Some questions on the palm oil issue

If you’ve been paying attention to the palm oil industry recently, you would note that the minister in charge Teresa Kok has been adamantly screeching at Norway for stopping the imports of biofuel.

Apparently France is also going about doing the same thing as well.

But at the same time, why the noise? Personally I think it is a bit too much concern of a “domino effect” cascading throughout the European Union.

If we look at the data found on the Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC) website, the statistics show that the export to the EU has actually been increasing year on year.

To quote the site:

During the period of Jan-Nov 2018, Malaysian palm oil export to the Europe region increased by 66,282 MT or by 3.58% to a total of 1,916,118 MT from 1,849,836 MT registered during the same period of 2018

You would also note that both Norway and France are in the list of importers at 18 and 22 respectively, sorted by volume.

Looking at the list, what should worry everyone is not Norway or France, but the fact that there are new suppliers getting into the game – as noted by the MPOC about countries in Latin America taking over the exports to the Netherlands here:

Additionally, the EU has significantly been importing its palm oil from the countries in the South and Central America such as Colombia, Honduras, Guatemala and Ecuador. These countries have emerged as important palm oil suppliers into this region. Increasing competition from animal fats and recycled vegetable oils as feedstocks for biofuels also led to the total marginal decrease of MPO export into the Netherlands.

However, it does not explain how Latvia went from importing 29,000 metric tonnes to a mere 173 metric tonnes in the span of a year. It also does not explain the shrinking demand in Belgium (71 percent), Germany (44 percent) and Bulgaria (31 percent).

What happened here?

Yes, by all means go yell at Norway and France for saying that palm oil is not “green” enough for them. I’m sure the latter tried to be “greener” by taxing petrol to the point of riots in Paris which cost him dearly.

However, if we are talking purely from a market standpoint, the shift of France and Norway are minor compared to the shifts in others – and these shifts are not being explained.

We are literally, yet ironically, missing the forest from the trees. Thus, if the Malaysian government is truly concerned about the exporting of Malaysian palm oil lagging, they should be asking why are some EU nations preferring Latin American imports rather than our own.

Why are Belgium, Germany and Bulgaria shifting away from our imports? Are they also going for Latin American palm oil, or is it merely a market driven decision to switch?

And, of course, how can a country like Latvia which imported some 29,000 tonnes in 2017, suddenly see a 99.4 percent drop?

If Latin America is starting to cut into the Malaysian palm oil market, then that is something for Malaysia to consider for future competition, not lament and decry how countries want to remove palm oil entirely, but that there is another player in the game.

Simply put- why cry over the person who doesn’t want to buy from you at all, rather than cry at the lost customer who decided to change suppliers?


Letter – A caucus, approval delays, sabotaging Lynas?

A caucus, approval delays, sabotaging Lynas?

By Hafidz Baharom

Since last week, it is as if the government insists on shifting goalposts when it comes to the Lynas Advanced Material Plant in Gebeng.

Not only did the Ministry of Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change (Mestecc) under Yeo Bee Yin put the company into an academic review committee and public hearing, now Lynas is being delayed by pending approvals from a department under her ministry and an awkwardly established bipartisan caucus.

Allow me to point out the awkward – if this caucus idea goes through for a business that has not breaches a single regulation as heard during the public hearing, will we be doing it for other industries as well?

Will we have a caucus on illegal migrant labourers in plantation, manufacturing and construction companies? How about a caucus on the supposed third national car project? How about another one for cryptocurrency including the Harapan coin?

How about the Alliance Steel mill in Pahang which was in breach of regulations during Deputy Minister Fuziah Salleh’s visit in July? What about the Damansara Shah Alam Highway construction which shook the surrounding buildings earlier this month?

What about the Penang constructions on the hillsides which have killed people?

Are they all not subject to a public hearing and a committee of academics scrutinising their operations?

Now, about the delay.

Apparently, Lynas needs permission from the Department of Environment (DOE) under Mestecc to process the raw materials already imported, to increase their output. Without this approval, Lynas production will be temporarily halted in December.

This is a ridiculous regulation akin to allowing Carlsberg to bring in extra barley and yeast, but not letting them make more beer. Seriously, do we do this for gas power plants as well?

Do we tell Silterra which produces semiconductor wafers  to apply for surplus output, while having sand waiting in their plant?

But it is what it is – and the DOE is suddenly delaying it. Perhaps Yeo is in the know, perhaps she is not. One wonders if there is an element of sabotage after the public hearing did not go their way.

Obviously, this is not under Fuziah’s purview since it does not involve sharia compliance or even a halal certification, which would put it under her ministry.

So is this the new Malaysian government’s way of sabotaging a company just to keep its voters happy and to keep to their propaganda of fear?

They could not convince the regulators to show Lynas as irresponsible, they could not get a committee of academics to find factual evidence of the danger of Lynas, so now they are delaying approval for the company and adding a caucus to review the academic review to make it go their way.

I’m asking this government, specifically Mestecc and Yeo Bee Yin to come clean because this is getting rather ridiculous. If this is the way the government wants to move forward with new industries, emerging industries and even projects that have an impact on the environment, then apply it to all, not just Lynas.

Otherwise, it can only be construed as the government discriminating and sabotaging Lynas for being Lynas, and nothing else.

Domestic flight price ceiling? Glad someone is reading

On March 5, I wrote a column in The Sun Daily asking that the government consider lowering the price of air fare between Peninsular and Borneo.

The lack of controls in fares which made flights to Sabah and Sarawak sometimes higher than flights overseas, was brought to my attention by a friend on Facebook.  Continue reading “Domestic flight price ceiling? Glad someone is reading”

An MOF company without government backed guarantees?

It came as a rather weird revelation today in the The Edge’s Financial Daily that 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) did not have any letter of support for their debts.

In a written reply, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said that the Ministry of Finance had no legal obligation to cover 1MDB’s US$3.5 bil bonds to International Petroleum Investment Co (IPIC) for giving the former US$1 bil last year.

If this is indeed true, then where does the debt stop? Who would in the end be responsible for settling the debt? Continue reading “An MOF company without government backed guarantees?”

The Malay Mail Online: Can Malaysian families afford a homemaker?

APRIL 29 — In the past week, Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (Isma) once again raised the issue of how wives joining the workforce would neglect families.

For those who may not know, our labour figures show that 52 per cent of Malaysian women are participating in our workforce these days, with further encouragement by government agencies to increase that number further.

That being said, Isma’s argument is from the rationale that there needs to be someone to care for the family, particularly children require a mother to raise them.

This isn’t the first time they have raised this point and so, we could say their stance has been secure — as is my personal stance. And since the head of Isma’s women’s wing is in fact the daughter of economists, I am certain she understands the argument against women taking a passive role in economics.

It is a valid point to say that someone has to care for the kids, but to say that families need to single out moms as homemaker is wrong, particularly in current day realities where we have single parent families and are stuck in what Massachusetts junior senator Elizabeth Warren has explained as the “two-income trap”.

For the unfamiliar, Warren’s book details how the market was affected with women joining the workforce, thus the prices of assets increased to the point of normalising the need for two breadwinners for each family.

And in Malaysia, the economics of this argument rings true when you have official household incomes averaging more than RM6,000 and yet official wage figures averaging a lot less than that.

In simpler terms, our current economy — household income versus the cost of living — does not make it viable for a single income family to live a prosperous, less challenging life.

Of course, it is a worthy goal to aim for, no less, to have someone as a full-time homemaker, but it also raises multiple questions. For one, I would contend why the government would have to issue out scholarships and student loans to women who refuse to join the workforce since it would be counterproductive.

Unless, of course, Isma advocates wives to then start up cottage industries or micro-businesses for a secondary income stream instead of just depending on husbands to become sole breadwinners.

For myself personally, I believe both genders should be given the same consideration when it comes to parenting responsibilities. If the moms so chooses to join the workforce on flexible hours, then the fathers should receive the same.

Similarly, there’s nothing wrong with giving both parents paternity leave to learn how to care for a newborn.

This is the evolution of society itself these days in which there is no gender stereotyping of who can raise a child and take on the role of homemaker better. We have moved on from the concept of women knowing how to cook and clean while men go out and know how to earn money.

In fact I would contend that even in the history of the state of Kelantan and perhaps Negri Sembilan, for ages those roles were reversed.

But at the same time, if there are those with the belief that they should become dedicated homemakers, that is alright for them to do so as long as it doesn’t impact anyone else. That is basically liberalism — allowing such a choice.

Having been raised in a family where at times there was only a single income stream in the 1990s, even then it was not as easy as it sounds and sacrifices had to be made. And honestly I believe it will be tougher for this current new generation of families who have seen wages not tying up with the cost of living.

That being said, I wouldn’t advocate it in our country for a simple reason — women tend to be more level headed in Malaysia compared to men. We have a higher number of women entering and graduating from tertiary education, proving they’ve outperformed men from an intellectual standpoint.

I would like to see them fight for equal wages, breaking glass ceilings in the corporate world and still having the ability to multitask raising a family while still earning an income worthy of their contributions.

I have seen such women in action with awe, thriving in whatever they choose to do. And it is my personal belief that we need these individuals to lead us into the future back into prosperity.

And while Isma believes that there is no greater calling for married women than to become homemakers, I humbly disagree by believing women and men should have equal opportunities to prove they can be more than their gender stereotypes.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online. – See more at:

Labour Day: Who keeps this country running?

Today is May 1st, the traditional Labour Day celebration both nationwide and also internationally recognised. For this year’s commemoration, I believe it is important for us to have a proper discussion on who truly keeps this country running.

And of course, this piece would not happen if it hadn’t been for those in our very quiet, very underappreciated statisticians in the civil service – particularly the National Statistics Department headed by Datuk Dr Haji Abdul Rahman Hassan and his team. Continue reading “Labour Day: Who keeps this country running?”

Taxes and Patriotism

Oliver Wendell Holmes once said that “taxes are the price we pay for living in a civilised society”. Known in America as The Great Dissenter, this quote of his has been seen even in television as part and parcel of why people are made to pay tax.

I wrote once that there was a need for people to look at the Goods and Services Tax (GST) as part and parcel of levelling the tax playing field.
And quite honestly seeing as how less than 10 percent of the Malaysian workforce was paying taxes to support government programmes such as expanding public transport and even fixing up roads or even the plethora of subsidies we all benefit from, it was timely to introduce it.
However, the stench of hypocrisy among the rich and our so-called political leaders preaching “patriotism” reeks.
In the last few days, leaked documents dubbed the “Panama Papers” have detailed some 1,500 Malaysians who have offshore bank accounts which were used for evading taxes. Among these leaders include the son of the Prime Minister himself and his nephew, and Mahathir’s son as well.
Now, personally, I’m going to be digging through those names soon since I’ve the ample time to do so.
But at the same time, we also have political leaders coming out to say that having offshore bank accounts are not a crime. This much is true, as pointed out by Khairy Jamaluddin, Tengku Tan Sri Razaleigh Hamzah and even Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz – the last one even going all out to admit even he stashed cash out of the country.
However, how do you justify the hypocrisy of supporting everyone paying taxes and especially the GST while you yourselves all dodge it with the ability of forming offshore bank accounts?
How do you look at the regular everyday Malaysian to tell them to bear the brunt of the cost when it is obvious that you yourself cheat the system to avoid doing the same?
The actions of politicians – so called “Malay Nationalists” even – using offshore accounts to avoid doing their simple patriotic duty to the nation? How do you balance this with all those words of yours telling people to do otherwise?
By all means, it isn’t criminal. But the double speak of so-called patriots trying to avoid paying their dues does leave a bad taste in every Malaysians mouths who understands having been told to deal with living under a new tax code without proper oversight.
And the Malaysian people will raise even more questions; primarily, were the tax ringgits they paid as part of their patriotic duty to the point of struggling to make ends meet, end up in some Datuk or Tan Sri or Puan Sri’s account for their generational slush fund?
At the same time, perhaps the LHDN would like to comment on the need to tax offshore cash or what other ramifications this means to the financial sector – which, by the looks of it, has been lacking in securing the outflow of cash offshore without any red flags raised.
Here we are in a nation where the everyday Malaysian is struggling to make ends meet, with many young graduates still unemployed and trying to eke out a living.
Meanwhile, the top 5 percent it seems have already begun to send their monies out of the country since 2010. And by all means, we do need to spread this message out to the Malaysian public to make them understand just what is being done by the rich to avoid paying to keep the country running.
To that end, it would make perfect sense for the list of names to be published and double checked against the registrar of companies to find their links to our corporate and political world. If taxes are truly what we pay to live in a civilised society, then by all means our leaders in both the civil and corporate sectors should prove their civility in bearing the burden to subsidise the poor – just like every other middle class Malaysian paying taxes and the GST.