Malaysia: 'Forest City' developer asked to submit DEIA report

The Star 28 Jun 14;

JOHOR BARU: The developer involved in the massive reclamation work covering about 2,000ha under the “Forest City” project, near Tanjung Kupang, is expected to hand over a Detailed Environmental Impact Assessment (DEIA) report on it.

Johor Health and Environment Committee chairman Datuk Ayub Rahmat said the China-based developer, Country Garden Holdings Ltd, had been notified to submit the report to the state Department of Environment (DOE) soon.

“Given the large area involved, the DEIA is crucial as it allows a better assessment of the project’s potential environmental impact,” said Ayub.

He added that representatives from the company as well as the DOE had met recently to discuss the matter.

The DOE is expected to complete its report on the project by next week as soon as the developer hands over the DEIA.

“If the developer adheres to the necessary requirements then they will be allowed to continue with the reclamation work,” he said.

Earlier this week, Johor DOE director Mokhtar Abdul Majid had said that an DEIA was not required as the work, which was done phase by phase, involved not more than 20.2ha. However, the total area came up to about 2,000ha.

The reclamation work near the Johor Second Link, which is being undertaken by the company and Kumpulan Prasarana Rakyat Johor (KPRJ) – a subsidiary of the state government – started in March.

The Star recently reported that the ambitious Forest City project could have potential transboundary effects and Singapore is concerned.

Earlier yesterday in Batu Pahat, state Opposition leader Dr Boo Cheng Hau, who called for a DEIA on the project, said the community has the right to know whether such massive land reclamation work would bring about adverse impact to the environment.

He also questioned why KPRJ is involved in such a huge housing project instead of developing affordable homes for the people.

China's richest woman controls firm behind Forest City project
The Straits Times AsiaOne 28 Jun 14;

JOHOR BARU - Country Garden Holdings, the Chinese property giant behind the controversial Forest City development in Johor Baru, is controlled by China's richest woman and one of the world's youngest billionaires.

Ms Yang Huiyan, 33, is the second daughter of Mr Yang Guoqiang, 59, a former bricklayer who founded the firm 20 years ago in southern Guangdong province.

In 2007, she was catapulted to fame when, just before Country Garden's listing on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, her father transferred all his holdings to her.

This amounted to 70 per cent of the company's stock and gave the Ohio State University graduate an overnight fortune of US$16 billion after the initial public offering.

The 2008 financial crisis has reduced her fortune to US$7.2 billion (S$9 billion) now, which still puts her in seventh place on China's rich list.

Ms Yang was made vice-chairman of Country Garden in 2012. But by all accounts of the media-shy family - Ms Yang has never accepted an interview and makes few public appearances - Mr Yang still largely runs the real estate giant as chairman.

According to local media reports, he has been training his favoured daughter for succession for almost all her life, taking her along to company meetings when she was a teenager.

Company insiders said she would "listen intently but never say a word".

After she graduated from university in 2003, her first job was as her father's personal assistant.

Mr Yang himself has a classic rags-to-riches story common among China's nouveau riche.

A bricklayer and construction worker in his youth, he started his business by buying up vacant land for development in his hometown of Shunde in Foshan city.

His success, like that of other real estate moguls, was facilitated by a good and allegedly reciprocal relationship with local officials.

In 2007, Guangzhou newspaper Southern Weekly published an expose of Country Garden's collusion with officials to buy a land site in Zhangjiajie, in Hunan province, at almost zero cost.

One analyst noted then that while sites in downtown Guangzhou were sold at about 10,000 yuan (S$2,000) per sq m, Country Garden's total average land cost was estimated at 300 yuan per sq m.

The accusations slid like water off a duck's back for the well-connected Mr Yang, who is a member of the Standing Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference of Foshan city.

In the past two years, Country Garden has embarked on an ambitious overseas expansion strategy. Forest City was conceived after Country Garden's first Malaysian development, in Danga Bay, debuted successfully last year.

Danga Bay sales were a big factor in pushing the firm's 2013 revenue up by 50 per cent to 62.7 billion yuan, according to its financial statement. Net profit rose by 24.2 per cent to 8.5 billion yuan.

This year, Country Garden is also launching its first Australian project, an 800-unit development near Sydney's Ryde suburb.

In the meantime, Ms Yang - who is married to the son of a high-level provincial official - looks likely to remain a dominant figure in China's real estate scene.

At the time of her public anointment in 2007, Mr Yang told Hong Kong media that "even if I reach the age of 100, I am going to give it to her anyway".

"She's family and I have faith in her."

Work still going on at reclamation site in Johor Strait
Reme Ahmad The Straits Times AsiaOne 28 Jun 14;

JOHOR BARU/KUALA LUMPUR - A strip of sandbank stretching from mangrove swamps in south Johor Baru to the middle of the narrow Johor Strait can be seen from the Second Link bridge some 2km away.

The sandbank is part of a controversial reclamation project by a Chinese developer that has led Singapore to ask the Malaysian government for more details so it can study its possible impact on the Republic and the strait.

China's Country Garden Holdings has said it plans to raise a 2,000ha man-made island in the strait to build luxury homes over the next 30 years. Its partner in the project is Johor state company Kumpulan Prasarana Rakyat Johor.

The sandbank, Johor officials have indicated, is the first part of this massive project - called Forest City - and will be expanded into a 49ha island, roughly the size of 70 football fields.

The sandbank can be seen on the left side of the Second Link bridge as one leaves Tuas checkpoint and drives into Gelang Patah in Johor.

Yesterday, a team from The Straits Times visited the site and spotted four lorries and three excavators still working on the sandbank, despite a Johor official saying on Tuesday that the developer had voluntarily stopped work for a week after the project attracted controversy.

The excavators were filling up the big lorries with sand, which was then ferried to a corner of the sandbank. The sand was dumped into waters not far from the mangrove swamps, presumably to join the sandbank to mainland Johor. It was not clear where the white sand used for the reclamation originated from.

Not far from this frenetic building site were regular scenes around the Johor Strait - a fisherman casting his net into the waters and, just beyond the mangroves, villagers tucking into breakfast at a roadside restaurant in Kampung Tanjung Kupang.

A fisherman who wanted to be known only as Ali showed his catch of the day, which included several kilograms of prawn, swordfish and mullet.

"I can sell this for RM500 (S$194), and sometimes a day's catch can be sold for RM1,000," he said. The reclamation project, he added, "will affect us badly".

He said some fishermen in the area have been paid RM5,000 by the developers as compensation for the coastal project, but asked: "How long could that sustain us?"

The project has also courted controversy domestically, with Malaysian media identifying Johor's Sultan Ibrahim Ismail Sultan Iskandar as a backer of the Country Gardens plan. This has alarmed legal experts and politicians, as Malaysian royalty is not supposed to be involved in business dealings.

Adding to this are reports that the project's promoters are not carrying out environmental impact assessment (EIA) studies, as required by Malaysian law. They are said to be exploiting a loophole that exempts projects smaller than 50ha from such studies.

The first phase of Forest City is 49ha.

Environmentalists are worried about the effect on the marine life, mangrove swamps and water flows in the Johor Strait.

Johor's environment chief Ayub Rahmat had told The Straits Times on Tuesday that the Forest City developers had voluntarily stopped work for about a week while awaiting approval from the Department of Environment.

Asked yesterday why excavators and lorries were still working on the sandbank, he said the developers had asked for "a bit more time" to wind down their operations.

KL assures Singapore it will observe rule of law

Malaysia assured Singapore that it would observe international law, amid concerns over two massive reclamation projects on the Malaysian side of the Johor Strait.

"The Government of Malaysia remains committed to fulfilling its obligations under the general principles of international law and in particular, the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea," Malaysia's Foreign Minister Anifah Aman said in a statement on Tuesday in response to Singapore's concerns.

The minister added that Malaysia has engaged Singapore on the issue through a Joint Committee on the Environment, which was co-chaired by the heads of Malaysia's Department of Environment and Singapore's National Environment Agency.

He also said that Malaysia's federal government has been in close consultation with the Johor state government and the property developers involved, reported the New Straits Times.

One of the two reclamation projects, a 1,410ha man-made island near Jurong Island, is intended to be furnished with oil storage facilities to capture the spillover energy business from Singapore, marine construction firm Benalec told The Straits Times.

The other project, the 2,000ha Forest City near the Second Link, is being developed by China's Country Garden Holdings and a Johor state company, Kumpulan Prasarana Rakyat Johor.

This island is intended to be turned into a tourist hot spot, complete with hotel, luxurious apartments and recreational facilities.

Singapore had last Saturday voiced concern over possible transboundary impact from the massive projects, given its proximity to Johor.

Back in 2002, Malaysia had similarly objected to Singapore's land reclamation works in Tuas and Pulau Tekong, arguing that the projects could potentially impinge on Malaysia's territorial waters, causing pollution and destroying the marine environment in the Strait of Johor.

The dispute was resolved after the two countries appeared before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, and signed an agreement in 2005.