23 February 2012

Collective Property Investment Schemes - Beware

It was reported in the online Star newspaper today that a number of Malaysians lost the money they invested into a land banking company called Edgeworth Properties Inc. It seems that the said company has gone into liquidation.

This is not the first land banking scheme. Investors would have heard of, or even attended talks given by, or worse invested into, other land banking companies such as UK Land or Walton International. Certain land banking companies based in the UK had expanded into Malaysia,  but with increasing awareness of the risks of such investments and the regulatory void they operate in, many investors have come forward to enquire as to their legitimacy or outright lodged complaints against them. To its credit, the UK FSA has taken action against such land banking companies that operate without an FSA licence. You may find the following information from the UK FSA useful:

How it works

The contact usually comes out of the blue, with most schemes cold-calling investors after taking their phone number from publicly available shareholder lists. But the high-pressure sales tactics can also come by email, post, word of mouth or at a seminar or exhibition. 

Investors are told they will make big profits on small plots of land once planning permission is granted or development started.

But many plot-holders instead lose large sums of money as this permission is often not granted or even applied for, and they are left with a plot that is practically worthless.

While not all land banking schemes are a scam, it is often not made clear to investors that there are restrictions on the development of the land or that it is otherwise protected.

Where it is explained that planning permission still needs to be obtained, promoters of land banking schemes may offer to handle the application process. If this is the case we should be able to help, as explained below.
There are also follow-up scams where plot-holders are asked to pay more money to settle their holding once they realise they will never turn a profit.

Land banking as a CIS

We do not regulate the sale of land. But we do regulate collective investment schemes (CIS) and a firm must be authorised by us to promote or operate them in the UK. 

We can only take action over a land banking scheme when it is being promoted or operated as a CIS without our authorisation. The scheme may be a CIS where:
  1. investors do not have day-to-day control over managing their plot;
  2. the scheme involves pooling investor funds; and
  3. the operator is responsible for managing the scheme as a whole.
It is possible to sell plots of land without the scheme being a CIS. So, many land banking schemes are set up to avoid the characteristics of a CIS – at least on paper.

However, sales people may tell a different story and it helps us prove that a land banking scheme is a CIS if we know what you are told when it is being promoted.

In the Malaysian context, the Securities Commission is the regulatory authority that overseas CIS, and any company that promotes such a scheme must be approved by the SC.

Given today's news on Edgeworth, I was disturbed by a call I received from Avenue Properties Berhad, promoting their novel idea, Avenue Hotel Property Interest Scheme (AHPS). The subject property comprises a 130-room 4-storey boutique hotel together with a Chinese restaurant, entertainment centre, health spa & wellness centre, and food & beverage outlets within a proposed 4-storey purpose-built commercial building at Jalan Raja Uda, Butterworth, Penang.

"The public are welcome to invest at RM4,800 per interest-share," said chief executive officer and managing director Richard Woo, in various press releases.Its director of marketing and communications, Khong Yue Chen, said, "In compliance with CCM's requirements and guidelines, we also have appointed a Trustee for the AHPS."  

The press release in The Edge on 16 Feb 2011 said that Avenue Properties, which is capitalised at RM5 million, has established under the AHPS 10,500 property interests of which only 7,350 interests are intended for public subscription. Which means that an RM5mil company can raise funds from the public to the tune of RM35 mil. without approval from either BNM or SC? This is better than going public what with all the investment bankers' fees and due diligence etc. 

From the information I reproduced from the UK FSA's website, don't you think this smells like a CIS?

I had posed a few questions to the AHPS representative who called me. Since he couldn't answer my questions, he said he'd get his colleague to contact me. I'm still waiting. 

19 February 2012

He lost his balls today.....

....my Benjie, that is. My 4 yr-old Labrador mix - slight, slim and black.

Been meaning to have him neutered especially since Coco our female Rottie pup joined the family. She hasn't been spayed and since she is a pedigree, we might consider letting her have a litter or 2.

I really didn't know what to expect. I had Benjie tied up while the other females were caged up so as not to have any curious observers. I sat with Benjie at the back porch, waiting for the vet to arrive. Guess dogs do have a 6th sense - Benjie started whimpering and crying. I reassured him.

The vet was kind enough to make a house call, so my maid and I had set up an operating table for him the night before at our back porch. Just a simple square mahjong table, scrubbed down and wrapped in a huge white plastic sheet. The vet was appreciative when he arrived. He was prepared to do the grisly task on the floor right on our front porch!

First thing, sedation. The vet said the jab would be quite painful and requested for a muzzle. When the needle went into his hind quarter, Benjie yelped and struggled. But the drug had already gone in. In less than 5 minutes, Benjie sat down, eyes glazed over, swayed slightly then keeled over, but with eyes wide open.

Benjie was hauled onto the operating table and the vet asked me to keep its hind legs apart while he shaved off some hair around Benjie's groin area. Then out came the blade and the vet made an incision a short distance away from the scrotum about an inch and a half in length The vet proceeded to prod around a bit then started applying more pressure until suddenly pop! Out came a huge pale-looking ball-like organ - the testicle.

Now when this happened, I was genuinely surprised. Oh, my maid and daughter were observing the procedure too. My husband had dropped by the back porch to say hello and then slunk away. My son was sleeping but I don't think he has the constitution to stomach this spectacle anyway. My daughter was fascinated.

The testicle was duly snipped off, after which the vet hunted around for the second ball. Out it came, and off it went. The vet said, "When he wakes up, it will be a whole new world." I bet.

I wouldn't have minded a career in veterinary science. Takes 5 years, just as long as what I studied.


18 February 2012

Dentist in Ipoh - I'll go with this one - Dr Chong

I've had a number of enquiries about dentists in Ipoh since my last posting about it. And since moving to Ipoh 3 years ago, I finally went to a dentist here for the first time today.

On a friend's suggestion, I tried out Dr Chong of Klink Pergigian Chong. His clinic is at 685A on the Main Road of Jalan Gunung Rapat. It is on the right side - before the market - of the road after you turn in from the traffic light (there's an Old Town Kopitiam at that traffic light).

I got to his clinic around 9.45 am and there were already 2 patients paying and 3 more waiting. There are 2 dentists there, Dr Chong himself and another, Dr. Ed. And 5 dental nurses, which is by far the most I have seen in a dental clinic. I was seen to by Dr Chong.

Dr Chong is friendly, but brisk with a busy air about him. I guess his practice is quite busy and he wants to get on with it. He asked me if I had any specific problems, then went on to check my teeth. He declared them healthy and only in need of cleaning and scaling.

I was happy with his scaling technique as he did not cause my gums to bleed, not one bit! If you've ever been to a dentist who is heavy-handed, you will remember the unpleasant experience of spitting out blood when you rinse your mouth (a dentist at Kwan Dental in Ipoh Garden South is one such example). So I always assess a dentist on the outset by his scaling touch. Pass!

Knowing I was a first-time patient, Dr Chong asked the nurse to give me a complimentary toothpaste when I was paying. Small gesture, definitely business-friendly.

If you'd like to make an appointment, his number is 05 3133 616. 

16 February 2012

Time the government woke up

From The Malaysian Insider http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/opinion/article/time-the-government-woke-up/


I like what Dr Kamal has written. If you're in a hurry, just read the bolded bits for the gist of the article.

And yes, leaders of the Malaysian government of the day, many of the thinking Rakyat are not anti-govt, and we voice our frustrations not merely for the sake of it, but we are entitled to a properly functioning and accountable government. We vote, we pay taxes (plenty of it - Customs dept just said they collected a record amount of revenue last year from among others, taxes on vehicles. Why are imported cars so expensive in Malaysia??? ).

This country belongs to all Malaysians.

FEB 16 — To the government of the day, please get your priorities right.

Stop planning a policy to tell Malaysians which doctor to go to, and how many times to get sick in a year. Your time would be better spent sending some “I am just somebody’s wife” home to her husband. 

I still am clueless as to why she is so indispensable to the government. As a matter of fact, Malaysians did not even vote for her in 2008. 

The PM should take note of his previous predecessor’s style of management. I remembered ministers, mentris besar, even deputy prime ministers sacked, or made to resign from their much coveted positions, whether they deserved it or not.

Correct me if I am wrong but I have not heard any reassuring statement from the government vis-a-vis this somebody’s wife, except the fact that they had appointed an independent auditor to audit the company’s accounts about two months back.

Just as a reminder to the wise, keeping silent on this issue is anything but elegant and ignoring it will only fuel the angry sentiments of the rakyat today. Already the children — sorry, I mean the company directors — have said it’s business as usual and they do not think it is wrong to use taxpayers’ money to buy vehicles, properties in Singapore of which some were under their names.

This is, yes, referring to the same taxpayers’ fund which was meant to be used for breeding cows to feed the nation.

Such arrogance.

And please back off from the EPF. It is our retirement and savings fund. If the “investment” is indeed guaranteed by the government why won’t the banks take it? Are the banks stupid or is the government assuming we the rakyat are?

As for me, I have no trust in the federal territories minister who cannot even keep KL roads clean, with the city still lacking in good signage, with uninvestigated allegations of corruption during the fasting month involving dishing out licences for stalls at pasar Ramadan. The potholes in KL speak volumes of his ability to properly manage Kuala Lumpur and I am uncomfortable with him helming the project worth billions of ringgit from the EPF.

He is lucky if it is just me who feels that way. 

Instead of coming up with a scheme for the EPF, why don’t you direct your energy to planning a better future for Malaysian degree holders, instead of churning them out on auto-pilot?

I was flabbergasted to find out we are producing some 12,000 nurses a year when the country (public and private) only requires about 2,000 per year. Please tell me that this is deliberately done, because if not then somebody has been sleeping on the job.

Countries like Australia and the UK cannot seem to have enough of them, but here we have an oversupply of undertrained, unemployable nurses that no one, and no other countries seem to want. 

What happened to our Malaysian Qualification Agency that has been entrusted to accredit private colleges?
Why would we need a separate Higher Education Ministry if they cannot even monitor the number and quality of graduates churned out by public institutions?

Before, we had an oversupply of religious teachers. Now nurses. Soon doctors? 

What are you actually doing? Can the government please wake up?

And on February 7, 2012 The Star carried a report and I quote: “The Health Ministry is working on creating vacancies at government hospitals to absorb the large number of unemployed graduate nurses.”

To paraphrase a Malay saying, “wah wah banyak cantik?”

What kind of message are you sending out to the public — that it is okay not to be competitive and market oriented because the government will eventually absorb you whether you are good or not? 

So almost everybody wins. The PTPTN, money-making private colleges with unmarketable graduates, as well as the graduates who according to one report quoted poor English-language skills and lack of interest in science as reasons for their unemployment.

So, the losers will be the tax-paying rakyat, who has to pay to support the burgeoning and otherwise uninterested civil service. And judging by how things are, they will increase the tax and come up with new schemes every time they absorb unemployable graduates to cover operating costs.

Enough is enough.

Rather than drain our money away why not bring the rakyat into the decision-making process by holding referendums like they do overseas? Let us vote and give out piece of mind on PPSMI (teaching of science and mathematics in English), 1 Care, or whether we should allow our EPF savings to be used to finance a multibillion ringgit housing deal.

Are you worried that we may just veto your decisions?

I am not against the government nor am I anti-establishment. I am just pro-commonsense and am sick of the array of nonsense they serve us day after day.

Maybe we should all honk our horns when we drive near Parliament — you know, just to wake them up and remind them that their time is almost up.

Because it’s either they wake up or move out.

By Dr Kamal Amzan