Best of our wild blogs: 8 Apr 14

Signs of mass fish deaths ahead?
from wild shores of singapore

Conversations on Sustainable Singapore
from Green Future Solutions

We are on RazorTV
from LKCNHM News

Love MacRitchie Walk – can this mushroom be eaten?
from Toddycats!

Butterflies Galore! : Black Veined Tiger
from Butterflies of Singapore

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Malaysia: Toxic tides - Risks from harmful microalgae

tan cheng li The Star 7 Apr 14;

There is a need to step up monitoring of our coastal waters for harmful algal blooms as they pose public safety concerns and economic risks.

ON the morning of Feb 11, fish farm operators in Tanjung Kupang, Johor, woke up to the ghastly sight of fish floating belly up in their pens in the Straits of Johor. In the days that followed, the fish kept dying.

The fish kill lasted two weeks, at the end of which commercially valuable stocks of snappers, estuary cods, seabass and threadfins in some nine farms were wiped out. One operator reported losses of RM150,000.

The mass mortality has since been blamed on a harmful algal bloom (HAB), or what is commonly referred to as red tide, a sudden population explosion of a toxin-producing microalgae.

While HABs are not often reported in Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah is no stranger to the phenomenon. Its first HAB was reported in 1976 and this has been a fairly annual occurrence since. In January and February last year, shellfish poisoning claimed three lives and over 40 people fell ill in Sepanggar and Inanam, both near Kota Kinabalu, in the state’s worst case of HAB.

In fact, the Sabah Fisheries Department has not lifted its red tide alert which it had issued in October 2011. In January, following the sighting of reddish-brown waters off Kota Kinabalu, director Rayner Stuel Galid said the red tide warning was still in effect and the toxins which were detected for eight months of last year continued to be seen from Tuaran to Kuala Penyu.

These incidents of HABs may be signs of what’s to come. According to Universiti Malaya marine ecologist Dr Lim Po Teen, HABs are occurring more frequently and in more locations over the past decade, and involve previously unknown species.

In the Tanjung Kupang case, the offensive microalgae was identified as Karlodinium australe, which caught scientists by surprise. “This is the first time we are seeing a bloom of this species, which has never been reported as toxic,” says Dr Leaw Chui Pin, a marine molecular biologist who has worked on harmful microalgae for 14 years.

She says researchers conducted water sampling 10 days after the fish die-offs first happened, yet they still found a high density of the organism, between one million to two million per litre. She notes that the bloom affected even big fishes. Samples will be sent to their Japanese collaborators to measure the amount of toxins in the dead fish.

Leaw says scientists have characterised 40 species of harmful and potentially harmful microalgae in Malaysia, and foresee there may be more in our waters.

Noxious effects

Until 1990, problems related to paralytic shellfish poisoning were confined to the west coast of Sabah. In early 1991, it was recorded for the first time in Peninsular Malaysia when three people became ill after eating farmed mussels from Sebatu, Malacca. It was only years later that Alexandrium tamiyanavichi was confirmed as the toxin producer. Since then, HABs have been reported in various parts of the peninsula.

Microalgae inflict harm when they produce toxins which cause fish kills or which accumulate in shellfish, causing paralytic shellfish poisoning when the contaminated seafood is consumed by humans or marine mammals. Fish kills happen when the microalgae produce toxins which attack fish gills. This stalls the transportation of oxygen through the gills, hence suffocating the fish. Some toxins irritate the gills, triggering secretion of mucous which also lead to suffocation.

Scientists say the term “red tide” is misleading as HABs do not just paint the water red; some turn the water cloudy, brown or foamy. The discolouration in the water is most visible in the morning. As the day warms up, the mass of microalgae will sink down to avoid extreme heat.

Not all algae blooms are harmful – even if it is red in colour. In Lumut, Perak and Penang, there have been blooms of Ceratium furca, which does not produce toxins although it has the characteristic red tide effect.

However, blooms of non-toxic microalgae can lead to fish die-offs too as the decomposition of the large mass can deplete the water of oxygen, creating hypoxic or anoxic conditions.

The sudden proliferation of microalgae is triggered by enrichment of waters (what is called eutrophication).

The increase in nutrients comes from land-based discharges such as fertiliser-laden runoffs from plantations and livestock farms, and sewage effluent.

“Harmful algal blooms are always related to increased activities in coastal areas,” says Lim, head of UM’s Bachok Marine Research Station in Kelantan.

Fuelling the growth

Natural upwelling can also release long-buried organic matter which enriches the water. Seabed dredging can also have the same effect. Lim points out that the algal bloom in Sabah last year coincided with the laying of water pipes on the sea bed between Kota Kinabalu and Pulau Gaya. Similarly, there was land reclamation work near the fish farms in Tanjung Kupang during the HAB.

Another source of coastal water enrichment is caged fish culture, especially when trash fish is used as feed.

“Any uneaten fish will quickly sink to the bottom and cause eutrophication. It is better to use feed that can stay suspended in the water column, instead of sinking very fast,” says Lim, who has researched on microalgae for 14 years.

Algae blooms tend to occur in sheltered places with restricted water movements, such as lagoons, ports and embayments. Sarawak does not have major problems with algae blooms due to strong tidal action which flushes the coastal waters.

Lim notes that shipping can transport harmful microalgae to distant places. This happens when ballast water, which may contain non-native species, is indiscriminately released in a foreign port. He says the species – Pyrodinium bahamense – that had caused paralytic shellfish poisoning in Sabah last year, has since been found at two sites in Peninsular Malaysia.

No paralytic shellfish poisoning was reported from Port Dickson, but Kuantan had one incident in November, although there was no fatality.

This species is very toxic and has always posed a problem for Sabah.

Because of its long history of red tides, the Sabah Fisheries Department has put in place surveillance of HABs. It involves regular water sampling and testing of molluscs and fish. If tests show over 400 mouse unit of the toxin per 100g of tissue, the shellfish cannot be sold.

No red tide warnings have ever been issued in Peninsular Malaysia since monitoring is almost non-existent and awareness on HABs, low. To avert the harmful and economically damaging effects of HABs, Lim says monitoring of our coastal waters has to be stepped up.

Currently, there is insufficient HAB scrutiny in peninsular Malaysia, partly due to the lack of trained personnel. As such, the Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry and local scientists have organised training workshops on water sampling methods and identification of harmful microalgae (see note below).

Keep a lookout

Lim says more locations should be monitored, particularly sites with previously known HABs and those with fish and shellfish farms. One such place is Kuala Selangor, which has one of the largest cockle beds in the country.

He says the toxin-producing Gymnodinum catenatum has been detected there, although in low numbers.

This species can cause paralytic shellfish poisoning, but this has not been seen in Sabah, where it can also be found.

Our small and scattered seafood culture industry, however, is proving difficult to monitor. “The shellfish industry in New Zealand is big, so the producers there can afford to pay for regular testing. On the other hand, the value of mussels here is low, so how can the farmers pay for tests?” says Lim.

He asserts, though, that monitoring is crucial to ensure the safety of our seafood products for local consumption and export. In fact, Singapore has stopped imports of cockles from Kuala Selangor, citing a lack of proper monitoring of seafood safety. Fish farm operators should be aware of HABs in order to minimise risks. Lim says selection of mariculture sites based on previously known HABs cases and the ability to predict HABs will help them avoid unwanted losses. Sites with no record of potential harmful species and good water exchanges are preferable.

In a 2009 study on the Straits of Johor, researchers from Universiti Malaysia Sarawak and the Fisheries Research Institute found 11 microalgae species, with seven associated with blooms and harmful either as fish killers or toxin producers. The presence of these potentially harmful species should be considered in future expansion of aquaculture industry in the straits.

If a bloom does happen, fish farm operators can use plastic sheet skirtings to prevent the fish from direct contact with the harmful microalgae. In Japan, the use of moveable pens has been helpful. In the long run, however, the problem of enrichment of coastal waters has to be looked at.

“It all comes down to what we do on land,” says Dr Lim. A well-informed public will help ensure public safety. Once a warning on HAB has been announced, the public should avoid shellfish in the affected area. Symptoms of poisoning are seen within 30 to 60 minutes of consuming contaminated seafood.

The immediate signs are numbness or tingling of the lips and tongue, which spreads to the fingers and toes. Other symptoms are a sensation of lightness, salivation, intense thirst and temporary blindness. These symptoms are followed by a loss of muscular coordination, terminating in paralysis as well as inability to breathe. There is no known antidote for paralytic shellfish poisoning, so treatment is supportive, such as artificial respiration.

There will be a workshop on Systematic and Advanced Methodologies in Harmful Algae Monitoring on Aug 12-15 at the Bachok Marine Research Station in Bachok, Kelantan. The workshop is targeted at fisheries personnel and aquaculture farm operators. It will introduce new monitoring technology, techniques in field samplings, skills in qualitative and quantitive analyses, and options for future monitoring programmes.

The workshop is organised by the National Oceanography Directorate, the Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry, and Universiti Malaya. For more information, e-mail or

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Saving icons of Singapore

Bryna Sim The Straits Times AsiaOne 8 Apr 14;

SINGAPORE - Pulau Ubin, Changi Village and Chomp Chomp Food Centre have emerged as the forerunners of a poll on the local landmarks Singaporeans most want to see conserved.

The poll was commissioned by SundayLife! last week, following the collective wail that greeted King Albert Park's closure for redevelopment last month, taking with it a McDonald's outlet popular with many Singaporeans in their youth.

With many also lamenting the soon-to-be demise of the hawker institution Lavender Food Square and next-door Eminent Plaza later this year, the poll's aim was to find out the most treasured places and spaces not yet designated for conservation.

Voters were given nine options, all well-known, spread out across the map and with some historical or architectural significance. They were allowed to vote for more than one place on the list and were encouraged to suggest other places they felt should remain the way they are. The online poll last week drew 1,621 votes over 36 hours.

The rustic Pulau Ubin took top spot, drawing 21 per cent of the votes. Coastal Changi Village, with its low-rise flats and hawker stalls, came in second with about 16 per cent of the votes. Another hawker institution, Chomp Chomp, was third with 14 per cent.

Coming in fourth and fifth respectively were pioneering shopping mall People's Park Complex and Bedok Jetty, once the longest public jetty here.

In sixth to ninth spots were former granite quarry Little Guilin, Golden Mile Complex - a mixed-use complex and striking, seminal work of home-grown architecture - the old chalets at East Coast which date back to the 1980s, and now-shuttered Yan Kit Swimming Complex, one of the earliest public pools in the Tanjong Pagar area.

Nominated MP Faizah Jamal, who had asked in recent Parliamentary debates for more to be done to conserve Pulau Ubin, says she is not surprised the island off Singapore's north-east coast was the top choice. "It is probably the last bastion of old Singapore," she says.

Singapore Heritage Society president Chua Ai Lin says many are likely to have voted for Pulau Ubin because it "offers something special, that the mainland does not".

"It is rustic, away from urban restrictions and provides people a sense of freedom," she says.

Voter Jollie Ng can attest to that. The 22-year-old Nanyang Technological University student says she first set foot on the island when she was 14, for a school camp. "Pulau Ubin is a shelter from busy Singapore, filled with wonderful camping memories. My friends and I will be going there after we graduate from university, to reminisce and to mark the end of our official student lives," she says.

Architectural and urban historian Lai Chee Kien suggests that the top three voters' choices point to people liking distinctive areas "outside of their every day and mainly urban experiences".

Agreeing, Ms Faizah notes: "The old world charm of Pulau Ubin, Changi Village and Chomp Chomp, and even the messiness associated with these places are far removed from the sterility of the glass and steel that we are surrounded by."

Other heritage experts say the top three choices are linked to good memories, which also adds to their popularity.

"People go to Pulau Ubin, Changi Village and Chomp Chomp to have a good time, to eat, and for recreational activities. The positive nature of the activities taking place in these landscapes adds to the value of such sites, and people associate positive things with them," says Associate Professor Chang Tou Chuang from the National University of Singapore's department of geography, who researches on urban and tourism geography.

Dr Lai adds that the options in general point to places that are "familiar ballasts in a still rapidly-changing city state", since several of them "have not seen drastic renovations since the 1970s".

SundayLife! also received more than 30 other suggestions on other spaces, and buildings here that the public wanted to see kept as they are.

Several mentioned the long-established food centres at Newton Circus, Adam Road and Tiong Bahru, while others highlighted green spaces such as Bukit Batok Nature Park, Bukit Brown Cemetery, Sembawang Park and MacRitchie Reservoir.

Some also mentioned sports and recreational areas such as the iconic Queenstown Sports Complex in Stirling Road, which was constructed in 1970. It is Singapore's first neighbourhood sports complex. Also mentioned was the "Dragon Playground" at Toa Payoh Lorong 6. The iconic playground, designed with a dragon motif, was built in 1979, and the HDB confirmed earlier this year that it will be preserved, pending future developments.

A handful of voters also suggested entire districts, such as Pasir Ris, Geylang, Holland Village and Dempsey Hill. Others wanted individual buildings or places to be conserved, such as Kampung Lorong Buangkok - Singapore's last kampung near the Institute of Mental Health, which was built in 1956 and does not have conservation status - downtown bookshop haven Bras Basah Complex, which dates back to the 1980s, and Lim Chu Kang Jetty.

Dr Chua says these responses show that people have "a lot of feeling for places that are part of their everyday life". "Their ideas show us how people in the present connect with things from their past. They are driven by their personal experiences," she says.

Dr Lai adds that the food centres that were highlighted both in the poll and in voters' suggestions are "instructive" to government agencies, which can use these to "find out why hawker centres now have become an identifiable and integral part of Singapore culture, and how to design new ones from now on".

The heritage experts that SundayLife! spoke to gave suggestions of their own too.

Prof Chang called for the distinctive Changi Airport control tower, built in 1981, to be preserved, along with the Merlion. "These are monuments, icons that have carried Singapore's name beyond its shores. The airport's terminals have changed and developed, but the control tower has never really changed its look. It is the first thing that greets you when you return from overseas."

On the Merlion, he says: "We do not go to it for recreation, but it is something unique and distinct. Some will say its a strange creature, but whether you like it or not, it has lasted through decades and it is something that tourists can immediately identify with."

Ms Faizah singled out Kampung Lorong Buangkok as well as several expansive tree-lined roads, such as Neo Tiew and Upper Thomson roads, which she says "are not ugly highways" and give a sense of space.

Dr Chua mentioned the iconic Chinese theme park Haw Par Villa, known for its 10 Courts of Hell, which she says "has no official preservation status" at the moment.

"Its future is uncertain," she says, although she notes the Singapore Tourism Board's efforts to revitalise the place. This month, the grounds will be opened up to arts groups for exhibitions and workshops.

Several voters lamented that the Singapore they know is being taken away from them. Facebook user Natalie Lian wrote: "How can one feel a sense of belonging when bits and pieces of these memories are slowly but surely stripped away?"

The heritage experts say there is plenty that the public can do to highlight the fact that they want certain places preserved. Says Dr Chua: "Singaporeans must come forward to show how much the places mean to them. The Government will be more willing to preserve places that people show a deep sense of attachment to."

Last month, it was announced in Parliament that lovers of Pulau Ubin will be asked to give their ideas on how the popular island can be protected and enhanced. The Government hopes that a wide range of people, from island residents to interest groups and experts, will give their views in an upcoming consultation, to be led by Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee.

Ms Faizah says this is an opportunity for the public to share to their views. "It is the best chance we have of doing it right this time," she says.

She urges: "Tell your MPs, write to the press, have conversations with your friends in constructive, empowering ways. Brainstorm ideas and solutions."

Dr Chua says people can also join interest groups on Facebook and other social media platforms to connect with other like-minded individuals.

Adds Prof Chang: "When the URA has an exhibition of their Master Plan, you can give feedback during a certain period. Those are opportunities for your opinions to be heard."

The URA's Master Plan, which guides land use, is updated every five years. The latest, the Draft Master Plan 2013, was unveiled last November and will be finalised by June this year.

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'Friendship bridge' to Singapore

ADIB POVERA AND KOI KYE LEE New Straits Times 8 Apr 14;

PUTRAJAYA: MALAYSIA and Singapore are looking into a proposal to build a "Friendship Bridge" to improve road connectivity as well as to further enhance bilateral relations between the two countries.

The bridge, said Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, was a long-term initiative and a symbol of the growing friendship enjoyed between Malaysia and the republic.

"I would like to stress that this is a long-term initiative. Looking at the road links between Malaysia and Singapore, a proposal to have a friendship bridge will certainly enhance connectivity, improve the environment as well as create much stronger links between the two countries.

"It will become a symbol of the growing friendship between both countries," he said at a joint press conference with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong after a meeting between ministers from both countries at the Prime Minister's Office here yesterday.

Joining Lee, among others, was his deputy, Teo Chee Hean, while Malaysia was also represented by Foreign Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman, International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed, Defence Minister and acting Transport Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein and Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.

Najib said the proposed bridge was one of the initiatives discussed during the annual leaders' two-day retreat, which started on Sunday, to enhance cross border activities between Malaysia and Singapore.

Asked for details, Najib said the proposal was "open ended" and a long-term project.

Last December, Najib and Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah declared open a 60m-long "Friendship Bridge" across Sungai Pandaruan that separated Brunei's Temburong district and Sarawak's Limbang district.

The completion of the RM21.9mil bridge constructed by the two countries on a joint-venture basis allowed vehicles to travel uninterrupted from Kuching to Miri, before crossing into Brunei and re-entering Sarawak at Limbang before going onwards to Lawas and Tawau in Sabah.

On ongoing Malaysia-Singapore collaboration, Najib said it was proceeding positively with both countries mutually benefitting from the partnership.

He pointed out the joint development projects by Khazanah Nasional Berhad and Temasek Holdings (Private) Limited in Singapore through M+S Pte Ltd was an example of the mutual benefit enjoyed by the countries.

"The joint development projects in the M+S Private Ltd venture are proceeding well. The Marina One and Duo projects in Singapore are on track for completion by the end of 2016.

"We are pleased to note that more than 90 per cent of the DUO residence project has been sold since it was launched in December 2013.

"The joint developments in Pulau Indah Ventures Sdn Bhd have also commenced on an Urban Wellness project in Medini North and Resort Wellness development in Medini Central, both located in Iskandar Malaysia.

"The Afiniti Medini residence project was successfully launched on June 8, 2013, and all the units were sold out within a day," he said.

Both leaders said they were also looking forward to more development ventures in Iskandar Malaysia that could mutually benefit the two countries.

Joint border control operations mulled
New Straits Times 8 Apr 14;

PUTRAJAYA: A single customs entry and exit point for motorists travelling between Singapore and Malaysia is in the pipeline to enhance traffic flow.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said Malaysia and Singapore were looking into a proposal to venture into joint border control, which will be a first for countries in the Southeast Asian region.

He said the proposal was raised by his Singaporean counterpart Lee Hsien Loong during an annual leaders' retreat between both countries as an initiative to resolve traffic congestion during peak hours at entry and exit points between Malaysia and Singapore.

"The concept and principle of a joint border control or (the establishment) of a single checkpoint was raised by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

"This means that there would be only one checkpoint linking Johor to Singapore and vice-versa.

"It (joint border control) will be the first in this part of the world, something that certainly enhances connectivity and the flow of traffic between both countries," Najib said during a joint press conference with Lee at the Prime Minister's Office here yesterday.

Although both countries agreed that there would be challenges in implementing the proposal, Najib said the matter was not insurmountable, since the concept had been adopted by many European countries.

"Of course, there will be various issues concerning legal matters and enforcement, but those issues are not insurmountable.

"The concept has been implemented in European countries, such as between France and the United Kingdom, as well as between Germany and Poland and several other nations in Europe," he said.

Both Najib and Lee also shed some light on the progress of the planned high-speed rail (HSR) link between Malaysia and Singapore. Both leaders reiterated that the multi-billion ringgit project would be completed by 2020.

"It is quite an ambitious target. We wanted it to be an ambitious target so that we can be very focused towards achieving it.

"And, it is still too early for us to revise the timeline at this stage," said Najib.

Najib, who is also finance minister, revealed that the end-point terminal for the HSR in Malaysia would be in Bandar Malaysia, near the former Royal Malaysian Air Force base in Sungai Besi.

Lee pointed out that the Singaporean government was considering three locations to house the end-point terminal for HSR in Singapore -- Tuas West, Jurong East or a location in the city.

On the progress of another rail project linking Singapore and Johor Baru, called the Rapid Transit System (RTS), Najib said the project was entering the first phase of its joint engineering study.

"There will soon come a time for us to decide on the best option.

"We have 37 possible options to make RTS an efficient and effective transport system that will benefit both nations."

Lee: Iskandar a win-win prospect for Singapore and Malaysia
The Star 8 Apr 14;

PUTRAJAYA: Singapore and Malaysia have reaffirmed a commitment to complement one another to bring about a win-win situation for both countries through developments in the Iskandar Malaysia corridor in Johor.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong described the Malaysian southern economic corridor as a strategic place to raise Malaysia above the global competition. It can also help Singapore maintain its economic competitiveness by complementing the two neighbouring economies, he added.

Lee said a comprehensive view was needed to optimise the potential of Iskandar Malaysia, including in the fields of services, residential properties and industries.

“The great advantage of Iskandar Malaysia is that it sits across the straits (in) Johor and that means you can tap on what Singapore has to offer in terms of infrastructure, financial services (and) industrial base.

“We (Singapore) are upgrading our manufacturing (industries and) our economy (and) there are many pending projects (but) we are not able to accommodate, or we have projects that want to expand but find it difficult with space to expand in Singapore.

“So, I think with the synergy and proximity (of Iskandar Malaysia), it will be a great help to the industries, and it will be a benefit to the workers in Johor because there will be more jobs, opportunities and better pay for the workers,” Lee said at a joint press conference with his Malaysian counterpart Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, here, yesterday.

Lee had led a delegation for the two-day 5th Malaysia-Singapore Leaders’ Retreat which started on Sunday, a meeting described by Wisma Putra as a platform for leaders of both countries to take stock of their bilateral co-operation.

Site in Sungai Besi chosen for high-speed railway station
zuhrin azam ahmad AND lee yen mun The Star 8 Apr 14;

PUTRAJAYA: Bandar Malaysia in Sungai Besi has been chosen as the site for the country’s terminal for the Malaysia-Singapore high-speed rail (HSR) link service.

The selection of the site was announced by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak at a joint press conference with his Singapore counterpart Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

“We have decided the terminal for the HSR link will be in Bandar Malaysia, which is the current (Royal Malaysian) Air Force base in Sungai Besi.

“The project has created a lot of excitement and both sides are working hard to achieve the 2020 deadline for completion,” he said.

Najib and Lee earlier had a four-eyed meeting in conjunction with the fifth Malaysia-Singapore Leaders’ Retreat at the Prime Minister’s Office at Perdana Putra Building here.

Both leaders later attended a delegation meeting where the HSR project and the Rapid Transit System (RTS) link between Johor Baru and Singapore were high on their agenda.

The HSR, announced last year, will reportedly cost RM40bil and will cut rail travel time between Kuala Lumpur to Singapore from six hours to just 90 minutes.

The 330km rail line is expected to be completed by 2020 and will connect two terminus stations (Kuala Lumpur and Singapore) via five transit stops spread out across Negri Sembilan, Malacca and Johor.

Najib also said Malaysia would decide soon on the best option for the RTS.

“We have about 27 possible options to consider to make RTS the most efficient and cost effective transport system that will benefit both nations.

“The first phase of the joint engineering study to develop the possible alignments and proposal for the RTS is already completed,” he said.

Najib said there was also a proposal to build a friendship bridge as a long-term initiative to enhance connectivity.

In a question and answer session later, Najib said the 2020 deadline for the HSR project to complete was decided as he and Lee wanted it to be an ambitious target.

Lee said that for the end point of the project in Singapore, there were three possibilities.

“One is at Tuas West which is close to the border, two is at Jurong East which will be a major transportation, economic and residential zone for Singapore, and third is in the city which would be ideal but actually very difficult to do because the expense would be very high.”

M'sia, S'pore welcome progress on joint projects
Vimita Mohandas Channel NewsAsia 7 Apr 14;

PUTRAJAYA: Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak have welcomed both countries' steady progress on joint iconic projects in Singapore and the Iskandar region, as well as in other areas of co-operation.

At a joint press conference on Monday morning, both leaders also reviewed the progress on improving connectivity between Malaysia and Singapore, including the proposed high-speed rail (HSR) and a rapid transit system link (RTS).

The announcements were made following the fifth Malaysia-Singapore Leaders' Retreat in Putrajaya on Monday.

The high-speed rail, slated to be completed by 2020, will facilitate seamless travel between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, enhance business linkages and bring both countries closer together.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong revealed that Tuas West and Jurong East were some of the likely locations where the station could be located.

Meanwhile, Malaysia has said its station will be located in Sungai Besi.

But Mr Lee said there is still much to be settled, such as its design, financing, as well as security and immigration requirements.

This will require work on both sides.

The leaders also noted work done on the first phase of the joint engineering study for the rapid transit system link between Singapore and Johor Bahru.

At the press conference following the leaders' meeting, Mr Najib said that he had also proposed a "friendship bridge" between the two countries.

Mr Najib said: "Another initiative which I like to stress is a long-term initiative, looking at the road links between Malaysia and Singapore - a proposal to have a friendship bridge that will certainly enhance good connectivity, improve the environment as well as create much stronger links between our two countries and symbol of the growing friendship."

In response, Mr Lee agreed that Singapore will need to widen the links across the Straits of Johor and has been studying this for the long term.

To provide greater convenience for commuters, Mr Lee said the Customs & Immigration Quarantine Complex will most probably be co-located for the rail transit system link and the high-speed rail.

Mr Najib also proposed joint border control to be implemented for the rail transit system link and the high-speed rail, which means having only one checkpoint for entry into both Singapore and Malaysia.

He added that this will enhance connectivity of goods, services and people between both countries.

Both leaders also noted the progress in Iskandar Malaysia and commended the work of the Malaysia-Singapore Joint Ministerial Committee for Iskandar Malaysia.

Mr Najib said: "Iskandar Malaysia is a strategic play to raise Malaysia above the global competition and to help Singapore maintain our economic competitiveness by integrating our two economies and complementing one another.

“And we agreed that it's important to develop the Iskandar Malaysia project comprehensively not just in services, not just in residential properties, although they are important, but also in manufacturing, in industries in order to create jobs, to attract investments, have an organic, comprehensive, dynamic centre of economic vitality in Johor."

These include UK-based metal-stockist Howco Group's decision to build a S$20-million heat treatment facility in Iskandar Malaysia to complement Singapore operations.

Mr Lee added that as Iskandar thrives, having a skilled labour force is also crucial.

As such, both leaders welcomed ongoing discussions between the various agencies for both countries for collaboration in vocational training.

They also acknowledged that the transboundary haze pollution is a recurring problem for the region and have reaffirmed their commitment to take decisive actions to solve the problem.

Mr Lee also expressed his deepest sympathies over the loss of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 and said Singapore stands ready to help Malaysia in the next phase of investigations.

Meanwhile, Mr Najib said Malaysia appreciated Singapore's prompt assistance in search and rescue operations.

Both leaders have agreed to hold the next retreat in 2015 in Singapore and looked forward to the state visit by Malaysia’s head of state to Singapore later in April.

- CNA/nd/xq

PM Lee, Najib laud progress in Iskandar
Loh Chee Kong Today Online 8 Apr 14;

PUTRAJAYA — About eight years after it was established, Iskandar Malaysia is shaping up to be an important jigsaw piece in the joint effort by Singapore and Malaysia to drive their respective economies forward.

Yesterday, as they underscored how Iskandar could complement Singapore’s economic activities, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Malaysian Premier Najib Razak declared their satisfaction with the progress of joint projects and initiatives in the economic region. They also reiterated its strategic importance to both countries and contribution to bilateral cooperation and economic integration.

Noting the tangible benefits that Iskandar will bring to both countries, Mr Lee said: “The great advantage of Iskandar is that it’s across the Straits of Johor, and that means you can tap on what Singapore offers, in terms of infrastructure, in terms of financial services, in terms of industrial base and in terms of complementarity.”

He said the economic region provides options for firms based in the Republic but are looking to expand, as well as those that Singapore cannot accommodate due to its land constraints.

“We are upgrading our manufacturing (sector), ... our economy, but there are many projects which want to come, which we are not able to accommodate in Singapore,” he said. “When we have a good project, we can talk to Iskandar or talk to MIDA (Malaysian Investment Development Authority) and they can look at it and see whether it fits into Malaysia’s plans.”

Agreeing, Mr Najib said: “(To) put it simply, businesses will decide on the basis of the most competitive place to invest in and to do business ... and if we can offer the advantages at more competitive rates, certainly it will be more attractive (for Singapore businesses).”

He added: “From our perspective, certainly, it’s going to stimulate investment ... It’s going to be good for Iskandar’s development and Malaysia as a whole. So, it’s what you would call a classic win-win situation.”

The economic region’s development is closely watched by investors. The Industrial Cooperation Work Group under the Malaysia-Singapore Joint Ministerial Committee for Iskandar has been developing industries with synergistic activities on both sides of the Causeway.

A statement issued by Mr Lee and Mr Najib following their meeting cited the decision of United Kingdom-based metal-stockist Howco Group to build a US$20 million (S$25.2 million) heat-treatment facility in Iskandar to complement its Singapore operations.

The two leaders also welcomed the development of the new Nusajaya Tech Park, which is a joint venture between Ascendas and UEM Sunrise. The 210ha facility will cater to both multinational corporations and local small and medium enterprises in industries such as precision engineering, electronics, light and clean manufacturing, as well as warehousing and logistics. The tech park is expected to create jobs in high-tech industries.

Singapore and Malaysia have also embarked on iconic projects spearheaded by Temasek Holdings and Khazanah Nasional. The Marina One and DUO integrated projects in Singapore are on track for completion in 2017, while the Afiniti Medini project in Iskandar is expected to be completed by the end of next year. The leaders noted that the market response to these projects has been very encouraging.

Three sites being considered for S’pore-KL high-speed rail station
Loh Chee Kong Today Online 8 Apr 14;

PUTRAJAYA — The Government is considering three options to site the Singapore station of the high-speed rail link to Kuala Lumpur, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday at a press conference after the fifth Malaysia-Singapore leaders’ retreat in Kuala Lumpur.

Two of the three options are in the west — Tuas West and Jurong East — while a third, in the city, will also be looked at, but is more challenging because of the cost and land required, said Mr Lee.

While locating the station in the heavily built-up Central Business District will be ideal, it will be very difficult to do so, Mr Lee said. “The expense would be very high — you have to tunnel a long way and to find a sufficiently big plot in the city, in order to build the railway station,” he added.

Malaysia has decided to locate its terminal at Sungai Besi, which has been earmarked by the Malaysian government for redevelopment into a mixed-use community and commercial district. The Republic will make its decision within the next year or so, Mr Lee said.

About 20 Cabinet ministers from both Singapore and Malaysia met at the two-day retreat to review progress in bilateral relations and discuss ways to further enhance bilateral cooperation across a wide range of areas, including the development of Iskandar Malaysia. An Industrial Cooperation Work Group has been set up, aimed at promoting and exploring more mutually beneficial activities in the economic region, particularly in advanced materials engineering, electronics, creative services and food industries.

Mr Lee and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, who held a meeting before the delegations met yesterday, expressed satisfaction with the development of projects and initiatives in Iskandar Malaysia.

Among other things, they also acknowledged that transboundary haze pollution is a recurring problem for the region and reaffirmed both countries’ commitment to cooperate on the problem.

The railway link, which was announced at last year’s retreat and described by Mr Lee as a “game changer”, is targeted for completion by 2020.

Both Mr Lee and Mr Najib acknowledged at yesterday’s press conference that it was an ambitious and challenging timeline. Nevertheless, they are sticking to it for now.

Mr Najib said: “It is too early for us to revise the timeline at this stage. But we have in mind that it is ambitious ... it was designed to be ambitious to begin with.”

A joint statement by both countries reiterated that the high-speed rail will facilitate seamless travel between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, enhance business links and bring the people of Malaysia and Singapore closer together.

Separately, the Malaysia-Singapore Joint Ministerial Committee for Iskandar Malaysia had also endorsed in January the first phase of the joint engineering study for the Rapid Transit System (RTS) link between Singapore and Johor Baru. The statement said Mr Lee and Mr Najib looked forward to the adoption of the final scheme for the RTS link and for the committee to proceed with the second phase of the study.

To facilitate the cross-border movement of goods and people, Mr Lee said the priority is to further improve the processes at the land checkpoints.

While a Friendship Bridge — which will be a third road link between the two countries — and a co-located Customs, Immigration and Quarantine facility were mooted during the meetings, Mr Lee said the present focus is to improve the flow at land checkpoints. He noted that in the mornings, motorists have to queue for up to one or two hours.

“In the long term, I can imagine and foresee that, at some point, we need to widen the links across the Straits of Johor,” said Mr Lee, who added that both countries should study how an “iconic symbol” of close bilateral ties could be developed for motorists to enter Malaysia from Singapore.

Mr Najib said the current capacity of the Causeway will not be sufficient for future requirements. On the possible timeline for the Friendship Bridge, he said: “We’ll decide as and when that will happen. But let’s just say it’s a long-term project.”

As part of the retreat, Mr Lee and his wife Ho Ching were shown around Kuala Lumpur’s city centre on Sunday. During a 30-minute tour, Mr Lee walked around the Bukit Bintang area and the Bangsar Village to look at the new developments that have taken place over the last decade.

He also visited KL Sentral and the site of the planned Tun Razak Exchange, a proposed international financial and business hub under Malaysia’s Economic Transformation Programme.

Mr and Mrs Lee were hosted to a private cruise dinner on Putrajaya Lake by Mr Najib and his wife Rosmah Mansor.

At the press conference yesterday, Mr Lee said his two-day visit was fruitful. He noted that Kuala Lumpur had “changed so much” since he last took a walk around the city many years ago.

“I’m very impressed by the developments and the vibrant street life in Bukit Bintang and also Bangsar Village ... the teh tarik was not bad at all either,” he said, drawing laughter from journalists.

The leaders’ retreat was started in May 2007 by former Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi and Mr Lee in Langkawi. The retreat next year will be held in Singapore.

Tuas West most viable site for planned rail terminal, say experts
Olivia Siong Channel NewsAsia 8 Apr 14;

SINGAPORE: Tuas West will be the most viable location for the proposed high-speed rail terminal in Singapore, say experts.

This is due to its proximity to Malaysia and greater availability of space.

On Monday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong named three possible locations -- Tuas West, Jurong East and the city centre -- for the terminal of the planned high-speed rail link between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.

Tuas West is currently an industrial area, with ample space for more development.

Experts said that means a higher chance to locate Singapore's end station of the high-speed rail.

Proximity to Malaysia is another plus point for Tuas West.

Prof Lee Der-Horng, from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the National University of Singapore, said: "As we know Jurong East is further into Singapore, so we have to consider what kind of connection we want to have for this high-speed rail connection. Should we go by the tunnel, or should we go by the ground line?

"By considering the overall construction cost and also the time involved, to put it at Tuas West definitely will save construction costs and definitely shorten the construction time."

Experts said the end station's connectivity to the rest of Singapore must also be examined.

The government had earlier announced the Tuas West MRT extension, which will see the existing East-West Line being extended.

It is set to be completed in 2016.

Should the end station be located at Tuas West, some property analysts say there could be potential to develop several shopping malls or commercial buildings in the area to also cater to the needs of travellers.

But whether or not the human traffic will be enough to sustain those businesses is another factor to consider.

So another option may be to have some shops or food outlets within the station itself.

Mr Nicholas Mak, executive director of Research & Consultancy at SLP International Property Consultants, said: "In Tuas West at the moment, there is no existing population catchment. So next to the malls, the government may actually have to think about rezoning some of the industrial land for residential development."

As for Jurong East, experts said its built-up location may pose a challenge, especially since the station and possibly a depot for train maintenance will take up a large area.

This is despite current facilities in the area bringing convenience to travellers.

They said the chances for the station being in the city centre are even slimmer due to the lack of space and construction costs.

The high-speed rail link is expected to be completed in 2020.

- CNA/de

PM Lee: Iskandar strategic to Singapore and Malaysia
Robin Chan The Straits Times AsiaOne 10 Apr 14;

PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia - The giant Iskandar Malaysia project in Johor state is a "strategic play" that can lift Malaysia above its global competitors and help Singapore maintain its competitive edge, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

But to do so, investments in the fast-growing Iskandar region need to be channelled into manufacturing as well, not just residential properties and services.

Developing the manufacturing sector will help create jobs and attract investments, to build "an organic, comprehensive, dynamic centre for economic vitality in Johor", Mr Lee added.

He was speaking at a joint media conference with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak at the end of the retreat for leaders of the two countries. Both noted at the conference the importance of the Iskandar region for its "complementarities" with Singapore, and for deepening their integration.

Mr Lee also said Singapore will help Malaysia upgrade its vocational training, as the need for more skilled manpower will rise in tandem with Iskandar's growth.

This will allow Malaysians to take advantage of new jobs and higher pay, he added.

The Iskandar region has become an investment destination in recent years for people and companies keen to tap its potential as a residential area or a less costly business location near Singapore.

Joint projects led by Singapore's Temasek Holdings and Malaysia's Khazanah Nasional share the limelight with developments by companies like builder CapitaLand, and investors such as billionaire Peter Lim.

Howco Group, a British-based supplier of equipment to the oil and gas industry, is investing US$20 million (S$25.2 million) in a heat treatment facility that will complement its Singapore factory.

The new 210ha Nusajaya Tech Park, a joint venture between Ascendas and UEM Sunrise, is expected to create high-tech jobs, by catering to large and small companies in sectors like electronics.

Singapore stands to gain from these investments because of Iskandar's close proximity to the Republic. Mr Lee sees these companies tapping Singapore's financial services, infrastructure and industrial base.

He noted that land constraints prevent Singapore from accommodating many new projects or companies that want to expand. By working together, such projects could be suggested to Iskandar if they fit in with Malaysia's plans.

"It will give you a new flow of projects, which you can choose from, and it will benefit the residents of Johor, the workers from Johor, because there will be more jobs, more opportunities and, I think, better pay."

Datuk Seri Najib agreed: "It's going to be good for Iskandar's development and Malaysia as a whole. So it's what you will call a classic win-win situation."

In a joint statement, both leaders also supported collaborations between Singapore's Malay Heritage Centre and Malaysian agencies and universities to deepen cultural bonds.

One such project is to showcase traditional Malaysian dance and theatre art at the Singapore Malay Culture Festival in September.

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Malaysia: 314% rise in dengue cases, says ministry

The Star 8 Apr 14;

THE number of dengue cases tripled this year, with 23,633 cases reported as of March 23, said Deputy Urban Well-being, Housing and Local Government Minister Datuk Halimah Mohd Sadique.

“This represents a 314% rise or an increase of 17,917 cases over the 5,716 cases recorded for the same period last year,” she said in reply to Datuk Koh Nai Kwong (BN-Alor Gajah).

Halimah said the fight against dengue was a joint effort by the authorities, local communities and relevant non-governmental bodies.

“What is happening is the lackadaisical attitude of some homeowners who fail to keep their homes and surroundings free of Aedes-breeding spots,” she said.

Deputy Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr James Dawos Mamit said there were 10 rivers in Malaysia categorised under Class One – a standard of river water that is clean enough to drink without any treatment.

“It comprises 2% of the total 473 rivers, whose quality is monitored by the Department of Environment,” he said, adding that the 10 rivers were also among the 275 rivers classified under Class Two or rivers which were considered clean.

“This means 58.1% of our rivers are clean,” he said during question time.

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Malaysia: Law invoked to for the Federal Government to control water firms in Selangor


KUALA LUMPUR: THE Federal Government will invoke the Water Services Act 2006 (WSIA) to assume control of all four water companies in Selangor.

Energy, Green Technology and Water Minister Datuk Seri Dr Maximus Ongkili said the cabinet made the decision on Friday to give him the authority to decide on the commencement of the invocation date.

The move was to ensure the security and sustainability of water supply to the people of Selangor, Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya.

"The Federal Government does not wish to allow the protracted negotiation on the restructuring of the water industry between the Selangor government and the concessionaires, as well as the ongoing water supply crisis plaguing the three regions, to cause the people and the national economy to suffer," he said.

The National Water Services Commission (Span) reported that up to March 31 this year, 821 project applications in the three states had to be put on hold because of inadequate water supply.

Ongkili said the invocation was conditional on both the Federal and Selangor governments signing the Heads of Agreement in respect to the Langat 2 project, as stipulated in the memorandum of understanding signed by both parties on Feb 26.

In Shah Alam, Selangor Menteri Besar Tan Sri Abdul Khalid Ibrahim said he was informed of the matter through a letter from the Energy, Green Technology and Water Ministry, dated April 4 (Friday).

"The Federal Government has also requested that the state government expedite the approvals for the Langat 2 water treatment plant and mitigation projects that have been put on hold.

"In a meeting between the minister and I on April 4, I was given a draft of the agreements we had made on the MoU between the Federal and state governments that was signed on Feb 26.

"The state government will go through the agreement draft before agreeing to sign it as we are making sure that the people's livelihood is prioritised in this agreement.

"We are convinced that the cooperation between the Federal and state government on the state water industry restructuring exercise will be successful.

"At the same time, we plead for the people's patience in dealing with the water crisis, as well as waiting for the process to take place. We also urge the people to be stringent in using water as we try to solve the issue and bring back the water supply to the state."

The MoU provides for the Selangor government to approve the construction of the Langat 2 Water Treatment Plan and the Federal Government's willingness to invoke Section 114 of the WSIA.

The RM4.14 billion plant, scheduled for construction in 2010, was delayed because of the Selangor government's refusal to issue a development order.

Section 114 of the WSIA allows for the Federal Government to take over the concessionaire operations through Span for a short term.

The concessionaires involved are Syarikat Bekalan Air Selangor (Syabas), Puncak Niaga Sdn Bhd (PNSB), Syarikat Pengeluar Air Selangor Sdn Bhd (Splash) and Konsortium ABASS Sdn Bhd (Abass).

A water crisis in the state has been predicted by experts because of the dwindling water supply reserves as well as the increasing water demands from the over-populated state.

From February this year, residents in Selangor, Putrajaya and Kuala Lumpur were forced to live without continuous supply of water when the state took to water rationing to deal with the severe drop in the water levels in the state dams.

'Continuous heavy rain can end rationing'
patrick lee The Star 8 Apr 14;

PETALING JAYA: Selangor needs a continuous spate of daily heavy rain over the next few weeks if water rationing here is to end.

This is unlikely, said Association of Water and Energy Research (AWER) president S. Piarapakaran, adding that the recent rainfall was not enough to replenish the drying dams in the state.

“The rainfall pattern is not as heavy as it used to be. There might be an increase in this short period of time, but it’s just a small increase.

“If we have continous heavy rain over the next two weeks, we would not be going into the next stage of water rationing,” he told The Star.

Piarapakaran said rain in Selangor was at a “medium” level, adding that high-intensity rain would result in flash floods.

It was previously reported that water rationing here will end when capacity levels at the Sungai Selangor dam reach 55%.

However, Malaysian Meteorological Department central forecasting office director Muhammad Helmi Abdullah said heavy rainfall was likely in some parts of Malaysia over the next few months.

“It can be heavy at times, but not all places will receive the same kind of weather,” he said.

Muhammad said rain would continue to fall from May to September, though at a lesser portion – about 100mm to 150mm each month.

He also expected water in dams in the state not to dry up as quickly as in February and March, adding that higher humidity due to recent rain decreased local evaporation rates.

A state-wide forecast said isolated afternoon thunderstorms were expected throughout this week, with isolated rain continuing at night until Thursday.

When asked if the Government could set up infrastructure to divert stormwater from rained-on areas to those served by water catchment areas, Piarapakaran said this was very expensive to do.

“If we want to go into stormwater management, we need to redesign our entire drain management system. There are all sorts of chemicals in them, and we need to ensure the water is clean,” he said.

He said he was not confident that water authorities here were up to par in taking action against river polluters, adding that Malaysia had to decrease its non-revenue water and increase its dam capacity first.

Dam readings by LUAS, the Selangor Water Management Authority, were shown to have increased slightly over the past few days.

As of Monday morning, these were: 78.27% (Batu), 53.96% (Klang Gates), 49.35% (Langat), 71.22% (Semenyih), 37.31% (Sg Selangor), 61.46% (Sg Tinggi) and 87.24% (Tasik Subang).

Some 6.7 million people in Selangor face water rationing.

New fires keep firefighters on the edge
New Straits Times 8 Apr 14;

SHORT RESPITE: Dry spell makes it difficult for fire personnel to fully douse fire

KUANTAN: Fire and Rescue personnel have been kept on their toes as they battle peat and bush fires along Jalan Kuantan-Pekan around the clock.

Just when many thought the rainy weather last week might douse the smouldering peat fires, which had lasted weeks, new hot spots emerged in different locations.

Taman Tas fire station chief Suffian Mohd said the hot spots forced the department to set up temporary bases to prevent the fire from spreading to densely populated areas.

He said the dry spell i made it impossible for personnel to put out the fires and they could only monitor to prevent the situation from getting worse.

A Rompin Fire and Rescue department spokesman said 40 personnel along with plantation workers braved the hot weather to put-out forest fires at Felcra Kampung Perpat 2 in Kuala Rompin.

He said it would take about a week to bring the fire under control as poor visibility and uneven road conditions made it difficult for fire engines to get close to burning spots.

"Firemen from neighbouring districts including Pekan, Mentakab, Temerloh and Muadzam Shah, have been roped in to assist personnel from Rompin fire station."

In George Town, the water levels of all three dams in Penang were stable, thanks to the rain in the past week.

The capacities of the dams, as April 2, ranged between about 38 per cent to 75 per cent.

Penang Water Supply Corporation (PBAPP) chief executive officer Jaseni Maidinsa said the capacity of Mengkuang Dam had improved slightly to 38.6 per cent and could meet the state's water needs for 64 days, the capacities of Air Itam dam and Teluk Bahang dams stood at 65.2 per cent and 75.3 per cent respectively.

The water at Air Itam and Teluk Bahang dams could meet the state's needs for 64 days and 229 days respectively.

He said the water company was confident the current weather, with frequent rain expected during the inter-monsoon season, would replenish water in the dams.

Jaseni said households with eight members or more should fill in application forms to be eligible for the 60 per cent discount on the water conservation surcharge, from April 16. The forms are available at PBAPP counters in Komtar, Bayan Baru, Rifle Range, Balik Pulau, Perai Complex, Taman Selat, Kepala Batas, Bukit Mertajam and Jawi.

He said applicants must attach MyKad copies of all occupants and that they should have the same address.

They should also attach a copy of their latest water and electricity bills.

Approval would take about a week.

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