of WTEs, and also consider other developments in sustainable technology and development throughout the country. A case in point, implementing solar panels and rainwater collectors on government housing projects.

Selangor state had already done this right before the general election, teaming up with the Sustainable Energy Development Authority to place solar panels on state-sponsored affordable housing.

It should be a set standard for all affordable and low cost housing projects in the future because a feed-in-tariff returned to the poor would also lower their expenditure on energy while also allowing the government to continue developing sustainable energy infrastructure in urban and suburban settings.

It’s a situation where a little counts for a lot, especially if we can move Malaysia to reduce solid waste and recycle or upcycle it to become other products.

For example, if we could open up allotment plots and encourage low cost housing projects to even provide compost, which can be used for their own planting, it encourages a level of self-sustainability.

However, we do need to address the elephant in the room – transport. Regardless of any level of society, there is a need to encourage people to take public transport. For those encouraging the ‘Look East’ model, Japan reduces the use of cars by making it mandatory for driving schools to have two months of classes, costing roughly US$4,000 (RM16,000 roughly) a month. Thus, most just decide to take to the train.

Of course, I am not suggesting we do the same. Instead, what Malaysia should do is to improve the public transport network, make it affordable (unlike Japan), and move towards making it reliable and trustworthy enough for people to make it an option. We are nowhere near this scenario.

In a recent forum, economist Joseph Stiglitz said that Malaysia needed to introduce new taxes.

I would fully support it, especially with the insanity we have of someone wanting to launch yet another national car company when we cannot have clear skies during rush hour, even without our annual haze.

We need to reduce vehicle emissions and to do that it would mean enforcing stricter rules on cars and even heavy vehicles. Let us be frank, we dropped the ball when it came to enforcing vehicle maintenance standards on trucks and buses.

That needs to change, perhaps even be automated in the same vein as the Automated Enforcement System, which will soon be enforced nationwide.

On top of all this, we do need to mention the dinosaur in the room – we are a nation of litterbugs. Let us face the obvious truth that even if we get peeved off over the smoker throwing a cigarette butt on the floor, we are also guilty of the logical fallacy of printing an ATM receipt only to throw it out minutes later after reading information that was already printed on the screen moments ago.

We are equally guilty of being the forgetful nancy who forgot their reusable cup when going to a Starbucks, to the point it has become a piece of décor on a shelf. We are also the ones who decide leaving garbage on a table after eating is acceptable in IKEA because they have cleaners now, rather than keep to the old style of cleaning our own tables.

But most of all, we need a cultural shift to move people to think about conserving, recycling and sustainability, even about how their little efforts in doing so lead to a big win.

In short, the biggest challenge in Malaysia’s quest for sustainability is to make people care about it.

Hafidz Baharom is a public relations practitioner. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

Change perceptions on health

ONCE again, the Ministry of Health has shown that its idea of “public consultation” was to place two industry representatives along with a dozen doctors at a round table discussion to decide on a memorandum for a soda tax.

On top of that, the nanny state ministry seems to have taken the media into a private session to talk about banning advertising for products with high sugar, salt and fat. One has to wonder if they had invited malls to this meeting on advertising for their floor space and how it would impact their tenants.

Furthermore, there is even talk of changing the criteria for their self-regulated “Healthy Living Logo” programme, which will disqualify sweet drinks and sauces, even if they use alternative natural sweeteners like stevia.

One source said that this was the ministry’s idea of “changing the taste buds” of Malaysians. Well, you might as well get the medical society to cut out all our tongues. At least then, we can still feel salt on the wounds.

There is always room for improvement when we talk about public health, but it should be done through clear, concise and proper information – not knee-jerk reactions triggered by misinformation and stigma.

Taxing sodas will not improve public health if you do not cut sugar from the teh tarik and Nescafé served at mamak stalls, which are of higher consumption. And yet again, the cause of diabetes is due to caloric intake and inactivity, not just drinking Coke and Pepsi – depending on your income grouping, if we are to believe Tony Pua.

But more so, a tax on sodas, an advertising ban on foods, and even trying to make living healthy a bland lifestyle choice go to show that the ministry is thinking more as an authoritarian rather than performing better policy in nudging people towards healthier lifestyles.

Perhaps this has more to do with them being a single silo rather than reaching out to their other ministries for assistance.

Healthy lifestyles is not just about food, but also the actions of Malaysians. Being stuck in a commute of any kind for more than an hour raises the risk of heart attacks by 3.2 times. This was a German study done in 2009.

Furthermore, those switching from driving to public transport have been found to lose an average of five pounds a year – a minuscule amount, but worthy of mention nonetheless if it means lesser congestion on highways and Prasarana not having to take out a government bond just to pay their workers’ salaries.

Of course, we would first have to strap test groups with pedometers to determine the linkage between walking in urban areas and the impact on health in Malaysian cities. I would hypothesise that those living in urban areas would benefit more than suburban Malaysians.

Thus, perhaps instead of focusing too much on how Malaysians eat and changing taste buds, maybe the ministry should study more on Malaysians’ inactivity and changing health habits.

Do a lot of Malaysians get stuck behind a desk with no reprieve, or do they go out walking for 10 minutes every hour? Do we even have offices with standing desks?

Do we even analyse how opening hours of shops and working hours adversely affect public health? And what about an analysis on public parks and its effects on surrounding health?

Furthermore, do they even market healthier eating options in cooking on RTM?

Instead of looking at what people put into their bodies whether rich or poor, what needs to be looked at by policymakers is to ensure that Malaysians lead healthy lives by expending what they eat, be it by providing a tax break for gym memberships, all the way up to pushing people to get on the train and start walking.

And while we are on the subject of general health, let us face some hard truths – yes, we eat a lot of sugar on top of everything because our food here in Malaysia was designed for tiffins brought to back-breaking daily work in the fields, plantations or mines.

Most of modern, urban Malaysia no longer faces such high levels of physical labour thus requiring other ways to spend that energy and they can’t do it with longer hours in the office, longer commutes to and from work in a car, nor can they do it if they are stressed out of their heads, worried about income to afford healthier foods.

As such, if the ministry wants to go out to “change the taste buds of Malaysians”, they are better off instead thinking about how to change their way of thinking about Malaysian and even international ideas regarding health.

This is because health is not just about what you eat, it is about lifestyles – and thus far, the only thing the ministry is doing is gearing Malaysia to becoming a nanny state rather than one that can consciously and affordably switch to a better lifestyle.

Hafidz Baharom is a public relations practitioner. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

Changing mindsets on emissions

IT was highly ironic to have a chat on emissions recently while eating at a steakhouse.

When we talk of lowering carbon emissions in Malaysia, it seems we talk more about coal power plants rather than focusing on just how much petrol we use by comparison. Here’s the thing, coal power plants while far from being green, are a bane when it comes to carbon emissions.

But it is cheap and thus, cost-effective in generating electricity, which the government can then subsidise for less. Of course, if we are going into higher cost energy generation with the government wanting to foot the bill in subsidising it for the masses, more power to them.

However, how do you explain the affront to cheap energy when people prefer expensive personal transport in such a schizophrenic way?

A petrol car stuck in a traffic jam has its emissions singled out to an average of one person per vehicle during rush hour compared with a coal power plant powering entire communities. Let us not even get started on the fact that we do not enforce guidelines and regulations on cars and heavy transport emissions in this country.

So, compare the person using electricity and driving a petrol car, along with the one using electricity while riding a train or bus, who is the bigger polluter?

Again, we don’t look at the emissions issue from other perspectives as well – being a net importer of products means we bear the emissions of trading goods and bringing them here.

We don’t look at food habits and consider the emissions caused in rearing the food as well, otherwise we would have less meat in our diets.

Of course, I am also held liable for increasing emissions via one tiny fraction due to my smoking habit of one pack a day, though switching to vaping or e-cigarettes might help give me a less guilty conscience.

Solutions to the emission issue for Malaysia will not be easy. We are a country still hooked on driving rather than taking the train.

We are a country that talks big about wanting changes but seldom want to sacrifice for such a change.

The major problems in implementing emissions-reducing strategies in Malaysia is mindset and design, and the two are correlated.

Our mindsets have not shifted from wanting a car, right up to the prime minister, and our public transportation networks are badly designed and implemented.

I’ll give you an example of the insanity that is the MRT bus network in Damansara, Petaling Jaya. Here is a bus that will charge you RM1 to get you from Damansara Perdana to 1Utama shopping mall, but it will cost you RM2 to get back home.

Why? Well, because the bus route ends at Mutiara Damansara MRT station, and you have to wait 20 to 30 minutes at the station for the next MRT bus to push off and get charged an additional RM1.

Now empathetically we can all agree the bus driver needs his break to have lunch or go pray, but for commuters, this is just wacky beyond all understanding.
It’s as if MRT Corporation believes we should be mall hopping before arriving home.

Why not have a bus already on standby to push off when the next bus arrives, for a seamless system? I’ve no idea, perhaps the MRT Corporation can clarify.

Similarly, why isn’t each bus station upgraded to inform when the next bus is arriving via a GPS tracker? The now-defunct Land Public Transport Commission or SPAD had implemented a speed monitoring system via GPS for bus operators since 2014.

Why wasn’t a similar system implemented by the Rapid bus companies under Prasarana to monitor late arrivals at bus stops, or even have an LED board at each station to show the time of arrival?

On a recent trip to Putrajaya, I had to take a cab and ended up with a driver who insisted that the problem with Malaysia was that our highways didn’t have enough lanes. This is what caused traffic jams, and he believes that expanding the tunnels leading to Ipoh and even on the Karak highway would make traffic better.

I didn’t have the heart to tell him that increasing highway lanes and even blowing open a tunnel to be wider would not solve the problem because it will just cause more traffic and get jammed up even worse.

The same thing will happen when you don’t set a price ceiling and just decide that adding 20% of flights during festive seasons will solve the problem of higher airfares.

I mentioned there was a mindset problem and here it is – Malaysians don’t want to sacrifice their comfort for the environment. It’s not a bad thing, it’s just a human thing. Of course, we want a greener planet and less carbon emissions, with clear skies and lower temperatures from the searing hot sun.

If saving the environment by cutting emissions means walking or taking a train or bus, seated next to someone with body odour, with the carriage temperatures shifting from “hot sauna” to “freezing cold Himalayas”, many would opt for having their own car.

And, they would rather go broke or bankrupt just trying to keep it that way. Until that changes, I believe we are pretty much talking to a brick wall when it comes to cutting emissions.

Hafidz Baharom is a public relations practitioner. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

No sense in a soda tax

I WAS intrigued by Tony Pua’s suggestion to tax sodas, even if his line of reasoning that the “Bottom 40” income group “does not need to drink Coke”. Of course, the idea of a soda tax was then backed by a few ministers before finally being mentioned by Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Mahathir asserts that a “soda tax” is needed due to the high prevalence of diabetes among Malaysians. And here I thought it was the sedentary lives of Malaysians spending a minimum of six hours at a desk that caused diabetes. Silly me.

According to the World Bank, the prevalence of diabetes among Malaysians aged 20 to 79 in 2017 was 16.7% and is, in fact, the highest among Asean nations – unless Papua New Guinea joins us. But is it caused by sodas? No.

According to Euromonitor, we aren’t even in the Top 10 list of soft drink consumers in the world in 2017.

In fact, according to statista.com, sodas rank fourth among the regular beverages of Malaysians. The top three? Coffee, tea and juice.

And let’s be fair – our coffee, tea and juices are just as guilty for being excessively sweeter compared with Coke and Pepsi.

This brings me to a better idea for the government to implement – taxing sugar, not just sodas.

According to an infographic by a daily, our sugar prices are actually the lowest in the Asean region.

A sugar tax makes more sense than a proposed soda tax because Malaysians actually drink more sugar in tea, coffee and juices. While some argue about “natural sugars” it is necessary to point out that all sugar is natural, it’s the quantity that matters.

Sugar is sugar, all sugar is natural in all forms, and just because you hide behind terms like sucrose, fructose and glucose don’t make sugar healthier. Thus, a proposed tax should definitely be worded to include all of them.

I will also fairly point out that I am not entirely against sugar, because it is a necessity in certain drinks and foods to encourage a healthy lifestyle.

To test that out, try drinking the Homesoy Soymilk without sugar, and you will perhaps understand the need for sugar.

But how much sugar do we consume on average?

This is where it gets iffy. According to the Indian Sugar Mills Association, we consumed 55.1kg of sugar per capita in 2016, second only in Asia to Singapore at 49.9kg per capita – and Singapore has been shrinking that figure since 2010, while ours has been going up after a slight dip in 2013.

Mahathir went to China saying that trade should be free and fair – I do believe this should apply to taxes as well.

To tax sodas for allegedly triggering higher cases of diabetes while letting coffee, tea, juices and even Milo pass, is discriminatory.

But more importantly, a sugar tax would also attach itself on foods and restaurants serving high sugar content food and beverages as well, which would move towards healthier eating.

Of course, this would also have to apply to the kuehs we all love to eat during Ramadan – and, specifically, to the Kelantanese. That would mean taxing your “jalurmas” and “buah tanjung” combo too.

But more importantly, it will move the industry to innovate towards sugar substitutes – it could be natural like stevia and honey, or more chemical compounds such as aspartame.

Some have pointed out that a sugar tax will not change the lifestyles of people who will still want an original soda rather than those with no sugar or a sugar substitute. I disagree.

If a sugar tax is high enough to the point that those dishing out soft drinks the most (read: fast food operators) decide to switch to the non-sugar counterparts, it will have an impact even if it is a minuscule one.

I think KFC is already serving out more Pepsi Zero rather than original Pepsi, which is artificially sweetened. And Coke is now sweetened by Stevia.

However, we should be cautious introducing a sugar tax, particularly because it will impact small and micro traders – the part-time bakers, Ramadan bazaar kuih and beverage makers, the food and beverage stalls at food courts, and even the mamak restaurants will be the worst impacted by this move, which will subsequently domino down to consumers directly.

Such is the price for a healthier Malaysia.

So, tax sugar, not just sodas, especially if this is a move to lower the prevalence of diabetes. Also, park that money into the Health Ministry to continue pushing for healthy lifestyles or better yet, give people a tax credit for bicycles and gym memberships.

But more importantly, people who are overweight or obese have a higher risk for diabetes.

If the government is serious about hindering this, they should tax sugar and also look at the caloric content of foods.

If not, then let’s just admit that diabetes was just a scapegoat.

Hafidz Baharom is a public relations practitioner. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

Poor insurance? Tell me why

IN the last few weeks, Health Minister Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad has been talking about the Pakatan Harapan promise of an insurance plan for all members of the bottom 40 (B40) group. There’s no denying that Malaysians from the B40 need assistance in living.

The previous government did so by dishing out the 1Malaysia People’s Aid (BR1M), which has now been rebranded. It also established the 1Malaysia Clinics, which were to further aid lower income Malaysians throughout the country via healthcare.

The cost for these were minor, with consultation fees being RM1 for a general practitioner and RM5 for a specialist. On top of this, the cost of medication was also subsidised for Malaysians, which made it cheaper. And even if the cost went into the hundreds, some have informed me that there were welfare counters in government hospitals and clinics that allowed waiving the costs to as low as RM50.

Yes, the previous government also raised the costs of public healthcare on to consumers for those wanting better comfort, in the Class 1 and Class 2 tiers, but left the B40 groups to their subsidised healthcare altogether.

Thus, we should ask what exactly is the rationale behind the B40 insurance plan? If it is the question of affordability, the current government universal healthcare scheme allows people to lower their fees down to RM50.

So, how exactly would a B40 insurance plan be better? What does such an insurance plan cover? And what exactly is this insurance supposed to offset?
Is it also a plan to allow their loved ones to claim cash on inheritance basis?

Also, an insurance plan would also mean that someone has to pay monthly fees before it is claimed and used. Will this be paid by the government or the taxpayers directly, or will it be paid by the B40 until they need to use the insurance plan, like how corporate insurers do it?

It sounds innocent enough to begin with, to just establish something similar to what was branded “Obamacare” in the US, which pushed for subsidised, customised insurance for the lower income groups. But we are not America – we actually follow the British system in which citizens can opt for public healthcare and pay a fraction of the costs, subsidised by tax ringgit.

As such, the government needs to clarify this plan of theirs before moving forward with it, by answering those questions above before they launch it in January.

For myself, I am wondering why the Ministry of Health is talking about a B40 insurance plan when it can simply increase coverage of our public healthcare by building more hospitals and government clinics – you know, what they criticised the previous administration about.

At the same time, I would like to ask if this proposed B40 insurance plan would mean that the lower income groups could then go to private healthcare establishments for treatment. If it is so, the charges by these doctors would be much higher than government facilities, therefore costing more for the taxpayers as well as the government.

Is that not taking money out of public healthcare to pay the private practitioners instead? Will the proposed policy be simply profiting the private hospitals and clinics out of the government’s pocket, while removing money from public healthcare?

Would such an insurance plan be cheaper on the government by putting the onus of public healthcare on to taxpayers and insurance subscribers – in other words, would we all be paying extra to subsidise the B40’s insurance?

If this is the case, how does it differ from the previous government’s 1Care healthcare plan proposal back in 2012?

Isn’t that a move towards privatising government healthcare? If it is, we are looking at a huge shift in government policy on the affordability of healthcare altogether, from being similar to the UK to wanting to be more American and let the people bear the cost of healthcare altogether – which is why Obamacare came about.

Yes, we should increase our ability to promote better healthcare not just for the poor but for all Malaysians – and we should follow the examples of other governments. Cigarettes should be replaced with vaping – which is less harmful – a sugar tax rather than a “soda tax”, even looking at making public transport, walking and cycling a better option than driving for that matter.

But this plan for an insurance scheme really needs to be explained further because there are way too many questions ranging from the what’s, why’s, and how’s this will benefit Malaysians, at what cost to Malaysians, as well as why exactly it is a better option than the government pushing for more public clinics and hospitals.

I hope Dzulkefly has enough in his budget for the roadshows.

Hafidz Baharom is a public relations practitioner. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

Public transport, please

MANY Malaysians have expressed reservations about the Third National Car project and have urged the government to focus on improving public transport, connectivity and ensuring smooth traffic flow.

Rafizi Ramli and lawmaker Nurul Izzah Anwar have both spoken out on the need to reconsider the car project.

Discussions have touched on past promises to remove excise duty, reduce costs and the idea to include Indonesia to build an “Asean” car.

For me, it’s a question of cost and resources. First, what will such a project cost this government and the government-linked corporations?

If the new national car is to be established right after or during the abolishment of toll charges in stages, where does the government see the potential income to make up for lost revenue and kickstart the project?

Second, the cost to consumers. The average urban household has an estimated RM6,000 monthly from salaries to spend on everything from groceries, their homes, and hopefully their insurance plans and savings.

Do we want to add on the need for a car, petrol, car insurance, maintenance and toll charges to the mix, or can we add it to whatever savings they have at the end of the month?

Now, let us move on to resources part of the discussion – it will be a petrol, diesel or gas-driven car. We are a net importer of petrol; thus putting the government at risk of increased spending on the finite resource due to subsidies, which is again another expense on the government on top of wanting to build the car.

In fact, how much has the government spent on maintaining petrol prices for the past three months?

If we are going into electric vehicles, feel free to get in touch with the need to buy into rare earth to develop the batteries.

Another limited resource we need to talk about is land. Do we want to pave more land for roads, highways and parking lots? We do not have enough parking space in towns and cities.

It has been observed that building more roads eventually causes more traffic congestion.

More traffic jams lead to more carbon emissions; and more roads and parking lots means lowering the means to balancing those emissions if we do not replant trees and create new green areas to replace the cleared land.

Of course, a lot of time is wasted in traffic jams and contributes to various costs.

To those romanticising about Proton, I have to say it was not always a success. The carmaker took a dip when it took the front of a Wira, glued it to a hatchback and called it a “new model” targeting the dusty dunes of Australia.

Proton was also reported to have had problems with its parts suppliers, leading to what some believe was a reduction in quality which affected its sales. Remember the “failing power windows” claim.

Deputy International Trade and Industry Minister Ong Kian Ming is correct in saying we need a new National Automotive Policy that looks beyond electric and energy-efficient vehicles.

There is a need to define an energy-efficient vehicle in terms of kilometres per litre of petrol with a traffic light system. This was proposed ages ago by the UK Nudge Unit (Behavioural Insights Team) to the United States, but it didn’t fully take.

Ong also points out the need to venture into electronics, the internet of things and adopt a more holistic approach.

If we are to continue building cars, the technology will have to include cameras on all sides to help drivers park safely, side sensors, automatic anti-collision braking sensors and even Bluetooth to connect devices to a computerised console.

Some models even come with built-in vacuum cleaners.

It’s time to look beyond the national car and focus on improving public transport and how to fill up trains. Federal Territories Minister Khalid Samad said ridership on public transport was only 20%.

This is good because it would mean endless potential in pushing people to use trains and trains with a RM100 public transport monthly pass proposed by Transport Minister Anthony Loke, rather than getting them to buy a car.

Hafidz Baharom is a public relations practitioner. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

Change, but change meaningfully

THE prime minister said last week that a government-linked investment company did not achieve its aim of furthering the bumiputra agenda.

I’m not sure if Khazanah Nasional Bhd even had the duty of furthering the agenda but the board needs to explain how on earth a venture into women’s lingerie was considered a good deal at RM80 million. But more importantly, which company?

However, when you vacate the entire board of directors and then place the prime minister and a member of his cabinet on the board it leaves a bad taste.

Yes, it is a government-linked investment corporation but so was 1Malaysia Development Bhd.

1MDB had a board with political patronage as well – a mix of politicians and corporate sector individuals – it still did not bode well. Thus, why involve politicians in these investment corporations?

Surely after saying that there was enough talent within Pakatan Harapan and its corporate allies; there must be enough people to fill those posts and be professional about it?

There must be a separation of government and business to avoid patronage and nepotism, and remove the risk of conflict of interest. It must be said that GLCs as well as their investment corporations – Permodalan Nasional Bhd (PNB), Khazanah Nasional, and even the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) – should be free of political influence. This is especially important for the PNB and EPF because these are the savings of Malaysians.

One excuse is that this is how the companies have been run. Well, the majority of Malaysians voted to change things that have gone awry.

After all, for many years we witnessed Pakatan lawmakers facing the accusation that Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim when he was finance minister made the decisions that they opposed. And during those years, Datuk Seri Wan Azizah would say “if it was bad, why not change it?”

The same question now applies to Pakatan Harapan. Why not change decisions that do not tally with their internal beliefs of reducing the power of the prime minister and removing every single thing they opposed when they weren’t in power?

Why do we still debate child marriages when some 40-plus-year-old marries an 11-year-old, claiming he has been in love with the girl since she was seven?

How can you promise EPF deductions for housewives from their husbands’ accounts without knowing the law doesn’t allow it?

Why is it more important to amend the constitution to guarantee internet access when no one has been held responsible over a telco leak reported ages ago?

How is it that we can cancel public transport projects and yet, still go about reconsidering a third national car company, forcing people to pay for fuel, maintenance, road tax, insurance and even the tolls which are supposed to be abolished in stages?

There are a lot of things still pending for this government and while we do want to give them leeway for being new at their jobs, the ideas being generated are outdated and some are silly. Do we really need to debate black versus white school shoes when we need education reform?

The new ruling coalition needs to buck up soon because the changes promised to its supporters look sillier by the day.

Hafidz Baharom is a public relations practitioner. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

Cities allow you to be yourself

I READ disbelievingly that our Ministry of Youth and Sports believes that just creating jobs in rural areas will somehow drive the younger population to remain in the heartlands.

Nothing could be further wrong when it comes to why there is a huge migration pattern of people drawn to urban centres.

It isn’t all about jobs. Why would someone from Malacca insists on driving a GrabCar or even be a delivery man in Kuala Lumpur if he could make the same amount where he lives? Or why are people from out of town happy to open a stall in Cheras selling nasi lemak when they could be doing the same in Kota Baru?

There are a lot of things going against living in cities – higher crime, high cost of living, transport costs, rental and even food compared to rural areas. And there is no space in cities to plant a sustainable garden.

So, why are people drawn to cities?

Cities give many opportunities that rural life does not, and that is the need to be human and seek out a sense of belonging among other Malaysians and even foreigners.

Cities provide the ability to mingle be it at a job, on a train, or even have a chat with Grab drivers. Of course in Kuala Lumpur, such chats about daily happenings are reserved for late night mamak sessions.

You will find similar discussions at a bistro in Paris or a pub in London.

Cities are teeming with events – forums, concerts, standup comedies, nightlife and even fundraisers.

The draw to a city is very much Sinatra-esque in the mindset of those who come here: “if I can make it there, I can make it anywhere” is not just a line of a song, it is a mentality of those believing that coming to a city and earning enough will make them happier.

Though, for those brought up in the cities and their suburbs, having more free time seems to be catching up with the need to earn more money as the city draws in more and more people.

The rat race is no longer about earning enough, but more about finding the best schools for children, the latest trends among the youth, the newest fad and restaurant, or even seeking out the latest bargain in warehouse sales.

Fret not, it’s the same in every cosmopolitan city in the world, even if the items are different.

But more importantly, cities drown out individuality and allow people to get lost in the crowd. Away from the gossiping neighbours who would tell your parents of your behaviour, away from prying eyes who would insist that it is a communal issue that requires the intervention of a local imam or bomoh, or even a visiting preacher from India with permanent residence.

Cities give you the opportunity to be yourself and not alert the entire population of your transgressions, and find people who actually do the same thing. Thus, whatever quirkiness you have individually will be acceptable and even find those who are in the same category.

This is the major draw of cities – it allows people to be themselves, in a crowd of like-minded people, without the same fear of being the black sheep of a village or even be treated like someone in need of an exorcism.

That is why youths continue to come to cities it isn’t about the want of a job, it is in spite of the need for one to make ends meet even if it means renting a single room in a cheap flat and sharing it with three other Malaysians.

There is a draw to the hustle and bustle of city life, looking for like-minded people from all around the country and the world, in the hope of finding a place to belong. You won’t find that just by creating jobs in rural areas.

Hafidz Baharom is a public relations practitioner. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

The real deal behind oil royalty

THERE’s still some gross public misunderstanding about the formula of oil royalty paid out to the three oil producing states of Sabah, Sarawak and Terengganu.

This has, by and large, led to regular demands from these states for Petronas to increase the 5% royalty they have been getting all along to 20% and has become the hottest point of contention between them and the national oil company.

To the public at large, when one talks of a 5% royalty to the states, the impression one gets is that what happens to the other 95% and on paper, the formula seems very lop-sided.

But in reality, nothing could be further from the truth.

This is how it actually works out – both the federal government and oil producing states get 5% royalty each.

Of the balance, up to 20% goes to what is known as “cost oil” to recover the cost of production.

This leaves a balance of 70% that is split between the operators and Petronas.

The operators are multinational companies, both foreign and local, that invest billions into drilling oil in the fields awarded to them by Petronas under the production sharing contract (PSC).

Like all investments, there are risks involved and more so in the oil and gas (O&G) industry as at times they spend billions without striking oil of the volume required to make it commercially viable.

In oil barrel terms, for 100 barrels the PSC split is five barrels to the state treasury and up to 20 barrels claimed by the operator as cost oil.

The balance of 70 barrels is split 70:30 with Petronas getting 70% or 49 barrels and the operator 30% or 21 barrels.

If the federal government, for instance, is to accede to demands for a 20% royalty, this time-tested formula that’s been working very well with foreign investors like Shell, which has been drilling oil for over 100 years in Malaysia, will be in jeopardy.

And it will undermine our direct foreign investment attractiveness in the O&G sector and worse, might very well kill the goose that lays the golden eggs for Malaysia’s most critical and biggest revenue earner.

Today, there are more than 40 investors in PSC of which 80% are foreign.

And contrary to general perceptions, Petronas pays these cash royalty payments to the federal government and the states irrespective of whether the production from the fields is profitable or not.

These cash payments are paid twice a year.

There have been quite regular outbursts by Sarawak politicians in demanding for a higher royalty.

But in actual fact, Petronas has invested so much in the state, about RM183 billion in the upstream sector alone.

Beside this, it has paid out cash worth RM33 billion since 1976 with another RM18 billion payouts from Sarawak’s stake in the Malaysia Liquefied Natural Gas plant in Bintulu.

On top of this, Petronas is employing some 5,000 professionals from Sarawak in its operations worldwide, apart from RM411 million worth of scholarships.

The bottom line is, let us be fair and objective when discussing oil matters and not be swayed by emotions.

Giving a 15% hike to the producing states will also undermine Petronas’s own sustainability to contribute to the nation because it would result in lower petroleum income tax receipts.

According to Petronas, for five years from 2012, planned projects with a total capital expenditure of RM170 billion are at risk of being cancelled if the royalty payment is increased.

Furthermore, any such hike will also reduce the profitability and economic viability of all current and future O&G projects under development.

What this also means is that Petronas and the PSC contractors will be discouraged from further investing in looking for new fields that are critical to making up for depleting oil reserves.

And naturally, a reduction in O&G production could result in lower instead of higher payments to the states themselves.

In other words, acceding to their demands would backfire economically especially with world oil prices no longer hovering around US$100 (RM407) per barrel like in the good old days of the oil boom.

We all have to remember that about 30% of Malaysia’s gross domestic product comes from Petronas’s output and it contributes over 40% of federal government revenue.

Strictly speaking, according to a former senior minister, it would be impossible for Putrajaya to raise the royalty to 20%.

“Perhaps a few percentage points might be okay but certainly not a 15% hike,” he told me.

And even with 5% royalty, these three states are getting a cool few billion ringgit annually while the states that don’t sit on oil reserves get none.

More clarity and transparency on the oil royalty poser was revealed in Parliament on Wednesday by Economic Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali.

He warned that Petronas might “cease operations” if it acceded to the 20% royalty based on gross production as demanded by the states, instead of net profit.

“Our position is, if you want 20% based on gross value, then we have to cease the operations of Petronas,” he said, warning of the serious implications on the financial position of both the oil company and the federal government.

Azmin has promised to engage the oil producing states on this crucial issue.

As for these states, it’s time for them to get to the bottom of how the distribution of income in the industry works out instead of pursuing demands that are beyond what the industry itself could afford.

Comment: letters@thesundaily.com