Saturday, September 29, 2007

Asean should interfere in Myanmar

Asean has done something it considered drastic. The grouping has issued a statement to tick off its member nation Myanmar following the latest bloody crackdown by the military government against the pro-democracy movement led by Burmese monks.

According to reports, Asean foreign ministers 'expressed their revulsion to Myanmar Foreign Minister Nyan Win over reports that the demonstrations in Myanmar are being suppressed by violent force, and that there have been a number of fatalities'.

They demanded that the country's military junta 'immediately desist from the use of violence against demonstrators' (The Straits Times pix). Even bloggers in Singapore are up in arms. See postings on The Singapore Daily, Tomorrow and The Void Deck.

The Asean rebuke is a departure from its past stance of non-interference in the affairs of its ten member nations.

But it's simply ain't good enough anymore. Asean should consider doing something more drastic to restore peace and image in its own backyard. What Myanmar is doing internally is affecting the image of the rest of the neighbourhood.

I'm not going to sit still if my neighbour kills members of its own family. I will enter my neighbour's house to stop the killing or call the police to interfere immediately. No more niceties.

First, Asean should consider booting out Myanmar from the grouping, as suggested by a Malaysian lawmaker. That's a longer term move if the junta remains in power and refuses to accept the release of all political detainees, including opposition leader and Nobel Prize laureate Aung Sung Suu Kyi.

In the immediate future, Asean and United Nations should work together to send in peace-keeping forces to help calm down the situation in Myanmar, as diplomacy has obviously failed after so many years of idle chatter.

It's better for Asean/UN to send in troops to restore peace in Myanmar instead of waiting for Uncle Sam to act unilaterally again. The United States has invaded many countries unilaterally, some on the pretext of securing peace for certain regions. The result has been disastrous. Iraq was the latest casualty.

Asean, act now!!!

Additional report: Singapore has defended the country against accusations that it is a money-laundering centre for members of Myanmar's military regime. Read here.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Updated: DBS' Jackson Tai quits

Another CEO of a major Singapore corporation has thrown in the towel. Jackson Tai (pix from ST Interactive) will be stepping down from DBS Bank by the end of this year. The bank said in a statement that Jackson wants to spend more time with his family in the United States.

According to The Straits Times, the bank said Jackson's resignation was not due to its exposure to US subprime debt. The report said its shares fell last month after it said it had injected cash into a special-purpose vehicle that invests in risky debt such as collateralised debt obligations.

But not everybody is totally convinced about the official reason for his impending departure. The CEO position is definitely a hot seat. The Asian-American's predecessors - Frenchman Philippe Paillart and American John Olds - each didn't last more than 2 years. It's not bad that Jackson steered the largest bank in Asean for six years.

But many felt that the writing was already on the wall when Koh Boon Hwee was named chairman of the biggest bank in Singapore last year. Maybe it's a clash of personality. Maybe it's a clash of vision.

But could there be other factors? Could it have been a clash with the major shareholder of the bank, Singapore government investment arm Temasek Holdings? Could the management changes be a prelude to a merger between DBS Bank and another bank? The market has always touted Standard Chartered Bank, whose single biggest shareholder is also Temasek, as a potential bedfellow of DBS Bank.

One thing for sure: Jackson is not the first major Singapore CEO to quit in recent times. Lee Hsien Yang quit suddenly as CEO of SingTel last year and has since emerged in the unusual capacity as the new chairman/consultant of Fraser and Neave.

There's also a Temasek connection in the F&N story. Temasek is the second biggest shareholder of the soft-drinks bottler. Furthermore, Temasek's boss Ho Ching is Hsien Yang's sister-in-law.

Maybe, all roads lead to Temasek in Singapore.

Update (23 Feb 2008) -- DBS has since named another ang moh banker Richard Stanley to be the new CEO.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Updated: Dr M undergoes another operation

My heart sank when I received the press statement by the National Heart Institute from Sufi Yusoff, the faithful aide to former Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Institut Jantung Negara, 23 September
....YABhg Tun Dr Mahathir bin Mohamad has successfully undergone surgical wound debridement yesterday (Saturday, Sept 22) because of wound infection.

The surgery commenced at 11.30pm and ended at 2.30am. The procedure was undertaken by the same surgical team that performed the second coronary bypass surgery on Dr Mahathir at the IJN on September 4.

He is currently stable and has been put under routine post-cardiac surgery support. He is expected to remain on support for at least 36-hours for post-operative care and will be put under close monitoring and observation by IJN doctors and nurses at the Intensive Care Unit.

The next 72-hours will be the crucial period in his post-operative care.

You have to read daughter Marina Mahathir's post for a better understanding of the situation.

I definitely will continue to pray for the old man.

Latest (24 Sept 2007): Just got this statement via Sufi, who said
there's been a lot of rumors about Dr M's health, especially today. Sophie thinks the statement from the hospital puts things in better perspective to quell all the rumours.


Institut Jantung Negara, 24 September....Tun Dr Mahathir remains stable in the intensive care at Institute Jantung Negara following his second surgical procedure last Saturday night. He is conscious and continues to be on close monitoring.

IJN doctors are happy with his current progress.

Tun Dr Mahathir is able to receive visits from his immediate family members.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Flood of money

The Malaysian government is coming up with another big plan to resolve a perennial problem in the southern state of Johor -- flooding. This time, a staggering sum of RM6 billion has been set aside to come up with a comprehensive flood mitigation system.

According to the abridged Bernama report below, the money will be used for digging of drains, deepening of rivers, repair of river banks, building of river bunds, and repair of bridges and estate roads.

It sounds like a lot of money for fancy longkangs and riverbanks. The amount of RM6 billion is more expensive than even the high-tech flood mitigation Smart tunnel system in KL, is equivalent to the cost of building the sprawling LRT network in the Malaysian capital and six times more expensive than the aborted plan to build an overhead bridge to replace the ageing causeway.

Somehow, I suspect that the latest plan, if it is ever implemented, will not be comprehensive enough to resolve the flooding woes in the state. They are still not tackling one serious problem -- cleaning up the clogged and dirty Straits of Johor separating Malaysia and Singapore -- as part of the so-called comprehensive flood mitigation system.

Johor to get $2.6b flood-control system

JOHOR BARU - JOHOR is to have a comprehensive flood mitigation system estimated to cost RM6 billion (S$2.6 billion).

The government has appointed consultants to carry out a study on the measures needed. The project aims to prevent a recurrence of the big floods that hit the state late last year and early this year. More than 100,000 people had to be evacuated and 17 lives were lost during the floods, which were the worst in 100 years.

The local consultants will conduct studies on the six main river basins in Johor before submitting a comprehensive plan for each of the areas. The basins are at Sungai Batu Pahat, Sungai Mersing, Sungai Muar, Sungai Johor, Kluang town and rivers in the Iskandar Development Region.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Dr M for Nobel Peace Prize, Part 2

According to a report, the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize could go to a climate campaigner such as ex-U.S. Vice-President Al Gore or Inuit activist Sheila Watt-Cloutier.

I don't know much about the latter but I'm rather biased against Al Gore. I won't support someone who didn't even have the decency to finish his meal as a guest of honour at the Apec conference back in Malaysia in 1998.

Gore not only endorsed the political opposition during the dinner at the height of the financial and political crisis in Malaysia, he walked out of the dinner that was hosted by then Malaysian premier Mahathir Mohamad.

Even Singapore strongman Lee Kuan Yew was then cited as saying that Gore had displayed "unnecessary rudeness".

"I mean, he came in with a stiff shaking of the hands of a few people at the head table, delivery of the speech, another shaking of the hands and off he went...Points could have been made, made without this spitting you in the face, so to speak," Kuan Yew was quoted as saying in November 1998.

Surprisingly, Dr Mahathir had maintained an elegance silence then.

My choice for Nobel Peace Prize? Dr M! The prize will definitely cheer up the retired Asian statesman as he recovers from his latest heart bypass.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Updated: Dr M out of ICU

Great news: Former Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad is finally out of the Intensive Care Unit. I'm sure the news has been reported rather widely. I'm glad that he's out of ICU.

Sufi Yusoff -- press secretary to Dr M -- sent the hospital's statement today to many famous Malaysian bloggers, including Sophie in Singapore. Sophie has never received a press statement! Thank you, Sufi! :-)

Sophie will roll over if you can send any exclusive pix of a rejuvenated Dr M for Sophie's World. :-)

Institut Jantung Negara, 13 September.... YABhg Tun Dr Mahathir bin Mohamad was transferred to the Bunga Raya ward of Institut Jantung Negara from the Intensive Care Unit at 11am today.

Nine days into his post-bypass surgery, doctors are happy that he has made good progress whilst in the ICU.

Tun Dr Mahathir is walking unaided and consuming normal diet. In addition, he was also doing more vigorous chest and mobility exercises.

Visitation however, continues to be limited to immediate family members only to reduce the risk of post-operative infection.

Latest (15 September 2007):

Institut Jantung Negara, 15 September....YABhg Tun Dr Mahathir bin Mohamad was transferred to the Intensive Care Unit of Institut Jantung Negara at 7pm yesterday.

This is to allow for doctors to conduct investigations and close observation of his overall condition post bypass surgery.

He was stable overnight and continuing with light exercises. However, he is expected to remain in ICU for continued monitoring.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

New Singapore landmark

The latest tender exercise for a prime plot of commercial land in downtown Singapore has set a benchmark of sorts.

The Beach Road site was clinched by a consortium of the Singapore Kwek family's City Developments and Middle Eastern partners -- Istithmar Beach Road Fze and Elad Group. The new project, called South Beach, on the 3.5 hectare site will house two towers, 45 storeys and 42 storeys tall, plus the original conserved military buildings of the old Beach Road Camp which will be restored. The project will boast premium office space, two hotels, shops and city residences, according to reports.

First, as correctly pointed out by the press, the winning bid of $1.7 billion was not the highest bid. Somebody put in a higher bid in excess of $500 million but the CityDev consortium's design and eco-friendly features was more acceptable to the Singapore government.

Kudos to the Singapore government for accepting a lower bid for the sake of aesthetics and environmentally friendly features. It's quite rare for the government to accept a lower bid although there is a clause in the government tender document which states that it is not obliged to accept the highest bid for various reasons.

But I don't think any newspaper reports gave a comparison for the winning bid, which works out to be S$1,069 per square foot of potential gross floor area. If I remember correctly, the Beach Road site is priced higher than the winning bid of S$1,020 psf per plot ratio for the Orchard Turn commercial site, which is seen to be a better location in Singapore. The Orchard Turn site was clinched by Singapore's CapitaLand and Hong Kong's Sun Hung Kai two years ago.

Of course, the higher price is a reflection of the bullish sentiment in the property market in the last two years. Another argument could be that the Beach Road site is just as good as the Orchard Turn property, which sits directly above the Orchard MRT station. This is because South Beach is located directly opposite the grand Raffles Hotel although it is on the fringe of the prime business district, Raffles Place.

What's next? Higher office and retail rentals but that's another story!

Updated: Long Live Dr M!!!

Malaysian blogosphere has been excited with pix of ex-PM Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who is recovering from his second heart bypass since 1989. Pix taken from screenshot. Read daughter Marina Mahathir for all the first-hand accounts.

Long Live Mahathir!!!

Latest update (13 September 2007) - Rocky cited the heart hospital as saying that Dr M is out of intensive care, walking unaided, and eating regular diet.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

50,000 page views and counting!

Page views for Sophie's World have crossed 50,000!!! Total number of visitors has reached nearly 35,000, thanks to readers who have been visiting me since August 2006. Thank you and do return with your great feedback and even criticisms.

Unfortunately, I have not earned a single cent from blogging. Do donate to Sophie's World if you like what you read here. Even token donation will go a long way in buying cookies for me!!! :-)

Nevertheless, I will continue to blog with or without any donation, thanks to generally encouraging feedback from readers. Here are some of the remarks that readers have left behind for me to digest:

I managed to tell him that a poodle called Sophie from Singapore sent her regards... :-)
Sufi Yusoff, an aide to Mahathir Mohamad, former prime minister of Malaysia.

You have a very seductive mind!

Hi Sophie, I have been reading your blog. Interesting, informative. The best part is the "About Me" part, never so one so simple but creative!

Harro to you too! We've listed you at Cheers cutie!
Blog tracker Harro

Post that generated the highest number of comments by readers -- Dr M recovering, part 2

I discover your blog and impressed with your postings. Keep it up.
Gary Kang, who blogs at

Abdullah getting married? I didn't even know until now. Great blog BTW.
The Dude of Dudes

ha ha!! sophie, your reader is very funny and witty... and well informed, i suppose.
bitzer reacting to a reader's comment in the post Missing word.

the tikus is here to hey hello to sophie!
, a journalist in Malaysia and a well-known blogger in the country

Interesting post Sophie. I didn't realise that Malaysian Airlines also had a Sarong Kebaya for its stewardesses, which shows how infrequently I take that airline (or travel for that matter).
Cool Insider's reaction to Shed Sarong Party Girl Image

I refer to the article "Singapore Besieged"

Are Singaporeans expected to go left just because majority goes left and in actual fact, going left is a wrong choice?

Relationship with Malaysia - what's wrong of going against the idea of replacing causeway knowing well that the unnecessary spending is not going to benefit Singapore but to make Mahathir and his UMNO's friends richer?

Relationship with Thailand - Surayud has proven to the world that he is not the right choice of Thai Prime Minister. Worst of all, his several wrong decisions cause investors worldwide to lose confidence on Asean, so shall Singapore continue to give Surayud support just to please him?

Relationship with Indonesia - Singaporeans have been tolerating for years over haze issue, so shall we continue to tolerate some more just to please indonesians?

Singaporeans are no cowards. At least, we will never let soldiers over-throw government elected by us.
An anonymous reaction to Singapore Besieged that bears the hallmark of a Singapore government official!

Great post – this is one of the reasons why I keep coming back to this site often.
, a regular reader and commentator

hmm. maybe i can get a job there ;) nice blog btw
vagus said after reading post The Thai Touch

Sophie! We have enjoyed reading your blog and my mommy hopes to someday visit Singapore!
Pippin in NY, a Wire Fox Terrier in New York

I'm not sure whether you are what you said (the only dog) or human but your articles are interesting.
ad fofana

Sophie, nice blog. Wish you a Great New Year from me in Kuala Lumpur.

Good work, very nice blog. Seems you enjoy working with/ on the internet. And if something like that even pays off well, it would be even better, woulnd't it?

makes my eyes watered as well reading the post. perhaps people should look back at think for themselves if true love should be the moment where the sparks flew or one that can withstand the tides of time.
anonymous reaction to Couplehood

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Hsien Yang's corporate comeback

Ah, we finally have another corporate intrigue in Singapore. The Singapore press has been playing up stories about the corporate comeback of Lee Hsien Yang, the ex-CEO of Singapore Telecommunications.

His appointment as chairman of and consultant to soft-drinks bottler Fraser & Neave has definitely raised eyebrows in Singapore.

The Today tabloid dissected the issue rather well, but I can't help feeling that some of the corporate governance gurus seem to be pulling their punches. Would they have pulled their punches if it had been a lesser mortal?

Hsien Yang is, after all, the younger brother of PM Lee Hsien Loong, the son of Singapore's first PM Lee Kuan Yew, and the brother-in-law of Temasek Holdings boss Ho Ching. Incidentally, Temasek is a major shareholder of F&N, which is the subject of this rather brave article in Today newspaper.

What they say about Hsien Yang appointment
F&N's new CEO a good catch, despite what the doubters say
Weekend • September 8, 2007

Christie Loh

WHEN that expensive consultant you hired presents a plan, chances are you'll want to make sure his ideas deliver bang for your buck — especially if it involves big money. If you disagree with him, there is little to stop you from sending him back to the drawing board.

The relationship between paymaster and payee is therefore clear.

But how would you behave if the dynamics were not so black-and-white? What if the consultant also happens to be the company chairman?

That's a thought for Fraser and Neave's (F&N) staff and directors to chew on in the month leading up to Oct 15. On that day, corporate hotshot Lee Hsien Yang, 49, will take his seat at the head of the conglomerate's boardroom, succeeding long-time chieftain Michael Fam, 79.

Apart from his fees as a non-executive chairman, Mr Lee will receive $1 million a year as a "consultant to assist with the overall strategic planning for the group", F&N said on Wednesday.

The consultancy contract, dependent on Mr Lee remaining a director or chairman, is for three years and will be automatically renewed for another three years.

Seldom seen in corporate circles here, this dual appointment raises some questions. Is the move good corporate governance? Are there potential conflicts of interests — actual or perceived? And was there no other candidate suitable to be either chairman or consultant?

While not taking "much issue" with F&N's moves, corporate governance observer Mak Yuen Teen, said: "Strictly speaking, as he is consultant, the board will need to ensure objective evaluation of his services."

Dr Mak, who is regional research director of consultancy Watson Wyatt, added it would be "useful to have a lead independent director in this case to help ensure that possible conflicts are well managed".

Small investor champion David Gerald called for more disclosure. He said directors had an obligation to ensure all appointments stand up to scrutiny by shareholders.

"I am confident that F&N's board would have carefully considered its duty to shareholders and the company before making the decision.

"Therefore, the necessary disclosure on the nature of consultancy and the need to appoint a chairman also as consultant, we hope, would be forthcoming in the interest of good corporate governance," said Mr Gerald, president of the Securities Investors Association of Singapore.

When contacted, F&N declined to go into Mr Lee's consultancy work in strategic planning. Neither would it reveal the chairman's yearly fees.

"That is put up during the general meeting every year and determined by shareholders," a spokesman said. The next annual general meeting is in January.

He also disagreed with the perceived governance concerns.

"How can there be a conflict of interest? Anytime someone is the subject of some evaluation or the discussion on compensation, the person does not participate in that discussion because clearly, yes, that person would be conflicted," said the spokesman.

What does the Singapore Exchange (SGX), regulator of listed companies here, think about F&N's latest appointment?

"The remuneration of directors, including that of the chairman, is the responsibility of the board. Listed companies are obliged to observe and adhere to the code of corporate governance, and when they deviate, they will have to explain and provide reasons," said a spokeswoman.

She added: "The chairman, whether executive or otherwise, has the same responsibilities as directors, to 'act honestly and use reasonable diligence in the discharge' of their fiduciary duties as stated in Section 157 (1) of the Companies Act."

While there may be issues about F&N's latest board appointment, observers also pointed out some positives in the firm's manner of dealing with the announcement.

For instance, Dr Mak felt F&N was "more transparent than most" in disclosing it was paying separate consultancy fees to the chairman, whereas some companies have actually been known to have done so without informing shareholders.

Plus, there is no governance problem since F&N is not claiming that Mr Lee is an independent director, said Mr Jamie Allen, secretary-general of the Asian Corporate Governance Association in Hong Kong.

He added that regardless of whether a chairman is executive or non-executive, every board's independent directors still have to exercise their independent judgment.

For F&N, this is not the first time it is roping in a new director as a consultant at the same time.

In November 2000, Dr Han Cheng Fong joined F&N's listed property arm — Centrepoint Properties now known as Frasers Centrepoint — as a non-executive director and project consultant.

Six months later, in May 2001, Dr Han rose to take over as Centrepoint's chief executive officer from Mr Jeffrey Heng, who retired — but only temporarily. Mr Heng returned to the helm in April 2002, when Dr Han hopped over to F&N to become joint managing director with Mr Tam Yam Pin.

Again, within months, Dr Han the high-flier ascended to the post of deputy CEO, second to Dr Fam, who was executive chairman at the time.

In January last year, when Dr Fam semi-retired to become non-executive chairman, Dr Han — now 64 — stepped into F&N's newly created post of group CEO.

The similar way in which Mr Lee is being ushered into F&N invites speculation on whether he is slated for an even deeper commitment to the business.

However, Mr Lee is already going into the topmost position. Making him executive chairman would vest more power in his hands, but that would be a reversal of F&N's steps towards stronger corporate governance by separating the chairmanship from the CEO post last year.

Perhaps, Mr Lee's key role is to push F&N onto a fast-track expansion path. Just like how he turned SingTel into a telco with annual revenue of some $13 billion, up four-fold from about $3.5 billion at the start of his leadership in 1995.

When Temasek Holdings injected $900 million late last year for a 14.9-per-cent stake, F&N flagged plans to use the cash to make acquisitions in the food and beverage business including Tiger Beer.

Given his experience in investing overseas, the appointment of the former SingTel chief is a "coup" for F&N, said Citi analyst Lim Jit Soon in a research report dated Sept 5.

It's easy to see why Mr Lee is a good catch in talent-scarce Singapore.

As CEO, he led the transformation of local-centric SingTel into a giant telecoms outfit with an Asia-wide network during his 12-year leadership — a feat that is particularly commendable as Mr Lee had forged ahead despite hitting wall after wall in places such as Hong Kong and Malaysia.

Braving scepticism, he proceeded to capture targets in places like Australia, India, Indonesia, and the Philippines. These overseas operations proved to be much-needed boosters, especially after SingTel lost its domestic telco monopoly in 2000.

Accolades were aplenty when Mr Lee retired from SingTel in April. So was speculation about his next move.

Media reports linked him to leadership positions at big names such as Hong Kong telecom giant PCCW – bigger fish that would be more challenging for the man, since SingTel's market capitalisation of S$57.6 billion is already the largest in Singapore.

Yet, Mr Lee appears to have settled for a relatively smaller fish at home.

In size, F&N's sales came to $3.8 billion in the year ended Sep 30, 2006, a pale shade of SingTel's.

In terms of compensation, Mr Lee is unlikely to receive as much as the $2.14 million pay packet in his final year as group CEO of SingTel. His predecessors at F&N cannot be taken as a guide because Dr Fam's remuneration of "between $2.75 million and $3 million" last year included four months as executive chairman. Exactly how much is uncertain, as F&N discloses remuneration only in bands, not dollars and cents.

Based on F&N's fees for non-executive and independent directors, Mr Lee might receive "below $250,000".

Add on the annual consultancy fee of $1 million and Mr Lee could get below $1.25 million a year.

Whether that is a commensurate compensation for a consultant cum chairman is an issue for F&N's shareholders to decide. But can they wait till January's AGM for answers to remuneration questions and more?

F&N could help itself and the talent it has snared by offering more information on the nature of Mr Lee's consultancy.

Still, one wonders if the current scrutiny is due to Mr Lee's connections to one of Singapore's founding fathers. If he were not a Lee, would anyone raise eyebrows at the corporate move?

Friday, September 07, 2007

Cleaning up Johor Straits good for S'pore too

Punggol, which is located on the northeastern part of Singapore, will be given a new lease of life. Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said during his National Day Rally speech on Aug 19 that the masterplan for the area dubbed 'Punggol 21-plus' is 'back on track'.

'Punggol 21-plus' will boast features like a freshwater lake - and a waterway running through the estate with homes and a town centre built on both banks, according to ST. The north-eastern coastal suburb will also get recreational facilities like water sports, gardens and parks with jogging tracks and eateries for al-fresco dining.

It all sounds great, but Punggol and the rest of the northern part of Singapore will never be as vibrant as the southern region of Singapore. The southern region, which has always been the commercial hub of Singapore, is rapidly being transformed into a more fun place.

The southern part of Singapore will have two world-class integrated resorts with casinos within the next three years or so. The government has awarded the Marina Bay site to Las Vegas Sands, which is building also building the world's biggest casino in Macau, and the Sentosa site to Genting International.

That's not all in the Marina Bay area. The new downtown is taking shape and there will be world-class gardens, a giant fresh-water reservoir, and a huge ferris wheel. There will be plenty of activities around the clean and pristine Marina Bay once all the plans are in place.

While the southern part of Singapore is attracting all the big dollars and attention, the northern part of Singapore will continue to be relatively subdued despite the latest plan to rejuvenate Punggol.

As Singapore is small with 704 square kilometres in area, every inch of Singapore, including the northern part, will have to be spruced up eventually. But it won't be easy to rejuvenate the northern coastline.

For a start, water off the northern part of Singapore, which is bounded by a strip of water known as Straits of Johor, is very dirty. The straits is a narrow waterway separating Singapore and its close neighbour Malaysia.

The straits is almost like a giant cesspool that has not been flushed for more than 80 years. Why? This is partly because the causeway, which was built on reclaimed land and cuts across the straits to link the two countries, has been blocking the free flow of water in the straits since it was completed by the British in 1924.

Singapore has done its part to reduce further pollution to the straits, spending $7 billion to build massive tunnels to move sewage to two new waste treatment plants in Changi and Tuas, instead of discharging waste into the straits.

Malaysia is also trying to clean up the straits, although not as successful.

In 1996, former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad proposed an overhead bridge to replace the ageing causeway in a bid to free up the flow of water in the straits. It is part of a grander plan to turn the southern Malaysian state into a transportation hub. The project would have allowed small ships and barges to traverse the straits.

The bridge project has not taken off after ten years, complicated by internal Malaysian politics and disagreements with the Singapore government. Last year, current Malaysian government led by Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, called off the bridge project. Malaysia could not strike a deal with Singapore, which wanted to buy sand and use Johor airspace as part of the quid pro quo to jointly build a new bridge.

The decision to abort the project incensed Dr Mahathir, who is still on a warpath with his successor despite bouts of heart attacks. The Malaysian statesman had early said he would stop his bickering if the bridge is built. He had continued to criticise the bridge issue as reported in malaysia-today.

The bridge project is expected to remain on the backburner for some time, as the two governments have not been able to resolve all their differences since the two countries separated in 1965.

With or without a new bridge to replace the causeway, Malaysia and the Johor state government must step up efforts to clean up the five dirty rivers flowing into the Johor Straits.

But it will be more ideal if a new overhead bridge could be built to replace the over-utilised causeway and allow water in the stagnant straits to circulate more freely.

A cleaner straits will be good for the long-term development of the coastal areas of both Singapore and southern Malaysia, which will have a new development zone called Iskandar Development Region.

A cleaner Johor Straits could also help make northern Singapore, including Punggol, a more thriving hub one day.

Prayer for Dr M again

A nice tribute to former Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who is recovering from his second heart bypass. Video was posted by his daughter Marina Mahathir.

The song Wooden Heart by Elvis Presley is truly moving in this video. Hope he recovers soon.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Prayer for Dr M again

It's disheartening to read that former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad will undergo another heart surgery -- his second bypass since 1989.

It will be a rather intrusive surgery for a 82-year-old who has had three heart attacks in the last one year. According to reports, the surgery will be done at the National Heart Institute, the same place where he had his first bypass. He was admitted yesterday.

Dr Mahathir, who retired in October 2003, still keeps a punishing schedule of travel, speaking engagements and press interviews.

Daughter Marina Mahathir will have all the first-hand accounts.

S'pore's bubbly property market, part 3

Singapore property giant Kwek Leng Beng recently made the most bullish forecast for the Singapore property market so far, according to a Bloomberg interview. He's second from right in the larger pix that was published in local newspapers last year. Leng Beng stood next to famous architect Moshe Safdie (with moustache) in the winning bid for Marina Bay integrated resort and casino project, which will be developed by Sheldon Adelson of Las Vegas Sands. Leng Beng is on the left in the inset with younger brother Leng Joo. Notice how Leng Beng has an expressive way with his hand! :-)

But Leng Beng's prediction is plausible. He is one of the most astute readers of the local property market. He and his late father Hong Png of the Singapore Hong Leong empire have had an uncanny ability in reading the Singapore property market. They got so many cycles correct, including the latest bull run by Kwek junior.

And while everyone wrote off Las Vegas Sands in its bid for the Marina Bay integrated resort site, Leng Beng was the sole public backer of the American developer. Er, the other backer was dad, who correctly
predicted the winners of the Marina Bay and Sentosa integrated resort and casino tender exercises.