Bad news, folks. EPF will likely not pay out too high a dividend for 2019, a victim of its own growth as well as the unlikelihood that its investments can do better in Q4 of last year than the 20 previous quarters. And in case that hasn't depressed you enough, here's more: the picture of our economy ain't too rosy, either. Also, the tourism industry is a massive loser, thanks to the coronavirus outbreak; Rosie Mansor has a fit (what else is new?); and, yet another SD is allegedly about to come into the scene in Malaysia.

Weak economy, less money

Dream on, dream away

If you’re hoping for a high dividend payout on your EPF for 2019, think again.

The retirement fund’s growing size and its performance will reportedly make it near impossible for it to pay out a dividend of 6%, which would see it pay more in actual money than it did when it gave a 6.15% dividend payout for 2018.

Let’s break this down. As of end October last year, accumulated contributions from investors stood at just over RM864.7 billion and was fast approaching the RM1 trillion mark. Estimates show a 6% dividend would see EPF handing out RM50 billion, significantly higher than the RM47 billion shelled out for 2018’s 6.15% dividend payout.

But, in order for a 6% dividend to be announced, EPF’s investment performance must have been better in the fourth quarter of 2019 than in 20 previous quarters (count yourself lah, to see how many years back that is!). If Q4’s performance isn’t fantastic, we’ll likely see a dividend of less than 6%. 

In other words, don’t hold your breath, peeps. It’s more than likely you won’t be enjoying quite as much as you would like in dividends when EPF announces its payouts for 2019 this year.

You can probably also think again if you’re hoping EPF’s Q4 investment performance can actually be better than the 20 previous quarters, judging from the fact that Malaysia’s economy grew only 3.6% in Q4 compared to the previous year. This slowest pace in a decade was thanks to a number of factors, including lower output of palm oil, crude oil and natural gas, and a fall in exports amid the US-China trade war. And what’s more, the coronavirus outbreak in China and its spread to several countries in the world are expected to impact Q1 of 2020 as well.

The 3.6% growth was well below the 4.2% forecast by the government for Q4, and dragged the full-year growth to 4.3%, which was also below the gomen forecast of 4.7%, and the weakest since 2016 (we’re waiting for Jibby Razak to start trolling). 

With all this bad news, you can be rest assured the politicking wasn’t far behind. PKR’s outspoken Subang MP, Wong Chen, reacted almost immediately after the announcement by Bank Negara Malaysia came out, demanding that Economic Affairs Minister Azmin Ali explain measures to be taken in light of the dismal showing. 

Of course, Wong is known to be aligned to PKR president Anwar Ibrahim, who’s locked in battle for control of PKR (and possibly the PM’s seat) with Azmin. So it doesn’t really come as a surprise that he would be “attacking” Azmin. But that’s a story for another time.

But should Wong be asking Azmin to explain, or should he be asking PM Dr Mahathir Mohamad? After all, it was Maddey who said only on Monday that the gomen has predicted a 4.8% growth in the economy this year, despite it being challenging times. Considering we’ve missed the forecast of 4.7% for last year, is this year’s target still achievable?

Think tank IDEAS, meanwhile, has called for the gomen to provide a clear direction for the nation’s economy. Pointing out that private investment had been low for several quarters now, CEO Ali Salman said it’s clear that political uncertainty and a lack of a “coherent” economic strategy is “undermining sentiment among private business”, which is needed to drive economic growth.

Tourism the biggest losers

The outbreak of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) caused by the severe acute respiratory coronavirus 2 virus (SARS-CoV-2) has caused massive losses to the tourism industry in the country.

Tourism, Arts and Culture Ministry secretary-general Noor Zari Hamat says everyone in the industry had been impacted, with losses estimated at RM3 billion. Yes, you read that right. It’s a “b”, not an “m”. And that’s just since January.

Those are some massive losses, and in just over a month. So imagine what it’s gonna be like a few more months down the road.

Prior to the Covid-19 outbreak, the ministry had been planning more intense campaigns in Europe and other Asean countries, said Noor Zari. With tourism entries from China now in a bad way, the ministry is eyeing other markets such as the Middle East, central Asia and India (bet the government is now wishing it hadn’t antagonised India so much).

Meanwhile, World Health Organisation regional director for the Western Pacific Dr Takeshi Kasai has warned all countries, including Malaysia, to prepare for the possibility of a wider transmission of SARS-CoV-2. He says there are now clusters of cases of Covid-19 with no apparent links with China, suggesting perhaps that the virus is more transmissible than earlier data suggested.

Though he says wider transmission is not inevitable, it would be prudent for all to start preparations now as these would take some time. What this would require, says Kasai, is a shift in focus for healthcare facilities to treating the most vulnerable and severe cases. 

He says this may mean planning for a switch away from quarantining those infected to encouraging people with a mild illness to stay at home to recover, so that healthcare facilities do not become overwhelmed. Steps must also be taken to “ensure health facilities do not become places that amplify the virus’ spread”, infecting staff and other patients.

Health Minister Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad, however, moved to allay fears following the WHO advisory, saying that Malaysia took cognizance of the advice but stressing that the issue in the country was not at critical level. In fact, he said, only 18 people of 550 tested were positive for Covid-19.

Meanwhile, China reports that the number of new infections is beginning to fall, giving credence to estimates that the outbreak could be over by April. However, international experts believe the April forecast is premature.

Drama queen Rosie

The Rosmah Mansor graft trial must surely be a daily dose of drama for those attending it. Yesterday was no different, with Mama Rosie throwing a temper tantrum in court.

It all began as the court broke for lunch. Unwilling to move, Rosmah told her aides she would not leave and did not want to go for lunch. So the former self-styled “First Lady of Malaysia” just sat there, despite all attempts by her aides and lawyers to get her out of court.

Now, courtrooms are normally vacated and locked up during lunch breaks, so this was something out of the ordinary. Obviously, this didn’t happen yesterday and her lawyers then asked for a session with the judge, and the trial was adjourned at 2pm as poor ol’ Kak Mah was too unwell to continue.

So, to recap: Rosie, through her donkey-like stubbornness and truculence, managed to bully the court into submitting to her will. Wow. 

There was drama, too, earlier when prosecution witness Mahdzir Khalid was again grilled by defence counsel Jagjit Singh. Tempers flared when Jagjit accused Mahdzir of being inconsistent in his statements in court.

Jagjit said Mahdzir had claimed he didn’t entertain Saidi Abang Shamsul and his business partner Rayyan Radzwill Abdullah. Saidi, as you probably know by now, is the MD of Jepak Holdings, the company alleged to have paid Rosie millions to get a RM1.25 billion solar hybrid project in Sarawak.

However, Jagjit said Mahdzir had still instructed his officers to prepare an application for interim payment to Jepak Holdings, to be signed by then PM and Moneybags Minister Najib Razak.

This, he said, was tantamount to “entertaining” Saidi and Rayyan, and repeated earlier claims that Mahdzir had received bribes from the duo to award Jepak Holdings the contract. Mahdzir vehemently denied this, crying out “I am not stupid” twice.

Are you not entertained?

SD? What SD?

Everybody’s favourite whistleblower website (well, unless you’re a BN supporter), Sarawak Report, has claimed that “the usual suspects” have been rounding up MPs to “overturn the outcome of the (general) election” (how dramatic) and keep PM Maddey in charge of the nation.

What the site claims is that these MPs have been asked to sign a statutory declaration (SD) supporting Mahathir as PM for the remainder of Pakatan’s first (and only?) term in power instead of handing over the reins to Anwar. And, although the site admits it’s unclear how exactly the SD would be used, it’s rumoured that if enough MPs sign it, there are plans for the organisers to “march themselves to the palace” to hand it over to the Agong (again, very the drama).

Eternal bridesmaid Anwar, however, says he hasn’t heard of such a thing. “I have not been informed,”, said the PKR president and PM-forever-in-waiting. Cos, yeah, you would be informed right? Would you even tell us if you have? 

Meanwhile, Housing and Local Government Minister Zuraida Kamaruddin (who, incidentally, is on leave from her duties as PKR veep and has until Feb 20 to appear before the party disciplinary board for speaking out against her president) has denied that PKR MPs aligned to Anwar’s rival Azmin Ali had signed any SD.

The issue of the SD comes in the wake of a planned move by PAS to table a confidence vote for Mahathir at the next Dewan Rakyat sitting in March. The move is seen as a means to block Anwar from taking over as PM.

But Anwar’s wife, DPM Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail doesn’t think this will happen, saying she has never heard of the opposition voting in favour of a PM.

Ah, but Jijah, if they really, really (and we mean really, really) despise your husband, don’t you think they would? After all, better the devil you know, right?

Odds and ends

Here are some other items we thought were either important or interesting enough to include here, at least in brief:

  • The gomen is mulling amendments to the Personal Data Protection Act to make it mandatory for data breaches to be reported to the relevant authorities. We fully support this, cos the act sure isn’t doing jack as it stands now.
     
  • Malaysia is among dozens of countries that bought rigged encryption software from a company secretly owned by the CIA and its West German counterpart, the BND. Here’s the full Washington Post exposé, if you’re interested. 
     
  • The High Court has upheld a decision to allow Seremban Jaya’s assemblyman’s appeal over his right to bail in connection with allegations of connections with the defunct (DEFUNCT! We can’t stress this enough!) Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam to be heard by the Federal Court.
     
  • Artist Ahmd Fuad Osman may have the four pieces of art which had been removed from an exhibition at the National Art Gallery reinstated. That would be a win for freedom of expression in Malaysia. Yayy!
     
  • True to her word, the wife of Pastor Raymond Koh has filed a civil suit against police officers past and present over her husband’s disappearance three years ago. Among those named in the suit are former IGPs Khalid Abu Bakar and Fuzi Harun.
     
  • In the most heart-warming story of the day, a German Shepherd tracker dog named Lao Wu has received a medal of appreciation from the Pahang police contingent. The award was for tracking down a vehicle theft suspect for more than 4km in an oil palm plantation in Jerantut on Nov 14 last year.

“Blessed are the young, for they will inherit the national debt.”

- Herbert Hoover -

IN INTERNATIONAL NEWS

  • The UN human rights office has released a long-awaited report listing 112 businesses linked to Jewish settlements in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian West Bank. The move was criticised by Israel but lauded by Palestinians. And just who are these businesses? Just companies like Airbnb, Booking.com, Expedia Group and Motorola Solutions, among others.
     
  • Eight Republicans joined Democrats in the US Senate to support a motion to limit President Donald Trump’s war powers, advancing it to a final vote by this week.
     
  • Almost 15,000 new coronavirus cases have been reported in Hubei today, up 10X from a day prior, while deaths have doubled the day before. The increase is because China has revised its method of counting infections. Overall, 60,000+ cases and over 1,300 deaths have been reported worldwide.
     
  • The Chinese F1 Grand Prix in Shanghai has been postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak. It had originally been scheduled for Apr 19. Similarly, the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the world’s biggest mobile technology conference, has also been cancelled. Bummer.

ABOUT THIS NEWSLETTER

This weekday newsletter is brought to you by Trident Media, a group of Malaysian journalists with 60 years of combined media experience in four countries across TV, print and digital media.

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Trident Media · Seksyen 35 · Shah Alam, Selangor 40470 · Malaysia

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