asia-pacific-3

Indonesian slum dwellers challenge eviction law in landmark case

JAKARTA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Slum dwellers in Indonesia have launched a landmark legal case to challenge a decades-old law which has been used to forcibly remove thousands of families, amid a wave of evictions in the country’s capital.

The case comes as authorities ramp up efforts to clear housing along a main river bank in Jakarta, the sprawling capital of 10 million people, to pave the way for an ambitious flood mitigation project.

Local residents have asked the court to declare a law enacted in 1960 as unconstitutional as it “gives the government a great authority to take the land from the people” without due consultation, court documents show.

“I see more and more people suffering like me. This is wrong, this is inhumane,” said Mansur Daud who was evicted last year from a slum in west Jakarta to make way for the project.

The 54-year-old hawker launched the legal challenge with two others this week, saying they want justice to be upheld.

“There was no dialogue, no compensation. I have to live at my parents’ house now, my children were traumatized by the eviction, where is the justice?” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Friday.

The 1960 law prohibits the use of land without permission from the rightful owner, but land rights advocates argue it has long been invoked in favour of the authorities.

Lawyer Alldo Fellix Januardy said the law unfairly targets slum dwellers and the poor who cannot provide proof of land ownership, due to a legacy of unclear and overlapping land titles, as well as bureaucracy in Indonesia.

However he said this was exacerbated by the fact that the law does not require the government to provide the same proof of title when it is used to evict the residents.

“The problem with land evictions in Indonesia is that nobody has a (land ownership) certificate,” said Januardy, who specialises in land rights cases and represents the slum dwellers.

“If nobody has a certificate, then the court should be the one to decide whose land it is but the government never sends cases to court, they just evict people because of this law.

“If we win the case, every forced eviction must be decided through the court before it happens,” the lawyer added.

The Constitutional Court has yet to fix a date to start hearing the case.

The Jakarta city government has defended its move and vowed to push ahead with the evictions despite criticism.

Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama said the project was necessary to prevent annual floods during monsoon season and alternative housing had been provided to those affected.

According to the Jakarta Legal Aid Institute, which has been helping evicted families, there were 113 forced evictions last year, with each round typically involving many dwellings. A total of 8,145 families and 6,283 small businesses were affected in 2015, the group said.

Another 325 evictions were set to take place this year, the institute said, citing the government’s planning documents.

The latest round of eviction took place on Wednesday, which saw bulldozers demolish a waterfront shanty town in Jakarta. It went without protest but past evictions have sometimes resulted in violence.

In August last year, security forces fired teargas and water cannon after they clashed with residents while clearing a flood-prone area in the capital, with 27 people arrested.

(Reporting by Beh Lih Yi @behlihyi, Editing by Paola Totaro; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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Channel NewsAsia Asia Pacific News

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'A big nightmare': Businesses in Singapore hit as Hanjin Shipping sinks

SINGAPORE: With nine containers of goods stranded at sea following the sudden collapse of South Korean behemoth Hanjin Shipping, the past three weeks have been both chaotic and frustrating for employees at the logistics department of Yong Wen Food Industries.

While most of the company’s stranded goods are non-perishable items such as canned food, the firm does have two containers carrying 3,600 cartons of fresh milk from Italy. Employees at the Singapore-based food group have thus far received little detail regarding the whereabouts of most of its containers. Daily queries made to Hanjin’s Singapore office have also gone unanswered since the shipping giant filed for court receivership last month.

“It’s like they purposely ignore your calls and emails,” said a female employee at Yong Wen Food Industries who declined to be named. “It is very frustrating because I just want to know how I can get to my cargo, especially the two 40-foot containers with milk that cannot be (left) under the sun. It is a huge amount and it will affect our sales.”

For the time being, the local food importer and distributor is relying on other shipments to make up for the stranded goods meant to be distributed to local supermarkets, bakeries and retailers. With updates from Hanjin Shipping being slow and scarce, the company has decided to engage freight forwarders to try to locate and retrieve its goods.

While that will incur additional costs, the employee told Channel NewsAsia that her team does not have much of a choice. “(There’s) no point sitting around and wait for information… might as well look for external help and these forwarders may have more information than we do.”

CONFUSION AND UNCERTAINTY

Yong Wen Food Industries is not the only one in Singapore caught up in the global supply-chain mess triggered by the demise of the world’s seventh-largest container line, which has left more than 100 ships and their cargo in limbo at sea.

When Channel NewsAsia visited Hanjin’s Singapore office at the PSA Building on Wednesday (Sep 28) morning, at least 10 representatives from various segments of the supply chain were seen in a queue at the reception area.

This has become a common sight for the past month, according to these representatives whose businesses have been impacted by the shipping giant’s sudden bankruptcy. Since news of the collapse emerged, frustrated shippers and cargo owners have been turning up at Hanjin’s office demanding updates and more recently, making relevant payments for the retrieval of their goods.

Hanjin Shipping’s Singapore office (Photo: Tang See Kit)

Jasico Express Services’ manager Neo Kang Wei, for one, has made several trips to Hanjin’s office over the past few weeks. “They wouldn’t answer the phone so I have to come down personally,” he said.

The Singapore-based freight forwarder has “hundreds of containers” stranded on Hanjin’s vessels, with most of them bound for delivery to various countries in the world, said Mr Neo. With the Singapore port being declared as one of the “safe havens” for Hanjin Shipping, following a High Court ruling to suspend “any enforcement or execution against any asset” of the South Korean firm and its local subsidiaries, the freight forwarder is hoping to unload all of its containers on board Hanjin’s ships in Singapore before transferring them to alternative container lines.

But the process has been far from smooth-sailing. “It’s been very bad and messy,” said Mr Neo. “The sudden collapse created a lot of confusion …. no one knows what was happening and it was mainly because of a communication problem (on) Hanjin’s (part).”

A local importer of construction materials, who spoke to Channel NewsAsia on the condition of anonymity, described his experience of trying to retrieve his five containers of customised construction equipment, worth nearly S$ 600,000, on board Hanjin Los Angeles as a “big nightmare”.

The vessel carrying the equipment set sail from China’s Tianjin port on Aug 12 and was supposed to arrive in Singapore on Aug 26. But just days before the shipping giant went into court receivership, the contractor said he started receiving notifications that his shipment would be delayed. After the announcement of bankruptcy, the updates stopped.

“I went to their office almost every day but all they say is: ‘We don’t know when your vessel can come in’,” the contractor recounted. “It was a disaster.”

With a lack of concrete detail, the contractor said he was unable to make back-up plans as to whether to place a new order for his customised equipment, which were needed at a construction site in central Singapore by early October.

“Without this equipment, the whole construction cannot start. My client understands that it’s not my fault, but contractually it’s my responsibility to deliver … If they decide to make claims, we are just an SME (small and medium-sized enterprise) and I cannot afford that.

“I told Hanjin’s staff: ‘If I have to give compensation, I will be like you and have to declare bankruptcy you know. This is no joke!’,” he added.

Fortunately for him, Hanjin Los Angeles eventually called at Singapore’s port on Tuesday and the contractor could finally heave a sigh of relief. “At least our case is settled, but what about the other SMEs like ours? I cannot imagine.”

According to a notice dated Sep 29 on PSA’s website, at least five vessels operated by the beleaguered shipping giant have called at local ports. No further details were given in the release, which only said: “This notice will be updated as and when other vessels operated by HJ are ready to come alongside.”

ADDITIONAL COSTS FOR AFFECTED BUSINESSES

But even for those who can rescue their stranded goods, there are additional costs to bear.

PSA said on Sep 6 that companies with cargo shipped by Hanjin will have to fork out a refundable deposit of S$ 5,000 per container before taking delivery. The deposit will be refunded when firms return the same and empty container to PSA’s yard.

Hanjin containers are stacked at PSA’s Tanjong Pagar terminal in Singapore. (REUTERS/Edgar Su)

Mr Andy Lane, a partner at CTI Consultancy, said the introduction of the refundable deposit is “practiced by just about all terminals globally” as some form of guarantee.

“Hanjin will be in arrears with PSA both locally in Singapore and also across their global portfolio,” Mr Lane wrote in a emailed response. “Hanjin’s operated ships cannot be arrested in Singapore as collateral, so the best Hanjin assets to hold are the containers and therefore PSA wants to be sure that the empties will be returned for that purpose – hence the deposit.”

In addition to that, cargo owners will also have to pay stevedorage fees – container charges incurred for unloading the goods – in cash.

For freight forwarders such as Jasico Express Services which are transloading containers, additional fees such as a change of status charge, shut out charge and stevedorage will be imposed, according to the PSA notice released on Sep 6.

Mr Neo said his company has been making these payments on behalf of its clients in order to secure the release of its goods. “For now, our clients just want their cargo so they are okay with it.”

Should affected businesses decide to seek compensation for these additional costs, they may be able to do so depending on their contracts but the process could be tricky, said Clyde & Co’s maritime legal team.

“Subject to the terms of each individual contract, the cargo owner may be able to bring a claim against Hanjin or their shipping company under the bill of lading for breaching the contract of carriage,” the team wrote in an email reply to Channel NewsAsia. The bill of lading refers to the official document issued by a carrier as acknowledgement of a shipment.

“However, whilst a party may have a claim against Hanjin, the difficulty is measuring the value of that claim as it is likely that any such claim would have to be brought in Hanjin’s rehabilitation proceedings in South Korea. Whilst it is too early to forecast what Hanjin’s creditors will receive in the rehabilitation, it is unlikely that creditors will obtain a full cash recovery of their claims including any amounts paid to facilitate the release of cargo,” Clyde & Co’s maritime legal team added.

Online furniture store HipVan similarly went through a frustrating experience, when its container with goods worth US$ 20,000 (S$ 27,300) was stalled on a Hanjin ship at a port in China on Aug 30.  

An earlier report by Reuters said about 10 vessels operated by the cash-strapped South Korean line have been seized at China ports by charterers, port authorities and others.

“It was a big cargo with many orders, so we were frustrated,” CEO Danny Tan told Channel NewsAsia. “Our first reaction was to immediately place a replacement order with the factory because we did not know when the shipment will be released.”

The online store specialising in designer furniture also offered affected customers a gift voucher, as well as the option of a full refund. Fewer than five customers opted for a refund, Mr Tan noted.

HipVan’s shipping agent was eventually able to retrieve its container a week later and have it transferred onto another shipping vessel, which is expected to arrive in Singapore this week. Despite the more than two-week delay, Mr Tan said the company had been “lucky”.

“We were lucky because the first vessel wasn’t asked to leave the port. If it did, there’ll be a headache because the port may not let them dock again since there’s no guarantee they can pay the docking fees,” he explained.

As for the additional costs related to the replacement order and alternative shipping arrangements, Mr Tan is not too worried either. “These are products that we constantly restock so we just had to push back the delivery date for the replacement order. It’s a factory that we work with a lot so there’s room for negotiations there.”

ROUGHER SEAS AHEAD

The latest troubles surrounding South Korea’s biggest container-shipping line come as a double whammy of slowing world trade and an excess of ships weigh down the global shipping industry.

Amid a bleak environment, some carriers have been forced to sell vessels at a discount while a handful of smaller operators have gone bust. Consolidation has also been taking place among carriers looking to compete on scale. Last December, the world’s third-largest container shipping company CMA CGM bought over Singapore’s Neptune Orient Lines, a move that analysts said had been “long overdue”.

However, even with Hanjin’s demise, the primary issue of overcapacity in the sector is unlikely to go away, analysts said.

“We do not believe Hanjin’s bankruptcy would have a large impact in the longer-term, given that the physical ships may be redeployed after Hanjin’s legal future is sorted out. At this point in time, we believe the impact of Hanjin Shipping is likely to be minimal,” a Sep 14 report from OCBC Investment Research said.

Mr Lane from CTI Consultancy expects even rougher seas ahead for the shipping industry. In particular, carriers with “high gearing, a lot of short-term debt, impatient creditors, and shareholders unwilling to contribute further shareholders or governments not willing to bail them out” will likely be at risk of becoming the next Hanjin, he added.

For businesses that will have to continue relying on container-shipping lines, many said exercising caution is the way to go forward, but most agree that events like Hanjin’s downfall are hard to pre-empt.

“We’ve used Hanjin so many times for our cargo from China. They are fast and prices are reasonable so it was a big surprise,” said the local contractor who declined to be named. “Our shipping agents have suggested other container lines for us to consider … I’ll probably take the bigger names for now but the shipping industry is so scary, there’s no certainty who’s safe and who’s not.”

Follow See Kit on Twitter @SeeKitCNA

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Channel NewsAsia Singapore Business News

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Five on Friday: 5 most annoyingly catchy songs ever

SINGAPORE: So unless you’ve been living under a rock or your Wi-Fi is down, you’d know that Pen Pineapple Apple Pen (PPAP)  took over the Internet this week.  For the uninitiated, PPAP is the infectiously-catchy music video by artist Piko-Taro that has earwormed its way to becoming one of the most successful viral videos in recent memory.

Since first publishing on YouTube a month earlier on Aug 25, PPAP has amassed almost 12 million views on its original site to date and the numbers are climbing. The virality of Piko-Taro’s original video has been helped by humour and entertainment platform 9GAG’s Facebook page where their post of his video has drawn more than 62 million views.  

And talk about post-modernist “official” backstories suggesting the classic “a play within a play” concept for our hyper-digitalised modern times, the animal-print clad Piko-Taro is really a fictional character played by entertainer DJ Kosaka Daimaou, who is actually 51-year-old Mr Kazuhiko Kosaka. His character Piko-Taro first began life as a stand-up comedian at live shows.  

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that a ridiculously peculiar song about merging a pen with an apple and a pineapple would reach such viral milestones on social media platforms in such a short space of time. To be fair, PPAP did come with a warning. “This will be your new ringtone” it announced right from the start. Most importantly, it has the viral video catchy earworm formula down to a pat. Throw in an addictive beat, ludicrous lyrics, an easily imitable dance routine and an inescapable earworm tune that people will not be able to get out of their heads, and bingo, you have a sensation ready to rival PSY’s Gangnam Style.

Yes, this is not the first time someone relied on irksome pop gimmickry for instant worldwide fame and success, and it certainly won’t be the last. Polarising reviews on the issue aside, it’s a cheesy phenomenon the world can’t ever deny and will never get enough of. So here are five of our favourite “stuck in your head forever” catchy earworms that we all love to hate. Listen with caution. Don’t say we didn’t warn you. 

MACARENA BY LOS DEL RIO (1995)

If you were old enough to stand without help from mum or dad in 1995, chances are you did the Macarena. The cheesy Latin-inspired dance-craze-slash-earworm all but defined the mid-1990s, playing everywhere at weddings, malls, birthdays and gatherings. Everyone knew the Macarena – your classmates, your parents, your school bus driver, your favourite hawker stall uncle.

The one-hit wonder spent a terrifyingly long 14-week stint at the top of the singles chart and by 1997, sold more than 11 million copies of the tune worldwide. With gyrating nubile young beauties and two middle aged men happily singing about a girl named Macarena who cheats on her boyfriend with two friends while he’s being drafted for the military, the infectious song and its iconic dance moves really need little introduction or analysis, even these 21 year later today.

Crossing borders faster than a pandemic, Macarena went viral globally, when “going viral” wasn’t even a term yet. Whether you’re one or 100, from Singapore or Swaziland, we’ll bet our last jug of sangria that you’ll find yourself bopping in-sensibly whenever the song comes on today. Have another listen, wince and hey Macarena!

THE KETCHUP SONG BY LAS KETCHUP (2002)

Just when everyone thought they managed to finally get the above-mentioned Macarena out of their heads, along came The Ketchup Song (or Aserejé in Spanish) just a mere few years later. Easily picking up from where the Macarena left off, the instructional dance anthem became an instant party favourite around the world and topped the charts all over the world. The staccato Spanish pop anthem gave ungainly dancers an easy in with by-the-numbers hand-waving actions and knee-knocking gyrations, while encouraging global fans to chant the gobbledygook lyrics and pass it off as Spanish. Little known fact: the lyrics are reportedly transmogrified from bits of the 1979 classic ‘Rapper’s Delight’ by the Sugar Hill Gang.

BARBIE GIRL BY AQUA (1997)

It’s official. We’ve been singing Barbie Girl for 19 years now. Thanks to kooky Danish quartet Aqua, all our childhood memories of playing Barbie and Ken dolls were destroyed in just over three minutes when they released their crazy earworm of a Eurodance track. It was such a worldwide hit that you really couldn’t go anywhere without hearing someone singing along to the high-pitch bubblegum vocal stylings of lead singer Lene Nystrom, which simply meant that it was impossible to get the song out of our heads.

With lyrics like “I’m a Barbie girl in a Barbie world/Life in plastic, it’s fantastic/You can brush my hair, undress me everywhere/ Imagination, life is your creation/Come on Barbie, let’s go party!”, some have argued for the world to look past its catchy tune and delve into the song’s underlying deep social commentary.

Others, like Mattel, the toy company that owns the Barbie copyright were filing copyright infringement lawsuits (which were later dismissed). Either way, almost two decades on, both Aqua and Barbie Girl are here to stay.  It has been reported that the pop act will be reuniting next year to tour Denmark in celebration of the 20th anniversary of their breakthrough hit. That very hit that will forever be immortalised in the cannons ’90s pop culture, with lyrics that are unabashedly still remembered till this very day. Yes, Barbie Girl is so bad that it’s good. And we dare you, yes you who just rolled your eyes but ended up singing along, to challenge that.  

CRAZY FROG – AXEL F (2005)

There are annoyingly catchy but fun earworms and then there are just downright loathsome jingles. Before Pepe the frog Trumped US election talk and became social media’s symbol of bigoted hate, there was another frog that was eliciting its own special type of scorn. Crazy Frog, originally (and aptly) known as The Annoying Thing, is a computer-animated character originally created to accompany a sound effect produced by Daniel Malmedahl.

Amongst other things, it spawned a worldwide hit single which remixed Harold Faltermeyer’s Axel F- the electronic instrumental theme from 1984’s Beverly Hills Cop. As if this “ring ding ding ding ding” unhinged amphibian ruining the theme from Eddie Murphy’s Beverly Hills Cop wasn’t abomination enough, the earworm went straight to number one on many charts all over the world. Most annoying creature for a most annoying tune that you most annoyingly cannot erase from your consciousness.

GANGNAM STYLE BY PSY (2012)

Let’s be honest here, we’re willing to bet our last jar of kimchi that even you’ve attempted the now iconic “horse ride” dance moves in the privacy of your bedroom when you thought no one was watching. Psy’s Gangnam Style was K-Pop gold that’s always destined to be the international phenomenon that became.

The song’s music video went viral overnight after it was posted on YouTube in July, 2012. By December of that same year, Gangnam Style became the first YouTube video to hit one billion views. Since then, it has been viewed over 2.6 billion times (as of Sept 2016) making it YouTube’s most watched video after it surpassed Justin’s Bieber’s Baby.

The hilariously laughable dance moves, the gimmicky vocal hook, the random Korean intersperse with English, the unabashedly over-the-top Gangnam Style has got all the ingredients to be king of all annoyingly catchy earworms as it successfully breaks down all barriers of language, creed and music sensibility.  All together now, “heeeeeeeeeeey, sexy lady! Opp opp opp, Oppa Gangnam Style!

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Channel NewsAsia Singapore News

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As Pakistan army chief's tenure nears end, PM faces key choice

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif faces a key choice in the coming weeks about who should run Pakistan’s powerful military, one that will have a major influence on the country’s often strained relationships with the United States and nuclear rival India.

With Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif saying he will step down when his tenure ends in November, the top post is up for grabs, and the prime minister decides who gets it.

Overshadowing the process has been speculation in the media and by some government officials that the general, no relation to the premier, may seek to hold on to some or all of his powers even after his term is finished.

The general is immensely popular among ordinary Pakistanis, who see him as a bulwark against crime, corruption and Islamist militant violence.

He has also strengthened the military’s grip over aspects of government, including the judiciary and areas of security policy.

Yet the military flatly rejects the possibility of an extension.

“I will request you to avoid speculations, because we have already taken a position very clearly,” Lieutenant General Asim Bajwa, the army’s main spokesman, told a recent press briefing.

The military declined to comment further and said General Sharif was not available for interview.

In a country prone to military coups, including one in which Nawaz Sharif himself was ousted from power in 1999, suspicions that the general will remain in his post persist, including among some of the prime minister’s senior aides.

Reuters has no independent evidence to corroborate this view.

“Army chiefs soon begin to think they are invincibles-in-chief,” said a close aide to Nawaz Sharif, requesting anonymity as he was not authorised to speak about military appointments.

What happens at the top of Pakistan’s armed forces will be closely watched overseas.

With nearly 10,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan fighting the Afghan Taliban and other militant groups, Washington is losing patience with what it says is Pakistan’s failure to hunt down insurgents who launch attacks on Afghanistan from Pakistani territory. Pakistan denies this.

India has ratcheted up rhetoric against Pakistan, alarmed at an escalation of violence in the disputed region of Kashmir, including an attack on an army base there that killed 18 soldiers. Islamabad denies accusations it was behind the raid.

LIST OF CONTENDERS

According to three close aides to the prime minister and a senior military official, the military high command has sent the prime minister the dossiers of four main contenders.

The premier’s favourite, the aides said, was Lieutenant General Javed Iqbal Ramday, commander of XXXI Corps who led a 2009 operation to drive the Pakistani Taliban militant movement from Swat Valley near the Afghan border.

The three other dossiers are for Lieutenant General Zubair Hayat, Chief of General Staff, Lieutenant General Ishfaq Nadeem Ahmad, commanding officer in the eastern city of Multan, and Lieutenant General Qamar Javed Bajwa, who heads the army’s Training and Evaluation Wing.

Ramday is considered among the front-runners, in part because his family has been associated with Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (PMLN) party for many years.

He is also seen by some security officials as popular with General Sharif.

“He’s perhaps as liked by Raheel Sharif as he is by Nawaz Sharif,” said a senior security official based in Islamabad, declining to be named.

Neither the prime minister nor General Sharif have commented publicly on his chances.

Hayat oversees intelligence and operational affairs at the army’s General Headquarters, and before that headed the Strategic Plans Division (SPD), which is responsible for Pakistan’s nuclear programme.

Retired and serving officers who have served with Hayat see him as a compromise between the military and civilian government.

Ahmad has extensive experience with military operations, especially against Pakistan’s Taliban insurgency, and was previously the Director General Military Operations.

Several past army chiefs had served as DGMOs before being promoted to the top post.

A serving brigadier who has worked with Bajwa said he was the general “most similar in temperament to General Raheel”, adding that: “His chances are also very good.”

The army’s media wing did not respond to requests to interview the four contenders.

WRESTING BACK POWER

If Nawaz Sharif appoints a new army chief, it could allow him to claw back some of the influence he has ceded since coming to power in 2013, analysts said.

In 2014, the prime minister emerged in charge but weakened after protests demanding his resignation, and that year the army also went against his wishes for a negotiated settlement with Taliban militants by sending troops into North Waziristan.

“Nawaz has lost a lot of ground to the military during Raheel’s tenure,” Talat Masood, a retired general and political analyst said. “He will try and retake certain space by asserting himself. I think he would like a change in leadership.”

Sharif has been quiet on the issue of the military’s ascendancy in public.

But a statement from his office late last year, issued after the military urged the government to match its efforts in fighting militancy, said “all institutions have to play their role, while remaining within the ambit of the constitution.”

Under Raheel Sharif, the army tightened control over the battle against militants, including creating military courts that have sentenced dozens of people to death.

The courts have been criticised by lawyers and families of defendants for denying basic rights, and some are challenging the courts’ rulings through the civilian judiciary.

The military has also taken a lead role in policing the southern city of Karachi, a broadly popular operation that has reduced rampant crime but also been denounced as heavy-handed and open to abuses including extra-judicial killings.

“If Raheel Sharif hadn’t been chief, these militants and criminals would have destroyed Pakistan,” said Bismillah Khan, a bus driver in the southwestern city of Quetta. “I hope whoever replaces him will be just like him.”

(Additional reporting by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Mike Collett-White and Kay Johnson)

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Scoot and Tigerair integration: What it means for travellers

TOKYO, Japan: Long-haul flights to Europe, integrated transportation packages including land and sea transfers, and leveraging the Scoot-Tigerair network to move more people in and out of Southeast Asia – these are some plans Budget Aviation Holdings CEO Lee Lik Hsin has his eye on, since taking the helm four months ago.

Announced in May, the integration of Singapore budget carriers Scoot and Tigerair under one holding company – Budget Aviation Holdings – is seen as a step towards an eventual merger of the two Singapore Airlines (SIA) subsidiaries.

While SIA has said that the move aims to realise “commercial and operational synergies” between the two airlines, what does this translate to, in terms of benefits to travellers? CEO Lee Lik Hsin explained this, and more, to Channel NewsAsia in an exclusive interview on Monday (Sep 26).

Q: It’s been four months since you took the helm at Scoot and Tigerair. What were your priorities, and are you happy with the progress?

Lee Lik Hsin: The very first thing that we did was merge our reservation systems. That may sound like a backroom event, but it actually also made things more seamless for our customers. Previously… customers couldn’t buy a complete package on a Scoot and Tigerair connection. This is not so much for Singapore-based customers, but (it affected) customers in say, China, booking a Scoot flight to Singapore, and then booking a Tigerair flight to Bali or Phuket. They could buy the ticket but not the ancillaries – the baggage or the meals. So we’ve solved that now, and they can make the complete purchase in one transaction, saving them time.

The other benefit is that we are able to manage our network between the two airlines. Why is this a benefit for the customer? As individual airlines we may make a decision to stop certain flights, which then mean the customer has less choice, in terms of flights. One good example is Hong Kong, where Scoot used to have just one flight, and Tigerair, three. Truth be told, the single Scoot flight was struggling, it was very difficult to sustain. Had we continue to be independent companies, Scoot probably would just have withdrawn the flight. But now we are able to substitute with a Tigerair flight instead. We are starting this later in the year, and so in terms of choice to the customer, there are still four flights to Hong Kong, from the group.

Q: The integration of Scoot and Tigerair is seen as a step towards merger. When’s the soonest can you give an update?

Lee: We need more time. We’ve said this from the start, ever since the announcement in May, that there are many considerations that we have to take into account, both commercial as well as regulatory. It’s not a simple process and it is our responsibility to go through the proper due diligence on every single aspect before we make any kind of decision.

Q: Could this take years?

Lee: I think I would safely say that it is not a very long-term objective, so – not “years”.

Q: Scoot has been rapidly expanding new routes and flights in the last year or so. Which new geographies are you eyeing next?

Lee: We are open to all possibilities. Our expansion is going to be fairly rapid, over the next few years. We have eight more aircraft coming into the fleet, over a period of three years – so that’s 20 aircraft in total, against the current 12 that we have. That’s a very, very high average growth rate. So we obviously will need to fly to new points in this timeframe.

Our flights to Europe (starting with Athens) is basically the realisation of a dream. We started out saying we’re going to be a medium- and long-haul airline, but circumstances have restricted us to flying mainly medium-haul over the last four years or so. The introduction of the (Boeing) 787 into our fleet since 2015 and also the recent integration with Tigerair, has boosted our confidence in our ability to go long-haul. (This is) mainly because for long-haul travel, it will be very difficult to be just carrying passengers to and from a location to Singapore. This is where Tigerair’s short-haul regional network comes into play. We can now channel passengers from Europe to many, many points in Southeast Asia and vice versa.

Q: Given that fares for full-service airlines are relatively affordable these days due to lower fuel costs, are you concerned about the competition on Singapore-Europe routes?

Lee: We will be even more affordable. Our promotional rate for a return trip from Singapore to Athens is about S$ 600.

Q: To better fulfil the role of moving travellers in and out of Southeast Asia, will you look into offering integrated transport packages, including land and sea transfers?

Lee: We are looking to explore how we can allow our guests to seamlessly be able to book such transport options, through a single purchase, when they come onto our website. It is not directly related to the integration between Scoot and Tigerair per se. This is more (related to) partnership agreements, with possibly ferry services. But that is something that we are exploring.

Q: Is this a trend among travellers, or something they would want because of the convenience?

Lee: It will certainly be advantageous for us to be able to provide this. But at the same time, I think travellers today are very savvy and they can find options for themselves. So while we try to do it and make it more convenient, it’s not something that is necessarily a must-have in every single destination.

Q: How do your plans tie in with the recently announced alliance between Asia-Pacific budget airlines, which Scoot and Tigerair are a part of?

Lee: Basically the very first benefit of that alliance is the power of the individual airlines’ brands in their own markets. We in Scoot and Tigerair are obviously well-known in Singapore, but we’re not so well-known in the Philippines – Cebu Pacific is very well-known in the Philippines. So if we’re able to showcase our products on their website, we will gain from that strength of distribution. That’s the primary and most important aspect of the alliance.

The second aspect is connectivity – being able to carry passengers from the alliance partners’ networks onto our networks. This could be a connecting flight – using Cebu again as an example – from a domestic point in the Philippines, through Manila, to Singapore. So this is more (to facilitate) connection outside of the Singapore hub. 

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Workers' Party calls on Government to 'reject' online betting applications

SINGAPORE: The opposition Workers’ Party (WP) has called on the Government to “reject” applications for online betting services, in a statement released on its website on Tuesday (Sep 27).

The party expressed concerns over the applications submitted by Singapore Pools and Singapore Turf Club (STC) last year.

In its statement, the WP said it goes against the Government’s plans to tackle remote gambling.

“When the government decided to clamp down on remote gambling in 2014, it cited concerns about addictive behaviour and easy access to these games. Should the Government approve their applications, Singapore Pools and STC will have 24/7 virtual betting outlets available in almost every home and mobile device,” said the Party’s Assistant Secretary-General Pritam Singh.

“During the second reading of the Remote Gambling Bill in 2014, the Government rejected the Workers’ Party call to send the Remote Gambling Bill – specifically the clauses that dealt with exemptions – to a Select Committee of Parliament for further scrutiny and oversight,” the statement added.

WP said it “opposed the granting of exemptions to any organization to operate remote and online betting services”.

The Government is currently evaluating the applications by Singapore Pools and STC to be exempted from the Remote Gambling Act which was passed in 2014. The Act prohibits remote gambling via websites, phones or smart devices.

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California dreamin' for Chinese investors in US

LOS ANGELES: From real estate, to high-tech firms to entertainment giants, Chinese investments in the United States, notably California, are moving at a dizzying pace and are on course to smash records again this year.

Chinese companies shelled out a record US$ 15 billion last year in the US and that figure could more than double in 2016, according to research firm Rhodium Group and the National Committee on US-China Relations.

California, especially the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles, has been at the forefront of China’s appetite to invest overseas, with billions of dollars going into the technology, renewable energy and entertainment sectors, and increasingly into real estate.

China has pumped US$ 8 billion into California businesses since 2000, more than in any other state, a recent Rhodium Group study said.

It added that there were 452 Chinese-owned businesses that employed more than 9,500 people in the Golden State as of the end of last year, among them the online commerce giant Alibaba Group and the Internet company Tencent Holdings Ltd.

BUYING SPREE

Cash is also flowing into Hollywood, with the Beijing-based Wanda Group paying US$ 3.5 billion earlier this year to acquire the film studio Legendary Pictures, the largest-ever cultural takeover by China.

The buying spree is showing no signs of abating for the foreseeable future, experts say, despite tumult in China’s economy and mounting rhetoric during the US presidential campaign.

“Chinese investment in the US – and California in particular – will almost certainly multiply in the coming years,” said Matt Sheehan, who consults and writes about Chinese investment in the Golden State and whose forthcoming book is entitled “Chinafornia.”

While the political climate isn’t helping, cities across America are welcoming Chinese investments with open arms, drowning out the campaign rhetoric and anti-China sentiment in Congress.

“If the domestic Chinese economy continues to boom, firms will have the loose cash to make strategic investments and vanity purchases abroad,” said Sheehan.

“If the Chinese economy and RMB currency go into a nosedive, you’ll likely see a large capital flight disguised as overseas investment.”

One sector increasingly on the Chinese shopping list in the US is real estate, with buyers snapping up expensive homes and high-end commercial properties at a record pace.

Chinese investors pumped nearly US$ 11 billion into US real estate in the first five months of 2016, outpacing last year’s total of US$ 4.37 billion, according to a report by real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield.

CHANGING SKYLINE

The West Coast has proven a major draw with Chinese investments literally changing the skylines of downtown Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Of the four mega development projects currently underway in Los Angeles, three are by Chinese firms, including a US$ 1 billion condominium and hotel development by Beijing-based Oceanwide Holdings and a similar project – Metropolis – by Shanghai-based Greenland Holding Group.

Once completed in 2018, Metropolis will be the largest mixed-use complex on the West Coast.

In San Francisco, Oceanwide has acquired land that will house the city’s second-tallest tower and several other Chinese-backed developments are on the books.

Residential property is also part of the real estate buying frenzy, with sales more than doubling in the last three years.

“In 2016, we had $ 27.3 billion in volume of sales to Chinese buyers compared to US$ 7 to US$ 13 billion up until 2013,” said Danielle Hale, an analyst with the National Association of Realtors.

She said roughly one third of those buyers found their way to California, more than to any other US state.

Increasingly, however, buyers are no longer purchasing homes purely as investments but rather as primary residences.

“We have seen a shift from people buying vacation or investment type property to people buying more primary residence type properties,” Hale said.

She said Chinese buyers purchased US$ 27.3 billion in US residential property in 2016, with roughly one third of those buyers finding their way to California.

“The momentum is clearly in place for there to be a substantial number of Chinese buyers in the market going forward,” Hale said.

“And their average purchase prices – US$ 936,000 – are much higher than typical average purchase prices (US$ 266,000) of domestic buyers.”

Sheehan predicted the US agriculture and food sectors will be next on the shopping list for Chinese investors.

“Years of food scandals in China have really frightened Chinese parents … and Chinese firms know they can charge much higher prices for American imports,” he said. “And this is another area where California is in a prime position.”

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Want to trade like the big boys? This homegrown app could help you

SINGAPORE: Just like any other avid investor, Mr Clemen Chiang has always been on the lookout for a winning strategy to beat the stock market.

A keen investor in US equities since the early 2000s, the Singaporean took interest in analysing the investment styles of American billionaires such as Warren Buffett after noticing that the legendary investor had steered clear of US technology stocks, which were the darlings of the market back then.

“I was looking at many hot technology stocks … for example, when Google (debuted) at US$ 100 on the Nasdaq in 2004, I invested in it,” said Mr Chiang, founder and CEO of homegrown financial technology (FinTech) start-up Aly. “But after some time, I noticed that many of these tech stocks were just too volatile … and Warren Buffett never invested in them, apart from IBM.”

Mr Chiang believed that by knowing the trades of these “big boys”, who have abundant resources to conduct due diligence and access to exclusive information, could help the common man on the street understand the sudden spikes in stock prices and make better investment decisions.

“After 15 years of investing, I’ve come to believe in the thesis of standing on the shoulders of giants such as Warren Buffett … After all, (he) has consistently outperformed the S&P 500 and I’m just not as smart as him,” the entrepreneur, who is in his early forties, told Channel NewsAsia.

“While investors like him won’t reveal their secrets, they have to reveal whatever they invest to the public and I realise that is the path for me to identify which giant I should (follow),” he added.

And that is why Mr Chiang came up with the app Spiking that helps him to do just that. However, on the back of advice from local accelerator Startupbootcamp FinTech, the entrepreneur decided to shift his focus from Wall Street to the local stock market.

Since its official launch in early April, the homegrown app has worked on enlarging its database and now provides information of 11,000 company directors and substantial shareholders in Singapore such as Banyan Tree founder Ho Kwon Ping, tycoons Oei Hong Leong and Peter Lim, as well as DBS Group chief executive Piyush Gupta.

Via Spiking, users can choose to follow these sophisticated investors and track updated disclosures of transactions and stock holdings. This information is obtained by machine-reading algorithms that scan through publicly-available stock exchange filings and verify them against various sources such as Bloomberg to check for anomalies, explained Mr Chiang.

While targeted at retail investors, the founder noted that Spiking has received positive responses from the senior executives of public companies as well as remisiers. 

“Some remisiers told me they can now tell their clients that there’s information about these big shots buying and so what are they waiting for. It’s like a sales kit for them. Previously they relied on analyst recommendations which can sometimes be difficult for retail investors to understand.” 

The local bourse operator also extended a helping hand, by expressing its willingness to provide the app with more data to work with. “That was a validation to our work,” Mr Chiang said.

Previously backed by China’s Quest Ventures and the National Research Foundation, Spiking announced on Monday (Sep 19) that it secured S$ 1 million in seed funding. (Photo: Tang See Kit)

“I LEARNT AND MOVED ON TO BE A BETTER MAN”

The successful conclusion of a S$ 1 million seed-funding round earlier this week was also a form of validation for the founder himself, who was in 2008 embroiled in a well-publicised expose by The Straits Times for touting qualifications from an unaccredited university.

After the expose, participants who attended Mr Chiang’s seminars on options trading sued him for refunds.

“I learnt a lot from that and I moved on to be a better man,” the entrepreneur told Channel NewsAsia. “It was a test of whether you can still stand up after a fall. I picked myself up … and I moved on to do other things.”

That included the starting up of female shopping portal CozyCot with his wife, and organising the Singapore edition of the Diner En Blanc pop-up picnic from 2012 to 2014.

When asked whether he was ever worried about investors turning him down due to his past, Mr Chiang answered: “The good thing is that when investors look at a start-up or entrepreneur, they have a completely different perspective from a retail investor. They look at what drives the company and the founder, and whether he can stand the test of failure. I think I’m a standing example of that.

“Investors from the capital markets know about my past and I share with them very openly. In the end, they said, ‘We still want to invest in you and we believe in how you’re going to take the company forward’,” he added, with a smile.

NEW FEATURES AND MOVING BEYOND SGX

Now, flushed with fresh funding from prominent capital market investors such as Sakae Holdings chairman Douglas Foo, the start-up is gearing up for a packed schedule ahead. Some of the plans include the addition of an online trading platform for users to place their trades via the app.

But before that, new features such as a forum page which will aggregate recent news headlines, announcements and market activity, as well as an expansion of data coverage to 10 stock exchanges will be rolled out in early December.

Apart from the SGX, Spiking is looking to ramp up its services to include data from the stock exchanges in Australia, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines, as well as the two stock exchanges in Vietnam and India, respectively.

Among the overseas markets, Mr Chiang singled out India as the biggest challenge given the sheer number of companies listed on the Bombay Stock Exchange and National Stock Exchange.

“There are about 10,000 companies listed in India and for each company, we will have to (identify) the blue whales who are people putting money on the table, the board of directors who make strategic decisions and then the management group,” he explained.

But Mr Chiang remains upbeat about the expansion plans and has his ultimate goal set on Wall Street.

“We are still a start-up and if we go to the US now, we are just killing ourselves. So let’s start off with 10 exchanges in Asia-Pacific and if that works out, we’ll go for another round of funding and go after the US market,” he told Channel NewsAsia.

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Prepare for waves of change by allowing young to have diverse experiences: DPM Tharman

SINGAPORE: Rapid technological advancements will see Singapore’s economy constantly navigating uncharted waters and Singaporeans will need to prepare themselves for changes that will likely come in one wave after another, said Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam on Sunday (Sep 25).

Speaking at a post-National Day Rally dialogue at Bukit Batok Community Club, Mr Tharman said: “You can’t forecast well in advance before the waves come. You can’t forecast exactly which wave it is – is it going to be life sciences? Is it going to be the last in information technology?

“But you got to stop the emerging wave early, and be ready to ride on them and know that every wave will disrupt some things, displace some jobs, but we want to make up for it by creating new jobs and being part of the new opportunities that are created,” he added.

And one way to achieve that is to allow the young to have the opportunity to accumulate diverse experiences, and that will involve significant changes in education and culture, said Mr Tharman who is also coordinating minister for economic and social policies.

“It can’t be all about study or academic study. This is a complex change, easily said but actually very complex in how to implement it in our education system. But we have to move in that direction.

“And it means, as individuals, each young Singaporean must have a chance to have very different experiences when they grow up,” Mr Tharman added.

Speaking to about 200 young people at the dialogue session, he noted that the society would have to adopt a cultural shift that is about growing through life together. More free play for the young, especially in schools, would also be necessary to foster entrepreneurship, Mr Tharman added. 

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Engine shut down as smoke fills cabin of Jetstar flight

SYDNEY: A Jetstar pilot shut down an engine and diverted to Brisbane as smoked filled the cabin on a passenger flight from Sydney to Cairns in an incident passengers said was “terrifying”.

The Airbus A320 was en route to the northern Queensland city on Thursday evening when the pilot took action to deal with what the carrier said was “a technical issue with one of its engines”.

“The captain decided to shut down one of the engines as a precaution and divert the aircraft to Brisbane,” a spokesman for the Australian budget airline said. “Engineers are looking into the cause.

“While it’s rare for something like this to happen, our crew are trained to deal with these type of situations and they handled the situation very professionally.”

Video taken on board the plane, shot by a passenger and broadcast by the ABC, showed smoke in the cabin.

“The most terrifying moment of my life,” passenger Aundra Thompson wrote on Facebook.

“I was just on the flight that caught fire and filled the cabin with smoke.”

Another passenger Wendy Perkins told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation she heard a loud explosion, and smoke came into the cabin about an hour into what was supposed to be a three-hour flight.

“Within seconds smoke came up under my seat under my legs and up into my face and the man who was next to me,” she said.

“We both said that stinks, that absolutely stinks and then we lost pressure in the plane.”

Jetstar, which is owned by Qantas, disputed this, claiming smoked only appeared after the plane landed safely in Brisbane.

“The hazy smoke seen in the video happened when the aircraft had landed safely in Brisbane and shortly before the passengers disembarked,” it said.

“The smoke would have entered the cabin through the air conditioning unit, which runs via air from the engines.”

No-one needed medical attention with passengers transferred to another flight later Thursday evening.

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