Sunday, June 28, 2015

Service first, don't waste energy and resources in unproductive ways !

A photo taken from Facebook showing what the woman wore when she was denied entry to the Balik Pulau court complex.

The mission: service first

Malaysian taxpayers should be treated as customers who deserve the best service. Government departments should aim to keep their standards high and not fuss over how their customers are dressed.

TEACHERS are supposed to teach. And when members of the public visit the hospital, the Road Transport Department, or any government facility for that matter, they are there for a service, and they expect to be given that.

After all, as has been said many times before, the public service exists because the taxpayers are the ones who pay the salaries of the civil servants.

But things do become complicated when some individuals get side-tracked from their job specifications, and start to bring politics and religion into play.

The problem with some Malaysians is that we are also not very good at exercising reasonable discretion. Maybe we fear those who hold higher positions and dare not question their authority, as it is not part of our culture, or simply because of fear of reprisals.

So, if you are a security guard, whether a member of the People’s Volunteer Corp (Rela) or someone from a security firm, you would be expected to just carry out the orders made by the boss, or maybe the smaller bosses, which in most cases, can be more difficult than the real top boss.

Malaysians would know by now, judging from incidents in the past weeks, that it’s always these little guys who get the blame.

If you are being asked to wear a sarong over your skirt which is deemed too short, you will look quite unnatural, and are bound to draw strange looks from others. Wouldn’t the front desk officer enquire from you, in a puzzled manner, why you are wearing a skirt with a sarong on?

But if the officers are indifferent to the ­situation and the head of the front desk does not even bat an eyelid, it is obvious that they are fully aware of what the security guard has ordered the member of the public to do.

Maybe this has been going on for a while, except that no one has complained, and a recording of the event had not gone viral.

Since incidents of such a “humiliating” exercise have been reported, many others, including a former colleague, have shared their experiences on social media.

My ex-colleague took her case all the way up to the JPJ chief, who apologised for the unfortunate incident. But in her case, she has access to the boss because of her job.

I have been following the exchange of opinions on social media and, by now, we are well aware that we are also not very good at articulating or advocating our case well. Many of these views seem racially and religiously prejudiced and, as a result, a sense of reasonableness is lost.

Dress codes are not something unusual. Even casinos, as some have pointed out, have strict dressing codes before anyone can enter. But the question here is how these rules are reasonably enforced in our government departments?

In all fairness, checks by our reporters have shown that most government departments are reasonable and seem to totally ignore even their own dress codes. Their priority is to provide service and the people are served even if the skirt’s hemline is above the knee or they are wearing slippers.

We actually have photographs of inadequate­ly dressed men, including one in a pair of shorts and singlet, rushing into a JPJ office and were properly served.

As with all debate, there are those who argue whether micro mini-skirts and bikinis would be tolerated, which I think is stretching the argument too far. Anyone who wants to dress that way in public, not just in a govern­ment facility, will most likely be hauled up.

No sane person would go to any office, private or public, in a bikini, so such arguments are flawed and unreasonable.

The recent cases whereby the women were asked to wear the sarongs are certainly not in this category. Anyone with a fair and objective mind would surely agree that all the ladies were properly and decently dressed.

Then, there have been a number of cases brought to light recently of teachers who want to play moral guardians in schools.

One incident was when a teacher reportedly confiscated the little crucifix that a student was wearing. A police report was subsequently lodged.

But according to the latest report, the cross has since been returned to the student and the father has accepted an apology from the school principal and also withdrawn the report.

It has also been reported that pressure was exerted on the headmaster and school management board of St Mary Labuk in Sandakan to remove the cross from the new school building. But Deputy Education Minister Datuk Mary Yap stepped in and guaranteed that the cross would remain, saying it had been clearly stated that mission schools are allowed to upkeep the ethos and characteristics of these schools.

It seems to be a phenomenon of the past decade. We all know the crucifix has long been removed from classrooms in mission schools, because of an order from the then minister who is now in the opposition.

About the same time, the symbol of the crucifix was also taken out of mission school badges. The Latin mottos fortunately have remained and presumably no one understands what they mean.

Well, Malaysia’s problem, or rather the Little Napoleons’ problem, is that we seem to channel our energy in a very unproductive way. There is a lot of fire-fighting because these people think they can get away with anything, and only when it becomes an issue do they step back.

Teachers should be striving to make our students top in Maths and Science and be competent in the English language. Instead, in these core areas of education, we have continued to deteriorate further.

Our students are no longer gaining entry into Ivy League schools such as Harvard as we used to. Schools used to be able to boast of these achievements but these days, many of them get into the news for all the wrong reasons.

Even if we seem to be generating many students with a string of As in the public examinations, these premier universities are not that easily impressed.

Meanwhile, no one will deny that our government-run hospitals are providing good service to the people. We must commend our doctors and nurses who toil daily for the public, at wages that are far less to what their counterparts in the private hospitals can command.

But the people who run these hospitals must also focus on keeping the standards high, and even raise the bench mark. The least of their concerns should be to worry about how visitors are dressed.

Just like at the JPJ, surely worrying about the dressing of the public is not part of the JPJ mission statement.

Malaysian taxpayers should be treated as customers who deserve the best service. They should not be sent home, denied entry or asked to wear a sarong, simply because someone takes offence to how they dress.

Moderates, stand up

Before and after: Photos posted on Tan’s Facebook page showing her original attire (left) and the sarong she was asked to wear at the JPJ office.Before and after: Photos posted on Tan’s Facebook page showing her original attire (left) and the sarong she was asked to wear at the JPJ office.

IT is said that ignorance is bliss, but not necessarily so all the time. Most Malaysians must have been amused, rather than upset, over a recent Facebook posting that went viral and eventually caught the attention of a news portal.

It started with an angry customer, going by the name Mista Bob Faishah, posting on the Texas Chicken Malaysia Facebook page that the fast food chain obviously did not take into account religious sensitivities because the franchise’s brand dipping sauce is named “Church”.

“Dear TCM... Please do explain (yo)ur dipping sauce brand at Malaysia Franchises... Most of (yo)ur customers is a Muslim... AND Muslim didn’t not eat for food from ‘church’ brand,” he wrote. He also shared the image of said dipping sauce together with his post, the portal reported.

Soon, an equally outraged Facebook user, Halim Zainal, left a comment saying that Texas Chicken Malaysia should change the name on the packet as a sign of respect to its Muslim customers.

The angry person warned TCM that they would not be able to sustain their business if they were not sensitive to Muslims in the country.

The management of TCM had to patiently explain to the customer that the franchise’s “Church” brand dipping sauce was named after the founder and did not represent the Christian house of worship.

“Please be informed that the brand Texas Chicken was founded in San Antonio, Texas USA by our founder by the name of George W Church Sr — Church being his surname and the name of the brand Church’s Chicken.”

The Facebook post elaborated that the word “church” was not used in a religious context and that some of the dipping sauces were imported from the United States, where the food chain originates.

But it has ended well. The customer has now posted an apologetic comment: “Deepest from my heart that I want to ask apologized for my post (1 June). For that time I only want to inquiry regarding the brands of “church” brand. And after TCM do explain to my inquiry n I accepted that was the co brand from san Antonio, Texas.

“I hope with my apologized here can stop all the negtive things goes more bigger. That what can say I only just want to inquiry regarding that brands only..But for ur info, I stlll enjoy my meal with my favorite winglets from TCM!

“Once again..I’m apologized for my post before that I had removed because I don’t want that all people read n negtive thingking of my inquiries.”

Well, as we can see from the postings, the person’s command of the English language really leaves much to be desired.

That could have been one reason why he did not first check, via Google or other search engines, for information about this food chain and why its products are named as such.

Our English language proficiency, sad to say, has hit rock bottom and many of our Internet users are missing out a lot because they have such a poor command of the universal language.

He only associated the word “church” with religion, without being aware that it can also be the surname of many people. Christian Bale would be really worried if people stop going to watch his movies if such an association is made.

But let us keep this in perspective. We can all accept Mista Bob Faishah for sportingly admitting his mistake. We are sure he has no intention to create a controversy.

But another issue that we need to be concerned about, apart from poor English, is whether we are seeing a rise in religious conservatism where many modern-day practices that everyone in our plural society used to accept as a matter of course – from food to sports and entertainment – are being looked at from a different, and more radical, perspective.

Those who spew hate messages in the name of religion can always find a ready audience in those who are prepared to take what they say without question.

And this applies to all religions where such leaders thrive on those who are blissfully ignorant on the true nature of their faith.

Such an environment makes it easy for these people to create fears among the followers that they are constantly under threat. The bogeymen in flavour today include Christians, Jews, the LGBT community, liberal-minded people, etc.

Fortunately, we are still a country where people of different faiths can co-exist peacefully and in harmony with one another.

Faith is a matter of the heart and whatever the rabble-rousers may want to ferment, few will believe that just seeing the religious symbols of another faith will so easily shake their own beliefs.

Be that as it may, we need to also be on guard against the rise of extremism, especially when it comes quietly in every day situations.

The voices of moderation must be heard, and the silent majority cannot afford to be quiet if they value the kind of society we live in.

Why are so many Malaysians not surprised to read about the middle-aged “aunty” who was asked to wear a sarong before she could be served at a Road Transport Department office? The Rela guard felt her skirt, which was just above her knees, was too short and did not adhere to the dress code.

It may be a small matter to some, but it was good of Suzanna G L Tan to share her experience on Facebook by posting a photograph of herself outside the office, showing her attire for the public to judge.

“I had to go to JPJ personally to sign the transfer form for the car I sold. That in itself is already a pain,” Tan wrote.

“I go dressed like this. Indecent meh?” she asked in reference to her dressing in the photograph.

Tan said while she was at the counter to get a queue number, she was handed a sarong to wear “or they would not entertain me”.

The blame eventually fell on the Rela guard but none of the other officers at the JPJ office bothered to tell off the Rela guard for his over-reaction. They have kept silent over this demeaning exercise.

We used to be able to blame the little Napoleans for incidents like this but with the advent of social media, such actions can always be recorded for the public to judge.

And then we have our Malaysian gymnast Farah Ann Abdul Hadi, who has just won a gold medal at the Sea Games, being criticised for not covering up. But to be fair, there were many who came to defend her on Buletin TV3’s Facebook.

Instead of applauding her flawless performance, there seem to be those with perverted minds whose minds are focused elsewhere.

These people thrive on attention and their antics have a way of being magnified way beyond their actual influence.

But here’s the saddest part. Those who speak out for Farah Ann are the usual known personalities and non-governmental organisations while those we wish to hear from – including politicians from both sides of the divide who hold national level posts – are strangely quiet.

But we are glad that the Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, who has to protect our athletes, spoke out.

“In gymnastics, Farah wowed the judges and brought home gold. In her deeds only the Almighty judges her. Not you. Leave our athletes alone,” wrote Khairy on his Twitter account.

By Wong Chun Wai on the beat

Wong Chun Wai began his career as a journalist in Penang, and has served The Star for over 27 years in various capacities and roles. He is now the group's managing director/chief executive officer and formerly the group chief editor.

On The Beat made its debut on Feb 23 1997 and Chun Wai has penned the column weekly without a break, except for the occasional press holiday when the paper was not published. In May 2011, a compilation of selected articles of On The Beat was published as a book and launched in conjunction with his 50th birthday. Chun Wai also comments on current issues in The Star.


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Thursday, June 25, 2015

Mara in Aussie property scam


Top Malaysian government officials and a former politician were alleged to spend RM65 million of public funds to purchase an apartment block in Melbourne, Australia, overpaying by RM13.7 million to allow for kickbacks back home.


Australian newspaper The Age, which made the allegations in an exclusive report today, also claimed the involvement of Mara, a government investment agency, which purchased the property in 2013.

The Age's investigative report said that a group of Malaysian officials, using the Malaysian government's investment funds, bid up the price for the Melbourne apartment block from A$17.8 million (RM51.5 million) to A$22.5 million (RM65 million).

The extra $4.75 million (RM13.7 million) was then laundered out of Australia and allegedly paid as bribes in Malaysia.

"The Malaysian firms that received the alleged kickbacks are closely linked to a senior figure at the Malaysian government investment agency, Mara.

"Another figure involved is a senior Malaysian official and former politician with close links to a Malaysian cabinet minister," said the report.

Malaysiakini has e-mailed Rural and Regional Development Minister Mohd Shafie Apdal under whose watch Mara falls, Mara's director-general Ibrahim Ahmad and its deputy director-general Salmah Hayati Ghazali for their responses to the corruption allegations.



The student hostel apartment bought by Mara was called the Dudley International House apartment block, located at the suburb of Caulfield.

The Age said about 150 Australian creditors, including tradesman and builders, have been left out of pocket or are facing bankruptcy after a company linked to the deal collapsed.

Money-laundering hub

The same group of high-ranking Malaysians were implicated in a deal involving A$80 million (RM231 million) worth of Australian property, including office or apartment blocks in Swanston, Queen and Exhibition streets in Melbourne's CBD.

The newspaper said this was the first hard evidence of Australian property prices being inflated as real estate is used as a safe haven or money laundering hub by corrupt Malaysian government officials.

In May last year, Bernama reported that several Mara board directors and executives, headed by its chairperson Annuar Musa (photo) were in Melbourne to inspect two properties Mara had acquire, at a cost of about A$60 million, to house its students.

The 12-storey building at 746, Swanston Street, minutes away from the University of Melbourne and RMIT University, has 281 apartments, while the five-storey Dudley International House in the suburb of Caulfield, will accommodate 113 Mara students attending Monash University. The Swanston Street building was formerly a hostel for nurses.

Spokesman for the Mara group, Zainal Zol said Mara had more than 1,000 students in Australia with 309 based in melbourne and more than 500 in Sydney.

He said the visiting Mara leaders were pleased with the agency's property acquisitions here.

The Bernama report also said executives from UEM Sunrise Berhad, one of Malaysia's largest property developers and an arm of UEM Group Berhad, which is owned by Khazanah Nasional Berhad, were also in Melbourne to negotiate the development of two prime land parcels it had acquired in Melbourne's CBD, in LaTrobe Street and MacKenzie Street.

Led by UEM managing director, Izzaddin Idris, they met the Victorian State Planning Minister Matthew Guy, Melbourne Lord Mayor Robert Doyle and Malaysian-born Ken Ong, head of the Melbourne City Council planning committee, to brief them on the projects.

Mohd Rameez said he was confident that both apartment developments will go ahead, thus enhancing Malaysia's presence in Melbourne.

Malaysiakini has also e-mailed and texted Annuar who is also Umno supreme council member and BN Ketereh MP for his comments.

Sources: Malaysiakini, The Sun Daily, The Star/Asia News Network

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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Fighting corruption must be serious !


We must separate the roles of the Attorney-General as legal advisor to the Government and Public Prosecutor who prosecutes cases in court.

IT has become fashionable for critics to express dissatisfaction every time the Auditor-General presents his report to Parliament. So when the second report this year was tabled on June 15, the reaction was generally expected.

But the reaction from Public Accounts Committee (PAC) Chairman Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed is particularly important. Nur Jazlan, who is also Ideas’ Council member this time, says that he is disappointed with the performance of many Government agencies because they have failed to improve.

He also said that not long ago he praised Government officials for showing improvements every time the Auditor-General’s report is published. But he felt compelled to retract that praise because this time it was particularly bad.

He went on to say that many of the problems originate from the attitude of civil servants. Apparently the quality of our civil servants has deteriorated, and they don’t even bother to read the rules.

When the PAC Chairman makes such a bold statement, you know that there is something really wrong in the way civil servants manage our money. It is ironic that the Prime Minister recently announced a bonus for our civil servants despite such abysmal indictment.

Under Nur Jazlan, the PAC has been doing a much better job in identifying weaknesses in Government machinery and in demanding accountability. In fact, thanks to the PAC, the public now knows about the risk posed by Pembinaan PFI Sdn Bhd, a Government-linked company that has one of the biggest liabilities among Malaysia’s GLCs. The company has been off the audit radar for almost 10 years, despite the large amount of debt that it has accumulated.

The work of bodies like the PAC is important in our push for better governance in the country. The issues the PAC looks into are not necessarily about corruption.

Their responsibility is wider, covering also problems such as leakages and failure to adhere to published policies and procedures.

Fighting corruption, on the other hand, is more commonly associated with the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC). I am still waiting to see if the MACC would act on a recent admission by Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi that a Special Branch report found that around 80% of our border enforcement officers are involved in corruption.

Nevertheless, I am very aware that even if the MACC were to start an investigation, that is only half of the journey. The other half lies outside of the MACC’s jurisdiction, and that is the prosecution of corruption cases.

Our system is designed in such a way that the MACC, just like the police, can only investigate and not prosecute. Prosecution is the sole discretion of the Attorney-General, who doubles up as our Public Prosecutor.

I have no problem with the MACC not having the power to prosecute. In fact, I think it is right to keep prosecutorial powers away from the investigation agency. Back in 2012, we at Ideas looked into this issue and compared the experience of Indonesia and Hong Kong in fighting corruption.

We published the findings in July 2012 and concluded that it really does not matter whether or not the MACC has prosecution power. Instead, what is most important is the integrity of the judiciary and the Attorney-General’s office.

Any effort to improve the quality of MACC, therefore, will have to be accompanied by reform in both the judiciary and the Attorney-General’s Office. Focusing on the MACC alone is not sufficient.

If we want to see a more effective fight against corruption we must separate the roles of the Attorney-General as legal advisor to the Government and Public Prosecutor who prosecutes cases in court.

Let me justify that with a simple analogy using the case of the allegedly corrupt border enforcement officers.

Let’s say the MACC do investigate the allegation and find that the problem runs all the way up to Ministerial level.

The MACC then passes the files to the Attorney-General. How much confidence do we have that the Attorney-General will prosecute his friends in Cabinet?

It is obvious that as legal advisor to the Government, he is conflicted. How can he prosecute the very party he is supposed to advise?

There are actually many more proposals to improve the MACC that deserve public attention. If you are interested in this topic, I suggest you search for reports published by the Special Committee on Corruption now chaired by Tan Sri Abu Zahar Ujang. This bipartisan committee, whose membership consists of members of the Dewan Rakyat and Dewan Negara, regularly comes up with some very good ideas.

One of those ideas is for the MACC to be given independence in recruiting their own officers. This suggestion has been mooted since 2010 and it makes a lot of sense. To be truly independent, MACC cannot continue to be dependent on seconded staff from the Public Service Commission, because this creates a conflict of loyalty.

But unfortunately, this idea has not received the attention that it deserves from the Government. There are times when I ask myself if our Ministers are really serious in the fight against corruption. For if they are really serious, why are they ignoring sensible ideas coming from a committee whose membership is from among their own colleagues?

Don’t they realise that the longer they choose to do nothing, the more people will feel that they have things to hide?


By Wan Saiful Wan Jan, thinking liberally The Star

Wan Saiful Wan Jan is chief executive of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (www.ideas.org.my). The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.

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Sunday, June 21, 2015

Dad's what all kids want?


Fathers have an impact – good or bad, intentional or otherwise – simply by what they do, and what they don’t.

TODAY is Father’s Day. There is no real significance to this date, other than the fact that it has become yet another day for commercial interests to make more money.

And so we are inundated with messages on what we should buy for our fathers – anything from a tie to a power drill is fine.

It is also interesting that many charity organisations have also got into the game, where you can give a donation on behalf of your father in support of various causes.

I won’t pour cold water on those who believe this day should be celebrated in such manner. Having been a father for nearly 30 years, I will say that a day’s celebrations can’t encapsulate the role of a father, which is both unique and challenging.

More so in our Asian culture where fathers tend to play second fiddle to mothers in a nurturing role, and may not have enough opportunities to exert their influence on the children.

But the reality is we, fathers, do have an impact – good or bad, intentional or otherwise – simply by what we do, and what we don’t.

I have written before in this column that the best times in my career were the six years, over two different stretches, that I spent at home as a full-time father.

I had a whale of a time, although my better half did find it tricky explaining to friends why she had to earn the bread and butter while I was gallivanting at home.

Without being tied down to an office routine, I had all the time in the world. During my first stint, when my sons were still quite young, we had plenty of fun activities. Among other things, I built them a playhouse, flew kites with them, and taught them to swim and to ride a bicycle.

On my second stint, when they were already in their pre-teens and had become more aware of the world around them, our conversations often revolved around the values of life.

Fathers, as you receive gifts on Father’s Day, I wonder if you have thought about what gifts you might give to your children in their formative years – gifts that money cannot buy.

Do you teach them how to make the right choices, rather than lay down a list of dos and don’ts?

Do you respect that they have a voice that needs to be heard, or do you exert authority simply because you are the father?

Do you imbue in them the fortitude to overcome obstacles in life, resisting the urge to always jump in and rescue them?

Do you affirm their dreams, or simply tell them to be practical and march to the beat of the world?

I have learnt that these lessons cannot be taught in a textbook format, and certainly not in one sitting.

Lessons in life are passed on over many conversations and through much time spent together.

If we are the kind of fathers who leave home before our children wake up and come home after they are asleep, or even when we are present with them, are not really listening, perhaps it’s time to take stock.

The world tries to make busy dads feel less guilty by highlighting the effectiveness of so-called quality time. But I believe there can be no quality time without time in quantity.

Fathers, full-time or not, are you prepared to leave everything aside when your child comes up to you, because you are the only person he or she can call “dad”? And will you show, through your words and actions, that such moments mean all the world to you? Happy Father’s Day.

By Sunday starters SOO Ewe Jin

Deputy executive editor Soo Ewe Jin urges every dad to listen to Cat in the Cradle, made famous in 1974 by Harry Chapin. The song is about a father who was too busy to spend time with his son, who eventually grew up just like him, a busy man who did not have time for his father. The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.





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Saturday, June 13, 2015

What household debt means and how to manage it ?


The difference between ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ loans

I have received queries about what household debt means and the best ways to manage it.

Household debt is basically all forms of loans with interest rates taken from entities that provide financing. The loans can be secured with assets such as real estate loans (housing and commercial properties), or without any collateral such as personal and credit card loans.

Residential and commercial property loans have capital appreciation potential over the long term. According to statistics from National Property Information Centre, the annual appreciation rate for house prices has averaged 9% in the past five years.

Even if we assume the average house prices only appreciate 5% per annum, it is still an ideal asset which we can live in, and at the same time it grows in value.

If you refer to the chart above, the effective interest rate for housing loans is only 4.65%, which is lower than its annual appreciation rate.

On the other hand, the effective interest rates for car loans range from 5% to 7.5% depending on car model and loan term (effective interest rates are calculated from the advertised headline rates of 2.5% to 3% depending on the tenure of the car loan).

On top of higher effective interest rates, the value of private vehicles depreciate about 10% to 20% per year based on car insurance calculations and accounting practice.

In fact, everyone knows that the day you drive the car out of the showroom, its value drops by 15% to 25%!

The effective interest rate for personal loans is 9% to 10%, while credit card effective interest rates can go as high as 18% to 24% (again, like car loans, the effective interest rates per year are much higher than the advertised rates).

If these loans are spent on items that do not appreciate over time and on perishable items, then the depreciation rates are high and there are no returns to speak of.

The real estate loans (housing and commercial properties) that will appreciate in the longer term, can be deemed as “good debt”.

Car, personal and credit card loans, which have higher interest rates repayment and do not generate value in the future, and are considered as “unhealthy debt” or “bad debt”.

The chart above illustrates the effective interest rates on different household debt components. It also reminds me about the household debt I shared in my last article. What does our nation’s household debt really mean to us? How much of it impacts us if we include its interest rate, appreciation and depreciation values?

According to Bank Negara, our household debt was at RM940.4bil or 87.9% of gross domestic product (GDP) as of end-2014.

Large burden

Residential housing loans accounted for 45.7% (RM429.7bil) of total debts, hire purchase at 16.6%, personal financing stood at 15.7%, non-residential loan was 7.7%, securities at 6.5%, followed by credit cards and other items at 3.9%.

Our household burden is larger if we include the servicing of incurred interest rate for loans. Much of it comes from the higher interest rates to service hire purchase, personal financing and credit card loans.

It reinforces my belief that if we take a debt to invest or secure appreciating items such as housing and other valuable assets, they will eventually provide a higher return in the longer term which more than compensates for the interest rate paid on the loans.

My belief is substantiated by Bank Negara’s Financial Stability and Payment Systems Report 2014.

The report states that properties remain an important investment for many households to finance children’s education, provide a form of financial security for the next generation and preparation for retirement.

Our government can help us achieve higher investment on housing and other valuable assets by looking at ways to reduce our dependency on other types of loans.

Reducing dependency

Example, to provide a comprehensive public transportation system by aggressively expanding mass rapid transit, buses, mini buses, and taxi service to cover more areas.

This will reduce the dependency on private vehicles which in turn help us to divert our financial resources to more fruitful areas or secure a roof over our heads.

As shared in my previous article, housing loans in advanced countries comprise an average of 74% of total household debt compared with ours at 45.7%.

This tells me that we, as a nation, are spending too much of our already high household debt (87.9% to GDP) on high interest/high depreciation “bad debt” such as a car, credit card and personal loan.

Now is a good time to relook into our debt portfolio and the interest rates incurred, and check whether we are having a healthy or unhealthy debt burden.


FIABCI Asia-Pacific Regional secretariat chairman Datuk Alan Tong has over 50 years of experience in property development. He is also the group chairman of Bukit Kiara Properties. For feedback, please email feedback@fiabci-asiapacific.com.

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Friday, June 12, 2015

South Korea cuts interest rate as MERS contagion as threat


SEOUL: South Korea reported a 10th MERS death as the outbreak of the potentially deadly virus forced the central bank to cut its key interest rate to ward off greater economic damage amid a slump in business.

In what has become the largest outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) outside Saudi Arabia, a 65-year-old man died yesterday after being infected with the virus while receiving treatment for lung cancer at a hospital.

Seoul also reported 14 new cases, including the first infection of a pregnant woman. The new diagnoses brought to 122 the total number of confirmed cases in South Korea, the health ministry said.

Businesses including shopping malls, restaurants and cinemas have reported a sharp drop in sales as people shun public venues with large crowds.

Bank of Korea governor Lee Ju-yeol said slowing exports and threats to business from MERS were central to the decision to cut its benchmark rate by a quarter percentage point, to a record low of 1.5%.

It was the first cut since March, when the central bank made a surprise cut of 25 basis points.

“The full impact of the outbreak still remains uncertain but we thought it was desirable to act pre-emptively to curb its negative impact on the economy,” Lee said.

More than 54,000 foreign travellers have cancelled planned trips to South Korea so far this month, according to the Korea Tourism Board.

Hong Kong has issued a “red” alert warning against non-essential travel to South Korea.

However, Seoul says World Health Organisation guidelines do not warrant such action.

Taiwan raised its travel advisory level for South Korea but stopped short of warning its people against going at all. Other governments in Asia are urging caution but none has gone as far as Hong Kong in warning against non-essential travel.

Residents of Hong Kong are particularly sensitive after an outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) killed 299 people in the city in 2003 and sparked global panic.

The MERS virus is considered a deadlier but less infectious cousin of SARS.

On Wednesday, the area around a health clinic inside a metro station in Hong Kong was cordoned off and officials donned protective gear after a woman returning from South Korea showed flu-like symptoms.

Surgical masks reportedly sold out in shops around the station, but Hong Kong officials confirmed yesterday that the woman had tested negative for MERS.

Growing public alarm has forced South Korean President Park Geun-hye to cancel a planned June 14-18 trip to the United States.

Her administration has faced a storm of criticism for perceived slow and insufficient response to the crisis.

Of the 14 new cases, eight were infected at Samsung Medical Centre in Seoul, a major hospital where 55 people have contracted the virus. That is the largest cluster in the outbreak.

A 39-year-old woman in her final trimester of pregnancy was among those confirmed yesterday to have acquired the virus at the hospital.

Another victim contracted the virus at a hospital in Hwaseong City, 40km south of Seoul, and five others are under investigation to discover how they were infected.

More than 3,800 people who came into close contact with those infected are under quarantine, either at their homes or at healthcare facilities.

The first infected patient was diagnosed on May 20 after a trip to Saudi Arabia.

The 68-year-old man visited four medical facilities, infecting other patients and medics, before he was finally diagnosed, sparking criticism that authorities had bungled the initial response. — AFP

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Why South Koreans with ‘best jobs’ take only one day off per year Young and Old Fight Over Jobs in Korea as Generation Gap Widens With...

Thursday, June 11, 2015

South Koreans fight over jobs

Why South Koreans with ‘best jobs’ take only one day off per year

Young and Old Fight Over Jobs in Korea as Generation Gap Widens

With youth unemployment near a 15-year high and the government planning to raise the retirement age, intergenerational conflict over jobs is rising in South Korea.

The jobless rate for workers aged 15 to 29 touched 11 percent earlier this year and is about four times higher than for those aged 40 and above. At the other end of the spectrum, Korea has an underdeveloped pension system and the highest elderly poverty rate in the OECD, as companies push employees in their fifties into early retirement to contain costs.

An overall unemployment rate that’s close to the 10-year average belies the difficulty facing policy makers seeking to balance the needs of the young and the old as society ages and economic growth eases after the heady gains of previous decades.

Working longer would have helped Lee Jong Ho, 59, who retired from Korea Railroad Corp. two years ago and has been looking for another job ever since. Lee’s 2.2 million won ($1,970) monthly pension isn’t enough to support him and his wife, after pouring savings into raising their children.

“Healthy people like me should work at least until 70 given that the average life span of people now is easily over 80,” said Lee. “I know that extending the retirement age could mean fewer jobs for young people. I’m willing to get paid a little less if I can keep working.”

While currently there is no official retirement age in South Korea, a typical worker’s career ends around 53, government data show. After that, many try to get by on a combination of pension payments, savings, part-time work or small business ventures.

A new law taking effect next year mandates that large companies allow employees to work until at least 60.

‘Repeating Class’

Kang Jin Ho, an English major at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in Seoul, is 26 and still trying to get into the workforce. He’s deferred graduating for years to maximize his employment chances, as many companies limit new entry hires to people still in school. Kang’s applied for more than 70 jobs already in 2015 and has been rejected every time.

“Getting a job was so much easier for my parents’ generation, when the economy was expanding fast,” he said. “The average age of job seekers in my study group is 30.”

Projections from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development paint a gloomy picture for Kang and the next generation of students who will follow. The number of people 65 and older in Korea will surge from 11 percent in 2010 to more than 37 percent by 2050, according to the OECD.

Park’s Plan

The unemployment rate for those aged 15 to 29 was 9.3 percent in May, Statistics Korea said Wednesday. That’s the highest figure for May in official data going back to June 1999, and compares with 2.7 percent for people 40-49 and 2.6 percent for the 50-59 group. Young people are also seeking stable jobs and many apply for the civil service exam, which pushes up the youth unemployment rate, said Sim Won Bo, director at Statistics Korea.

President Park Geun Hye’s government will next month announce its fourth set of measures in two years to help ease unemployment among the young.

Previous efforts have included improvements to career training at school and incentives for young people to join small- and medium-sized enterprises, not just the large corporate icons that dominate the public imagination.

This time around the government may begin addressing the problems faced by Lee and Kang at the same time.

Tenure System

According to a finance ministry statement in May, financial support could be offered to companies that keep on older workers, while trimming their wages and using the savings to hire more young employees. The ministry didn’t offer further details.

Labor unions have already voiced opposition to the idea of a peak-wage system, which also runs counter to cultural traditions of basing pay on tenure and age, rather than performance.

“In a rapidly aging society with weak growth momentum, you’re going to get conflict between young and old over how to divide economic benefits,” said Lee Geun Tae, an economist at the LG Economic Research Institute in Seoul. “Young people having proper jobs is important for our growth engine, but there doesn’t seem to be an easy solution.”

Source: Bloomberg

Retirement Redesigned

Baby Boomers, Work and the Endless Vacation

0827_retirement_1433The baby boom generation already has left its mark on music, fitness and politics. Next up: retirement. While some people dream of the same “golden age” of relaxation, sun and travel their parents enjoyed, many more have looked at the numbers and decided they have to keep working. (It takes a lot of savings to finance a 30-year vacation.) For others, working is a choice. (Why give up a good income and fulfilling career?) Either way, the generation famous for rewriting the rules is now reshaping life after 65.

The Situation

Demographics are forcing changes in expectations for retirement. The number of senior citizens worldwide will swell to 714 million in 2020 from 601 million in 2015, straining government benefit plans. Meanwhile, the world’s birthrate is declining. Fewer workers mean fewer people paying into pension programs. So governments are encouraging or forcing people to work longer. Twenty percent of people over 65 are still working in Japan, whose median age of 46.1 gives it the world’s second-oldest population (surpassed only by Monaco at 51.1). There’s room for growth: Surveys show 80 percent of Japanese seniors want to work. Some are finding it hard to live comfortably on pensions alone. Others share the feelings of a 69-year-old who said: “Life is boring without work.”

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics


The Background

German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck offered the elderly the world’s first national old-age pension system in 1889. In the U.S., the first private pension plan was begun by American Express in 1875. By 1929, one-tenth of the American work force was covered under company pension plans. Yet that same year, even before the Great Depression hit, 56 percent of Americans 65 and older couldn’t support themselves. The Social Security law that passed in 1935 included a pension plan. During World War II, wage controls in the U.S. led employers to offer pensions as a way to attract workers. Private pensions expanded through the 1970s until they covered almost half of American workers. By the 1950s, retirees had money to spend and they wanted to play. The number of golf courses in the U.S. doubled from about 5,000 in the 1950s to more than 10,000 in the 1980s. America’s first retirement community, Sun City, opened outside of Phoenix in 1960. Tours and programs designed for older travelers, such as Elderhostel, founded in 1975, helped them see the world. Things began to change in 1980 with the introduction of 401(k) plans, which allowed U.S. workers to avoid taxes on income put aside for retirement. Subsequent tax-law changes removed incentives for companies to maintain traditional pension plans. Savings plans that relied on the stock market lost value with every crash and tough economic times caused many to take early withdrawals from their retirement savings. Fewer U.S. homeowners reaching retirement age have paid off their mortgages. The result: American baby boomers are poorer than their parents who golfed, lived in sunny climates and traveled.

The Argument

Baby boomers are starting retirement without much in the bank. More than one-fifth of Americans 65 and older are working and more people expect to work past traditional retirement age. They may be needed — certain industries, like construction and manufacturing, are facing shortages of skilled workers. Healthy seniors often want to stay on the job even if they don’t need the money, though in areas like academia this may be preventing younger people from advancing. Governments are certainly encouraging older people to work. In 2011, the U.K. abolished its default retirement age of 65; most people can now work as long as they want. The graying of the workforce is likely to continue. When asked what age they expect to retire, 10 percent of American baby boomers say “never.”

The Reference Shelf

Gallup has a series of polls on baby boomers and retirement.

Financial Times Magazine article, “How Japan stood up to old age.”

Bloomberg Visual Data on the impact of an aging world population.

National Public Radio interviewed older workers for its series, “Working Late.”

PBS NewsHour interactive report, “New Adventures for Older Workers.

First Published Sept. 18, 2014
To contact the writer of this QuickTake:

Victoria Stilwell at vstilwell1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this QuickTake:
Anne Cronin at acronin14@bloomberg.net

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Wednesday, June 10, 2015

HSBC Bank to cut 50,000 jobs in major overhaul: slash investment bank and shrink risk!


http://bcove.me/a7i3qveb

HSBC Holdings PLC will eliminate as many as 50,000 jobs through 2017 by shrinking its global reach as Chief Executive Officer Stuart Gulliver seeks to cut annual costs by about $5-billion (U.S.) to restore profit growth.

Europe’s largest bank plans to reduce full-time employees by 22,000 to 25,000, or about 10 per cent, it said in a presentation to investors on its website on Tuesday. A further 25,000 positions will be cut through the sale of its Turkey and Brazil operations. The bank left its target for return on equity, a measure of profitability, at more than 10 per cent.

Gulliver, 56, is looking to restore investor confidence in a bank battered by a series of scandals and surging compliance costs. Since taking over in 2011, he’s announced more than 87,000 jobs cuts, exited about 78 businesses and reduced the number of countries the bank operates by 15 to 73.

“HSBC is a big bank to move and they’re definitely moving in the right direction,” said Chris White, who helps oversee about 3.9 billion pounds ($6-billion), including HSBC shares, at Premier Fund Managers Ltd. in Guildford, England. “A lot of it feels like it was broadly as expected.”

The shares were little changed at 619.6 pence at 9:30 a.m. in London. They are up about 1.9 per cent this year, trailing a 6.9 per cent gain at Standard Chartered PLC, the other U.K. bank generating most of its earnings in Asia.  

U.K. Cuts

Just months after taking over, Gulliver announced some 30,000 jobs cuts to trim costs by as much as $2.5-billion. In the latest round, as many as 21,000 of the cuts will be lost in a push for digital banking, automation and branch closures. In the U.K., up to 8,000 jobs will be cut, Gulliver said.

Under his plan, the CEO plans to cut risk-weighted assets by about $290-billion, including a reduction at the securities division to less than one-third of the group’s RWAs, and target a return on equity of more than 10 per cent by 2017. The bank cut its ROE target to 10 per cent in February from as much as 15 per cent. In 2014, it had an ROE of 7.3 per cent.

At the investment bank, HSBC plans to cut RWAs by a net $130-billion, or 31 per cent, while “keeping costs flat.” The global banking and markets division had a 6 per cent profit gain in the first quarter, as revenue from foreign-exchange rose.

Asia Focus

The savings program will cost $4-billion to $4.5-billion through 2017, according to the statement.

“We recognize that the world has changed and we need to change with it,” Gulliver said in the statement. “I’m confident that our actions will allow us to capture expected future growth opportunities and deliver further value to shareholders.”

HSBC, founded 150 years ago in Hong Kong, will also sell operations in Turkey and Brazil, while stepping up investment in Asia, expanding asset management and insurance and focusing on places including China’s Pearl River Delta and areas including the internationalization of the yuan.

Jonathan Tyce, a senior banks analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence, said that while it’s a “good cost number,” the short list of disposals “may have surprised a little.”

“Margins are higher” in Asia,” Tyce said in an interview on Bloomberg Television from London on Tuesday. “Everybody’s all over Asia. This is all about improving capital efficiency. You can completely understand the motivation.”

HSBC Fines

With his strategy update, Gulliver is seeking to convince investors that he’s the right man to lead HSBC. At Deutsche Bank AG, Germany’s largest lender, co-CEO Anshu Jain announced his resignation on Sunday, just two months after presenting a strategic update that investors considered too weak.

“Gulliver is not an idiot,” said Chris Wheeler, an analyst at Atlantic Equities in London. “This is quite the opposite to Deutsche Bank as there is tonnes of granularity of where the cost cutting will come, how they’re achieving it and why they’re getting out of countries.”

HSBC has come under pressure to reduce costs and reverse a decline in profit after a year that saw the bank being fined for manipulating currency markets and embroiled in a tax-avoidance scandal in Switzerland.

The bank last week agreed to pay 40 million Swiss francs ($43-million) to close an investigation by Geneva prosecutors into allegations of money laundering at its Swiss private bank.

‘Extreme Solutions’

In February, Gulliver pledged that underperforming units would face “extreme solutions” after full-year earnings fell 17 per cent and the lender scrapped four-year-old profitability targets, citing a tougher regulatory environment.

HSBC is among the hardest hit by regulator scrutiny, with the Bank of England forcing the largest lenders to separate their consumer from riskier investment banking activities by 2019. It’s also been hurt by an increasing bank levy, costing lenders about 5.3 billion pounds over the next five years.

The bank said earlier this year that it’s reviewing whether to re-domicile from London because of rising tax and regulatory costs. It will complete its headquarters review by the end of 2015, according to the statement.

“It would be a mistake that HSBC flees the country,” Bill Blain, a strategist at Mint Partners, said in an interview with Jonathan Ferro on Bloomberg Television on Tuesday. “This is actually a pretty good place for banks to be.”

Source: Blomberg News
Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

HSBC to cut 50,000 jobs, slash investment bank and shrink risk by $290 billion

HONG KONG/LONDON: HSBC will shed almost 50,000 jobs and take an axe to its investment bank, cutting the assets of Europe's biggest lender by a quarter in a bid to simplify and improve its sluggish performance.

HSBC said it will shrink global banking and markets division to less than one third of HSBC's $2.6 tn balance sheet from its current level of 40%. 

The bank said on Tuesday about half the staff cuts will come from the sale of businesses in Brazil and Turkey. The other half will come from cutting about 10 per cent of the remaining 233,000 staff by consolidating IT and back office operations and closing branches. About 7,000-8,000 cuts are expected to be in Britain, or one in six UK staff.

The cuts will leave HSBC with about 208,000 full-time equivalent staff by 2017, down from 295,000 at the end of 2010 and 258,000 at the end of 2014, although the bank said it will be hiring in growth businesses and its compliance division.

The cuts are part of a second attempt by Chief Executive Stuart Gulliver to boost profits since he took the helm at the start of 2011. The previous effort was foiled by high compliance costs, fines, low interest rates and sluggish growth.

"Slaughtering the staff is not necessarily the solution unless management makes the bank considerably less complex," said James Antos, analyst at Mizuho Securities Asia.

HSBC shares in London opened 0.9 per cent higher at 625 pence before slipping back to underperform both the FTSE 100 index and European banking stocks slightly.

HSBC said it will cut its assets on a risk adjusted basis (RWA) by $290 billion by 2017. That will include a reduction of a third, or $140 billion, in global banking and markets (GBM), its investment bank. That means GBM will account for less than a third of HSBC's balance sheet, down from 40 per cent now.

Investors had been calling for more radical cuts at the investment bank, which Gulliver ran for five years but where returns have suffered in tough market conditions.

"The cuts provide significant headroom for the group to fund asset growth in Asia and absorb RWA inflation, whilst protecting its ability to pay a progressive dividend," said Gurpreet Singh Sahi, analyst at Goldman Sachs.

COST SAVINGS

The bank lowered its target for return on equity to greater than 10 per cent by 2017, down from a previous target of 12-15 per cent by 2016. Gulliver said he will push through annual cost savings of up to $5 billion by 2017. It will cost up to $4.5 billion in the next three years to achieve the savings.

HSBC confirmed the planned sale of its businesses in Turkey and Brazil, adding it would keep a presence in the latter to serve corporate clients. It aims to overhaul underperforming businesses in Mexico and the United States to improve returns.

The bank said it was also targeting growth in Asia by expanding its insurance business and its presence in China's Pearl River Delta region.

Some analysts said the changes did not go as far as hoped, though others said the asset reduction plan was a substantial shift.

"The market is likely to respond positively on the move with investors having a much clearer idea of HSBC's direction going forward," said Steven Leung, a sales director at UOB Kay Hian in Hong Kong.

The bank also set out 11 criteria it will use to evaluate whether to move its headquarters from London to Asia, likely Hong Kong. They include factors such as economic growth, the tax system, government support for the growth of the banking system, long-term stability and an ability to attract good staff.

HSBC said it would complete the review of the possible move by the end of the year.

The bank also has to separate its British retail banking operation, which is to be based in Birmingham in central England. The "ring-fenced" bank will account for about two thirds of UK revenues, or $11 billion, and will have some 26,000 staff, or 57 per cent of the total in the United Kingdom.  - Reuters

Monday, June 8, 2015

Science on high intensity interval training: HIIT, or SHIIT?


Let me pose you a question: would you rather go down to the video store (if it hasn’t yet gone bankrupt) to hire a DVD, or stream it from the comfort of your own home? You’ve probably answered: the comfort of your own home, unless of course you get all nostalgic about walking down the street to hire discs. I know I do!

Okay, okay, now let me pose you a further question: would you rather spend one hour exercising, or 30 minutes? Stop, don’t answer that just yet. What if I were to say that both workouts would give you equivalent results? Unless you’re a time wasting enthusiast, pain junky, or DOMS devotee you’re probably going to answer 30 minutes. Well a new (old) exercise regiment known as high intensity interval training (HIIT) is offering just that.

Yes, if you believe one of the internet’s many great fitness prophets, then you will be aware that HIIT is the shit! Slow endurance training is the DVD for hire and HIIT is Netflix, which is of course, the shit. So is HIIT truly the shit, or should you beware of false fitness prophets?

HIITWorkout

What is HIIT?

Before I answer your previous question. What is HIIT? Simply put, HIIT involves performing intervals of highly intense exercise followed by either complete rest, or low intensity exercise. The high intensity-low intensity combination seems to be the more popular of the two currently.

How about an example? Sure, here’s one. Let’s say running is your game. Your HIIT may involve a ratio of a one minute sprint, to 45 seconds of slow jogging, repeated for a total of 15 minutes. It certainly doesn’t have to follow this exact ratio, or duration and these variables change greatly from protocol to protocol, that was simply an example. I should note, however, that scientific data to date has found minimal difference between different interval ratios thus far (9).


HIIT (1)

Why HIIT might be the shit?

HIIT is proposed to lead to multiple complex physiological changes to the skeletal muscle system that promote fat burning efficiency and preference, and more efficient oxygen utilisation. In turn, this is proposed to: make you skinnier, fitter and it will likely give you the ability to fly! But probably not the last one.

Science and HIIT (SHIIT):

Of course theory means little unless it translates to real world, real life changes. So, does it? Spoiler, it generally does.

Aerobic health:

A review paper analysing studies on individuals suffering from various different lifestyle diseases found HIIT to be effective. Specifically, cardiovascular fitness, as measured by Vo2 max, was 9% higher when individuals performed HIIT as opposed to moderate intensity continuous exercise (1). Another large scale review paper on scientific studies to date found HIIT to improve: aerobic fitness level more so than normal, moderate intensity exercise in both sedentary and active individuals. But it was only as effective as continuous exercise training in athletic persons (2). If that wasn’t enough science for you, a third study found HIIT to improve aerobic fitness as well as moderate intensity continuous exercise in a relatively fit group of people (3). This basically tells us that the lower your fitness level is, the better you will respond to HIIT and if you only want to do one sort of training, HIIT will be more effective than continuous training for aerobic fitness. Conversely, if you’re really fit and only want to do one form of exercise, then HIIT is as good as continuous moderate intensity exercise for aerobic fitness.

beautiful fitness woman

Muscles, muscles, muscles:

What about those muscles? Can you skip the separate weight sessions and do an all in one HIIT session? Well, the scientific data is very limited on this. But the one study that does exist on this topic, found that when having an active rest period was compared to having complete rest, complete rest won. Yes, complete rest led to greater work output, which in turn would likely mean improved: muscle mass, strength, power, looking shredded bro (4)! This makes sense and says that resistance training HIIT will likely provide you with some nice adaptations, but not as good as traditional weight training where proper rest between sets is taken.

Weight loss:

What about weight loss then? The data ain’t crystal clear on this. One study found HIIT boxing was better than continuous brisk walking at improving body fat percentage (5). Another study found participants had a decreased waist circumference following HIIT, but not following moderate intensity continuous exercise (6). Yet, in complete contrast, continuous moderate intensity exercise was found to decrease trunk fat more so than HIIT in another study (7). All in all, the science isn’t certain on whether HIIT or continuous training is best for weight loss. But if you base your workout on the number of calories you’re burning, based on average heart rate or a similar method, then you should be no worse off than performing continuous exercise, as average heart rate tends to be higher for HIIT and stays elevated for longer following exercise.

Adherence:

If HIIT is quicker to do, then you’d think people would do it more and stick to it. And they do! High intensity interval training led to a greater level of adherence (89% vs 71%) than moderate intensity continuous training (8). Grouse!

HIIT


Is it healthful? 

Ladies and gentlemen, HIIT is the shit! Or at least it is pretty darn good and very relevant to our time-centric society:

  • HIIT is likely as good as endurance exercise for aerobic fitness and if you’re of a low fitness level it’s probably better.

  •  Resistance training HIIT won’t get you as ripped as traditional resistance training with structured rest periods. But it’s probably not a great deal worse.

  • HIIT will lead to at least equivalent weight loss to continuous moderate intensity exercise in a shorter period of time, likely due to an elevated average heart rate.

  • HIIT generally leads to higher adherence, so you’re more likely to stick with it.

Our verdict :Highly healthfull. If you’re time poor and unfit, HIIT’s the most effective way to turn things around. Although if time is less of a factor and you really want to optimise your health you should combine HIIT, anaerobic exercise and aerobic exercise as part of a proper periodised program. Especially, if you have sport related goals.

I hope this has been healthful!

Isithealthful

I hold a Doctor of Physiotherapy, Bachelor of Exercise Science and am a qualified personal trainer. I have extensive clinical and research experience and a strong passion for all things health. This has driven me to write the blog: Is it healthful, in order to analyse sound scientific research to determine if a product, service or intervention is healthful, or simply a waste of money or time.
 
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