Best of our wild blogs: 19 Mar 15

A Night out with Exotic Bugs
from Nature's Amore

Pellets from Tuas: 5. Black-shouldered Kites and House Crows
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Preliminary recces in 15 different cleanup sites conducted over 1 weekend!
from News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

A new journey through Tanjong Pagar begins
from The Long and Winding Road

Singapore Waste Statistics 2014
from Zero Waste Singapore

Who's funding palm oil?
from news by Rhett Butler

Read more!

Malaysia: Johor Sultan defends business activities, ‘strategically necessary’ reclamations

Today Online 19 Mar 15;

KUALA LUMPUR — It is a strategic necessity for Johor to continue its land reclamation activities just off the coast of Singapore, said the Malaysian state’s Sultan Ibrahim Ismail, who also defended his business activities by saying his monthly state allowances of RM27,000 (S$10,139) were not enough to live on.

The Sultan said controversial property developments were on track, and added the state is the future for ordinary Malaysians and Singaporeans who are being priced out of housing elsewhere.

In an interview with The Star newspaper, the Sultan said the reclamation activities must be continued because while there is plenty of land in Johor, the coastline is strategic.

“People only talk about reclamation by Johor, but not many are aware that land reclamation in Singapore reportedly started as early as the 1820s during the colonial era,” he said. “Singapore has reclaimed over 70 sq km of land from 1960 to the present ... (and) with continuing land reclamation, Singapore’s land area will increase by about another 100 sq km by 2030.

“To put it bluntly ... if Johor does not carry out reclamation, Singapore will and it has been doing so ... Johor has to do this because it is strategically necessary.”

In defending his business interests, the Sultan said he believes it is healthy for royalty to engage in legitimate businesses and that he has never tried to hide his business dealings.

“I have to earn my living like everyone else. I cannot depend on my allowances of RM27,000 a month. I must earn a living, like ordinary Malaysians,” he said.

The Sultan also noted that the Johor royal family has a long history of doing business, starting with gambier and black pepper in the 1800s.

In addition to his business dealings, the Sultan welcomed the controversial 1,386 ha Forest City property project and said housing development in the state would benefit Malaysians and Singaporeans who find housing in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore too expensive.

He added that Chinese investors should not be singled out for criticism.

“The Chinese investors have the confidence and foresight to believe that their money is well spent,” said the Sultan, referring to Guangdong-based developer Country Garden Holdings, which has partnered with Johor state-owned Kumpulan Prasarana Rakyat Johor for the Forest City project.

“It is their risk, but they believe in the strategic position of Johor.”

Forest City is a mixed development to be built on four reclaimed islands between south-west Johor and north-west Singapore.

The Sultan also addressed concerns that Johor is facing an excess of housing supply, saying the fear of a glut is only an assumption.

“Some people talk about a glut in high-rise property units in Johor Baru. The Chinese developers are not going to build 80,000 units simultaneously. Only 8,000 units are being built now,” he said. “Not all these house buyers are from China as there are also locals, especially from Penang and Kuala Lumpur. There are also Singaporean buyers.”

“The future is in Johor because Singaporeans, not just Chinese, will be buying homes in Johor. Homes are already beyond the reach of ordinary Singaporeans over there,” he added.

The Sultan said Malaysia and Singapore could become like Hong Kong and the mainland city of Shenzhen, where people work in one place and live in another.

“Once the links are in place, it will become the norm for Singaporeans to live in Johor and work in Singapore,” he said. AGENCIES

Sultan of Johor speaks his mind

JOHOR BARU: Johor ruler Sultan Ibrahim Ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar moved into Istana Bukit Serene weeks ago from Istana Pasir Pelangi and the interview with The Star was at the new official residence overlooking Singapore.

Driving up the road leading to the palace, it was amazing to see several huge cages on both sides, with tigers, panthers and cats inside them.

The edifice, some 2km away from the Jalan Kolam Air entrance, was perched on a hill and overlooked a huge swimming pool.

Standing there affords a bird’s eye view of the huge estate that is beautifully landscaped and full of lush greenery.

We were ushered into the interior of the grand palace, passing through a large hall area with ornate wooden furniture and chandeliers, and huge portraits of the Johor royal family adorning the walls.

Sultan Ibrahim was already there to meet us, wearing a sky blue short sleeved linen shirt and in a jovial mood.

“Go ahead and ask me anything,” he said as we all sat down.

And throughout the hour-long session, the monarch took all our questions, including tough ones on his business ventures, Chinese investors coming to Johor, the change in the state’s weekend, rumours of a casino and his son’s liver transplant in China.

On the coronation

Q: Tuanku, The Star extends its congratulations to you on your forthcoming coronation. Your Royal Highness, why is the coronation taking place only after more than four years?

A: I felt there was no need to rush. The coronation is not a legal requirement. It is more of a customary requirement, but it is deeply entrenched in tradition.

The Sultan of Johor is confirmed and proclaimed by the Council of the Supporters of the Country on the demise of the late ruler. The oath of the sovereign and the proclamation fulfil the legality of succession.

The coronation may be held at any time the sovereign so desires after the ascension. The coronation is not a legal requirement but a customary tradition to enhance the sovereignty or daulat and majesty of the Ruler.

There was also the refurbishment of the necessary places for the event, including the Istana Besar.

It is also pertinent to note that Sultan Abu Bakar was crowned on July 29, 1886, 23 years after ascending the throne.

It is politically correct to apply the term “coronation” to the Sultan of Johor because Sultan Abu Bakar commissioned a crown for himself in 1886, to be used at the coronation of his successors, making Johor the first state to have a crown. Rulers of other Malay states have an installation ceremony on their ascension.

Q: What are the events planned in conjunction with the Coronation?

A: At least nine major events have been planned for the ceremony, which starts on March 16. This is not just my celebration but also one involving the people of Johor.

The celebrations are scheduled to stretch up to one month, including visits to all the 10 districts in the state.

I have been informed that the Sultan of Brunei, Malay Rulers, Governors, close members of the Johor royal family, and the Prime Minister of Malaysia and Prime Minister of Singapore will be attending the celebrations. State dignitaries will also be invited.

Aside from official souvenirs, there will also be commemorative postage stamps and first-day covers on sale that day. Bank Negara is also issuing gold commemorative medallions.

Q: What are your wishes and hopes for Johor?

A: I hope that people from all races will unite irrespective of their religion and belief. This is our home and it belongs to all Malaysians. This state is the home of all Johoreans regardless of race and religion. The people should also appreciate the stability of the state and, of course, Malaysia. We live in a multi-racial society. We must respect each other.

There is no room for extremism in Johor. Please uphold the values and principles of moderation.

The moderation path is not a cliché but one that has been long practised.

There has to be mutual tolerance and respect. There cannot be extreme left or right views. That is why the middle path and moderation is the best way.

Moderation is not something new, but it is best that we give serious thought to this principle now. I am glad that The Star is carrying out this campaign.

I want all races to be taken care of. That is why I insisted on a Chinese councillor being part of my state executive council during the time when MCA had rejected government posts.

Johor is unique and that is why I want all my subjects, regardless of race, to be represented in the state government.

On the economic front, I am aware of the various challenges since last year but I believe that we will be able to face the numerous challenges ahead as one nation and 1Malaysia.

On business, development and reclamation in Johor

Q: Tuanku, your increasing business and commercial dealings have become a talking point. The Johor royalty is involved in a variety of businesses, including a power plant (the 1,000MW-1,400MW Project 4A) and property development in Johor. How does the royalty balance what is good for the people and the state when it has a personal interest in so many businesses?

A: If you look at the history of the Johor royal family, we have been involved in business from the days of my great-grandfather. I have never tried to hide my business dealings using proxies, like some people do. I am open and transparent.

Tracing the Johor royal lineage, you would have seen how the Johor royal family has a long history of doing business. It began with gambier and black pepper during the early days. The late Sultan Abu Bakar, who was known as the “Father of Modern Johor”, was involved in this business in the 19th century. The late Sultan Ibrahim (1895–1959) was involved in rubber planting.

I was doing palm oil business when I was the Tengku Mahkota. Don’t tell me that once I become the Sultan I have to stop everything. I believe it is healthy for royalty to be involved in proper and legitimate businesses rather than to be in dubious businesses that harm the image of the institution. I want to pass this trade to my sons as they need to learn.

There are plenty of business opportunities for everyone in Johor and Malaysia. We cannot be competing with everyone as it would be virtually impossible. The pie is enough for everyone.

Let’s be honest here, we are a constitutional monarch. I have to earn my living like everyone else. I cannot depend on my allowances of RM27,000 a month. I must earn a living, like ordinary Malaysians.

I am sure Johoreans do not want to perceive me as one selling titles for my income. It is unfair to say that the private sector would be crowded out.

Look at the number of private companies doing business in Johor. It is a free market. No one is forced to buy anything from anyone.

Monopoly does not exist in Johor.

Q: What are your views on claims that the land reclamation works will affect Singapore’s shoreline?

A: There is plenty of land in Johor but the coastline is strategic. People only talk about reclamation by Johor, but not many are aware that land reclamation in Singapore reportedly started as early as the 1820s, during the colonial era.

Of course, it was very small scale then, but I just want you to know the history. In the 1960s, land reclamation began to be carried out on a large scale.

Singapore has reclaimed over 70sq km of land from 1960 to the present day, I am told.

According to one report, by 1990 the total land area of Singapore was 633sq km. This was an increase of 51.5sq km, which made up 8.9% of the total land area. With continuing land reclamation, Singapore’s land area will increase by about another 100sq km by the year 2030.

I don’t know if these figures are accurate but it is a fact that the shape of Singapore has changed because of aggressive and systematic reclamation. To put it bluntly, and you know that I am a straight-talking person, if Johor does not carry out reclamation, Singapore will and it has been doing so.

Why is it that no one talks about Singapore doing this landfilling work? Why is Johor being singled out? Johor has to do this because it is strategically necessary.

Then, there is talk of the environment. I have done my checking. There is not a single dugong that would be affected; get your facts right. According to the MB, a 30-sen fee has been imposed for every square foot of land reclaimed to help fishermen affected by the reclamation. It will bring in over RM104mil to help the fishermen.

Q: The 1,386ha Forest City property project has become a controversy. Forest City will be almost half the size of Putrajaya and will rise in the Johor Straits, southwest of Johor Baru, where the Second Link to Singapore is situated. It is a joint venture between Guangdong-based Country Garden Holdings and the Johor state-owned Kumpulan Prasarana Rakyat Johor (KPRJ).

A: As the Sultan, I welcome all investors, just as the mentri besar would. It would be insane for anyone to reject investments.

The Chinese investors have the confidence and foresight to believe that their money is well spent. It is their risk but they believe in the strategic position of Johor.

If there are any Americans, Britons, Australians or Germans who would want to put money in Johor, they are welcome, but where are they? If the Chinese are prepared to invest here, why should it be an issue?

Anyway, all this investment is good for the state’s coffers as the state government has recorded a fourth consecutive year of surplus in its budget. I expect the surplus to continue to grow as more projects and investments come into the state.

I am also confident that more Singaporeans would be purchasing homes in the state due to the weak Malaysian currency.

All these investments will be good as this will have a spill-over effect for other sectors such as retail, more job opportunities for locals and for the transportation services.

I am sure major development projects like the one in Pontian will help improve the living standards of the district, which is famous for seafood.

Q: Johor has seen a few major Chinese developers launching large-scale property projects. One developer, for instance, launched 9,000 units at one go and most are to be sold to buyers from China. But a large number of units are not sold yet. There are concerns that Johor is seeing an over-built situation and possible creation of ghost cities. Local developers have also been speaking up about preferential treatment to these overseas developers. Please comment.

A: The fear of a glut is just an assumption. All these homes will not be built simultaneously. Why blame the Chinese for investing in the state? Presently, 80% of property in London belongs to foreigners.

I do not think the Chinese developers would build these homes and then leave them empty. Do you think that these Chinese developers have not done their calculations, including capital recovery and the projected returns on the investments?

Some people talk about a glut in high-rise property units in Johor Baru. The Chinese developers are not going to build 80,000 simultaneously. Only 8,000 units are being built now. Anyway, not all these house buyers are from China as there are also locals, especially from Penang and Kuala Lumpur. There are also Singaporean buyers.

The future is in Johor because Singaporeans, not just Chinese, will be buying homes in Johor.

Homes are already beyond the reach of ordinary Singaporeans over there.

It is a political issue when the middle-class find themselves squeezed. Even in Malaysia, with its abundance of land, the young are finding it difficult to own a home, especially in the Klang Valley and Penang.

Once the links are in place, it will become the norm for Singaporeans to live in Johor and work in Singapore. That is the future.

Thousands of Hong Kong residents and expatriates, including Malaysians that I know, stay in Shenzen but commute to work daily.

We are talking about investing in the future and these Chinese investors know the Hong Kong and Shenzen scenario very well.

Over 200,000 people cross to Shenzen each day in just 45 minutes. That is how the cross-border culture has changed dramatically.

I think local developers just have to work harder. I believe that healthy competition among the developers is good for the industry.

Q: Is it correct to say that not many people dare to speak up against your Royal Highness? There is fear and respect, all mixed together. After all, you do have a controversial reputation.

A: (Laughs) Well, you are asking me tough questions. I think I am a friendly and easy-going person. I am straight-talking. I cannot stand hypocrites. I expect people to speak up. Be a man. You have asked me difficult questions straight to my face.

A lot of people, including some politicians in Kuala Lumpur, don’t know me but talk as if they know me. There are those who have preconceived ideas of me. I don’t blame them.

Johor is the right of Johoreans and only Johoreans know the situation and needs of Johor. Why should there be outsiders who try to interfere and teach us about what we should do in our own state?

Among the issues I raised in the past was that the Federal Government’s suggestion of imposing a minimum price of RM1mil for property that could be purchased by foreigners, was only suitable to be implemented in Kuala Lumpur.

I suggested that foreigners be allowed to buy high-rise property valued at a minimum of RM500,000 but for landed property, they should only be allowed to purchase houses that are valued at more than RM2mil.

I have also criticised the Petronas’ oil and gas project in Pengerang, as the company was not giving enough opportunities for locals to handle contracts related to the project.

I also suggested that a special team be set up to appeal against the decision on Pulau Batu Puteh made by the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

To me, the ICJ decision favouring Singapore on the island’s ownership was a result of “outsiders” handling the matter.

On his son, Tunku Abdul Jalil

Q: On a personal note, there has been speculation over the health of Tuanku’s son, Tunku Abdul Jalil ibni Sultan Ibrahim (pic), also known as Tunku Laksamana Johor. Can you comment, especially on his liver transplant?

A: He is fine and well after the transplant, thanks be to God. The next five years will be very crucial for him as he needs to watch his food and his lifestyle.

I am grateful that he is alive and that is one reason why I have put aside RM10mil to set up the Tunku Laksamana Johor Cancer Foundation to help fund cancer patients who cannot afford the expensive treatment.

My son is lucky as he is my son. I understand the agony when a person is diagnosed with stage four cancer. Even my son did not believe that he would survive and neither did I. I want this fund to be self-sustaining and others can also donate towards this foundation.

We only discovered the cancer last year as initially my son was complaining of shoulder pain and was only treated at the local General Hospital, which just provided him with pain killers and sleeping tablets.

We only discovered that something was wrong while holidaying in London. After discussing with surgeons from Singapore, we decided to go for a full organ transplant in Guangzhou, China. They told me not to waste any more time.

I am thankful that the procedure went well and we were well cared for when in China.

The Chinese went to great lengths to help my son. They sent two doctors to Singapore to talk with the doctors there. They provided English-speaking doctors and nurses.

They also provided other facilities for me there. I am greatly touched and grateful to them.

I also want to thank my subjects as I was deeply touched when informed that thousands of people from all races and religions came together to pray for my son and my family. All those prayers certainly helped him.

On the Johor weekend

Q: Will the Friday and Saturday weekend for the civil service still remain or does Johor, as a developing state, plan to revert to Saturday and Sunday to compete internationally, especially with so much talk about doing business with Singapore? Or will the private sector be forced to change to Friday and Saturday as well?

A: It’s already over a year since Johor has had Friday and Saturday as the weekend. The aim of the change is to enable Muslims to perform their prayers without having to rush back to their offices.

I understand it has its implications for the private sector as well as doing business with Singapore. I am still in the process of gathering feedback from the public and private sectors.

> TOMORROW: Sultan Ibrahim’s thoughts on royal awards, rumours about a proposed casino in Johor, his relationship with mentris besar past and present, and more.

‘It will be insane to tell investors not to come to Johor’
New Straits Times 22 Mar 15;

PROGRESS: Johor ruler Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar has been keeping a strict diet ahead of his coronation tomorrow. On certain days, his diet is made up of just fruits. He has shed some 20kg since January. As we walked into the newly refurbished renovated Istana Bukit Serene for a rare interview with him ahead of his big day, we could not help but notice a brand new hot pink Rolls-Royce Phantom parked in the driveway. The NSTP team was then ushered inside this grand, 78-year-old Art Deco palace with a green roof and limestone walls, topped with a 35m etre tower. The sultan, who was busy with the final fitting for the coronation costume with his tailor, Datuk Jack M.K. Lee, later emerged. After an hour-long interview with A Jalil Hamid and Jassmine Shadiqe, during which he addressed many controversial issues, ranging from his businesses to reclamation projects and the influx of top developers from China, the sultan then invited us for a sumptuous lunch. He indulged in a big plate of beef steak that day. But his mind was preoccupied with his son, Tunku Laksamana Johor Tunku Abdul Jalil, who had to be hospitalised. He then drove off alone in the Phantom to the hospital, with his security detail trailing behind.


Question: How do you respond to those who talk about Tuanku’s involvement in business while being a ruler of a state?

Answer: Is it wrong if I buy shares? What is wrong with buying shares? There is nothing wrong with me buying shares. I just buy shares but I do not sit on any the board of directors. For example, at REDtone International Bhd, I am not on the board of the directors.

(The Johor sultan is the single-largest individual shareholder in REDtone following a spate of open-market purchases, coupled with the conversion of his warrants and convertible loan stocks into ordinary shares. The recent activities have boosted his holdings in the company to 20 per cent from 4.8 per cent previously).

During In good times, if I think I can make money, I sell the shares. To me, there is nothing wrong with in me buying shares.

I bought Berjaya Times Square Sdn Bhd for a reason, basically, for its high-dividend returns. The returns are higher compared with commercial banks. I am a strategic investor. There is nothing controversial about this. Those who are bickering about this... it’s actually a case of sour grapes.

I am not a typical businessman. I am more of a strategic investor. I learn about the trade and I invest on the advice of my bankers. The bank is the custodian of my money. The bank makes sure that my money makes money. If the investment is bad, they will advise me not to do it.

When I see potential, I grab the opportunity. I do not bid for projects, like hydroelectric power, construction of airports, roads or similar facilities, because that will be interfering with others.

Forest City, which will be built in southwest of Johor, was my idea. I brought the Forest City investors in. The developers took into consideration my ideas. The investors visited the proposed site and established that it was strategically located. They have confidence in the government and me, and they are also comfortable here in Johor, which is peaceful, united and strategically located.

So what is wrong if developers from China want to invest in Johor? We have all the stability investors are looking for. We have an open-door policy; every reliable investor is welcome to invest in Johor. It will be insane to tell investors not to come to Johor.

The spill over effect will benefit the people. Forest City will create over 250,000 jobs opportunities for Johoreans. Via this investment, I am creating opportunities for retailers and upgrading our transportation system, among others.

The government, too, will benefit. They will receive fees in the form of annual assessments and quit rent, among others. The people should grab these opportunities. If they don’t, others will.

Question: Is the potential spin-off from Forest City huge?

Answer: It will be very huge. For those who are still unaware, my advice to them is to undergo a proper briefing and get have a better understanding.

Question: In other words, you are not actually a businessman, but an investor?

Answer: I am not like any ordinary businessman. I don’t go to an office or conduct day-to-day operations. I don’t attend meetings or conduct annual general meetings. I buy shares, I sell shares. I study about shares. I grab the good ones that have potential. For example, the Princess Cove project in Tanjung Puteri. Some people wanted the land for free to be injected to some major public listed companies. There were two people who wanted the land. I won’t name names. An independent evaluation was done on Tanjung Puteri and a price was offered based on the market value. I paid the government… above its market value (for the land). I rounded up the figure offered and made the government an offer that they could not resist. Only after securing Tanjung Puteri via a transparent dealing did I enter into a joint venture. I did not take the land free of charge. I paid extra for the land because I want the state government to make money, which will be channelled back to the people. That’s why I paid them extra.

Question: How much did the government want to sell it for?

Answer: If you look at the evaluation those days, it was not much. About RM100 million.

Question: Tuanku basically paid double for it?

Answer: Maybe? (smiling). Yes, I did.

Question: Eyebrows were raised when you sold Tanjung Puteri to China developer Guangzhou R&F. There were claims that you made RM4.5 billion.

Answer: Let me explain how this figure came about. I have a 30 per cent share with the joint-venture company. I foresee a RM100 billion gross development value (GDV). Under the normal industrial norms, you will make at least, even in the worst scenario, between 20 and 25 per cent in profits. So, I did basic arithmetic. What is 30 per cent of 20? That is six billion. That is the profit at the end of the day in 10 years by looking at the GDV. But, do I want to wait 10 years? Would I know when the market will weaken? I would not know. What happens if the joint-venture company starts to adjust figures? At the end of the day, profits can be adjusted.

I am not willing to take that risk. I asked for my profits in advance and in return, I offered them a RM1.5 billion discount. That is how RM4.5 billion came up. I did not sell but I took profit in advance. Get that?

Then, everybody thought: “Wow, this is the benchmark in Johor.” They were wrong. You cannot put a value of RM900 per sq feet.

Now, is there anything wrong with what I did? No! I didn’t lobby anybody. It was a transparent deal that will see Johor progress in the future.

Question: The one thing that people are unaware of is that you have given money back to the government, which was spent on development. Is that true?

Answer: Yes! What I have given to the government is RM845 million. Nobody talks about that. The cost of the land and the premium all went to the government. Why do you think my government is now enjoying a surplus (budget) today?

I have also been approached by China’s e-commerce giant Alibaba Group. They want to bring Alibaba to Johor. Johor will be the main distributor for Alibaba in the Asia Pacific region.

The company plans to bring branded apparel and accessories to Johor. They have the strength to do so.

Question: What will happen to Johor Premium Outlets (JPO)?

Answer: We are not bringing in something like JPO. We will be a technology hub. So, the technology hub only “handles”, without having retailers like JPO. All are premium items. They will set up their centres. I do not know how they operate. But we have heard about Alibaba. Some say they are better than

Get it right. The way I do business is not like what people say: “He (sultan) is a businessman, conducting business.” No, I don’t.

Question: Why do we need to reclaim land to develop Forest City when there is a lot of land in Johor?

Answer: It’s easier. We reclaim land to develop. On shore, you have (to have) acquisitions. A brand new piece of land is easier to plan, even for better road distribution. Where can I find an existing piece of land here in Johor of that size which is surrounded by with water? So that’s why I plan. When I saw the place, I decided, here is the best place.

Question: What about marine life and environmental issues?

Answer: A lot of people are so jealous. They politicised Forest City because they are jealous. It’s a case of sour grapes. Forest City is a catalyst for to the state’s development and not a controversial one. Many people just want to make things difficult for us.

For instance, other developers are required to set up only one siltation control curtain (to reduce sediment run-off), but we were told to put up three layers of silt curtains. We abide by the rules. It doesn’t matter, even though it cost us three times more.

Question: One of the reservations came from Singapore. They said it narrowed the straits and restricted water flow, hardly without realising that they have been doing this way before us.

Answer: Singapore’s Tuas reclamation has breached into Johor’s port limit by so many metres… accidently. But we are a friendly state. If you say narrowing the straits, look at Tekong (Pulau Tekong, how narrow it is. I am not comparing Singapore with us, or what they can do and what we can’t do. We have our own plans and they have their own plans. I am sure Singapore followed all the rules. They are very strict on environment-related matters. They are checking on us, on what we are doing. It’s good that they check on us.

Question: Speaking of Singapore, is it true that Tuanku wanted to get rid of the Johor Causeway and build a bridge instead?

Answer: At the last meeting in Kuala Lumpur, what I heard was that the first bridge was nostalgic to former Singaporean prime minister Goh Chok Tong. I don’t know what Singapore’s plans are. But one day, I hope Singapore will agree with us, even if we need to remove part of the causeway for the flow of water and for the good of the environment. Yes, I would like that. Of course, a bridge is ideal. Besides that, we can build the most beautiful bridge. Let it be a landmark and we can call it the Friendship Bridge. Let the bridge show how friendly we are with our neighbours.

Question: Tuanku, you have said that a lot of things can be settled over a cup of tea with the Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, since you have a very good relationship with your neighbour. So, has this Friendship Bridge been discussed?

Answer: When it involves two countries, it must go through the Prime Minister’s Office, Wisma Putra and the also with their Singaporean counterparts. But any discussions between Johor and Singapore, for just the two of us to agree upon, then it can be decided over a cup of tea. Come to my house, have tea, as long as it is a win-win situation, we can discuss and agree on anything.

I know that there will be a need for a Third Link. I agree. But we need to know where. We need to plan where. It must be beneficial both to Singapore and Johor.

Question: Where will the Third Link be most likely located?

Answer: I think most likely it will be somewhere in Changi (Singapore) (chuckles). I don’t know. It is between the two prime ministers (Datuk Seri Najib Razak and Lee Hsien Loong). I don’t know and I don’t ask. I am sure if there is a need, the government will bring the matter up.

Question: Apart from the “Friendship Bridge” and the Third Link, how about the KL-Singapore High Speed Rail (HSR) project? It will have to pass through Johor. Do you support this project?

Answer: Well, it is in the planning stage. I know where the route is. I know where it’s going to be, but let the government announce it. Yes, it passes through Johor, they sought an audience with me.

Question: Who are the “they”?

Answer: The Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) chairman Tan Sri Syed Hamid Albar. He didn’t seek my permission, it was a courtesy call. He asked for an audience to explain about the project and the route of the track in Johor that the rail will pass through. My advice to him was very simple. Reduce the (land acquisition. Don’t trouble the villagers too much. Don’t cause too much interruption to the lives of the people in the vicinity. The high-speed rail will be on the west coast of Johor.


Question: Tuanku, can you share your views on the people’s concern that they may not be able to afford houses in JB in the future given the rapid development in the city?

Answer: It is in the government’s plan to make affordable houses available to those from the lower-income group. Not every Johorean cannot afford to buy a house. There are some who bought really big ones, extremely big ones.

But here we are talking about those from the lower-income group. The government must provide them with houses that they can afford. But would you build a low-cost house on in the most prime land in the state?

One would not expect the government to build “warongs” (make-shift stalls) in Beverly Hills, now? No, you won’t.

Question: So the people should not have unwarranted fears, as there will be houses for all income groups?

Answer: Yes, there should not be unwarranted fears or concerns. With future developments in Johor, it will be the people who will benefit. Now, you only see hypermarkets in Johor, but with the current and future developments, I am sure many stores, facilities and high-end outlets will set up their businesses in Johor. Developers in Johor want to bring in the Ritz Carlton, the Grand Hyatt, among others, to Johor. They want to bring in branded goods, such as Chanel, Hermes, Gucci and all to Johor. Who will benefit from all these, if not the people? Once you have a population of locals and foreigners, why should they go to Singapore, buy one handbag and come back to Johor, when they can buy it all here? Now, who benefits? Who gets the jobs? Johoreans.

So don’t have negative perceptions of the developments in Johor. Don’t think that if Johor develops, there will no longer be affordable houses. Don’t assume that Johor Baru will be turned into the biggest Chinatown in the world. The so-called comment by the Malay Chamber of Commerce Malaysia president Datuk Syed Ali Alattas… please ask him, did he sue the government for RM28 million? He wanted two acres of land in front of Lido beach for the Johor Malay Chamber of Commerce. It was Iskandar Waterfront Holding that paid the over RM20 million in compensation.

(Syed Ali was reportedly said saying he was is brave enough to say that there was not one shop in the centre of Johor Baru that is owned by a Malay.)

Question: There are some quarters, like Syed Ali, who are worried that the Malays will be left out, especially in Johor Baru, with the rapid development.

Answer: How many per cent of Malays are there now in Johor Baru? Do your research. There is the Urban Development Authority (UDA), developers Pelangi Sdn Bhd, among others, which are still in the city centre. They did not leave or move. They are further building up. Since August last year, more Malays have been buying properties but there are also many Malays selling their properties to make a good profit.

When did the standard of living in Kuala Lumpur rise? It’s an inevitable process. There must be balance. It has nothing to do with me.

Question: In a way, Greenland Danga Bay, Country Garden Danga Bay and R&F Tanjung Puteri are the catalysts for Johor’s development. Otherwise, Johor would remain a sleepy town.

Answer: Yes, catalyst. Do you want Johor to have the reputation of being the backyard of Singapore? We don’t want that reputation. You look at Hong Kong. What was Shenzhen then? A farming town. And look at it today. Via development, Shenzhen is what it is today.



Question: Talking about housing in Johor, what are the issues related relating to the Johor Housing and Real Property Enactment Board Bill 2014?

Answer: Why did it become an issue? Because those outside of Johor want it to become an issue. It was not an issue among Johoreans. What has it to do with Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim? Why does he want to comment on this issue?

(Shahidan had said the ruler should stay out of the state’s executive powers. He had reportedly said that was reported saying Putrajaya would not tolerate matters which breached the Federal Constitution, as Malaysia practises constitutional monarchy and not absolute monarchy.)

This enactment was established for me to take care of the people’s interest. With the enactment, I can call, I can check anytime. The same goes to with Johor Corporation (JCorp) and Yayasan Pelajaran Johor (YPJ). Both have enactments. Look at what happened to Kumpulan Prasarana Rakyat Johor (KPRJ), which comes under the Companies Act 1965 (revised 1973).

My role is to check and balance. The names of the housing board members will be chosen by the menteri besar and granted an audience with me, just as an introductionto introduce them to me. Apalah yang hendak dibisingkan? (What is all the ruckus about). Even the newspapers made a big deal about it. You all should be writing about the benefits instead.

Question: Is the bill going back to the state assembly?

Answer: You want to know the truth? I have not signed it and I will not sign.

What do we fear? Why must there be fear, or even pressure by non-Johoreans who are being nosy about Johor’s business? What do you think about this? Does this enactment concern you? I put this question to you. If it’s good, then it should be good. I can ask for an audit at any time I want. I can dismiss three officers appointed by me or the menteri besar. If we see that he is not suitable for the job, we can let go off him. That’s all. I do not want to sign the enactment. Ask all the non-governmental organisations NGOs in Johor, do they want me to sign it or not? None of them want me to sign it and I represent my people.


Question: Tomorrow, Malaysians will witness your coronation. What is the legacy that you want to leave as the Sultan of Johor?

Answer: I want change in Johor. We are living in a new millennium. We have to change. Johor has to progress to be even better. And change. I want a lot of changes, including the people’s mindset. There is a need to change the attitude and mindset.

For example, I spent lots of money to build the crown arch in front of Istana Bukit Serene as a gift to the people, a landmark for Johor.

But every morning, we need to sweep the area. There is rubbish strewn all over — straws, plastic containers, including leftover food. Please change this attitude of throwing rubbish everywhere. I have always reminded the people that the government’s role is not to pick up your rubbish. Enough warnings have has been given to them to change this attitude. There are enforcement officers. They should take action against those who throw rubbish indiscriminately. These people don’t seem to care for the environment either.


Question: For changes to be implemented there should be close cooperation with the menteri besar. How would Tuanku describe your relationship with Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin?

Answer: We have a very good relationship. At times, I share my ideas and views with him, and vice-versa. At times, he likes them, and at times, he gives his views. I have a good rapport with Datuk Seri Khaled. He knows how to talk to me. He was based in Kuala Lumpur when he was higher education minister. When he returned to Johor, he did not know Johor as well as I do. What does he know about Sungai Endau? He does not know the nooks and crannies in of Johor as I do. I am the one who knows. Sometimes, when he wants to do something, I will ask him: “Datuk Seri, do you know the background?” Most of the time, he doesn’t know, and I would share it with him.

When I was the Regent when Almarhum Sultan Iskandar Sultan Ismail was the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, and I was the Tunku Mahkota, I did my rounds. I did more checks and rounds in every nook and cranny of Johor, more than any politicians did. I know Johor very well, like the back of my hand.

My Kembara Mahkota Johor, for the past 14 years, reached out to the people in the rural areas, in really deep areas. That’s why I know and understand the people’s sentiments.

Sometimes, when he (Khaled) doesn’t remember or gets ill advice from others, I will tell him: “Datuk Seri, you better rethink what you want to do.”

But I have never stopped him or told him what to do. We advise each another on what is best for Johor and its people. Although I have given Khaled the thumbs up, he has is yet to reach A+-plus.... it is a learning process. (laughs)

Question: Tuanku, will you make any announcement during your investiture ceremony at Istana Besar on March 30, which will see some changes?

Answer: What did you hear? (laughs). From now on, March 23 will be a public holiday in conjunction with the Sultan’s birthday, (it will) no longer be November 22.

The reason , as you know, (is because November is during the monsoon season, hence, most programmes preparations are usually cancelled due to the weather. So from now on, March 23 will be a public holiday replacing Nov 22. On Nov 22, there will be a tahlil ceremony only.

Question: So what happens if one day, you become the Yang di-Pertuan Agong?

Answer: What makes you think I want to be the Agong?

Question: By rotation?

Answer: When the time comes, then you will know if I want or don’t want to be the Agong. I don’t dream to be the king. If it’s possible, I don’t want to be one.

What is of utmost importance to me are my subjects. If they need my help, I can be at their service. I belong to Johor and my subjects. I like staying here in Johor.

Question: How does Tuanku view the role of the monarchy in this modern era?

Answer: In our country, every ruler has his own traditions, ways and styles. We must respect their respective traditions and customs. I respect all the Malay rulers’ traditions, customs and their ways. In their respective state, they have the power, so who are we to pass comments? We respect them, accept them and don’t question them.

Question: Tuanku, how many datukships are expected to be awarded during your investiture ceremony on March 30?

Answer: One, or maybe two. I am stingy with my datukships (laughs). Merit counts. When you deserve to get something, you get it. Those who made a few donations, built a bus stand, nope, that would not grant you a datukship.

The first to who will receive datukships are state government officers. Those who are qualified and deserving. For businessmen, let’s see what they have done for the people.

If it benefits the people, then maybe, but most of them already have datukships, why give some more?

Read more!

URA calls for proposals for Rail Corridor

Channel NewsAsia 18 Mar 15;

SINGAPORE: The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) on Wednesday (Mar 18) launched a request for proposals from design professionals to develop a Concept Master Plan and concept proposals for Singapore's Rail Corridor.

Over the past three-and-a-half years, URA has been engaging different segments of the community to gather feedback on the 24-km long Rail Corridor spanning the north to south of Singapore. These have been distilled into a set of planning and design goals.

URA said in a news release that the proposals should have "nature and greenery, celebration of heritage, and connectivity as hallmarks of the Rail Corridor experience". The proposals should also be sensitive to local context, the authority said.

"Retaining and enriching the signature ‘green corridor’ experience is also one of the key requirements," URA added.

Mr Ng Lang, CEO of the URA, said:"Our intention is to continue to sensitively stage the development of this project with the community, and not rush into developing the whole stretch at one go.”

Participating teams have to propose designs for four key activity nodes and two special interest areas along the Rail Corridor:

Buona Vista near one-north: This should become a vibrant community space for the nearby business park and research community, as well as residents of Queenstown neighbourhood, said URA.

Bukit Timah Railway Station area: The green heart of the Rail Corridor should be complementary to its idyllic natural setting anchored by the conserved Bukit Timah Railway Station. This is where occasional community events can be held, URA said. At most other times, it can be a place of retreat and where one can enjoy the serene, green landscape.

Former Bukit Timah Fire Station: The former Bukit Timah Fire Station and quarters will become a new gateway into the Rail Corridor, URA said. Buildings within the fire station site should be retained and a new pedestrian link should be provided for visitors to explore parks fringing the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve such as Dairy Farm Nature Park and Bukit Batok Nature Park. There could also be linkage to nearby heritage sites such as the Old Ford Factory and site of the Battle of Bukit Timah, which are steeped in World War II history, URA said.

Kranji (opposite Kranji MRT station): This is envisioned this to become the northern gateway into the Rail Corridor, and could be a place for community events. Its design should complement and be sensitive to key landmarks in the area such as the Singapore Turf Club, Kranji War Memorial, and Mandai Mangroves, URA stated.

Adaptive reuse of the former Tanjong Pagar Railway Station: This national monument should become the most prominent and important gateway into the Rail Corridor, said URA. Participating teams should consider how the railway station can be put to adaptive reuse as a community building for the next 20 years, pending the development of the Greater Southern Waterfront.

Urban-green-blue tapestry at Choa Chu Kang: The stretch of the Rail Corridor at Choa Chu Kang that is adjacent to the Sungei Pang Sua Canal provides an opportunity to weave a unique urban-green-blue tapestry in the precinct, said URA. Currently, that stretch has low plant biodiversity. Participating teams will need to come up with innovative design concepts to enhance and integrate that segment of the Rail Corridor with Sungei Pang Sua to create an ecologically richer and more vibrant natural environment, and merge it seamlessly with future housing design in the area.

URA said there will be a 2-stage tender selection process and successful teams of consultants will be announced in October. More information can be found at URA's website.

- CNA/eg

Accessibility key for Rail Corridor master plan
SIAU MING EN Today Online 19 Mar 15;

SINGAPORE — Straddling the width of Singapore, the 24km-long former railway track that spans Tanjong Pagar to Woodlands will be preserved as a continuous track featuring lush greenery and its rail heritage, while six sites have been identified to serve as gateways and community spaces for mass events.

And those interested in bidding to develop a master plan for the entire Rail Corridor — which traverses seven constituencies and could link one million residents — will have to ensure the corridor is accessible to the public, accommodating runners, walkers and cyclists alike in a safe way. Amenities such as lighting, water points, toilets, and food and beverage outlets could also be added along the stretch.

The greenery and biodiversity of the area should also be enhanced by planting more native or suitable plant species in a “judicious” way. Where vegetation has been removed, regenerative planting should be done and new habitats for wildlife created.

And bidders should draw up strategies to protect against “visual intrusion” from developments in the surrounding areas, and consideration be given to preserving the corridor’s “desirable vistas and views”.

These details were revealed in the Request for Proposal (RFP) brief launched by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) yesterday after three-and-a-half years of public engagement, outlining requirements and key considerations for interested parties.

Apart from considering the nature, heritage and connectivity elements in their design plans, teams have to propose concept designs for the six activity sites — four “key activity nodes”, and two special interest areas.

The four key activity nodes — Buona Vista, the Bukit Timah Railway Station area, the former Bukit Timah Fire Station and the Kranji area — were chosen because they are next to major transport nodes and are slightly larger, said URA senior director (physical planning) Tan See Nin on a site visit ahead of the RFP launch.

Formerly the site of Tanglin Halt station, the Buona Vista node for instance, should not only be a gathering point for the nearby business-park community, but should also capture the area’s railway heritage. Being next to Buona Vista MRT interchange station also makes it suitable for events.

The two special-interest areas are the former Tanjong Pagar Railway Station and a site in Choa Chu Kang that may be developed as part of a housing precinct. Beyond these six sites, smaller sites can be added along the way. “Backyard” spaces should be set aside for communities living near the corridor for recreation and leisure.

To ensure seamless connectivity and the safety of users, the Government will ensure any future road crossings affecting the corridor will be built as overpasses or underpasses. Improvements to the former railway truss bridges to facilitate crossings may also be considered.

While the Rail Corridor is being used by some nature lovers, Mr Tan noted that, by and large, the public does not visit the area. “Partly, I think the problem is they have no sense of how to get to this place and (whether) it is safe. There (are) no facilities in this area, no proper pathways.” The URA noted that many stretches of the corridor are almost not walkable during wet seasons.

Before the master plan is implemented, Mr Tan said the URA would work with the Singapore Land Authority to put in place proper signage to encourage people to enter the Rail Corridor in the interim. The guidelines have been drawn up based on feedback from stakeholders and the public since the land was abandoned in 2011. In the RFP documents, the URA said the corridor “cannot be all things to all men”, but the length of the space would probably allow for most of desirable features that the public wants to be incorporated.

Nature Society (Singapore) vice-president Leong Kwok Peng said the society had been concerned about the impact of developments on the Clementi forest near Bukit Timah Railway Station. He said he is satisfied that the RFP documents require the node to retain its green expanse. The society’s president Shawn Lum also sits on the 11-member evaluation panel to assess the submissions. Other members include URA, NParks and HDB.

No timeline was given on when the plans would be realised. The submission deadline for Stage 1 of the RFP is April 23. Submissions will be shortlisted in May and the public will be able to view them and give feedback through a public exhibition from October to December. Up to three teams can be shortlisted to handle different aspects of the project, namely the overall Concept Master Plan, development of former Tanjong Pagar Railway Station and development of the Choa Chu Kang site. Between March and May next year, one selected team will come up with a preliminary design for a 4km “signature stretch” that has yet to be announced by the URA.

Shorter tenure for Rail Corridor developments at former Tanjong Pagar Railway Station
SIAU MING EN Today Online 18 Mar 15;

SINGAPORE — While parts of the former Tanjong Pagar Railway station could be developed for community activities, design teams will have to bear in mind the area’s shorter tenure of 20 years, pending the redevelopment of the Greater Southern Waterfront.

Set to be the most prominent and important gateway into the Rail Corridor due to its close proximity to the city, teams will have to propose suitable interim uses for the former station, which may be supported by “appropriate and sensitive additions and alterations” to the building, noted the Request for Proposal brief released by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) today (March 18). However, the proposals should take into account that the tenure of the new uses could be as short as 20 years.

The public should have unfettered access to parts of the three-storey building — a National Monument — so that they can better appreciate the station’s heritage. The main arrival hall should be capable of being adapted into a multi-purpose space or event hall and the main building and platforms should not be gated for easier accessibility.

In addition, the URA said teams must be mindful that new uses and activities within the site do not create nuisances and disturbances to the surrounding neighbourhood.

Meanwhile, a segment of the Rail Corridor at Choa Chu Kang — a bare stretch with one of the lowest levels of flora biodiversity along the green corridor — which cuts into a parcel of land set aside for housing development, could be integrated with the adjacent Pang Sua Canal to create an ecologically richer and more vibrant natural environment. This could become part of the entire residential precinct.

Teams are also given the option of shifting the segment away from its original railway alignment, but if they do so, “memories of the original alignment should be retained in some form in the overall layout and design of the Choa Chu Kang housing precinct,” the URA said.

Old rail track to become 'green line'
Janice Heng My Paper AsiaOne 19 Mar 15;

IDEAS WANTED: The Rail Corridor in Bukit Timah, as seen on Monday. Proposals for the corridor's development should ensure that it is continuous and seamlessly connected, reflect its heritage and preserve its green nature.

Six areas along the Rail Corridor are to be given special attention when it is finally developed, and the 24km path will be restored to become a continuous green stretch.

Under a request for proposal launched by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) yesterday, four areas have been earmarked as "activity nodes" and gateways to the former railway track.

These are the former Bukit Timah railway station, the old Bukit Timah fire station and two areas near Kranji and Buona Vista MRT stations.

There will also be two areas of special interest: the former Tanjong Pagar Railway Station and the stretch near Sungei Pang Sua canal in Choa Chu Kang.

The pre-qualification stage of the request for proposal began yesterday. Design teams have until April 23 to submit a statement of intent, bearing these planning goals in mind.

They were drawn up following more than three years of consultation over the future of the path, which runs between Tanjong Pagar and Woodlands.

No timeframe has been set for when the development of the corridor will take place.

When its development was announced in 2011, there were fears that its unique nature as an island-spanning green stretch would not be preserved.

However, the URA has based its planning and design goals on feedback received since then and, as a result, proposals should ensure that the Rail Corridor is continuous and seamlessly connected, reflect its heritage as a former track for Malaysia's Keretapi Tanah Melayu railway and preserve its green nature.

"The quality of the space is really defined by the greenery," said Tan See Nin, URA's senior director of physical planning. Teams should even have a "landscape strategy".

The URA noted that some stretches of the route are quite bare while others have trees with weak branches.

The URA also wants the Rail Corridor to be inclusive and accessible, for instance with the addition of shelters and toilets.

Design teams will also have to consider "appropriate lighting strategies...that are sensitive to the surrounding context and landscapes".

Retiree Tan Cheng Hui noted that some stretches are muddy and impassable after it rains. "These can be improved so that more people can enjoy the green corridor," said the 57-year-old.

Editor and heritage enthusiast Choo Lip Sin, 44, said that making the track more user-friendly could be done sensitively, like adding shelters that "reflect the heritage of what the Rail Corridor used to be".

In May, up to five design teams will be shortlisted to develop the concept masterplan and specific proposals. A public exhibition will be held from October to December to get feedback on the ideas of the successful team or teams.

From March to May next year they will then come up with a preliminary design for a 4km "signature stretch" of the Rail Corridor which has yet to be revealed.

URA chief executive Ng Lang said: "Our intention is to continue to sensitively stage the development of this project with the community, and not rush into developing the whole stretch at one go."

6 Rail Corridor sites earmarked for special attention under URA design plans
Victor Loh AsiaOne 18 Mar 15;

SINGAPORE - Six locations along the Rail Corridor have been earmarked by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) as community and activity nodes, according to its request for proposals issued today.

The URA called for design professionals to conceptualise four activity areas along the Rail Corridor: Buona Vista (near one-north), Bukit Timah Railway Station area, Former Bukit Timah Fire Station, and Kranji (opposite Kranji MRT Station).

In addition to the four areas, URA has designated two locations as special interest areas: The former Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, and the stretch of the Rail Corridor at Choa Chu Kang that is adjacent to the Sungei Pang Sua Canal.

In its call for proposals, URA highlighted the 'green corridor' as the identity for the Rail Corridor, enhancing the planting and level of biodiversity along its route.

Besides retaining its rail heritage, history, and surrounding features, the Rail Corridor must also allow seamless connectivity for pedestrians and cyclists, URA added.

Shortlisted conceptualisations for the Rail Corridor will be showcased to the public from October to December 2015.

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Aquarium shop owner fined S$41,000 for possession and sale of illegal wildlife

Channel NewsAsia 18 Mar 15;

SINGAPORE: The owner of Wu Hu Aquarium was fined S$41,000 in court on Wednesday (Mar 18) for the possession and sale of illegal wildlife, said the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) in a news release.

On Apr 2, 2014, AVA said its officers conducted a surprise inspection on Wu Hu Aquarium following a tip-off that illegal animals were on sale in the shop. A total of 22 illegal creatures were found, including sturgeons, paddlefish, newts, clawed frogs and turtles.

A ploughshare tortoise and radiated tortoise were also found in styrofoam boxes at the back of the shop. AVA said the tortoises are critically endangered species listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), for which international commercial trade is prohibited.

Further investigations showed that all the animals had been imported into Singapore without relevant import permits, AVA said. The animals have been sent to the Wildlife Reserves Singapore.

AVA added that under the Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act (ESA), CITES permits are required for any import, export and re-export of CITES species, including their parts and products. It is also an offence under the ESA if any person is found in possession of, or selling CITES species which have been illegally imported.

Those found infringing the Act could be jailed for up to two years and could also face a fine of up to S$50,000 per species, but not exceeding an aggregate of S$500,000.

- CNA/ct

Aquarium shop owner fined $41,000 for possession & sale of illegal wildlife
AsiaOne 18 mar 15;

SINGAPORE - An aquarium shop owner was fined $41,000 in court Wednesday (Mar 18) for the possession and sale of illegal wildlife, said the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) in a statement to the press.

AVA officers had conducted a surprise inspection on Wu Hu Aquarium on April 2 last year after receiving a tip-off regarding the sale of illegal animals in the shop.

A total of 22 illegal animals were found. These included sturgeons, paddlefish, newts, clawed frogs and turtles.

The officers also uncovered two highly endangered tortoises (ploughshare tortoise and radiated tortoise) that were kept in two separate styrofoam boxes at the back of the shop.

These tortoises are critically endangered as listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), for which international commercial trade is prohibited.

Further investigations showed that all the animals in the shop had been imported into Singapore without the relevant import permits. These animals have been sent to the Wildlife Reserves Singapore.

Under the Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act (ESA), CITES permits are required for any import, export and re-export of CITES species, including that of their parts and products.

It is also an offence under the ESA if anyone is found in possession of or selling CITES species which have been illegally imported.

The penalties for infringing the Act includes a fine of at least $50,000 per scheduled species and/or a maximum of two years imprisonment.

AVA reminds the public not to import or keep wild animals as pets as demand for such animals would fuel illegal wildlife trade.

Members of the public who have information on illegal wildlife activities can contact AVA at 6805 2992 or via AVA's online feedback form.

All information shared with AVA will be kept strictly confidential.

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New programme to offer companies hybrid energy mix

XUE JIANYUE Today Online 18 Mar 15;

SINGAPORE — Electricity firm PacificLight Energy (PLE) and solar energy firm Renewable Energy Corporation (REC) announced today (March 18) a joint programme to offer businesses a hybrid energy solution comprising a mix of electricity from solar and natural gas sources.

The two-year programme is supported by the Government as part of its efforts to promote solar power as a renewable energy source here.

Under the programme, called the PLEdge to RECharge Green Energy Program, firms will be provided with solutions customised to suit their needs. Firms can decide how much solar power they need, through a leasing arrangement model for solar panels provided by REC. The remaining energy needs will then be met by PLE through natural gas-fired electricity.

Both companies said that in the meantime, they will be exploring ways to encourage firms to adopt green energy.

Singapore introduces commercial solar tariff to reduce fossil fuel reliance
* Commercial users offered hybrid solar, conventional power deal
* Singapore generates 95 pct of power from natural gas
* Falling costs make solar power price competitive
Jane Xie Reuters 19 Mar 15;

SINGAPORE, March 19 (Reuters) - Singapore is taking steps to reduce its almost total reliance on fossil fuels in power generation by offering commercial customers the city-state's first dual solar and conventional electricity contract.

Singapore generates 95 percent of its power from natural gas and currently has only 25-30 megawatt-peak (MW) of photovoltaic capacity installed, around 8 percent of the national target of 350 MW by 2020.

Together with Oslo-listed Renewable Energy Corporation (REC), Singapore's PacificLight Energy (PLE) is offering a hybrid electricity bundle to commercial and industrial users that consume at least 4,000 kilowatt-hour (kWh) a month.

Under the collaboration, consumers can consolidate two streams of costs - one to REC for solar-generated electricity at a fixed cost per kWh, the other to PacificLight at prevailing grid prices - into a single bill, unlike most set-ups where consumers have to pay the solar seller and power generator separately.

"Once you have made the (solar panel) instalment, you are not subject to any (price) volatility," said PacificLight's chief executive officer Yu Tat Ming.

Solar power use is rising fast around the world as module prices are down 75 percent since 2009. Singapore's electricity tariff, by contrast, rose by almost a third between 2009 and 2013, official data shows, driven by a tight oil and gas market during that time.

The relatively high electricity price and falling solar costs have helped Singapore join a host of countries, including most of Europe, the United States and Japan, to achieve grid parity, in which solar costs break even with electricity sale revenues, Deutsche Bank estimates showed.

The bank said in its 2015 solar outlook that solar systems will be at grid parity in up to 80 percent of the global market within three years and that grid parity without subsidies already existed in many regions.

The International Energy Agency says that solar energy could dominate global electricity markets by 2050. The technology is already in use on a large scale in parts of Europe and the United States, and China raised its target of solar installations by 20 percent in order to fight pollution.

While the recent oil price tumble has challenged the solar energy business, REC's chief executive Martin Cooper said the continual decline in solar module prices would ensure competitiveness.

"It's a minor hiccup. For a 40 year plan to do something, this afternoon's price is just blip," Cooper said.

Brent crude prices have tumbled by as much as 60 percent since its peak in June last year as high output clashes with slowing economic growth and improving energy efficiency.

(Editing by Henning Gloystein)

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Singapore sends helicopters to help fight forest fires in Thailand

Channel NewsAsia 18 mar 15;

SINGAPORE: Two Chinook helicopters have been deployed by the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) to help put out the forest fires in Chiang Mai, Thailand, according to Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen on Wednesday (Mar 18).

"Fierce forest fires are raging in Chiang Mai. To assist, the SAF has mobilised helicopters there to help put out these fires. It will be equipped with a 5,000-litre water bucket from the Singapore Civil Defence Force," Dr Ng said.

To transport the collapsible water bucket, a C-130 was deployed. It will be used by the two CH-47 Chinooks, currently in Thailand for Exercise Cope Tiger, to conduct aerial fire-fighting and ferry operations, he added.

Forest fires were reported to be burning in Chiang Mai districts Omkoi and Wiang Haeng, as well as in the Mae Hong Son province, the Bangkok Post reported on Wednesday. The RSAF Chinooks were mobilised following a request from Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha, it added.

- CNA/eg

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Malaysia: Wildfires raging in northern Sarawak

STEPHEN THEN The Star 18 Mar 15;

MIRI: Wildfires are raging in a forested area the size of at least 100 football fields in the Kuala Baram district in northern Sarawak Wednesday.

The Miri Fire and Rescue Department has initiated aerial water bombing efforts using a helicopter to douse the flames, which span an area approximately 40ha wide.

Sarawak assistant communications minister Datuk Lee Kim Shin visited the site and ordered an integrated approach involving various agencies and private companies to tackle the fire.

He said efforts were being taken to raise the level of the underground water table to prevent the fire from burning into the ground.

Investigations are underway to determine how the fires started, he said.

At least 82 firefighters, volunteers and workers of Naim Cendera, the company that owns the land, are battling the flames, he said.

Helicopter used to put out wildfires
The Star 18 Mar 15;

MIRI: A helicopter is being used to put out wildfires that are raging in forested areas the size of at least 100 football fields combined (40.46ha) in the Kuala Baram district in northern Sarawak.

The Fire and Rescue Department Miri started aerial water bombing using a helicopter to try to douse the flames.

Sarawak Assistant Minister for Communications Datuk Lee Kim Shin visited the site of the fires and ordered immediate integrated approach among the various agencies and private companies to tackle the fires.

He said efforts were being taken to pump ground water to raise the underground water table to prevent the fires from burning into the ground in peat-forest areas.

“Investigations are underway to determine how the fires started,” he said.

At least 82 fire fighters and volunteers, and workers of Naim Cendera, the company that owned the land, are battling to stop the fire from spreading, he added.

Water bombing not stopping Sarawak's forest fires
STEPHEN THEN The Star 19 Mar 15;

MIRI: Two days of intensive water bombing have not help to stop forest fires that are raging out of control in the Kuala Baram district in northern Sarawak.

And there are more bad news - the helicopter carrying out the water bombing had to halt its operations after the equipment broke down due to the extra-heavy workload.

The helicopter performed over 40 sorties on Thursday.

Sarawak Assistant Minister for Communications Datuk Lee Kim Shin told The Star the forest fires have brought smog and ashes to densely-populated residential estates all the way to Miri City.

The air pollution is causing health hazards to thousands of people living along the 30km-length from Miri City to Kuala Baram, he said.

"The Fire Department today carried out 20 sorties of water bombing but still the fires raged on.

"After two days of intensive water bombing, the helicopter's water-bucket is facing technical problems. It has to be flown back to base to repair," Lee, who is Senadin assemblyman, said.

Lee said the authorities must investigate thoroughly how the fires started and if there are people purposely setting fires to clear the land.

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Global population growth threatens to outstrip fresh water supply: study

Chris Arsenault Reuters Yahoo News 19 Mar 15;

ROME (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Global demand for fresh water is set to outstrip supply as a result of population growth by the middle of this century if current levels of consumption continue, a study said.

Fears of water shortages could intensify although this is not the first time in history that demand is poised to outpace supply, Tony Parolari, the study's lead author, said on Wednesday.

"Global water consumption per capita has been declining since 1980 which means efficiency is increasing," Parolari, a researcher at Duke University, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"But if population growth trends continue, water use will have to decline more substantially."

The world's population is expected to hit 9.6 billion by 2050 from more than 7 billion now, according to U.N. estimates.

Whether humans can adapt to declining water supplies depends on what new technologies for finding water are developed, and whether population growth levels off, the study said.

The paper, published in the journal WIREs Water, analyzed historical information on water consumption and demographics with the help of mathematical models to chart changes over time.

Shortages are already affecting millions in Sao Paulo, Brazil, where residents have been hoarding water in their apartments following a drought, and the U.S. state of California which is entering its fourth year of drought.

In past eras of water scarcity, during the expansion of European cities such as London and Paris in the 19th and early 20th century, technological solutions to the problem were developed - such as expanding pipeline networks to pump in water from further afield.

Current pressures could be solved or at least mitigated with new expertise, including improved ways of removing salt from ocean water to produce fresh drinking water, Parolari said.

(Reporting By Chris Arsenault; Editing by Katie Nguyen)

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Amazon rainforest soaking up less carbon as trees die young: study

Alister Doyle Reuters Yahoo News 19 Mar 15;

OSLO (Reuters) - The Amazon rainforest's ability to soak up greenhouse gases from the air has fallen sharply, possibly because climate change and droughts mean more trees are dying, an international team of scientists said on Wednesday.

The world's biggest rainforest has soaked up vast amounts of carbon dioxide. Plants use the heat-trapping gas to grow and release it when they rot or burn, but the report said that role in offsetting global warming may be under threat.

The study, of 321 plots in parts of the Amazon untouched by human activities, estimated the net amount of carbon dioxide absorbed by the forest had fallen by 30 percent, to 1.4 billion tonnes a year in the 2000s from 2.0 billion in the 1990s.

"Forest growth has flatlined over the last decade," lead author Roel Brienen of the University of Leeds told Reuters of the findings in the journal Nature. At the same time "the whole forest is living faster - trees grow faster, die faster."

"The net carbon uptake of forests has significantly weakened," he said of the study by almost 100 experts.

Human carbon emissions in Latin America are overtaking amounts absorbed by the Amazon for the first time, the University of Leeds said in a press release.

The scientists said it was unclear if the decline would continue and if the trend applied to other tropical forests such as the Congo basin or Indonesia.

The findings are a surprise because some computer models suggest tropical forests may grow better because carbon dioxide emitted by human use of fossil fuels acts as an airborne fertilizer.

The study said increased tree deaths might be linked to severe droughts, such as in 2005.

Another possibility was that man-made carbon dioxide was making trees both grow faster and die younger and that more deaths were only now becoming apparent.

If that trend continues, the make-up of the Amazon rainforest could change. Fast-growing lianes, or tropical vines, might be among the beneficiaries, Brienen said.

Christof Bigler, a forest expert at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich who was not involved in the study, said fast-growing trees outside the tropics also often had shorter lifespans.

"Fast-growing trees tend to have a lower root density and might be more vulnerable to attacks by insects and pathogens," he told Reuters of his findings in Switzerland and North America.

(Editing by Gareth Jones)

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