The Iskandar Malaysia development zone was launched five years ago, with the aim of boosting Johor's economy by attracting a wide spectrum of investments. As it approaches its fifth anniversary nextmonth, The Straits Times looks at how it's faring.
Aside from the serious business of education and tourist attractions like Legoland, recreational facilities in Nusajaya include a marina and clubhouse in Puteri Harbour. -- ST PHOTOS: CHEW SENG KIM
1 of 2
Aside from the serious business of education and tourist attractions like Legoland, recreational facilities in Nusajaya include a marina and clubhouse in Puteri Harbour. -- ST PHOTOS: CHEW SENG KIM
Model builder Lee Khai Yuen, 36, putting together a building made from Lego bricks. The Legoland Malaysia theme park will be completed next year.
By Reme Ahmad, Assistant Foreign Editor
NUSAJAYA: Some time next year, frisky American pre-schoolers squealing with delight at the madcap adventures of The Cat In The Hat will join budding doctors and seamen in the education hub that is rapidly taking shape in southern Johor.
EduCity in Nusajaya, a 15-minute drive from the Johor side of the Second Link, has become a popular destination for education providers looking to open new schools and campuses.
Raffles Education Corp, a private Singapore education group, told The Straits Times that when its American school opens next year, it will offer classes starting at kindergarten level all the way up to 12th grade, the equivalent of the GCE A levels.
APART from educational facilities, other big projects coming up include Pinewood Studios, Legoland and an indoor theme park featuring Hello Kitty and other cartoon characters. The expected completion dates of the projects are given in brackets.
Pinewood studios (2013), the same group that produced Johnny English, Batman and Lara Croft, among others, will occupy 32ha of land.
Legoland Malaysia (2012)
An indoor theme park (2012), with attractions that include Hello Kitty Town, Barney and Bob the Builder, will be located by a retail mall.
Johor Premium Outlets mall (to open next month) will have 80 shops offering discounted fare from top brands such as Burberry and Armani.
Traders Hotel, 292 rooms (2012)
Renaissance Hotel, 300 rooms (2014)
Palazzo Hotel and Serviced Suites, 293 rooms (2014)
Gleneagles Hospital, 300 beds, 150 suites (2014)
Columbia Asia Hospital, 82 beds (opened this year)
OFFICES AND COMMERCIAL SPACE
Medini Square, 1.05 million sq ft of office space and retail shops (2013)
Many new projects have been launched by landowners. These include waterfront homes in Danga Bay (by a Malaysian group of the same name), and Senibong Cove by Australia's Walker Corporation.
Temasek Holdings and Malaysian sovereign fund Khazanah Nasional are planning a wellness township.
The flagship zones
MOST reports on Iskandar Malaysia tend to zoom in on Nusajaya - large plots of empty land now being transformed into Legoland, university campuses and residential areas. But Iskandar actually has four other 'flagship zones'.
Johor Baru City zone: The area located just past the Causeway includes the Johor city centre, with its supermarkets, hotels and malls that many Singaporeans often patronise. There is also the Danga Bay waterfront project facing Singapore.
Western Gate Development: The Port of Tanjung Pelepas is found here as well as the 2,100-megawatt Tanjung Bin Power Plant. It also includes Heritage Park with its 9,300 hectares of mangrove park suitable for eco-tourism.
Eastern Gate Development: Site of Johor's key industrial hub that includes Pasir Gudang and Tanjung Langsat industrial parks, the Johor Port and the Tanjung Langsat Port that handles bulk cargo and liquified petroleum gas.
Senai-Skudai zone: Senai airport along with an air cargo and logistics park are its key features. Universiti Teknologi Malaysia is also located here.
Iskandar Malaysia in total covers 2,217 sq km, about three times the size of Singapore. Launched on Nov 4, 2006, it is part of the federal government's strategy to turn Malaysia into a fully developed nation by 2020 by lifting per capita incomes to US$15,000 (S$19,500) from US$6,900 in 2009. Incentives include tax breaks and exemptions from the so-called 'bumiputera rules', allowing foreign investors to own 100 per cent of their businesses.
Apart from the ample land in Nusajaya, one of its key attractions is its proximity to Singapore, where the large number of expatriate families is seen as a potentially lucrative source of revenue. 'There are a few hundred people in the queue for the American school in Singapore,' said Mr Gan Chin Huat, the group's special project director.
To make it more attractive, the group plans to run a shuttle bus service to and from Singapore, as well as offer hostel facilities for older children.
The Raffles group, which has 38 colleges in 14 countries, is one of several foreign education providers that are making Nusajaya the fastest-growing of the five Iskandar zones.
Other players include Britain's Newcastle University Medicine Malaysia and the Management Development Institute of Singapore (MDIS), with plans for a 12ha campus. Marlborough College, the British public school whose alumni include Prince William's wife Catherine Middleton, will open its campus next year.
The sprouting of the schools is in marked contrast to the initial scepticism towards the Iskandar Malaysia project. It was launched along with four other huge 'economic growth corridors', making some observers wonder if there were sufficient investment dollars to make them viable.
And then there was Malaysia's chequered record with mega-projects. Some, like the Entertainment Village and BioValley ventures in Selangor, were ditched after failing to pull in investors.
So, will Iskandar Malaysia meet the same fate?
Five years on, progress in the sprawling and multifaceted economic region has been uneven. The Iskandar region, which covers most of southern Johor, has an area of some 2,200 sq km. Other than Nusajaya, none of the other four 'flagship zones' appears to have created the same buzz or reeled in big foreign entities. It has yet to get a company that's big in business process outsourcing, or the backroom operations of a foreign bank, to come on board.
It is also too early to say whether the newer services being brought in, such as movie-making by Pinewood Studios, and tourist facilities like Legoland would create big demand for skilled labour, said Mr Francis Hutchinson, a visiting fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.
'With regard to competition on service quality, Singapore comes out ahead, and with regard to competition on price (such as for call centres), the Philippines will win,' he said. But he added that Johor has always done well with property and manufacturing, and has shown potential in education, health and logistics.
Certainly, there is interest from small and medium-sized industries from Singapore in ventures involving engineering and manufacturing, said Mr Loh Lian Hiang, president of the Johor Baru Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
By February, cumulative investments in factories from Singapore companies stood at RM3.49 billion (S$1.4 billion), compared with RM517.9 million when Iskandar was launched in 2006, officials say. In the last five years, Iskandar has attracted cumulative investments of nearly RM76 billion. Of this, the government's share is RM6.28 billion - or just 8.3 per cent of the total, said the Iskandar Regional Development Authority.
And of the total investments pulled in, 40 per cent 'have already been spent on the ground for the various projects', said the government agency's chief executive Ismail Ibrahim.
'The development of Iskandar Malaysia is private sector-driven. As such, the government sees its role as facilitating and encouraging investment, rather than just injecting it in,' he said.
For those coming in, Iskandar offers the convenience of being near Singapore, minus its higher costs. Crossing into Nusajaya from parts of Singapore via the Second Link would take about the same time as 'going to Jurong or Changi', said Dr R. Theyvendran, MDIS' secretary-general.
The entry of UK-based Pinewood Studios has raised hopes of benefits to downstream industries. Global Capital & Development, a firm majority-owned by Abu Dhabi investment fund Mubadala, wants to set up a 'media village' next to it to be used by related media businesses.
To be sure, the studios will not be completed until 2013, and much more remains to be done to rev up investor interest and activity in the other zones.
But Mr Ismail, in an interview earlier this year, believes things will pick up once the first phase of major projects comes onstream. These include the medical university, the Johor Premium Outlets, scheduled to open next month, and the Legoland theme park which will open next year. 'People will really see the buzz in Iskandar Malaysia' then, he said.
Ethnic politics makes Malaysia’s transition to a contested democracy fraught and ugly
Sep 10th 2011 | from the print edition
SKYSCRAPERS and lampposts in Kuala Lumpur are still festooned with flags left over from independence day festivities at the end of August. Fittingly, this week they were shrouded in the annual “haze” of smog from forest fires on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Malaysia’s politicians are not in the mood to celebrate nationhood and unity. Rather, with an election in the offing, everything is a chance for political point-scoring.
That includes independence itself. One huge banner in the centre of the capital shows the country’s six prime ministers since the British left in 1957, with the incumbent, Najib Razak, in the foreground, gazing into a visionary future. All six hailed from the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), which has led the “Barisan Nasional” (BN) coalition government ever since 1957. Some opposition politicians now complain that the official narrative of Malaysia’s history ignores the role of non-UMNO freedom fighters. Since the most recent general election, in March 2008, the opposition has had a real chance of winning power. For the first time since independence in 1957, the BN lost its two-thirds majority in Parliament that allowed it to amend the constitution on its own. No longer a one-coalition state, the opposition argues, Malaysia has to rethink its own history.
The next election is not due until 2013. But, out of tradition and political calculation, Mr Najib is expected to call it earlier—and to win it. Some think it could come this year, after a generous government budget in October. A crowded calendar of regional summitry makes that awkward, and Mr Najib has other reasons for delay. Since he took over in 2009, he has launched a plethora of initiatives to improve Malaysians’ lives and a “Performance and Delivery Unit” to implement them. Results take time.
Three factors, however, argue for a hasty dash to the polls. The first is that Mr Najib, who took over UMNO and the prime ministership after the BN’s unprecedentedly poor showing in 2008, still had an approval rating of 59% in a recent survey. That is well below his initial popularity, however, and he will not want to mimic Britain’s Gordon Brown in delaying too long before seeking his own mandate. Second, economic storm clouds are gathering in the West. Malaysia’s economy is still growing at over 4% a year, but is vulnerable to a downturn in external demand.
Third, the opposition coalition is in some disarray. Its figurehead, Anwar Ibrahim, is on trial for sodomy, illegal in Malaysia, and many expect him to go back to jail soon, as he did (for the same alleged offence) in 1998. He is a divisive figure. But without him, there is no obvious opposition candidate for prime minister. The president of his party is his wife, and its most impressive politician is his 30-year-old daughter, Nurul Izzah. The other components of the coalition are the Democratic Action Party, which draws its support from the Chinese minority, and an Islamic party known as PAS, whose religious conservatism alienates many liberal Malays. So there is even talk of a revival of the prime ministerial ambitions of Razaleigh Hamzah, a veteran UMNO rebel, as an opposition rallying point.
The government helpfully provided another rallying point with its cack-handed crackdown on an NGO-led protest in Kuala Lumpur in July calling for electoral reform. Mr Najib has since agreed to a parliamentary committee to look into the demands, which are mostly unexceptionable: to clean up voters’ lists, allegedly swollen with “phantoms”; to extend the election-campaign period, at present just seven to nine days; to tighten up the postal-vote system; and so on. But he has not agreed to postpone an election until after the committee has ruled.
Whatever technical reforms are made before the next election, it will still be dominated by the original sin of ethnic discrimination set out in the country’s 1957 constitution. This was designed to allay the fears of the majority ethnic-Malay population of being marginalised by Chinese and Indian minorities, which now make up respectively 23% and 7% of the population of 28m. Perks, much extended after race riots in 1969 (still often referred to in Malaysia as if they happened yesterday), gave Malays privileged access to public-sector jobs, university places, stockmarket flotations and government contracts.
Both government and opposition talk of dismantling these privileges, which have contributed to corruption and large-scale emigration. Mr Najib has indeed started tinkering with Malay privileges, much to the outrage of the UMNO right and a vocal Malay-rights ginger group known as Perkasa. Ibrahim Ali, Perkasa’s front man, argues that, with the Malay vote split, the minorities have disproportionate electoral power, to which the mainstream parties pander.
That is nonsense. As elections loom, it is the Malay voter whose opinion matters, and he is assumed to resent any effort to curtail his privileges. And that means that both coalitions have to resort to defending the indefensible: a system in which families that have lived in Malaysia for generations are told to tolerate discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, to bolster allegedly fragile racial harmony. Malays and minorities alike lament that the races are living increasingly separate lives—studying in different schools, eating different foods and going to different parties. The divide is further widened as more Malays, who, constitutionally, are all Muslims, become religiously conservative.
The Malaysian malaise stems from the congruence of two seemingly conflicting trends. One is the healthy development of pluralist competition in a system that had seemed stuck for ever in an UMNO-dominated quasi-democracy. The other is the sharpening of ethnic and religious dividing lines. It is alarming that, instead of seeing competitive politics as a way of bridging the ethnic divide, too many Malaysian politicians see the ethnic divide as a way of winning the political competition.
A water pact with Malaysia upon which Singapore used to depend expired this week. Its end was marked by a cordial handover of a water catchment area in Johor and treatment facilities - a powerful testament of Singapore's progress towards greater self-sufficiency in water. Insight tells the story of that quest.
By Elgin Toh
A SIMPLE turn of the tap did not guarantee water if you happened to be in Singapore on April 24, 1963.
It was the first day of a water rationing exercise that would last 10 months.
An unusually dry spell both in Singapore and in the Tebrau River area in Johor - a primary water source for the island - caused water stocks to plunge dramatically, leaving the authorities with little choice but to impose restrictions.
For four days a week, depending on which area you lived in, you were either deprived of water between 8am and 2pm or between 2pm and 8pm.
People who did not ordinarily read the newspapers or listen to the radio suddenly found themselves having to scan headlines or turn knobs at least once a week - to stay informed about rationing schedules.
Those who forgot to store water in pails at home during the allocated timings had to stand in queues to use public taps.
The cost of food went up.
A government advisory that called for the washing of cars and watering of gardens to be 'kept to a minimum' clearly did not stop some. A forum letter in The Straits Times on May 3 had one reader wondering 'why the gentleman living opposite me still finds it necessary to water his lawn non-stop for 14 minutes' a day.
Eerily, the spying on neighbours went further than that.
Another letter on May 17 read: 'At a time when the state is facing an acute water shortage, is it proper for a person to bathe three times a day? That is exactly what my neighbour and his six children are doing every day of the week.'
Eventually, the rain returned and the reservoirs filled up. Curbs were finally lifted on Feb 28, 1964 - ironically, on a day when heavy rainfall caused an 11-year- old boy to drown.
Singaporeans who lived through that angsty period learnt a lesson they never forgot: that water, or the lack thereof, was a major source of weakness for the island-state.
This week, a no less momentous milestone in Singapore's aquatic history was crossed, but with far less public interest. A 50-year water agreement signed in 1961 - one of just two between Singapore and Malaysia - drew to a close.
As a result, a catchment area in Johor more than five times the size of Singapore's Central Catchment Nature Reserve ceased to serve Singapore's water needs, but with nary an eyebrow raised.
Public indifference, however, can be seen in a positive light. It is arguably a testament to Singapore's success in overcoming its water vulnerabilities.
What has happened since 1963?
In the words of Dr Joey Long of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, 'the tables have turned'.
'While in the initial years Singapore's access to adequate water was viewed through the lens of security and survival, Singapore's present circumstances should be viewed with more optimism,' he said.
In 50 years, a virtuous mix of visionary leadership, meticulous groundwork and scientific advancements has helped Singapore exorcise her hydro-demons.
A tiny island-state ranked 170th out of a list of 190 nations in fresh water availability appears to be leapfrogging its way into water independence.
A matter of life and death
BUT there was a time when the situation was a lot more tense - and not just because people had to line up at public taps and tolerate dirty cars.
In 1970, seven years after that depressing drought, water security continued to keep Singapore's leaders awake at night.
'If these chaps do not observe the agreements, it will be a very serious matter for us,' said then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, referring to the two Singapore-Malaysia water agreements, in a meeting with Professor S. Jayakumar before he took over as Singapore's permanent representative to the United Nations.
'It is a matter of life and death... it can lead to war,' he added.
Never far from Mr Lee's mind was the threat from Malaysian premier Tunku Abdul Rahman, relayed to him by the British, that 'if Singapore doesn't do what I want, I'll switch off the water supply'.
Coming just days after independence, the threat - though never acted upon - convinced him that 'as long as I was totally dependent on Malaysia's water supply, we would always be a satellite'.
That, combined with the Japanese blowing up water pipes that carried water across the strait from Johor in 1942, was what drove him to seek water self-sufficiency from the get-go, he later revealed.
The cards dealt to Singapore in 1965 were not promising.
The bulk of its water came from Johor. Two agreements signed in 1961 and 1962 allowed Singapore to buy water for 3 sen per 1,000 gallons (4,546 litres), excluding land rental costs in the catchment areas.
The expiry dates of the two water pacts were 2011 and 2061 respectively.
The 1961 agreement gave Singapore full and exclusive rights to draw water from Gunung Pulai, Pontian, Skudai and Tebrau. The 1962 agreement allowed Singapore to collect up to 250 million gallons of water a day from Johor River.
In exchange, treated water was sold back to Johor at the price of 50 sen per 1,000 gallons, which was below cost.
The two agreements were confirmed by both Singapore and Malaysia in their separation agreement and promptly lodged with the UN.
The British also left behind three reservoirs - MacRitchie, Peirce and Seletar.
At once, Mr Lee and his Government swung into action. One of his first initiatives: forming a unit under the Prime Minister's Office to coordinate water policy.
Singapore lacked natural aquifers and groundwater. But it did not lack rainfall, per se, receiving from the heavens 2,400mm annually, comfortably higher than the global average of 1,050mm.
Rather, what could not be found in abundance were water bodies and land that could 'catch' the rain.
In 1969, the capacity of Seletar Reservoir was enlarged and its catchment scope broadened.
The 1970s saw a flurry of activity.
The Government began studying the feasibility of various conventional and not-so-conventional water sources, and published in 1972 the Water Master Plan. This is seen by water experts as the first long-term blueprint for water resource development here.
Upper Peirce Reservoir was completed in 1975. That same year, Kranji River was dammed to separate seawater from freshwater. This created Kranji Reservoir - one of the first of several reservoirs formed this way.
But the Government also took chances with the not-so-likely. It constructed an experimental plant to recycle used water - a predecessor to Newater.
Unfortunately, the requisite technologies, such as reverse osmosis, were still premature. The tests failed to persuade policymakers that the idea was sufficiently economical or reliable and no permanent plant was built.
As the economy grew rapidly, it soon also became clear that Singapore could not simply expand reservoirs indefinitely. Industry was competing for land use.
A concerted effort at promoting conservation began. The first 'Water is precious' campaign, launched in 1971, reduced water consumption by 5 per cent.
Four decades on, the public education drive continues in schools, factories and the media, whether it is exemplifying 'water efficient homes' with toilets that use cistern water-saving bags or mandating self-shutting delayed action taps in buildings. To drive home the message, a water conservation tax was later introduced. It is levied today at a rate of 30 per cent for the first 40 litres per month. Beyond that, the tax rises to 45 per cent. The Government's aim is to cut per capita consumption from 155 litres today to 140 litres by 2030.
The 1980s and 1990s
THE 1980s saw both bright spots and dark ones in bilateral ties. From time to time, threats to fiddle with Singapore's water supply, whether serious or not, emanated from Malaysian society or officialdom or both.
In 1986, for instance, the visit of Israeli President Chaim Herzog to Singapore stoked anger across the causeway, prompting some to call for the treaties to be revoked or at least re-negotiated.
There was good reason for optimism in the late 1980s, when the two sides penned an agreement supplementing the 1962 one. Singapore was given the go-ahead to build a dam across Johor River and to buy water over and above the original limit of 250 million gallons a day.
A decade passed. As it considered its long-term water needs, Singapore's leaders decided to negotiate supplementary agreements to extend the supply of water from Johor beyond 2061.
In 1998, in the wake of the Asian financial crisis, the two sides came close to an agreement on a 'water-for-funds' deal, which was later called off.
Another round of talks took place in 2000 but differences remained over the sale price of raw water from Johor. There was initial agreement to raise the price from 3 sen per 1,000 gallons to 45 sen, and later to 60 sen.
Malaysia then said it wanted to unilaterally revise the price to RM6.25 per thousand gallons, a move Singapore insisted was not legally sound. After rounds of strongly worded exchanges in various forms, the matter quietened.
Ambitious new strategy to add two big taps
Four big taps
THE Singapore Government had been hard at work exploring alternative sources of water.
Even as talks with Malaysia ran into an impasse, efforts on another front were headed for a breakthrough that would 'change the whole equation', in the words of Dr Lee Poh Onn, a fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.
After the failed 1974 experiment, Singapore decided to give recycled water another shot, sending two engineers to the United States in 1998 for a study trip.
Upon their return, they reported findings that suggested recycling had become viable, thanks to, among other things, advances in membrane technology. Subsequent studies corroborated the findings, prompting the Government to construct the first demo plant in Bedok in 2000.
The three-step process eventually adopted for the production of Newater involved filtration and reverse osmosis, removing particles as small as 0.001 microns before disinfecting the water under ultraviolet light. The water met US and UN standards and was, indeed, purer than tap water.
By May 2002, the Government was finally ready to go public with its bold new water strategy.
It was an ambitious plan to double the different types of water sources Singapore relied upon from two to four by 2011, the year the 1961 agreement with Malaysia expired.
Instead of relying only on water collected in reservoirs here and bought from Johor, there would be 'four big national taps' within 10 years. The two new 'taps' were desalination plants and Newater or water-reclamation plants.
In his speech to Parliament, then Environment Minister Lim Swee Say declared: 'Singapore certainly can become completely self-sufficient after 2061, if need be.'
The year 2061 was significant as it was when the 1962 water agreement with Malaysia would expire.
A toast to the future
FOR Newater to succeed, the public had to be willing to drink water that was previously sewage.
'Public acceptance is not guaranteed at the start. Recycled water has been rejected in Australia, where people term it 'yuck' water,' said Dr Eduardo Araral, assistant dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore.
'Singaporeans accepted it both because they are are pragmatic and because they trust the Government's promise that Newater is safe to drink,' he added.
Some 60,000 'toasted' with bottled Newater during the 2002 National Day Parade, including Mr Goh Chok Tong, who was then Prime Minister. Singapore now has five Newater plants, the largest of which is at Changi. Newater is used both in industries and indirectly for households, after it is mixed into reservoirs.
The next significant breakthrough came in desalination technology, although some call this success story a work in progress.
As the cost of desalting seawater fell by more than half in the decade leading up to 2002, PUB called for and received tenders to build a plant. In 2005, a desalination facility using reverse osmosis membranes was commissioned in Tuas. It was built by SingSpring, a wholly owned subsidiary of Hyflux. A second desalination plant in Tuas should be ready by 2013.
Of the current daily consumption of 380 million gallons, Newater and desalination now make up 40 per cent. PUB aims to raise that to 80 per cent by 2061, when all agreements with Johor expire.
Meanwhile, work on other fronts continue.
The completion of Marina Barrage in 2008 increased Singapore's water catchment area from half of its total land area to more than two-thirds. Studies are under way on the possibility of increasing this in future to 90 per cent through the use of treatment plants that handle both salt water and fresh water. There are now 17 reservoirs - up from three in 1965 - including Marina, Punggol and Serangoon.
Less visible upgrades may not be any less important. PUB has an ongoing programme to replace leaky asbestos cement water pipes with more corrosion-resistant ones. Also, an underground system of pumps and pipes connecting Singapore's reservoirs was completed in 2007 to prevent wastage by transferring water from full reservoirs to less full ones.
Turning weakness to strength
'I NEVER imagined we could progress from a situation of crisis to the situation of opportunity today,' said Dr Lee.
A dramatic turn of events, which he ultimately puts down to political will, means the water issue is now more likely to evoke hope than anxiety.
Research and development projects are creating jobs and expertise that can be exported. The PUB expects the GDP contribution from the water sector to grow from $0.5 billion in 2003 to $1.7 billion in 2015, with the number of jobs doubling to 11,000 by 2015.
To be sure, some latent risks remain.
Dr Araral warns, for instance, that skyrocketing energy prices in the future may yet cause problems for the much-vaunted but relatively fuel-guzzling desalination project, although that may in turn spur the development of other sources of water.
Terrorism, too, could derail the most carefully constructed of systems.
'Security experts note that water reservoirs are attractive targets of terrorists,' he said.
Nevertheless, most agree that whatever happens in the future, the achievements as they stand today already exceed the wildest of expectations - not least among them those of the water rationing generation.
Singaporeans can rest with the firm assurance that their secure access to this life-giving commodity is no longer in the hands of others.
ironies of life - dark wanna get fair; fair wanna get dark
June 26, 2011 5:44 pm
India’s men see skincare as fair game
By Amy Kazmin in New Delhi
Young Indian men are paying more attention to how they look, moving away from a traditional emphasis on brains over brawn
It is not an uncommon formula for an Indian television commercial: a popular Bollywood star endorsing a cream that promises to lighten olive-toned Indian skin – except the star is muscled hunk John Abraham and the fairness cream he’s touting, Garnier PowerLight, targets not women but young Indian men.
India’s traditional ideals of beauty have long placed high value on fair skin, which has fuelled a $466m a year business in creams such as Unilever’s market leader Fair & Lovely which ostensibly help women lighten their skin. From childhood, Indian women are bombarded with the message that fairer skin can bring a desirable husband and the job of their dreams.
It is part of a widening campaign to promote male personal care and grooming products as young Indian men pay ever more attention to how they look, moving away from a traditional emphasis on brains over brawn.
Dheeraj Sinha, chief strategy officer at Bates 141, the Asia-based marketing and branding company says in the past, “when it came to marriage, if you were a boy of a certain caste or creed, and you had a sexy job in the government, you would be picked up, no matter how you looked”.
But now, “with marriages that are love-based rather than arranged, men need a woman’s approval, so the need to look good has gone up in a big way,”.
India’s market for male personal care and grooming products is still small relative to the women’s beauty market and those for men’s products in more affluent Asian countries such as China or Thailand. Euromonitor puts sales in India of dedicated men’s grooming products at just $500m a year, of which two-thirds is razors, blades and shaving foams and the rest specialised deodorants, hair care and skin care products.
Experts estimate that India’s overall male personal grooming products market is growing at about 15 per cent a year. Sales of men’s fairness cream are just $44m a year – a tiny fraction of the size of the women’s market – but their sales are growing faster than any other product category, at a blistering 40 per cent annually.
“Fairness has become a cultural ideal of ‘good-looking’” both for women and men, says Mr Sinha.
Suggestive ads earn conservatives’ ire
Getting the message right for male grooming products in India can be a minefield.
Multinational Unilever, homegrown pharmaceutical and personal care company Paras, and Calcutta-based McNroe have all aroused the ire of India’s conservative political establishment with highly sexualised television commercials for their men’s deodorants.
Authorities say the advertisements – which all convey the message of “use our product, get the girl (in bed)” – have crossed the boundaries of good taste and decency by “tickling male libidinous instincts”. The ministry of information and broadcasting has made clear its desire to see such ads off the air.
But while the self-regulating Advertising Standards Council of India admits the ads have generated many complaints, it says it has found that many of them are “not objectionable”, and that most air late at night, “outside family viewing”.
Deodorant use among Indian men is among the lowest in Asia, with product penetration at less than 10 per cent. With such a vast potential market, deodorant manufacturers and sellers look likely to be tickling men’s libidinous instincts for the foreseeable future.
In their desire for a fairer skin tone, Indian men are part of a pan-Asia trend. “It’s not an Indian phenomenon alone,” says Raghav Gupta, a principal at Booz & Co in New Delhi, noting that in China, Thailand and Malaysia the men’s fairness markets are “very large”.
In China, the men’s skincare market is estimated at $311m annually – about seven times the size of India’s. L’Oréal says sales in China of its Men Expert product line now exceed sales in western Europe and are growing at three times those of women’s products in China.
“Chinese guys have no taboo,” says Alexis Perakis-Valat, chief executive of L’Oréal in China. “They are pragmatic and clear that looking good perhaps boosts your self-esteem and helps you in your everyday life, so why not take advantage?”
While products specific to them are relatively new, Indian men’s pursuit of fairness is not. Analysts reckon about 20 per cent of Unilever’s Fair & Lovely cream has always been used by men borrowing from sisters or wives.
In 2005, Calcutta-based Emami broke new ground with a fairness cream targeting men, enlisting Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan as brand ambassador. Today, Fair & Handsome retains a commanding 70 per cent share of the Indian men’s fairness cream market.
Analysts expect the sector to remain highly competitive as rising incomes allow more men to splurge on such purchases. “The aspiration to look better has been there,” says Mr Gupta. “Now the ability is catching up.”
'Maybe we will change the name. OWC is too controversial. We can use a simpler name like 'happy family' or something.'
DR DARLAN ZAINI, a representative of the Obedient Wives' Club
Representatives of the controversial Obedient Wives' Club (OWC) said that they are disappointed by the statement made by the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis), but will still go ahead with plans to set up a Singapore branch.
Singaporeans Darlan Zaini and Azman Ari told The Sunday Times yesterday that their intentions had been misunderstood and that their proposed club here does not focus only on sex issues but also wants to help people have harmonious families.
'I feel very disappointed. What we intend to do is totally different from what Muis is saying,' said Dr Darlan, 70.
Muis said in a statement on Friday that the club's view that a satisfactory sex life is the main solution to solving marital and social problems is myopic and goes against Islamic teachings.
It added that happiness in a marriage goes beyond receiving sexual fulfilment from one's wife.
Commenting on Muis' statement, Dr Darlan and Mr Azman - in separate interviews - said that while sex is not the main focus, it is important that the wife consents to the husband's needs.
Dr Darlan, who has a PhD in literature, said he agrees with Muis that sex between husband and wife is a form of ibadah (blessed deed in Islam). But in the same breath, he said: 'In Islam, if the husband wants sex and the wife is not in the mood, she has to give in to him. If not, the angels will curse her. This is not good for the family.'
Both men emphasised that in Islam, the husband plays the role of the leader and the wife's role is that of a follower.
But before the man can be a good husband and leader, said Mr Azman, the wife has to first be obedient.
'If the wife is obedient, then God will give blessings to the family and most likely the husband will treat her fairly.'
The 45-year-old businessman, along with his sister Hamidah and Dr Darlan, plan to register the OWC here as a society and hold forums to educate women on how to be good wives.
The club's Malaysian branch plans to give lessons to wives to teach them how to satisfy their husbands in bed, since it believes that social vices stem from unfulfilled sexual needs at home.
Its vice-president, Dr Rohaya Mohamad, has said that a good married woman should obey and serve her husband like a 'first-class prostitute' to keep him from straying.
The OWC was launched in Malaysia earlier this month by Global Ikhwan, a group that promotes polygamy. The latter is an offshoot of Muslim group Al-Arqam which was disbanded in 1994 after the Malaysian authorities said it was preaching deviationist teachings.
That year, its founder Haji Ashaari Muhammad was barred from entering Singapore. He died last year.
Asked if the OWC's Singapore representatives were linked to Al-Arqam, Mr Azman said they are Global Ikhwan members but were never Al-Arqam members.
'Some of them in Malaysia were ex-members of Al-Arqam but we are not related to Al-Arqam. I don't know their teachings.'
Mr Azman and Dr Darlan said they will still try to set up their club despite opposition from Muslim groups here.
'Maybe we will change the name. OWC is too controversial. We can use a simpler name like 'happy family' or something,' said Dr Darlan.
Published: May 29 2011 23:03 | Last updated: May 29 2011 23:03
Khazanah Nasional has pulled off a double surprise in recent months, scoring a crushing victory in a $3.6bn takeover battle with India’s Fortis for Singapore’s Parkway Holdings healthcare group and then selling 30 per cent of the restructured target to Mitsui, the Japanese trading house, for $1.1bn.
The double-pronged Parkway deal demonstrates a degree of nimble-footed aggression that few expected from Malaysia’s state investment fund, better known as the custodian of the state’s shareholdings in troubled government-linked companies (GLCs) such as Proton, the national carmaker.
Yet big questions remain about Khazanah’s ability to deal equally decisively with the rest of its portfolio, not least because of government opposition to radical surgery on any of its significant companies.
Khazanah, which means “treasure” in Malay, has significantly less firepower than some sovereign wealth funds. Its net portfolio value of M$75bn ($24.6bn) at the end of December compares with more than S$186bn ($149bn) managed by Temasek, its Singapore counterpart.
The agency is also burdened by a complex mandate, with potentially conflicting instructions to grow the portfolio, earn significant returns, lead the government’s GLC transformation programme and help Malaysia’s drive to become an advanced economy by 2020.
However, Azman Mokhtar, Khazanah’s managing director, argues that the agency is delivering on most of these fronts, citing an increase in the portfolio value of 39 per cent last year, with compounded annual growth of 13 per cent from its level of M$33.3bn when he took over in 2004.
“We are in the seventh year of a major transformation programme, and we have achieved a lot in terms of making the GLCs more efficient while also growing the value of our portfolio and playing our part in helping Malaysia to develop,” Mr Azman, a former UBS and Salomon Smith Barney banker, tells the Financial Times.
Much of the investment has been in new economy areas such as healthcare, leisure and tourism, clean energy, life sciences and education – notably in the Iskandar development, twice the size of Singapore, being built by Khazanah in the southern Malaysian state of Johor.
At the same time, the group has sold its 32 per cent stake in Pos Malaysia, the national postal operator, reduced its holdings in successful companies such as Malaysia Airports, and strongly encouraged regional expansion by successful portfolio companies such as Axiata, the telecommunications group, and the banking group CIMB.
“The GLCs have conclusively improved their performance as a result of the management and other changes we have made, with aggregate earnings for the 20 biggest rising by 49 per cent in 2010 to M$17.3bn and total shareholder returns of 16.4 per cent since 2004,” says Mr Azman.
That compares with an average annual rise of 14.5 per cent in the Kuala Lumpur Composite index over the same period. However, Khazanah’s ability to turn round the biggest legacy companies is tightly bound by government limitations on its freedom of manoeuvre.
People close to the group say that Khazanah often finds itself arguing against the senior managers of its own portfolio companies, which have become adept at lobbying against change, especially when it comes to ownership. For example, airline executives have fought hard to stay within the Khazanah stable.
The impact of the political framework is clear in detailed financial information released by Khazanah this year, which shows its newer investments achieving an average annual growth in value of more than 20 per cent, while older investments are growing at only 5 per cent.
“We have had our frustrations, and there have been areas, mostly in the regulated sectors such as electricity, automobiles and aviation, where value has stagnated or even declined,” Mr Azman admits.
To critics, this failure to turn round the biggest legacy companies undermines the successes Khazanah has had in other areas. “I think there are a lot of very capable and committed people in Khazanah, but there are a lot of political obstacles to real reform,” says Tan Teng Boo, chief executive of Capital Dynamics, a Kuala Lumpur investment adviser.
“They may have had some growth, but they are supposed to be a transformer of the GLCs, not a portfolio manager, and they have failed miserably to do that. But it’s not really their fault. It’s the politicians who won’t allow them to do what is necessary.”
The first leg of Cambodia’s refurbished railway line was formally opened on Friday, marking the beginning of a south-east Asian rail renaissance, with projects planned across the region, spurred on by environmental and economic imperatives.
Vietnam is preparing to overhaul the 1,700km line from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), while China is about to break ground on a link from Yunnan province in the south to Laos, and has agreed to a joint venture with Thailand to upgrade some of its railways.
There are also suggestions of a line from Bangkok to an Indian Ocean port to be built at Tavoy in Burma.
Such works are vital if south-east Asia is to face the twin threats of a long-term decline in export markets in the US and Europe and competition from the rising economies of China and India.
With 550m people and a combined gross domestic product of $1,500bn, south-east Asia should be able to generate trade growth among the countries of the region. However, such activity accounted for less than a quarter of its overall international trade last year.
“The financial crisis in 2008 highlighted that one of their weaknesses was an over-reliance on exports,” said Pierre Chartier, a transport economist with the UN in Bangkok. “There is a realisation that they should do more to tap into intra-regional trade.”
The willingness to work together to develop links – as encouraged by the Association of South East Asian Nations – is nowhere clearer than in the ambitious plans to build or renovate rail lines that will eventually connect Beijing to Singapore and the Indian Ocean with the Pacific.
Kunio Senga, head of the Asian Development Bank’s south-east Asia department, said: “Asean integration has been talked about and talked about, and nothing of substance happened. But now, Asean leaders have realised that talk does not lead to substantive integration.”
Asean is pledged to create a common market by 2015, but even if the tariff and customs barriers come down, more investment is needed in infrastructure.
“The bottleneck is huge in terms of infrastructure requirement,” said Mr Senga, whose ADB is a joint funder of the $141m project to refurbish the Cambodian link in the chain.
When complete, the network will not only carry goods between China and south-east Asia, and open up economically deprived areas such as Pursat, but could also act as a land bridge between China and India’s east coast.
The ADB estimates that the initial phase of the programme – the line that runs from southern China down the length of Vietnam before turning north and west through Cambodia and Thailand and then south through Malaysia to terminate in Singapore – will cost in the region of $2.2bn.
The whole project, including a “missing link” between Ho Chi Minh City and Phnom Penh, where there has never been a track, could be finished by 2015, and could produce an economic return of 20 per cent above its development costs, says the ADB.
Shortcomings in the region’s infrastructure and bureaucracy are imposing a hidden surcharge on regional trade. Amadou Diallo, chief executive of DHL Global Forwarding for South Asia Pacific, estimates that about 15 per cent of the value of intra-Asean trade is currently being lost. Given that internal regional trade in 2009 was worth $376.2bn, that equates to an annual cost of $56bn, or 3.7 per cent of regional GDP.
The railway is likely to face competition from the region’s increasingly integrated road networks, but regional manufacturers say it could still make a difference.
For example, Ford produces 275,000 vehicles a year at its production facility in southern Thailand. Ninety per cent of them are exported, almost all by sea. The company estimates that the railway could cut the delivery time from Thailand to Hanoi from 14 days to three.
Say Polin, meanwhile, is nervous about losing his job, but recognises that the rail link could bring benefits deep into the Cambodian countryside.
“Right now we are worried that there will be no more jobs, but we hope that a company will start a factory and bring jobs,” he said.
“That would be great.”
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2010. You may share using our article tools. Please don't cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.
Supposed to come into his own in his second term, Indonesia's president is looking even less like his own man
Oct 21st 2010
BEFORE last year’s elections in Indonesia, supporters of the incumbent president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, predicted that victory would lead to a markedly different second term for their champion. A mild-mannered ditherer, he would emerge triumphant and transformed, as a bold and decisive reformer: Super-SBY! Sure enough, his Democrat Party became the largest in parliament and Mr Yudhoyono was re-elected in a landslide. But, as Indonesia marked the first anniversary of his second inauguration on October 20th, SBY2 was looking very much like SBY1. Indeed, in some ways it looks worse. Even some of Mr Yudhoyono’s fans admit to being disappointed.
That might seem harsh. Under his presidency, Indonesia has become a success story. In November Barack Obama will return to Indonesia, his childhood home and the country that has more Muslims than any other, to pay his respects to a flourishing democracy and bastion of tolerance. Protests marked this week’s anniversary with calls for Mr Yudhoyono to resign. But opinion polls suggest that he remains a popular president, though his once sky-high approval ratings have fallen. Even some environmentalists, traditional thorns in the flesh of Indonesian governments, like him: Mr Yudhoyono having declared a two-year moratorium on large-scale clearance of the country’s rainforests from January 2011.
More broadly, Indonesia’s global stature is rising. The public finances are sound and the economy has sailed through the financial crisis. Among G20 economies, only China and India grew faster than the 4.5% Indonesia achieved last year. In 2010 the rate is likely to be close to 6%. That would have seemed almost unimaginable 12 years ago, when the economy collapsed and Indonesia’s longstanding dictator, Suharto, fell.
Yet it is not churlish to look for more. Indonesia is underperforming. A recent “strategic assessment” by the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University concluded that it is losing ground to its neighbours. Its resilience during the global downturn was in part caused by its skipping the pre-crisis trade boom. Its recovery has been pulled along by Chinese hunger for commodities—notably coal and palm oil. With its wealth of resources, and young population, Indonesia should achieve respectable rates of growth for decades. But respectability will not create enough jobs, let alone secure Indonesia’s aim of becoming “an advanced and self-reliant nation by 2025”.
Many development indicators are bad. In terms of GDP per person, for example, Indonesia is much richer than Vietnam. Yet an Indonesian mother is over three times more likely to die in childbirth than a Vietnamese mother. And her child is nearly three times more likely to die before the age of five.
An important step the government could take to improve things would be to spend less on wasteful subsidies—which account for at least half of its “discretionary” spending (which excludes interest payments, for example)—and more on infrastructure, education and health. Mr Yudhoyono’s previous finance minister, Sri Mulyani Indrawati, made a start on this. But she has since left to join the World Bank, apparently sacrificed in the interests of coalition politics after a tiff with Aburizal Bakrie, a leading businessman, party leader and former cabinet member.
Rather than use his party’s parliamentary numbers to push through reform, Mr Yudhoyono has stuck with a timid consensus style, building a bigger, weaker six-party coalition than he needs. Four of his smaller coalition partners have Islamic roots. To foster some Islamic credentials of his own, perhaps, the president has seemed disappointingly slow to stand up for greater religious tolerance. His government seems especially reluctant to stamp out violence by the “Islamic Defenders’ Front”, or FPI, a group of thugs with religious pretensions and a record of bloody intimidation against Christians, Muslims of the Ahmadiyah sect and others. And allegations of brutality by the security forces against secessionists in Papua—backed by a gruesome video this week that appeared to show suspects being tortured—suggest that the army has not shed the bad habits it developed in East Timor and Aceh. No senior member of the armed forces, in which Mr Yudhoyono was once a general, has been convicted for abuses carried out under Suharto or since.
Meanwhile, the president is jeopardising one of his most popular traits: hard-earned credentials as a warrior against corruption. Some of the big fish netted in his first term by a feared anti-corruption commission, the KPK, have been freed early. They include the father of Mr Yudhoyono’s daughter-in-law. Accounts of a VIP’s life in an Indonesian jail anyway make it sound more like a four-star hotel chain than a chain-gang. Worse, no action has been taken against those in the police and the attorney-general’s office found to have fabricated evidence last year in a witch-hunt against KPK officials. The president seems sincere in his abhorrence of corruption, but unwilling to take on vested interests threatened by the anti-graft drive.
Still, Mr Yudhoyono has two big things going for him. First, he may be a Suharto-era general, but he is no Suharto-style dictator. Rather, he practises what the Harvard report calls “collusive democracy”, preferring co-option and consensus to competition. Second, he stands far above any potential successor. As bellicose rival politicians rattled their kris in a recent fishing row with Malaysia, he was statesmanlike and calm. Assessing his presidency this week the Jakarta Post, a liberal English-language newspaper, expressed a hope for better things in the four years he has left in office. But for now, the Post’s disappointed verdict on his tenure is about right: “The president who didn’t mess it up.”