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Archive for August, 2013

Watching Merdeka go by from a hospital bed

August 31, 2013 Leave a comment
This was written by my colleague Chuah Bee Kim at the Johor bureau.

Johor Bahru: Whenever Aug 31 draws near, 90-year-old Datuk Boon Weng Siew cannot help but reminisce about the good old days, especially fond memories of the late Tun Tan Cheng Lock’s contributions to the country’s Independence. 

For a person his age, the good health enjoyed by him would be the envy of many. His sharp mind and power of memory would also put many younger people to shame. However, he walks with a slight difficulty due to an injury suffered in a car accident in 1957.

Boon, the president of Malaysian Estate Owners’ Association (MEOA) and vice chairman of the Malaysian Palm Oil Association (MPOA) has nothing but praise and admiration for Tan, the founder of the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) which was formed in 1949.

Under Tan, often recognised as one of the founding fathers of modern Malaysia alongside Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tun Razak Hussein and Tun V. Sambanthan, MCA played a significant role in negotiating Independence from the British.
  
In 1954, together with the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) and the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC), MCA formed the Alliance, the predecessor to Barisan Nasional. “He was a firm believer in inter-racial harmony. His foresight and wisdom had helped the country to progress and prosper,” said Boon.

When Boon first met Tan in 1947, Tan was the chairman of the All-Malayan Council of Joint Action. Describing the man as a great thinker, Boon said the council had organised a strike to protest against Britain’s Malayan Federation Plan.

The Plan contained various clauses deemed unfair such as the appointment of a governor whose authority could not be questioned by Parliament; citizenship rights and political inequality among the various communities in Malaya.

Boon took part in the All-Malayan Council of Joint Action strike in Singapore.

Boon, who was former Malacca MCA executive secretary in 1950, noted that Tan was also a strong believer of the doctrine of “jus soli” (son of the soil) which is the right of anyone born in Malaya to be given citizenship. Tan was also of the opinion that those who had lived in the country for more than 8 years should be entitled to apply for citizenship.

“It was the post-war years and the Emergency period was probably the most trying time for the Chinese community in Malaya,” Boon said.  

The British had planned to deport about 500,000 Chinese squatters and plantation workers back to China for allegedly helping the Communists.

Boon recalled Tan had successfully dissuaded the British from doing so by proving that many Chinese fought hard in shielding villagers from Communist threat. Through the concept of New Villages, the British deprived the Communists in the jungle of food supply, a determining factor that led to the end of the Emergency in 1960.

 “Tan had also told the British government that the Chinese squatters and plantation workers had contributed tremendously to the economy of Malaya. He often stressed on equality of status and constitutional rights between one and all, irrespective of race and religion,” recalled Boon.

During pre and post-Merdeka, Boon said people seldom talk about race. “As we celebrate the country’s 56th Independence Day, it is commendable that we pay tribute to our past leaders such as Tan, Tunku and Sambanthan. We must thank them for their wisdom and foresight which have brought development and peace to the country.”

He felt that Malaysians, especially the younger generation should make an effort to learn and understand the country’s struggle for Independence, freedom and regain of sovereign rule.

Boon, born and bred in a rubber estate in Malacca where his father was a contractor. currently lives with his wife Piong Kim, 89, in Johor Bahru. The couple has six daughters and a son, 10 grandchildren and four great grandchildren.

On a personal noted, Boon said he remembered the 1957 car accident occurred along the Yong Peng-Ayer Hitam road, which rendered him bedridden in hospital. 

 “I was sitting next to the driver on the way to visit an estate in Gelang Patah. The car overturned and I was flung out of the vehicle. I broke my thigh bone and had to spend seven months in the hospital, followed by four months of home convalescence.”

Looking back, Boon said it was unfortunate that while the whole country was in a joyous mood celebrating Merdeka, he had to watch the historic day pass by from a hospital bed.

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Hey! Do you want a Bang Bang?

August 25, 2013 Leave a comment
Many of my colleagues and friends think I love prancing around in the oil palm estates under the hot sun. That’s not entirely true.

I like the fresh air but I always try to avoid the skin damaging effects of the sun 😦 As with every estate visit, I would have this monologue inside my head of the unforgiving heat of the blazing hot sun as I wipe off the sweat from my face with the sleeves of my shirt.

My thoughts were interrupted when an equally sweaty Sime Darby communications personnel who was plodding along behind me asked breathlessly, “Hey! Do you want a Bang Bang?”

My eyes widened as I thought he made a vulgar proposition at me. That was when he waved a chocolate snack bar in the air and I spotted the beng-beng brandname on the packaging.

I burst out laughing.

Later, when told him what I thought he said, he rolled his eyes to the sky, “OMG, the media misunderstood us again.” He then smiled and handed another bar of chocolate wafer to me. I looked closely at the Nutrition Facts Label and noted the snack food contains palm oil. “Yea, it’s tasty and all natural, no artificial trans fat,” he quipped.

Want to jump into the peat canal?

August 23, 2013 Leave a comment
I just came back from Riau, Indonesia, having visited Sime Darby’s Nusa Lestari estate, which is part of oil palm concession held under PT Bhumireksa Nusasejati. It was an eye-opening experience for many reporters from Malaysia, Singapore and even local ones from Bisnis Indonesia, Kompas and Antara news agencies.

Throughout our visit in the estate, there were blue skies and … fluffy white clouds dotted the skyline. Occasionally, there were slight drizzle as we commute in mini-speedboats (called panchor in Bahasa Indonesia) along the intricate network of canals in the estate.

It is interesting to note that villagers who live in low lying peatland rely heavily on canal transport. There are no internal roads

Here’s a snapshot of one of the the “water buses” that children hop into to get to school inside the estate.

While the children here are familiar with the canal depth and know how to swim, they diligently strap on life jackets for their own safety.

The water in the peat canal is coffee-coloured, slightly sourish and mildly acidic. 

So if one were to immerse in the canal for sometime, he or she would have unsuspectingly undergone a beauty regime … free of charge, too. One can almost feel the difference after a thorough shower with harvested rainwater as the skin is smoother to the touch.

At wellness spas and beauty parlours in Kuala Lumpur, ladies (and sometimes, men) pay hundreds of ringgit every month just to have a beautician apply natural chemical peels containing alphahydroxy acids (AHAs) to slough away the top layer of dead skin cells on their faces and bodies.

We hear the story of scientists noticing elderly workers at sake breweries in Japan had wrinkled faces but extraordinarily soft and youthful-looking hands. The researchers figured this anomaly was due to these elderly workers’ hands being in constant contact with the fermentation process. They noted that the naturally-occurring liquid from rice fermentation is the miracle ingredient responsible for holding back the years.

Perhaps, one day, scientists might notice people who are exposed to peat water (but shielded from the ultra-violet rays of the sun) have relatively smooth skin, too.

GAP to raise RM230m from palm oil investment scheme

August 20, 2013 Leave a comment
KUALA LUMPUR: Golden Agro Plantation (Mukah) Bhd (GAP) is expected to raise at least RM230 million if it sells all the lots offered under its palm oil investment scheme, said chief executive officer Datuk Alan Lim Kim Huat.

“As the management company, we hold a 30 per cent stake in the scheme. The remaining 70 per cent is divided into plots, each measuring a quarter acre. We’re offering 29,240 plots for sale,” he told a media briefing here yesterday.

According to GAP prospectus, subscribers can invest into this scheme at RM8,000 per plot. For this, they are guaranteed to receive a 7 per cent return annually for the first five years of the scheme.

 “As more and more people buy into this scheme, the price is expected to go up. The current RM8,000 per plot pricing is meant for early birds,” he said.

Despite palm oil prices trading at relatively lacklustre level of RM2,300 per tonne, Lim assured this scheme is a viable long term investment option. Investors are advised not to compare this scheme with putting money with the bank.

“This is a long term investment scheme. Investors should not pull out early. There would be some people thinking of putting money in this scheme for five years since the annual return is 7 per cent, which is much higher than the current fixed deposit rate of 3 per cent,” he said. 

 “Should an investor decide to pull out on the sixth year, he can sell his rights to a new or existing investor of this scheme at any price he can get. If the investor wishes to cash out on the seventh year, there is a buyback clause with the management company which states that he can only get back 85 per cent of what he put in. This is because we need to be fair to other investors of this scheme,” Lim explained.

“We only guarantee a 7 per cent return on investment every year for the first five years. Other than that, we cannot promise the moon and the stars. We’ve crafted this scheme to be structurally sound so that investors know what they are buying into,” he said.

Once the plantation starts to mature from the sixth year, investors will get to share profits with the management company. “From the sixth year onwards, we’ll distribute 100 per cent of audited net profits to investors. The projected return on this scheme ranges between 7 and 23 per cent, depending on crude palm oil prices.”

GAP is one of the few interest schemes registered with the Companies Commission of Malaysia that invest in the oil palm business.

 Licensed trustee My Premier Trustee (Malaysia) Bhd acts as trustee for GAP scheme investors while profits are audited by Crowe Horwath.

Oil palm planters unfairly blamed

August 12, 2013 Leave a comment
INFO GAP: Why is there constant negative portrayal of plantation companies and governance in Indonesia in times of haze? Experts tell OOI TEE CHING that there is an increased need for communication of facts and figures on peatland agriculture to mitigate such misunderstandings.

IN the last two months, there had been  news blaming plantation companies for the haze blanketing Singapore and parts of Peninsular Malaysia as a result of peat fires in Indonesia, despite the lack of evidence.

There had also been criticisms of Indonesia’s governance despite efforts by its authorities to dispatch water bombing planes and cloud seeding to beat the peat fires.

“Planters in Malaysia have been practising zero burning for a long time, which means no slash-and-burn to clear up land for new plantings or re-plantings,” said Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Datuk Seri Douglas Uggah Embas. 

“In Sarawak, the government issues permits for controlled burning from time to time. Malaysian planters have always benchmarked themselves against best practices in the last two decades.”

The Association of Plantation Investors of Malaysia in Indonesia (Apimi) said Malaysian companies in Indonesia did not use fire to clear land. “I can assure that Apimi members practise zero burning,” said Apimi chairman Datuk Abdul Wahab Maskan.

“Our members observe advisory procedures in managing their plantations and have also been reminded to be prepared for droughts. In a recent meeting, Apimi members have confirmed implementing zero burning and adhere to the Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO), which prohibits open burning, and emphasised eco-friendly farming practices.”

Wahab said Indonesia’s Ministry of Environment and other local authorities had visited TH Plantations estates there and found no evidence of open burning.

The Indonesian Palm Oil Association had also responded positively when secretary-general Joko Supriyono said his team prepared 26 fire-fighting units to put out the fires. But like the years before, such efforts by oil palm planters or the Indonesian authorities often go unnoticed.

While many news reports and social media portals alleged oil palm planters were to be blamed for slash-and-burn activities on peatland, Malaysia’s minister Uggah said the truth was far from that.

Peatland is highly flammable during droughts, if not properly managed. Many cash-crop farmers, who cannot afford heavy machinery for land clearing, torch peatland and set off fires that smoulder underground for weeks and months.

Many oil palm planters have been preventing the spread of fire in peatland that may have been set off by cash crop farmers or carelessly ignited by cigarette butts in times of drought.

Uggah, who was former natural resources and environment minister, knows how skillful environmental activists are at seizing opportunities for their own benefit in times of crisis. “Are these independent bodies and activists completely altruistic in their devotion to fight for clean air across Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia?

“If so, why is there no acknowledgement or praise for the good work done by the various stakeholders along the peat agriculture value chain in avoiding fires and, therefore, the lack of haze in Sarawak?” he asked.

Oil palm planters in Sarawak invest a lot of money in heavy machinery to clear the land, compact the peat soil and dig up canals. This process keeps the peat soil moist so that the oil palm trees can grow properly and yield to their potential. Incidentally, it also makes the soil less flammable and hinders fire from spreading.

“If not for optimal water table management and infield perimeter drains throughout the peat plantations, and good enforcement against open burning and pumping of water from tube wells during drought, Sarawak might have experienced bad haze this year,” said Uggah, who is also member of parliament for Betong.

Apimi said apart from utmost respect and compliance with the mandatory requirements of ISPO certification in Indonesia, oil palm planters sought diplomatic and sustainable solutions during Asean meetings. “The annual issue on fire and haze must be tackled delicately by all governments involved and be accorded top priority during bilateral or Asean meetings before the drought season in Indonesia,” Wahab said.

“The government-to-government collaboration is important and this can be supported by the business-to-business platforms.”

When asked on the spate of media reports on peat fires in Sumatra, Malaysian Palm Oil Association (MPOA) chief executive officer Datuk Dr Makhdzir Mardan concurred with Apimi. 

“Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore should continue to address the transboundary haze problem via community comradeship.

“When peat fires occur, they do not recognise geographical boundaries. The fact that environmental activists are quick to blame planters without any evidence of where and how the fire originated shows that the allegations are not factual.”

By blaming air pollution on oil palm planters and ignoring the evidence that economic development leads to better environmental protection, Makhdzir said it was questionable whether these activists’ true commitment was to the environment or to erection of trade barriers to benefit rival oil crop farmers.

Makhdzir highlighted that MPOA and Indonesian Palm Oil Association had shared concerns over rising trade barriers against oil palm and indirect moves to curb exports of the commodity.

A further RM208m handed to CHGS trustees

August 7, 2013 Leave a comment
This is written by my colleague Lim Cian Yai.

SERI PETALING, Selangor: PLENTIFUL Gold-Class Bhd (PGCB), the management company of Country Heights Grower Scheme (CHGS), handed over more than RM208 million worth of cheques to trustees – being the remaining and goodwill payment for the now defunct scheme.

Of the total, RM182.9 million is for the 90 per cent capital refund under CHGS, RM25 million is goodwill payment from scheme founder Tan Sri Lee Kim Yew, and a sum of RM200,750 being unclaimed money of 145 investors for the first 10 per cent refund payment disbursed on March 8.

“This gives growers a total payout of over RM319 million as opposed to RM215.5 million raised by CHGS,” said Lee at a cheque handover ceremony held here yesterday.

Also present were chairman of the growers’ meeting, JD Menon, and PGCB chief executive officer Lee Kim Heong.

The monies were made in compliance with the terms of voluntary termination approved by a majority of growers at the GM, which was held on 8th February 2013.

With the additional RM25 million in goodwill payment and full refund for the scheme, including RM78.5 million of returns paid between 2007 and 2011, the growers will receive a total of RM319 million. 

“With this payout, PGCB has fulfilled all its obligations under the outcome of GM,” added Lee.

CIMB Commerce Trustee Bhd has been tasked to repay the monies to 10,000 growers in the scheme. It will take them around two weeks to process the cheques.

Lee further stressed that the voluntary termination was only made possible after he was “coerced to give in to demands and pressures” from the Minority Shareholder Watchdog Group.

“When you run a business, you have to take the responsibility. With all the pressure, I believe paying RM25 million (goodwill payment) is worth it,” added Lee. 

Despite being mired in the controversial saga of the country’s first oil palm growers plot investment scheme, Lee said he will still consider initiating similar land-based schemes in future, and will focus on advanced markets such as the United States and Australia.

“We will continue, but we have to make sure whatever mistakes we made and our experiences are taken into consideration before launching a new scheme,” said the property tycoon and founder of Country Heights Holdings Bhd, who added that he believes “his idea will work”.

“I appreciate all parties in this voluntary termination, it makes me stronger and I appreciate the experience,” he said.

Curry Puffs

August 6, 2013 Leave a comment

Deep fried finger foods are “bad” but they taste so good. This is a common comfort snack in the afternoon among reporters at Balai Berita cafe in Bangsar while they wait for their news stories to be cleared by editors.

 

CURRY PUFFS
Ingredients
  • 2¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup palm shortening
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 medium sized egg-beaten
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2 medium sized potatoes-peeled and diced
  • 1 red onion-diced
  • 200g chicken-diced finely
  • 1 inch ginger-grated
  • 1 clove garlic-crushed
  • 1 tbsp mild curry powder
  • 1 tbsp chopped coriander leaves
  • palm oil for deep frying
Instructions
  1. Prepare the filling.
  2. In a wok, heat the oil and fry the ginger and garlic.
  3. Add in the diced chicken with a splash of water and cover the wok with a lid for 10 minutes.
  4. Once the chicken is almost browned, add the curry powder, coriander leaves, diced onion and potatoes. Season with salt.
  5. Cook on low heat for around 20 minutes or until the filling is semi-dry.
  6. Keep aside the cooked filling and prepare the pastry crust.
  7. In a large bowl, mix 1½ cups of flour with egg, sugar, salt and enough water to form a soft dough. Divide this dough into 10 small balls.
  8. In a separate bowl, rub the shortening with the remaining flour until stiff dough is formed.
  9. Divide this dough into 10 balls, smaller in sized than the earlier flour dough balls.
  10. Flatten a flour ball and wrap it fully around the shortening ball.
  11. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough ball into an oblong and make a diagonal cut ⅔ up without splitting the dough into two.
  12. Roll the pastry all the way up then make a ‘U-turn’ and keep rolling like a croissant.
  13. Cut the roll-up into two.
  14. Using a rolling pin, flatten each cut roll into a flat circle.
  15. Fill the circle with the 2 tbsp of cooled filling.
  16. To close the edge, make a pinch-and-twist motion until the edge is well sealed.
  17. Repeat the steps for remaining dough balls, so you will get 20 completed puffs.
  18. Heat the palm cooking oil in the wok and deep fry the puffs.