Going for safer roads and steady loads

by GAN PEI LING © The Star 29 April 2017

BENTONG: The Government will go all out to promote a safety culture among heavy vehicle operators, including express buses and lorries, said Transport Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai.

“We’ve completed the Express Bus Transformation Lab on April 7 and will present the lab results to the Cabinet in a week or so.

“The Cabinet will be briefed on the mitigation efforts to ensure we’ll be able to reduce the impact of express bus accidents,” Liow said after visiting the Bentong Gallery yesterday.

The bus lab was set up in January to study ways to improve the quality of service, safety and sustainability of the bus industry by gathering opinions from all stakeholders, including the public.

Liow said the lab was set up in response to a deadly bus crash in Pagoh in December last year which claimed 14 lives and injured 16, and the Genting bus crash in July last year which killed the driver and injured 15 passengers.

“One of the reasons we found is fatigue of bus drivers who often work long hours for five days without sufficient rest.

“We need to be able to better monitor driver performance, including lorry drivers, to ensure they perform up to the standards required of them,” he said.

He said the Transport Ministry was also in the midst of implementing 51 recommendations by a special panel led by safety advocate Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye after the deadly bus crashes last year.

The recommendations include installing a speedometer on express buses to limit their speed and a speed retarder on lorries to reduce the impact should they get into accidents.

“I’ve set up a special review committee to ensure these recommendations are implemented effectively,” Liow added.

When asked if the Government would consider setting up a similar laboratory for lorries, Liow said the challenges faced by the lorry fraternity was different.

“Not at the moment. I think we’ve enough measures and laws to regulate lorry drivers,” he said.

He attributed the main cause of accidents involving lorries to illegal retread tyres and their debris on highways.

“We’ll monitor the production of retread tyres to ensure they adhere to Sirim standards. Stern action will be taken against factories which do not adhere to the standards,” he said.

On top of that, he said the Government would actively conduct health checks on lorry drivers to ensure they were healthy and not on drugs.

“Enforcement alone is not enough. We need public awareness and participation. Every individual needs to be alert and take precautionary measures to prevent accidents,” he said.

Liow, the MP for Bentong, also attended the groundbreaking ceremony of a new hall for the Leong Guang Cemetery here.

Also present were Pahang MCA chairman Datuk Hoh Khai Mun and Bentong Chinese Town Hall president Datuk Low Long Yang.

He also visited and gave donations to victims of a Wednesday fire that affected four homes in Taman Desa Damai.

Danger of retreaded tyres

by GAN PEI LING © The Star 17 April 2017

PETALING JAYA: Illegally retreaded tyres are putting the lives of road users at stake, so much so that even transport and tyre associations have called for a clampdown on shady retreaders.

An average of two accidents happen daily due to tyre combustion or tyre debris on the road. PLUS Malaysia Bhd recorded 613 road accidents last year on the expressway due to these factors.

Heavy vehicles tend to go for retreaded tyres for the obvious reason.

“A retreaded tyre is usually 50% cheaper than a new tyre,” said Pan Malaysia Bus Operators Association president Datuk Mohamad Ashfar Ali.

Stressing that his members would not buy uncertified retreaded tyres, he said the low quality of some of these illegally tyres could cause them to explode while the vehicle was moving.

These tyres might burst due to overloading, casing, or that the rubber and the glue used on the tyres were below par.

“The tyre is the only contact point between the road and the vehicle. So, it must be able to withstand the heat, the high speed the vehicle is travelling in and the load of the vehicle,” he said.

As such, he said, express buses on long journeys would be fitted with new tyres while normal buses that travel short distances would be installed with retreaded tyres at the back wheel.

Such tyres must come only from certified manufacturers, he said, adding that a tyre should ideally be retreaded only once.

Mohamad Ashfar urged the authorities to crack down harder on illegally retreaded tyre manufacturers.

Pan Malaysia Lorry Owners Association president Jong Foh Jit acknowledged that it was common for lorries to use retreaded tyres as they were cheaper.

“But they must ensure the tyres are certified by Sirim,” he said.

“Some people are tempted to go for cheaper, illegally retreaded tyres due to the economic slowdown, but they may endanger themselves and other road users,” he added.

Jong said some lorry operators would retread a tyre two to three times.

Tyre Retreading Manufacturers Association of Malaysia said it was high time the authorities clamped down on unscrupulous tyre retreaders.

The move would force retreaders to get the Sirim certification and start complying with government standards, association president Chin Hong Meng said.

“We have been encouraging them to get Sirim’s MS224 certification since 2007. That’s 10 years ago! We’ve already given them ample time. It is high time that enforcement was carried out,” he said.

Transport Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai slammed illegal manufacturers, saying that many fatal accidents were caused by retreaded tyres that did not meet standards.

Study reveals Kinabalu Park fast losing its buffer zone

© The Star 14 April 2017

PETALING JAYA: Kinabalu Park, one of Malaysia’s two World Heritage Sites, has lost large proportions of forests in its buffer zones.

It has been named as one of the worst affected Natural World Heritage Sites, seeing 15,000ha of its forests (about the size of 30,000 football fields) cleared between 2000 and 2012.

This was stated in an international study led by University of Queensland.

“Some notable Natural World Heritage Sites which lost large proportions of forest in their buffer zones are the Australian Fossil Mammal Sites, the Discovery Coast Atlantic Forests in Brazil and Kinabalu Park in Malaysia,” the study published in the Biological Conservation journal in February noted.

The 75,370ha Kinabalu Park is one of two Unesco Natural World Heritage Sites in Malaysia. The other is Gunung Mulu National Park in Sarawak.

The study revealed that the 203 Natural World Heritage Sites were some of Earth’s most valuable natural assets but many were deteriorating due to urbanisation, agriculture and logging.

“Our findings clearly show that Natural World Heritage Sites are becoming increasingly isolated, which is a concern since their ecological integrity depend on links with the broader landscape,” the study said.

It added that past studies found that environmental degradation around a protected area could lead to similar degradation within its borders.

The Kinabalu Park, which was designated as a Unesco Natural World Heritage Site in 2000, is an epicentre of biodiversity.

Unesco said it was home to at least half of all Borneo’s plant species, birds, mammals, amphibian species and two-thirds of Borneo reptiles unique to the island.

Among the rare species that can only be found in the Kinabalu Park are the Rothschild Slipper orchid and the Rajah Brooke’s Pitcher plant.

Known as the gold of Kinabalu, the Rothschild Slipper orchid takes 15 years to grow. It is one of the world’s most expensive orchids in the black market.

The Rajah Brooke’s Pitcher plant is the world’s largest pitcher plant that can grow up to 41cm.

Sabah Parks director Dr Jamili Nais maintained that the Kinabalu Park and its biodiversity remained intact despite fears over a substantial reduction of its buffer areas.

There was no land clearing or forest damage within the park, which is about three times the size of Penang island, he said.

“The integrity of the park is constantly safeguarded,” he said.

Jamili said there was no designated buffer zone around the world renowned park.

“What happens outside of the park boundaries is beyond the scope of the World Heritage Site.

“Having said that, we should bear in mind that the land surrounding the park is occupied by the native Kadazandusun who have been cultivating crops there for generations,” he said.

Jamili said these people initially practised shifting cultivation but had since switched to permanent farming methods.

Sabah Parks, Jamili said, had initiated a community-based forest conservation known as tagal hutan with villages around the park.

He said Sabah Park was also working towards getting the area to be declared as a Geopark, another Unesco initiative.

Geoparks are single, unified geographical areas where sites and landscapes of international geological significance are managed with a holistic concept of protection, education and sustainable development.

Sabah naturalist Datuk C.L. Chan said a reduction in the buffer area surrounding the Kinabalu Park had not affected the biodiversity within the World Heritage Site.

However, he said Unesco’s concern over the reduction of buffer areas around the park should not be taken lightly.

He said Kinabalu Park could end up as an island within a sea of agriculture and human settlements if the forested areas outside the boundaries continued to be cleared.

Cemetery’s leftover fruits don’t go to waste

BY GAN PEI LING © The Star 3 April 2017

KUALA LUMPUR: To avoid wastage on Qing Ming, a cemetery here donates leftover edible fruits to orphanages and old folks homes.

Association of Kwong Tong Cemetery Management Kuala Lumpur’s administration manager Wey Jiun Horng said the effort was part of the cemetery’s green campaign during the annual Chinese tomb sweeping day.

“A lot of people don’t take back their offerings, so we collect the apples and oranges and give them away.

“The amount of leftovers is so huge that sometimes the homes have to reject the fruits we send over,” he said.

Wey added that the association also educated the public to recycle and cut down the amount of trash.

It successfully reduced waste generated during Qing Ming by 10% last year compared to 2015 and hoped to cut it down by 30% this year.

Wey said at least 150 tonnes of rubbish were left behind each Qing Ming, requiring at least 30 trucks to ferry them away.

“It takes at least three days for our contractors to clean up the cemetery after every weekend,” he said.

The 105.6ha Kwong Tong Cemetery was set up in 1895 and is home to about 100,000 tombs and two columbariums.

Yesterday, the roads leading up to the cemetery off Jalan Dewan Bahasa was clogged up as early as 8am with families coming in droves to honour their ancestors.

Packed with visitors: A bumper-to-bumper jam on one of the roads at Kwong Tong Cemetery in Kuala Lumpur as families throng the cemetery for Qing Ming. Some came as early as 6am to avoid the crowd. — ART CHEN/The Star

While Qing Ming falls on April 4 officially, Wey said people started coming to pay respects to their ancestors two weekends ago, and he expected the visits to continue until next weekend.

Su Ching Pung, 43, who came with his family to visit the tombs of his paternal grandparents, said they did not spend much on hell notes.

“It’s the thought that counts,” he said, adding that they offered chicken, pork, fish, rice and fruits this time.

Ng Kok Peng, 38, from Setapak, braved the traffic to pay respects to his late parents and two younger cousins.

He said his family members, 15 in total, brought along paper offerings worth between RM300 and RM400 to be offered to the deceased.

The items included bungalows, cars, motorcycles, and gold and silver hampers.

Over at the Sinhalese Buddhist cemetery off Jalan Loke Yew, Indian Buddhists also turned up to honour their loved ones.

Unlike the Chinese, their offerings were simpler, mostly just incense sticks and flowers.

Mosque in Bangsar organises Chinese New Year open house

BY GAN PEI LING © The Star 5 Feb 2017

KUALA LUMPUR: A mosque in Bangsar has decided to celebrate the best of Malaysia’s diversity by throwing its doors open for a Chinese New Year celebration.

Expecting only 100 to 150 people to turn up for its do, the organisers were stumped to see at least 400 people arrive at the event which saw Muslims dining on the same table with their non-Muslim friends.

During the two-hour event held at a hall in the mosque, the people sampled Malaysian favourites such as rendangketupat and nasi minyak as well as mandarin oranges.

Many even turned up in traditional red, donning red batik shirts or red baju kurung.

The chairman of Masjid Saidina Abu Bakar As-Siddiq, Datuk Ibrahim Thambychik, said he decided to hold the Chinese New Year open house to show that the mosque was an open place that welcomed everyone.

“If you look at the history of Islam, a mosque has many functions. Apart from prayers, it can also serve as a social centre for Mus­lims and non-Muslims,” he said.

Saying that this is the first time the mosque has organised a Chinese New Year celebration, Ibrahim said an open house was a good oppor­tunity for Muslims and non-Muslims from the neighbourhood to mingle and get to know each other better.

Getting together: Ibrahim handing out mandarin oranges during the open house at the Masjid Saidina Abu Bakar As-Siddiq in Bangsar. — AZHAR MAHFOF/The Star

Due to the good response from the community, he is planning to host it again next year.

Iman Ustaz Mohd Bukhai Hakah said they anticipated about 100 to 150 people but he estimated that at least 400 people turned up based on the amount of food served.

Datuk George Joseph, president of Bangsar Baru Residents Association, believed that it was the first time a mosque had organised a Chinese New Year celebration in the country.

A Chinese Muslim who attends weekly classes at the mosque, Mohd Willieuddin Lim, said most of his friends were surprised when he forwarded the mosque’s invitation: “Can ah? They asked me.”

Lim said he continued to celebrate the Lunar New Year after converting to Islam decades ago as it was not a religious but cultural occasion.

One of the guests, Collin Swee, 49, said it was a meaningful occasion for him.

“I think this is wonderful. It’s very needed right now as people of diffe­rent races and religions are growing further and further apart compared to the old days.

“This gesture by the mosque is very timely. We need more of these gestures to unite people,” said Swee.

Maizura Shamsuddin, who is prin­­­cipal assistant director at the Department of Federal Territory Islamic Affairs, said she was supportive of the event.

Former actress Shila Lama Abdul­lah, who also attended the event, said it was a great opportunity to foster goodwill among people of different races and religions.

Civil society keen to take part in ASEAN’s new FLEG plan

by Pei Ling Gan, 11 January 2017 © FLEGT.org

As the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and its member states implement a new ten-year plan to improve forest governance, civil society organisations (CSOs) in the region are keen to get involved.

Representatives of CSO from Southeast Asia discuss the new ASEAN Work Plan for FLEG by EU FLEGT Facility

The ASEAN Work Plan for Forest Law Enforcement and Governance (2016-2025) has four strategic thrusts:

  1. Enhancing sustainable forest management
  2. Enhancing trade facilitation, economic integration and market access
  3. Strengthening ASEAN’s joint approaches on regional and international issues affecting the forestry sector; and
  4. Institutional strengthening and human resources development.

The CSOs are interested having regular meetings with responsible government representatives and, ideally, joining country delegations to ASEAN working groups responsible for implementing the plan.

“We’re keen to track the implementation of the ASEAN commitments and activities at the national and regional level,” said To Kim Lien, from Center for Education and Development, Vietnam.

To is one of 25 participants from Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, Myanmar, Malaysia and Indonesia who attended a regional CSO meeting on forest law enforcement and governance in Southeast Asia on 5 December 2016, in Jakarta, Indonesia.

The EU FLEGT Facility hosted the meeting to assess interest in setting up a regional platform for CSOs working on FLEG-related topics in the region.

The ASEAN Senior Officials on Forestry (ASOF), which reports to the ASEAN Ministers on Agriculture and Forestry, is responsible for the overall supervision, coordination and implementation of the Work Plan.

ASOF will be supported by five working groups that meet at least once a year and focus, respectively, on forest management; CITES and wildlife enforcement; forest products development; social forestry; and forests and climate change.

Thang Hooi Chiew, an independent consultant, highlighted that some of these working groups could draw on the expertise of civil society organisations to implement the work plan.

He added that under the new work plan, activities could be implemented with the agreement of at least two ASEAN member states. Previously, activities could only be implemented with the consent from all member states.

The civil society representatives were keen to exchange information, knowledge, skills and resources related to independent monitoring, timber legality, and advocacy at the national and regional level, including on VPA processes.

“In Laos, CSOs have been invited by the government to participate in the VPA process but the complexity of the negotiation is difficult to follow, and the time commitment is high,” said Dr Chanthavy Vongkha, from the Lao Wildlife Conservation Association.

“We want to learn from neighbouring countries, how do their CSOs continue to participate in the process?” said Dr Chanthavy Vongkha.

His Indonesian colleague shared that capacity building is important while the Vietnamese also expressed their willingness to share their lessons.

“A few years ago the media and businesses were not that interested in the VPA because it was very technical,” said To. “We set up a team to go through the documents and translate it into public-friendly information. We can do the same for other countries. It’s important to make information available for different target groups.”