CPI down 0.7% in January, first decline since 2009

PETALING JAYA: Malaysia’s consumer price index (CPI) decreased 0.7% in January 2019 to 120.5 as compared to 121.3 a year ago, said the Statistics Department.

On a monthly basis, CPI registered a decrease of 0.5% as compared to December 2018, the department said in a statement today.

The lower average price of RON 95 in January 2019 which stood at RM1.98 per litre as compared to RM2.28 in January 2018 contributed to the decrease of the index of transport and overall index.

However, it said the decrease in the index of transport (down 7.8%) which contributed 14.6% of overall weight was countered by the increase in the index of housing, water, electricity, gas and other fuels (up 2%), as well as food and non-alcoholic beverages (up 1%).

The department said the average price of RON 97 decreased to RM2.28 per litre from RM2.55, while diesel fell to RM2.12 per litre from RM2.31 in corresponding month of the preceding year.

Nevertheless, food and non-alcoholic beverages continued to increase in January 2019 by 1% to 132.9 as compared to 131.6 last year.

Food and non-alcoholic beverages contributed to 29.5% of CPI weights. Housing, water, electricity, gas and other fuels also showed an increase by 2%, followed by restaurants and hotels, alcoholic beverages and tobacco and education.

AccorHotels checks out record profits

PARIS, Feb 21 — French hotel group AccorHotels said today it had earned a record profit last year, although that was entirely due to a boost from the sale of a stake in its property unit. The net profit of €2.2 billion (RM10.18 billion) included…

Ghosn held US$260,000 Rio party billed to Renault-Nissan, documents show

PARIS, Feb 21 — Former Renault and Nissan head Carlos Ghosn and his wife invited friends to a US$260,000 Carnival party in Brazil last year and charged it to his employers, documents seen by AFP show, a move Ghosn’s lawyer defended as a routine…

Violent street protests in Haiti hit tourism industry

PORT-AU-PRINCE: With flaming barricades and widespread looting, 10 days of street violence in Haiti have all but buried a tourism industry that managed to resurrect itself after a devastating earthquake in 2010.

Ugly, violent footage beamed around the world has again sent the message that this impoverished Caribbean country is politically unstable and no place to go on vacation.

The final straw was the helicopter evacuation last week of 100-odd Canadian tourists trapped as angry protesters demanded the resignation of the president, whom they accuse of corruption.

“We have been through 12 days of hell. We managed the crisis but today we are suffering from the aftershocks,“ said Tourism Minister Marie-Christine Stephenson.


Beside the direct effects of the demonstrations, the United States delivered another crushing blow on Feb 14 when it urged its citizens not to travel to Haiti, which thus joined a no-go list with war-torn countries like Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan.

The minister said the US travel alert for Haiti was too harsh, calling the riots something that flared up unexpectedly and are now over.

“OK, they lasted 12 days but I am not sure that other Caribbean countries, which have had riots of their own, have been punished as severely and quickly as we have,“ said Stephenson.

Overnight, the decision by the US State Department hit the tourism industry hard. Travel web sites simply stopped offering flights to Haiti’s two international airports.

Hotels are reporting cancellation of reservations and many empty rooms.

Officials in the industry have yet to tally up the damage but say that for the second time in less than a year, they will have to lay off workers.

In July of last year, three days of riots over a government attempt to raise fuel prices ruined the summer vacation season for Haiti’s tourism industry.

It is not just hotels that will suffer again, said Beatrice Nadal-Mevs, president of the Haitian Tourism Association.

“This is going to affect everyday people because these are direct jobs that are going to be lost and supply chains will be threatened: farming, fishing, crafts, transport,“ Nadal-Mevs said.

Mardi Gras cancelled

With the opposition planning more demonstrations to seek the resignation of President Jovenel Moise, the sector got yet more bad news with word that Carnival celebrations have been called off in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince.

City Hall said it could not guarantee revelers’ safety.

The festivities, which this year were planned for March 3-5, usually draw many Haitians living abroad and fleeing the winter cold in Canada and the eastern US.

Another major Carnival celebration is scheduled to take place in the city of Gonaives, but the government has not said if it will go ahead.

As grim as things are, some foreign tourists have gone ahead with visits to Haiti.

On Wednesday, a group of Australians under police escort visited a square featuring statues of heros of Haiti’s independence from France. Days ago, demonstrators at the same plaza were throwing rocks at police, who responded with volleys of tear gas grenades.

A woman named Carole, who did not want to give her last name, said, “I trust the company we’re traveling with. They not only want to take us but they want to bring us back.”

Kevin McCue, another of the people in the group of 20, said he was glad that their tour operator had not opted for Plan B, which would have meant skipping Haiti and spending the whole week in the neighboring Dominican Republic.

“Tourism is alive and well here. People should come. The more they come, the better they spread some money among people who need it and the better for Haiti,“ said McCue. — AFP

Hong Kong’s IBN launches RM1.5b Bukit Bintang project

KUALA LUMPUR: Hong Kong-based property developer, IBN Corp Ltd, officially launched the RM1.5 billion gross development value (GDV) mixed-use project, the IBN Bukit Bintang, off Jalan Bukit Bintang today with a ground-breaking ceremony.

Director Datuk Seri Michael JW Yang said the project would be developed over three years at a cost of RM650 million.

“It will include the development of a combined hotel and residential tower in a single 68-storey building with a total built-up area of 730,062 sq ft on a 0.31ha plot of land in the heart of the city.

“The development order has been approved by DBKL. We are currently waiting for approval for the current building (Hotel Fortuna, which is no longer in operation) to be demolished,” he told reporters after the ground-breaking ceremony.

Yang said approval for the demolishment was expected within the next two to six months.

The property development project is a partnership between IBN Corp, a wholly owned subsidiary of Shenzhen ZRPZ Group, and land owner KKH Pavilion Development Sdn Bhd.

Yang said the development’s limited freehold residential units would be priced starting from RM2,000 per sq ft.

He said the targeted take-up would comprise 70% local buyers and the rest from the Middle East, China and India.

“The project will be slightly shorter than the Four Seasons Kuala Lumpur Hotel (343m). Upon completion, the building will among the five tallest buildings in Kuala Lumpur.

Yang said IBN Corp would be announcing another project in Kota Kinabalu in the third quarter of this year, but was tight-lipped about the details.

Currently, IBN Corp has projects across Southeast Asia with a GDV exceeding RM20 billion and growing with the completion of one of its core projects in Genting Highlands, IBN Highlands City.

Boustead to dispose of Royale Chulan Bukit Bintang

PETALING JAYA: Boustead Holdings Bhd is disposing of the Royale Chulan Bukit Bintang Hotel (pix) and its business in Kuala Lumpur to Singapore’s Hotel Royal Ltd for RM197 million.

The conglomerate told Bursa Malaysia that its wholly owned subsidiary Boustead Hotel & Resorts Sdn Bhd (BHR) had on Feb 19 accepted an offer from Hotel Royal via its letter dated Feb 15 for the deal.

Hotel Royal is listed on the Main Board of Singapore Exchange Securities Trading Ltd (SGX).

Royale Chulan Bukit Bintang is a four-star hotel with 400 rooms. It is one of the eight hotels under the group’s hotel portfolio.

“There are currently two Royale Chulan hotels in Kuala Lumpur – Royale Chulan Bukit Bintang and Royale Chulan Kuala Lumpur, which are both within close proximity and competing with each other. As such, the Group has decided to consolidate and focus on one hotel, namely Royale Chulan Kuala Lumpur, to better capture the Kuala Lumpur market,” said Boustead.

“Royale Chulan Bukit Bintang offers good prospects, given its strategic location in one of the prime tourist areas and hotel belts of Kuala Lumpur’s city centre. With this attractive offer price, we are of the view that this is the right time to dispose of this hotel,” it added.

The letter of offer is subject to, amongst others, Hotel Royal being granted an exclusivity period of one month commencing from Feb 19 to conduct a due diligence exercise on the hotel; BHR shall refrain from responding to (other than to reject) any enquiry, discussion, proposal or offer for or to continue, propose to, negotiate or hold discussions, and/or enter into any agreements, arrangements or understanding with any other parties during the exclusivity period.

It is also subject to the execution of a conditional sale and purchase agreement (SPA) by the parties within the exclusivity period; and the conditions precedent for the proposed disposal will include, inter alia, the statutory and regulatory approvals required under the Malaysian law and the SGX.

Boustead said Hotel Royal had paid a sum of RM3.94 million, being the 2% earnest deposit of the disposal consideration, as part of the terms of the letter of offer.

“In the event that the SPA is not executed for any reason whatsoever, the earnest deposit shall be refunded in full to the purchaser within 14 days from the date of the purchaser‘s written demand to BHR.”

Boustead said it will make the necessary announcements upon further development of the proposed disposal.

Boustead to dispose of Royale Chulan Bukit Bintang for RM197m

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 19 — Boustead Holdings Bhd is set to dispose of its Royale Chulan Bukit Bintang Hotel for RM197 million after it accepted an offer from Hotel Royal Limited, a Singapore-based company. Wholly owned subsidiary, Boustead Hotels…

BLand ventures into Iceland real estate in RM57.5m deal

PETALING JAYA: Berjaya Land Bhd (BLand) is planning to venture into Iceland’s property market through the acquisition of Iceland real estate firm Geirsgata 11 EHF (GE11) in a US$13.99 million (RM57.54 million) deal.

In a filing with Bursa Malaysia, BLand said the proposed acquisition will provide an opportunity for the group to venture into property development and investment in Iceland and in particular, branded hotels and residences.

To facilitate the proposed acquisition, BLand has incorporated a 100%-owned subsidiary namely Berjaya Reykjavik Investment Ltd (BRIL) in Iceland for a cash subscription of €1.00 (about RM4.69).

Following the incorporation, BRIL has entered into an agreement with Fiskitangi EHF and Utgerdarfelag Reykjavikur HF (URHF) to undertake the proposed acquisition of GE11 for US$1.4 million (RM5.75 million) cash.

As part of the deal, BRIL will also repay the outstanding loan of US$12.59 million (about RM51.79 million) obtained by GE11 from URHF to purchase a piece of leasehold land in Iceland.

GE11 was incorporated in Reykjavik, Iceland in 1998 and its principal activities are provision of real estate, lending activities and related operations. It owns leasehold real estate at Geirsgata 11, of 101 Reykjavik, currently being leased from Faxaflóahafnir sf.

BLand expects to fund the cash payments for the proposals from internally generated funds and/or borrowings of the group. The proposals are expected to be completed in the first half of 2019.

N.Korea’s “socialist utopia” needs mass labour. A growing market economy threatens that

SEOUL: In January, thousands of North Korean students travelled to Mount Paektu, a sacred mountain where the ruling family claims its roots and where leader Kim Jong Un is building a massive economic hub at the alpine town of Samjiyon.

It is one of the largest construction initiatives Kim has launched, part of his campaign for a “self-reliant economy” even as he seeks to convince U.S. President Donald Trump to lift economic sanctions at their second summit later this month.

State media painted an inspiring picture of patriotic students braving harsh weather, eating frozen rice, and ignoring supervisors’ worries about their health in order to work harder on the huge building site.

Kim has visited Samjiyon, near the Chinese border, at least five times for inspections over the past year.

He envisages a “socialist utopia” with new apartments, hotels, a ski resort and commercial, cultural and medical facilities by late 2020, barely four years after Kim ordered modernisation of the “sacred land of the revolution”.

North Korean defectors and human rights activists say such mass mobilisations amount to “slave labour” disguised as loyalty to Kim and the ruling Workers’ Party. Young workers get no pay, poor food and are forced to work more than 12 hours a day for up to 10 years in return for better chances to enter a university or join the all powerful Workers’ Party.

But as private markets boom and more people cherish financial stability above political standing, the regime has been struggling to recruit the young labourers in recent years, they say.

“Nobody would go there if not for a party membership or education, which helps you land a better job. But these days, you can make a lot more money from the markets,“ said Cho Chung-hui, a defector and former labourer.

“Loyalty is the bedrock of the brigades but what do you expect from people who know the taste of money?”

‘Boiling blood of youth’

Last year, after declaring his nuclear weapons programme complete, Kim shifted his focus towards the economy, saying people’s well-being was a top priority.

Samjiyon is at the centre of his new economic initiative, touted as what would be a “model of modern mountainous city to be the envy of the world“, alongside an ongoing project to create a tourist hotspot in the coastal city of Wonsan.

The labour units, called dolgyeokdae or youth brigades, were created by Kim’s late grandfather Kim Il Sung to build railways, roads, electricity networks and other infrastructure projects after the Korean peninsula was liberated from Japan’s 1910-45 occupation.

Open North Korea, a Seoul-based rights group, estimated the total brigade workforce at 400,000 as of 2016. A landmark 2014 U.N. report on North Korean human rights put it at between 20,000 and 100,000 per municipality, depending on its size.

“How did Kim rally manpower and resources for so many big construction programmes despite sanctions? It’s simple – whatever you need, suck it out of the people,“ said Kwon Eun-kyoung, director of the group, who has interviewed more than 40 former brigade members.

North Korean state media has run a series of articles over the past month appealing for young people to dedicate their “boiling blood of youth” to renovate Samjiyon, while Kim has expressed his gratitude to those who sent construction materials and supplies.

Articles and photos show factories, families and individuals packaging winter jackets, tools, shoes, blankets and biscuits in boxes to be delivered to Samjiyon.

The state provides a limited amount of materials including cement and iron bars, leaving brigades to bring gravel and sand from river banks themselves, Cho and Kwon said.

A 60-minute documentary on state television, broadcast 10 times since December, shows young men carrying stones in heavy snow and doing masonry work on a tall structure without any apparent safety devices.

Last month, the official Rodong Sinmun newspaper said thousands of university students produced 100 metre-high piles of gravel by crushing rocks with nothing but hand tools on their first day alone. It likened the feat to the efforts of forefathers who fought against Japanese imperial forces during World War II.

“The weather was so cold the rice were like ice cubes, but we didn’t want to waste a single precious second heating it up. I thought of our anti-Japan revolutionary martyrs while chewing frozen rice,“ the article quoted one student’s diary.

State media often exaggerates loyalty pledges of the citizens toward the leaders as part of efforts to craft a personality cult around them.

But Cho, the defector, said the reports were “far from reality” as most workers would not even get a safety helmet, and labour conditions were so hostile that many ran away.

Money over loyalty

The untrained workers, along with the military, provide most of the construction labour essential to accomplish Kim’s pet economic projects.

But mounting public resistance toward the mobilisation of free labour and supplies may spell trouble for Kim’s ambition to transform Samjiyon, defectors and observers say.

Cho said authorities offered him party membership and college entrance if he gave three years service to the brigades. The commitment eventually stretched to eight years before he received the suggested rewards in 1987.

Not all promises are kept. Lee Oui-ryok, 29, said he fled a brigade he had served for three years from age 17 and came to the South in 2010 after realising he would never be allowed to join the party due to his background.

In addition, human rights abuses of brigade members are rampant, prompting many to escape or injure themselves to be discharged, said Cho, who defected to the South in 2011 and is now an economist in Seoul.

Nowadays, those who have money exempt themselves from the service by sending supplies, paying someone else to fulfil the duty, or bribing brigade leaders to turn a blind eye, Cho and Kwon said.

Most new labour unit members are from the most underprivileged households and harbour ill feelings about the system and its growing inequality, said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“They will push out the propaganda claims about these projects and the love of Kim Jong Un motivating people to work, but the reality is punishments await those who refuse,“ said Robertson.

“It’s usually the poorest denizens in the area who have few connections and cannot afford to pay bribes – so they are the ones being targeted.”

The North Korean mission to the United Nations in New York did not respond to a request for comment.

In late 2017, the U.S. State Department described the mass mobilisation of forced labour as one of the human rights abuses underwriting North Korea’s weapons programme. It blacklisted seven individuals and three entities, including two construction agencies.

The rise of markets and growing public resentment toward forced labour have eroded the quality of labour at most brigades nationwide, defectors say.

Kang Mi-jin, a defector who regularly speaks with North Koreans for the defector-run Daily NK website, said some construction work at Samjiyon was temporarily halted last month due to safety problems.

“It’s inconceivable for North Korea to complete such a large project without these brigades, but there’s no way they have the full labour force they need, which is why they’re trying to mobilise more through state media,“ Cho said.

“But they would only continue to see more people run away and more cracks in buildings. That’s the reality.” — Reuters

Slow progress for RM10 billion Cyberjaya City Centre

PETALING JAYA: The RM10 billion Cyberjaya City Centre (CCC), a joint development project between Malaysian Resources Corp Bhd (MRCB) and Cyberview Sdn Bhd, seems to be showing slow progress since the change of government.

It was observed that some piling works have been done, but the project has yet to see major progress..

What is MRCB’s plan for it after a slew of mega project postponements and reviews?

MRCB chief corporate officer Amarjit Chhina told SunBiz that the project could take a longer time to be completed.

“The time frame (for the first phase) may change and could be longer than what has been told earlier,” he said.

Recall that in October 2015, Cyberview and MRCB Land Sdn Bhd signed a 30:70 joint venture agreement to develop the first phase of the CCC project comprising a convention centre, hotel, offices and retail lots. It was kicked off in the first half of 2016 and is expected to take seven years to complete.

Phase 1 of CCC is built on 53.37 acres of land, with a gross development value of RM5.35 billion. The convention centre was previously targeted for completion by next year.

The three-phase CCC project, which would take 15 years to be completed, was officially launched by then prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak in 2017, who said that CCC was aimed to be a game changer and completely transform Cyberjaya into a global technology hub and smart city.

Despite the delays, Amarjit stressed that the CCC project is still ongoing, but MRCB’s focus now is more on its other core transit-oriented development (TOD) projects, namely Penang Sentral, Kwasa Sentral and KL Sports City. This is given that these locations (Penang Sentral in Penang, Kwasa Sentral in Sungai Buloh and KL Sports City in Bukit Jalil) have very strong rail transport and road connectivity compared with Cyberjaya.

“We have a very big pipeline of projects in a very strong locations underpinned by very strong transport connectivity. Our key strengths are TOD developments, which is similar to KL Sentral, but at the moment we’re putting our focus more on these locations,” he added.

The Mass Rapid Transit Line 2, slated for completion in 2022, will pass through Cyberjaya with two stations.

Cyberjaya was the brainchild of Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and it started to take shape back in 1997. It was supposed to be the Silicon Valley of Malaysia.

Mahathir had said that Cyberjaya should not be just another town with the usual housing development; instead it should focus on the high technology, electronic and information technology industries.