The American Dream: Detroit’s resuscitation

April 4, 2016

The American Dream: Detroit’s resuscitation

by Shrey Srivastava

If one could epitomise the phrase “could have been” in one simple image, it would indubitably be the image of Detroit. The unyielding forces of time have taken a once great city and denigrated it to the status of one of not only one of America’s most economically destitute, but also one of its most dangerous regions. Nowadays, Detroit carries many of the hallmarks of the lesser developed countries of the world, especially with roughly 47% of the population being described as “functionally illiterate” by The National Institute for Literacy, a rate only 13.8% higher than that of Afghanistan. Despite this, Detroit still carries as much, if not more potential as it did in the 20th century, and is simply crying out for some economic solutions to its varied and diverse range of problems. Much of Detroit’s high crime rate can, in truth, be narrowed down to a high unemployment rate, leading to a lack of jobs for people to occupy themselves with, so even this ailment, is, at its core, financial. What this means is that there is still hope for this long-suffering city, as long as the relevant American policymakers act in a fashion that is both effective and sustainable; alas, it is clear to see that this has not happened thus far. Nevertheless, what I endeavour to achieve with this article is to perhaps shed some light on how Detroit can again become the bustling, cosmopolitan hub that it once was, through, primarily, the introduction of a special economic zone.

Special economic zones, which seem like a highly unusual step for a developed country such as the USA, may in fact be a simple and effective solution to revitalise the city of Detroit. The step of making the city a special economic, or more specifically, an industrial zone could potentially be the catalyst for a holistic revitalisation of the Detroit economy. In a nutshell, an industrial zone is a zone specifically made out for industrial development, where tax cuts and tax holidays, among other financial incentives, would incentivise corporations to set up operations in Michigan’s largest city.

Detroit’s unemployment rate was a whopping 29% during the worst that we saw of the 2008 recession, meaning that more than 1 in 4 people were unemployed at the time. Despite having reduced somewhat due to, among other causes, a steady outflow of people from the city, unemployment rates are still grossly high, and if Detroit wants to reverse its fall from grace, this is one of its first facets that need changing. The only way to do this, in truth, is by somehow persuading businesses to come to this dilapidated zone of urban decay, and invest in the revitalisation of the area. Now, feasibly, the only way in which this can happen is by supplying them with the aforementioned financial incentives to encourage them to locate in Detroit, supplying jobs for a great proportion of the population. This is the intuitive first step to Detroit’s regeneration.


Functional illiteracy, as alluded to above, is also a major proverbial roadblock to the future success of Detroit. The solution to this is almost as obvious as its problems itself; to invest more in education. Despite politicians’ repeated assertions stating the importance of education, they themselves seem not to believe in what they say, the evidence of which lies in Detroit’s astonishingly abysmal literacy rates. Regardless, education is quite frankly one of the most important facets of any developed region, so for Detroit’s schools to be in the state they are in (as repeatedly shown by the mass media) is frankly shocking. Needless to say, this can only be solved through an increase in education spending in the city, which would give a better education to many residents of the city, thus giving them more transferable skills with which to work and earn money. In addition to this, education has a vital role to play in keeping school-aged adolescents off the streets, thus reducing crime rates, and making the city overall more attractive for people to relocate to. With the low house prices across the whole of Detroit nowadays, it could prove a popular location for many individuals desiring a lower cost of living, if only there was a basic level of security and educational services in the area. By spending more on education, many of Detroit’s fundamental problems could perhaps be ameliorated or even eradicated altogether.


To make sure that Detroit does not fall prey to the same evils which caused its dilapidation decades ago, they need to learn from their various mistakes. The biggest of these was to rely far too much on the car industry, which turned into its Achilles heel when Ford Motors, among other corporations, left the city. Diversification is the key here to financial prosperity, as Detroit needs to ensure that when one industry perhaps fails in the city, there are many others to continue to back up the city financially. This was exactly the problem with the city before; they did not have a backup plan for when demand for automobiles lessened. The conversion of Detroit into an industrial zone and a renewed focus on education will only be sustainable if the city manages to provide wide-ranging sources of income; otherwise, they will simply consign themselves to the same fate as before. In addition, without diversification, a great deal of brain drain would occur, with talented residents leaving the city due to lack of opportunity in their chosen field of expertise. As such, it is crucially important for Detroit to spread its roots far, not deep, if they want to ensure their continued financial prosperity. Of course, in addition to the 3 economic reforms outlined here, much social reform needs to take place in the city before we can truly say that it has been regenerated, but these financial steps provide the building blocks to restore Detroit, again, into a great pillar of the USA.



Message to Malaysian Civil Servants–Stand Up and be Counted

February 27, 2016

Message to Malaysian Civil ServantsStand Up and be Counted

by Pola Singh

 Malaysian Civil Servants–Pak Turuts and  Pak Hunggoks

FOR some unexplained reason, civil servants are reluctant to be seen with the rakyat in championing certain causes; no matter how worthy they are. Something is preventing them from showing their support.

Take for instance preserving and protecting the remaining green lungs in KL city; Bukit Kiara (BK) located in the heart of the city is a good example.

At the national level, the Cabinet in 2007 agreed to gazette 189 hectares to turn it into a public park. But things moved at a snail’s pace with parcels of land being given out to the well-connected through the years.

We now learn that the Government will finally gazette Bukit Kiara next year and not surprisingly only 159ha will be gazetted. The rakyat is also not sure whether this hectarage figure will remain intact when it comes to crunch time.

So in order to send a strong message to the powers that be to uphold their promise to gazette Bukit Kiara speedily, Friends of Bukit Kiara (FoBK) has so far organised three “Save Bukit Kiara” walks. Although a sizeable crowd turns up, there are hardly any civil servants participating in such an event. Why? If they don’t seem to be interested, why are the heads of departments not encouraging their officers and staff to support such worthy causes especially when they are in line with their own policies and what they expound.

For instance agencies such as the Economic Planning Unit (EPU) and ministries such as the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry have formulated clear green and environmental policies while City Hall (DBKL) and Jabatan Landskap Negara have developed the KL Master Plan to implement.

When announcing the sound policies, promises are made and assurances given that they will actively engage the key stakeholders to ensure the successful implementation of the policies.

But when such opportunities arise they are nowhere to be seen. It appears as if they are disinterested to push forward their policy agenda.

Now it looks like that only the NGOs and public support such causes while the policy formulators who should be actively involved at the ground level appear indifferent.

Why are the civil servants so reluctant to turun padang but instead seem content watching from a distance? After all it is their cause that the rakyat is supporting. By right they should be turning up in full force as well as helping in organising such events.

Is it fear? Are they afraid for reasons best known to them, to be seen mingling with personalities from NGOs? Or could they think that they might incur the wrath of certain well-connected people? Or is it simply a case of plain apathy?

Whatever it is, the mind-set has to change. Heads of departments should encourage their officers and staff to take part in such meaningful events as well as intermingle with like-minded rakyat. More importantly these departments and agencies must walk the talk.

On an individual personal basis and as a concerned citizen, aren’t they prepared to play their part to protect and preserve the green lungs so that their children, grandchildren and future generations can enjoy what they are currently enjoying.

Apandi, The Legal God, clears Prime Minister Najib Razak of Any Criminal Wrongdoing

January 26, 2016

Apandi, The Legal God, clears Prime Minister Najib Razak of Any Criminal Wrongdoing

by V. Anbalagan, Assistant News Editor

Attorney-General Tan Sri Mohamed Apandi Ali says today no one will be prosecuted in relation to the probes into SRC International and the RM2.6 billion channelled into the prime minister's bank accounts. – The Malaysian Insider pic by Nazir Sufari, January 26, 2016.

Dato’ Seri Najib Razak has been cleared of any criminal wrongdoing, the Attorney-General said today, after close to six months of investigations into the RM2.6 billion channelled into the prime minister’s bank accounts and into Finance Ministry-owned firm, SRC International Sdn Bhd.

Tan Sri Mohamed Apandi Ali, who is also public prosecutor, today told a packed press conference at his office in Putrajaya there was “insufficient evidence” to implicate the Prime Minister.

“Based on facts and evidence, no criminal offences have been committed by the PM in relation to three investigation papers. I hereby order the MACC (Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission) to close the investigation papers,” Apandi said.

The three papers are one on the RM2.6 billion donation and two on SRC International which had taken a RM4 billion loan from the Retirement Fund Inc or KWAP. Apandi today also cleared Najib of any wrongdoing in relation to SRC International.

Apandi said that based on evidence from witnesses and supporting documents submitted by the MACC, the sum of US681 million (RM2.08 billion) deposited into the personal accounts of the prime minister between March 22, 2013 and April 10, 2013 was a personal donation to Najib from the Saudi royal family which “was given to him without any consideration”.

“MACC in their investigation personally met and recorded statements from witnesses, including the donor, which confirmed that the donation was given to the PM personally,” he said.

Apandi said he was satisfied that there was no evidence to show that the donation was a form of gratification given corruptly.

Najib and Rosie2

No Case to Answer–NFA

“Evidence obtained from the investigation does not show that the donation was given as an inducement or reward for doing of forbearing to do anything in relation to his capacity as a Prime Minister,” said Apandi who read a statement from a prepared text.

Furthermore, the A-G said the Prime Minister returned US$620 million (RM2.03 billion) to the Saudi royal family in August 2013 because the money was not utilised.

“There (is) no evidence to show that Yang Amat Berhormat PM had any knowledge and, or was informed that the monies had been transferred into his personal accounts from the accounts of SRC International.There (is) no evidence that YAB PM had given any approval for the transfer of monies from the account of SRC International into his personal accounts,” Apandi said.

Based on the evidence, the A-G said he was satisfied that no criminal offence had been committed in relation to the said RM2.08 billion.

MACC last year opened investigations following reports in The Wall Street Journal and Sarawak Report in July last year alleging that of the RM2.6 billion donation, RM42 million had originated from SRC International, a subsidiary of Najib’s brainchild, 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB).

This was according to documents on the money trail provided by Malaysian investigators, WSJ and Sarawak Report said.A larger tranche of US$681 million was also transferred ino Najib’s accounts, originating from a British Virgin Islands company and going through Falcon Private Bank in Singapore, they reported.

MACC had recorded statements from more than 100 witnesses, including Najib and the individual who allegedly gave RM2.6 billion. The agency first submitted investigation papers to the A-G on December 31, and had the papers returned with requests for more explanations on January 18. It resubmitted the papers last week.

MACC’s Deputy Director of Operations Dato’ Séri Mohd Shukri Abdull earlier said the RM2.6 billion probe was still incomplete as investigators needed to collect documents and statements from individuals from several overseas financial institutions. Shukri added that the commission filed a request with the A-G to obtain mutual legal assistance (MLA).

Apandi said today since no criminal offence had been committed, there was “no necessity” for Malaysia to make a request for an MLA to any foreign states to complete the investigation by the MACC in relation to the donation.


The Poorest Among the Poor in Kuala Lumpur

October 22,2014

The Poorest Among the Poor in Kuala Lumpur

The Poorest Among the PoorWhat is their Future?

I got this from a friend who is living abroad. I can now understand why he chose to make a living overseas. I thank him for taking the trouble to send this SABM article (below) and for reminding me that we have plenty to do to eradicate poverty.

This thread is an eye open opener for all us regardless of colour, race and religion. We have the poorest among the poor in our midst right here in Kuala Lumpur. The pictures you see tell a sad story. Our country which hopes to be a developed nation in 2020 cannot deal with the plight of our poor citizens. See how they live. Sorry to spoil the Divali party.–Din Merican


MB Azmin Ali: Off to a Good Start

October 5, 2015

MB Azmin Ali: Off to a Good Start

by Terence

COMMENT: PKR supporters must have felt a frisson of delight over photographs of Selangor Menteri Besar Azmin Ali clambering onto to dump trucks, peering into clogged drains, and peeking into makeshift homes of illegal residents as the newly-installed state CEO took his touch to the streets in the last few days.

Azmin in Jokowi styleTo them, these are welcome days of vim and vitality after eight months of embarrassing public feuds and excruciating backroom follies that had engulfed the party’s effort to have Khalid Ibrahim replaced as MB of the state. It seems like the arrival of springy sunlight after a long dark passage during which it often seemed that things could not get any worse; that things were rock bottom, until someone or something was heard tapping underneath. It’s not that bad stretches don’t occur in politics; it’s when they threaten to be unending that the trapped feel the joke is on them. Emerging from these straits, they are apt on seeing a vigorous point man blazing a trail, to react like travelers in a desert would upon discovering an unexpected oasis.

Nizar JamaluddinThus photos of Azmin in full kinetic stride stirred memories of the early days of Nizar Jamaluddin (left), the post-tsunami Pakatan Rakyat MB of Perak, a man of torrential energy, reformist passion but evanescent.

No doubt, cynics would be unimpressed at Azmin’s display of new broomism until, perhaps, apprised that in the Kuala Selangor village where Khalid was born, Azmin’s predecessor only had piped water supply installed after he was beaten by competitor Manikavasagam to the chairmanship of the division in PKR’s long drawn out internal polls that ran from late April to early August.A leader that tardy at provisioning a hamlet where he was born is hardly the sort that could succeed at passing off as authentically PKR, as different to an UMNO rethread masquerading in the tricolors of the party born in revulsion at UMNO.

Off to good start

If it takes an infrastructure and drainage inspector’s mentality to be seen as a more effective MB better than Khalid, then Azmin’s off to a good start. After all, wasn’t it a rebuke hurled at Pakatan that the credits Khalid was racking up for their brand in good governance was spoilt by the state chalking up the highest rates in dengue fever incidence.

Rubbish in SelangorA Common Sight in Selangor

Mounds of rubbish uncollected; drains and canals clogged; roads pot-holed badly enough to imperil the life and limb of users, were caveats flung in Pakatan’s face whenever reports appeared that the excellence of Khalid’s management of state finances were set to attain stratospheric heights.

Having breached the RM3 billion in reserves level before the onset of his troubles, it seemed that the man was a genius at conserving money for the state. But to what end when dengue menaced the otherwise healthy, a hard bump on a wet night imperiled unwary road users, clogged drains and canals and stinking refuse heaps made it hard to keep in mind when visitors or residents were in the richest state in the country?

So pictures of Azmin, in what is now being billed as Jokowi-like acrobatics, not only pumps the adrenaline in PKR and Pakatan veins, it should also stir voters and residents of Selangor to refreshed expectations of their MB.The new man has not committed a single misstep, though it appeared he had done so when he ordered a stop to the special aid meant for the needy elderly in his predecessor’s parliamentary seat of Bandar Tun Razak and state seat of Port Klang.

On a second look, the aid has not stopped; it has been rerouted through the PKR-appointed point man for the two constituencies, KhalidKhalid Ibrahim3 having been expelled from the party. There’s nothing wrong with the rerouting.

Of course, tougher issues are up ahead, like the matter of the seized bibles, the water agreement between Putrajaya and Selangor, and the proposed tolled highways that would crisscross prime residential districts in the state.

These are matters of considerable complexity and won’t yield to easy resolution. But a more consultative MB than Khalid, and a more solicitous CEO for the concerns of the public, party (PKR) and coalition (Pakatan) ought to see Azmin in rather better stead than Khalid eventually contrived to be.

It’s hard to see how Azmin could go grievously wrong on these matters unless, of course, he becomes abruptly amnesic or blurry. That happened to Khalid as when he seemed to have lost sight of what the public interest, as distinct to his personal interest, was matters ancillary to and concerning the Putrajaya-Selangor water agreement; and where his corporate persona had to yield to political calculations, as in issues ranging from salary increases for state assembly persons and executive councilors to tolled highways and seized holy books.

If Khalid was often a corporate persona lost in a political thicket, like deer caught in headlights, Azmin looks to be a hardened veteran of the subterranean alleyways in which political battles are sometimes waged. If he can avoid the skullduggery that is a constant temptation of these battles, he may find the MB-ship of Selangor a long-waited opportunity for the display of latent powers.

In that event, for PKR and Pakatan the exercise would amount to a grand retrieval from the doghouse the two were consigned to as the Selangor MB crisis raged for eight shriveling months.

More Malaysian Babies?

July 3, 2014

More Malaysian Babies?

by P. Gunasegaram–

QUESTION TIME: It was an ironic experience for me the other day in my car when I heard BFM radio’s evening show which focused on the incentives the government was considering to encourage people to have more babies.

Ironic because I was stuck in a major traffic jam and there were just too many cars, motorbikes, lorries, trucks, buses, etc – all caused by too many people in the city for comfort. With all that crush of humanity crowding into KL, do we really need to be concerned about the declining fertility rate? Or does the government have a secret agenda over this? Shouldn’t it be obvious that we have too many people, in KL at least? Let’s take a look.

It was reported last week that the government will introduce incentives to arrest the nation’s declining fertility rateMinister  Rohani Abdul Karim. (birth per woman), including providing ‘baby bonus’ to parents as adopted by Singapore, quoting Women, Family and Community Development Minister Rohani Abdul Karim. She said the ministry was compiling information on ways to address the decline, including the ‘baby bonus’ programme, which would be submitted to the Economic Planning Unit to be  included in the 11th Malaysia Plan. The fertility rate recorded a drop from three children in 2000 to 2.4 children in 2010 and is currently at 2.1 children, reports said.

Among the reasons are delay in marriage, increasing number of women in higher education institutions, work factor and cost of raising children. “Malaysia is not the only country facing this problem as other developing nations also face the same difficulty. This issue needs to be addressed or it will lead to a decline in human capital within the next 20 or 30 years,” she reportedly said.



Is that really true?  The table on Malaysian population statistics extracted from the Statistics Department shows the fertility rate to be about the same between 2010 and 2013 at 2.1, that is the average woman of childbearing age will have 2.1 children in her lifetime. There is no decline as the minister said. But it is true that over the long term there is a marked decline but more on that later.

Let’s first look at whether the population is decreasing despite a stagnation of the birth rate. Clearly it is not, because between 2010 and 2013, the population increased 4.7 percent to 29.95 million from 28.6 million, with an annual increase of 1.4-1.6 percent.

Why is that? Look at the crude birth rate and death rates per 1,000 population. That’s hardly changed over the four years, remaining quite steady at 17.2 per 1,000 population for births and 4.7 per 1,000 for deaths, giving a net addition to population of 12.5 (17.2-4.7) per 1,000 population.

The increase in population is not intuitive though. If the fertility rate is two, then a couple will theoretically have two children and when they pass on, the net addition to the population is zero. That’s not how it works in practice though – the couple who has the children dies many years later.

Meantime their children would have married and are producing on average another two kids each to make it four and it goes on and on. It may take a while before the population growth comes down to zero – and for that to happen the fertility rate has to come down further. Ours is at 2.1 for the last four years, so no need to worry.

Sorry, that’s not quite right because the population, as we saw continues to increase even when the fertility rate is 2.1 or even 2.0. This is compounded by the increasing life expectancy which means that it will take longer before a steady state is reached. Perhaps we need to see fertility rates go up instead of down!

Unfortunately I am not an actuarist and can’t calculate these figures but really that is what the government should do – get professional help to calculate them before it blithely states that there will a reduction in human capital if the fertility rate is not increased. Right now the figures indicate that is definitely not the case.

Propagating a fallacy

The government is propagating a fallacy. It may be doing that because it is ignorant – often it is – or it may have a hidden agenda such as to increase the population growth of bumiputeras and particularly Malays to grow at a faster rate so that their percentage numbers become even more dominant.

That’s a dangerous strategy which may actually impoverish those the government purports to help most – the bumiputeras. It was during former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s time that the name of the Family Planning Board was changed to the Population Development Board, and along with it the about-turn in emphasis to population growth from population control.

That was terribly misguided and arose out of Mahathir’s false belief that Malaysia needs to have a population of at least 70 million to have a great market for goods. Sweden has a population of less than 10 million, less than a third of our 30 million population but its 2013 gross domestic product (GDP – sum of goods and services produced in a country) of US$558 billion was nearly 80 percent higher than Malaysia’s US$312 billion, according to World Bank figures.

Put it another way, although we have three times Sweden’s population, their market is 1.8 times our market. If we enjoyed Sweden’s income level, we could have less than 10 million people but still have 1.8 times the market we now have with three times more people!

What happens when you encourage higher fertility rates and offer incentives in a country which is still developing is that the rate will likely rise among the poor, the sector which is least likely to be able to afford more mouths to feed, bodies to clothe and nurture and minds to educate. A higher fertility rate makes the poor even poorer.

I suspect this has already happened in Malaysia because of the rather ridiculous policy of the government of encouraging a higher population and in effect restricting the availability of birth control to the ones who need it most.

Without a doubt it would affected the achievements of the New Economic Policy – not the ones that politicians like to look at which is the flawed measurement of bumiputera and especially Malay participation in business – but the original noble twin prongs which are the eradication of poverty irrespective of race and the elimination of  identification of race with job function.

To put it bluntly, the high birth rate among bumiputeras contributed to them being in poverty for a longer period of time. Finally, let’s take a look at the tables of fertility rates and population trends across countries . We have taken four others besides Malaysia – Malawi, a very poor African country, Thailand – a middle-income Asean country, Singapore – a highly developed Asean country, and the US – a developed country which nevertheless has a significant amount of poor.

Declining fertility rates, but…

First, the trend is of declining fertility rates. The more developed the country, the more likely that it would have low fertility rates. That’s mainly because people start putting their children first and reduce their numbers to ensure they get better quality of care. Also, modern life is rather demanding and there is increasingly less time for children.

Second, despite the declining fertility rates, population growth has been explosive in Malaysia and even in Singapore.

The table below shows that the population of Malaysia more than doubled between 1980 and 2013 and the growth accelerated in the period between 1990 and 2013 despite a decline in fertility rate. That was true also of Singapore. The reason that happened is because of accelerated immigration from 1990 onwards.

All of which show one thing beyond any doubt – we are not anywhere near depleting our sources of human capital. In addition to our own birth rate far exceeding the death rate, we can import, too, and indications are that both Malaysia and Singapore are doing this to maintain or even increase the already dominant share of the main communities in their respective countries.

Population2One must surmise that the government is less than honourable in its intention to encourage the fertility rate of the country. For the benefit of all Malaysians, including bumiputeras, we must realise that it’s not the numbers that count, it’s the quality. We must limit our numbers simply to have a better standard of living.

P GUNASEGARAM is joint CEO and publisher of business news portal KiniBiz.