-- Rolfe Winkler is a Reuters columnist. The views expressed are his own --
By Rolfe Winkler
(Reuters) - When I was 14, Warren Buffett wrote me a letter.
It was a response to one I'd sent him, pitching an investment idea. For a kid interested in learning stocks, Buffett was a great role model. His investing style -- diligent security analysis, finding competent management, patience -- was immediately appealing.
Buffett was kind enough to respond to my letter, thanking me for it and inviting me to his company's annual meeting. I was hooked. Today, Buffett remains famous for investing The Right Way. He even has a television cartoon in the works, which will groom the next generation of acolytes (r.reuters.com/naw79c ).
But it turns out much of the story is fiction. A good chunk of his fortune is dependent on taxpayer largess. Were it not for government bailouts, for which Buffett lobbied hard, many of his company's stock holdings would have been wiped out.
Berkshire Hathaway (BRKa.N)(BRKb.N), in which Buffett owns 27 percent, according to a recent proxy filing, has more than $26 billion invested in eight financial companies that have received bailout money. The TARP at one point had nearly $100 billion invested in these companies and, according to new data released by Thomson Reuters, FDIC backs more than $130 billion of their debt.
To put that in perspective, 75 percent of the debt these companies have issued since late November has come with a federal guarantee. (To see more details in chart form, go to my blog at r.reuters.com/suw79c ).
Without FDIC's debt guarantee program, even impregnable Goldman would have collapsed.
And this excludes the emergency, opaque lending facilities from the Federal Reserve that also helped rescue the big banks. Without all these bailouts, the financial system would have been forced to recapitalize itself.
Banks that couldn't finance their balance sheets would have sold toxic assets at market prices, and the losses would have wiped out their shareholder's equity. With $7 billion at stake, Buffett is one of the biggest of these shareholders.
He even traded the bailout, seeking morally hazardous profits in preferred stock and warrants of Goldman and GE (GE.N) because he had "confidence in Congress to do the right thing" -- to rescue shareholders in too-big-to-fail financials from the losses that were rightfully theirs to absorb.
Keeping this in mind, I was struck by Buffett's letter to Berkshire shareholders this year (r.reuters.com/paw79c).
"Funders that have access to any sort of government guarantee -- banks with FDIC-insured deposits, large entities with commercial paper now backed by the Federal Reserve, and others who are using imaginative methods (or lobbying skills) to come under the government's umbrella -- have money costs that are minimal," he wrote.
"Conversely, highly-rated companies, such as Berkshire, are experiencing borrowing costs that ... are at record levels. Moreover, funds are abundant for the government-guaranteed borrower but often scarce for others, no matter how creditworthy they may be."
It takes remarkable chutzpah to lobby for bailouts, make trades seeking to profit from them, and then complain that those doing so put you at a disadvantage.
Elsewhere in his letter he laments "atrocious sales practices" in the financial industry, holding up Berkshire subsidiary Clayton Homes as a model of lending rectitude.
Conveniently, he neglects to mention Wells Fargo's (WFC.N) toxic book of home equity loans, American Express' (AXP.N) exploding charge-offs, GE Capital's awful balance sheet, Bank of America's (BAC.N) disastrous acquisitions of Countrywide and Merrill Lynch, and Goldman Sachs' (GS.N) reckless trading practices.
And what of Moody's, the credit-rating agency that enabled lending excesses Buffett criticizes, and in which he's held a major stake for years? Recently Berkshire cut its stake to 16 percent from 20 percent. Publicly, however, the Oracle of Omaha has been silent.
This is remarkably incongruous for the world's most famous financial straight-shooter. Few have called him on it, though one notable exception was a good article by Charles Piller in the Sacramento Bee earlier this year (r.reuters.com/new79c ).
Buffett didn't respond to my email seeking a comment.
What saddens me is that Buffett is uniquely positioned to lobby for better public policy, but he's chosen to spend his considerable political capital protecting his own holdings.
If we learn one lesson from this episode, it's that banks should carry substantially more capital than may be necessary. You would think Buffett would agree. He has always emphasized investing with a "margin of safety" -- so why shouldn't banks lend with one?
Yet he mocked Tim Geithner's stress tests, which forced banks to replenish their capital (r.reuters.com/vaw79c ). Why? Is it because his banks are drastically undercapitalized? (r.reuters.com/waw79c ) The more capital they're forced to raise, the more his stake is diluted.
He points to Wells Fargo's deposit funding model being more robust than investment banks', but that's no excuse for letting tangible equity dwindle to three percent of assets. At that low level, the capital structure would have collapsed were it not for bailouts.
And by the way, the strength of Wells' funding model is a result of FDIC insurance, among the government subsidies Buffett complains about in this year's letter.
To me this feels like a betrayal. There's a reason he's Warren Buffett and not, say, Carl Icahn.
As Roger Lowenstein wrote in his 1995 biography of Buffett, "Wall Street's modern financiers got rich by exploiting their control of the public's money ... Buffett shunned this game ... In effect, he rediscovered the art of pure capitalism -- a cold-blooded sport, but a fair one."
But there's nothing fair about Buffett getting a bailout, about exploiting the taxpaying public for his own gain. The naive 14-year-olds among us thought he was better than this.
[The following story initially ran in the April 06 edition of Investigate magazine, but is directly relevant to the purchase announced April 28, 2008 of Vector Energy's Wellington grid by the same businessman]
The Hong Kong business conglomerate trying to purchase a stake in some of New Zealand's biggest port companies [and now the purchaser of energy company Vector] has been named as a front for the People's Liberation Army of China, and some of its associates have been caught shipping weapons and alleged WMD technology. IAN WISHART has more
His name is Li Ka-shing, and if his name sounds like a cash register there's a very good reason: this 77 year old Chinese businessman has just been ranked by Forbes magazine as the tenth wealthiest person in the world, with a fortune estimated at nearly US$20 billion. His companies, including Hutchison Whampoa, account for 10% of the value of the Hong Kong stock exchange and have tentacles that reach across the globe – more than forty countries according to one estimate – and in industries as varied as mobile telephone networks, electricity grids, retailing, shipping and real estate.
Many New Zealanders may have become familiar with Li's work in the sixties and seventies, when his main business was making plastic toys with the infamous "Made in Hong Kong" imprimatur.
But there are two sides to the Li Ka-shing story. One is the traditional fodder of business magazines, lauding the rags to riches story of a billionaire whose father died after the Japanese invasion of China before World War 2, leaving a 12 year old boy with the task of earning enough money to feed his mother and siblings. It's a story of a man making wily business decisions, building an empire and showing aspiring MBA graduates how it's done.
And here's how one of those gushing business stories reads:
"The move by the richest man in Asia and one of the richest in the world to take a stake in the operation of the Port of Lyttelton is one that has potentially great benefits for Christchurch and Canterbury and ultimately the rest of the country," said the Christchurch Press in an editorial mid February.
"There is no need to be starry-eyed about the proposed venture. Li Ka-shing has risen from complete destitution as a refugee who fled the raping and pillaging of China by the Japanese in the 1930s to become a multi-billionaire.
"He did it by being an astute and hard-nosed businessman. He also did it, according to one account in a business journal, by 'remaining true to his internal moral compass' and operating with integrity."
Like we said, that's one side of the Li Ka-shing story.
The other side of Li Ka-shing is much darker, and less likely to be taught in graduate classes. It's the story of a man whose companies are regarded by Western intelligence agencies as nothing more than a money-making front for Chinese military intelligence as China prepares for what it sees as an "inevitable" conflict with the US.
As this 1996 diplomatic cable release by the US Government under a Freedom of Information request shows, Li Ka-shing's businesses didn't make money the hard way.
""Embassy Panama has received information to the effect that HIT (Hutchison International Terminals) is controlled by mainland Chinese, perhaps through a Macao front which allegedly recently invested $400 million in HIT," states the cable. "Such control would have security implications and might affect the Panamanian government's views on awarding the port concessions."
The "mainland Chinese" referred to in 1996 have turned out to be the Chinese Government itself, and more specifically its People's Liberation Army – more of which in a moment, but first some background.
Intelligence agencies have used what they call "arms length" front companies – genuine commercial operations whose owners are sympathetic to a particular cause. Back in the 1970s and 80s, for example, America's CIA set up a global freight airline, Air America, and a merchant banking operation, Nugan Hand Bank of Australia, to help launder money and assist with so-called "black operations" that the US government could not directly be involved in. Discretion, and plausible deniability, required "cut-outs" who could take the heat if discovered. One CIA front company, US accounting firm Bishop Baldwin Rewald Dillingham & Wong, even went so far as to open an office in Auckland in 1983.
But there's one difference between CIA front companies and Chinese ones. Ultimately, the US government takes a major PR-hit when dirty covert operations are uncovered. The Chinese government suffers no embarrassment when caught spying, because of its tight control of Chinese citizens and the lack of democratic accountability.
Investigate enjoyed a world exclusive in March 2000 when it reported that Chinese businessman James Riady, wanted for spying and illegal payments to the US president, Bill Clinton, had been in New Zealand as a guest of the National Government and introduced to Clinton at APEC.
Ever since Clinton was elected to the Whitehouse in 1992, China has bought influence in American politics by using businessmen like Riady and Li to donate to Presidential campaign funds, or the election campaigns of key senators and congress representatives. As a result, when America's lease fell due on the Panama canal in 1999, the Clinton administration let it slide, and Li Ka-shing's Hutchison Whampoa picked up control of the crucial ports at either end of the Panama canal. According to US reports, Hutchison also paid substantial bribes to Panamanian officials to secure the deal.
Amazingly, the deal also allows Hutchison to transfer its control of the Panama facilities to any other organization or country of its choosing, meaning it could – in the lead up to a conflict – effectively place the canal directly and officially in the control of China, allowing Chinese military and naval forces to legally occupy and defend their beachhead in the Americas. Because of the immense strategic importance of the Panama canal, any military attack on it could cause damage making the canal impassable regardless of who controls it, thus limiting US options.
Newssite WorldNetDaily reported a 1995 diplomatic cable from the US Embassy in the Bahamas revealing Hutchison had just been given the go ahead to build a US$88 million container port there. The embassy copied its cable to the Drug Enforcement Agency and US Customs, noting the possibility of a major increase in smuggling through the Hutchison facility.
They were right to be concerned. There are growing reports of a strong Chinese organized crime presence in Panama.
Some analysts fear the US is becoming more vulnerable to "Trojan horses", in the form of cargo or container ships that dock containing weapons of mass destruction and/or short to medium range ballistic missiles, leaving America vulnerable to a surprise attack with no possibility of missile intercept because of the short ranges involved. Indeed, this has been one of the security fears over the past month because of a bid by a Dubai-based company to take control of major US ports – the possibility that weapons of mass destruction could be smuggled in through civilian ports controlled by foreign interests.
Al Qa'ida has already been implicated in smuggling Islamic extremists into the US across the Mexican border, but China is equally active in shipping the ingredients of terror through commercial operators. Li Ka-shing, for example, sits on the board of CITIC, the China International Trust Investment Company, which has also been active in New Zealand business circles and still has a presence here. But US investigations have determined CITIC is also a People's Liberation Army front company, and during the Operation Sidewinder investigations in Canada recently authorities discovered quantities of weapons had been supplied by a CITIC company and stored on Mohawk Indian reservations.
CITIC was also in the news at Christmas after signing a US$900 million contract to build an aluminium smelter in Iran. Aluminium tubing is used in the production of missile technology and nuclear weapons.
China's state owned national shipping company COSCO, again a 50% joint venture partner in some of Li Ka-shing's operations, has been implicated in the sort of activities that would make the CIA blush.
"Both U.S. Senate and Canadian intelligence sources have described COSCO as "the merchant marine for China's military"," reported Canada Free Press last year.
"According to U.S. intelligence reports, COSCO vessels do not just transport Oriental bric-a-brac. COSCO vessels have been caught carrying [two thousand AK-47] assault rifles into California and biological-chemical weapons components into North Korea, Pakistan, Iraq and Iran. Add to these disturbing events that Canadian law enforcement agencies have kicked in with hard-line information that Chinese Triad criminal elements are active in and around Canadian ports."
But it isn't just smuggling items in, there is also the question of Chinese spies operating through front companies to smuggle information and technology out of countries like Canada, the US, Australia and New Zealand – all of which have been named internationally as prime targets for Chinese intelligence.
According to the Canada Free Press report:
"Conspiracy theories were tossed out the window when U.S. Congressman Dana Rohrabacher revealed that the U.S. Bureau of Export Affairs, the U.S. Embassy in Beijing and the Rand Corporation had identified Li Ka-Shing and Hutchison Whampoa (Li's primary business) as financing or serving as a conduit for Communist China's military in order for them to acquire sensitive technologies and other equipment."
But again, Chinese intelligence is one step ahead of the West. Just as Bill Clinton had been paid off in the US in order for China to gain access at the highest levels, so too was the-then Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien:
"Former Prime Minister Jean Chretien's connections to the burgeoning CITIC conglomerate served as his entrée into the private sector," says Canada Free Press. "While John Turner was leader of the federal Liberals, Chretien was working for Gordon Securities, one of the many Li-controlled companies on Canadian soil."
According to Canada Free Press, Operation Sidewinder was "sideswiped" after political pressure from Chretien.
With the Chinese military currently embarking on the most rapid rearmament in world history, the involvement of Chinese commercial entities should come as no surprise.
An American Defense Council report published two years ago paints an extremely disturbing picture for the West.
"Li Ka-Shing, the leader of Hutchison Port Holdings (China's primary shipping line), has close ties to the Chinese Communist Party and to the CITIC. The CITIC is believed to serve as a funding umbrella for the Chinese military, supporting the acquisition of military-related technologies. Hutchison Port Holdings manages, operates and is in possession of significant portions of three of the world's top five ports as measured by both the number of containers shipped and total tonnage shipped.
"China's other two huge shipping lines are directly controlled by the Communist Party. One, the China Ocean Shipping Co (COSCO) was described in the Cox Report issued by the US Congress as follows: 'Although presented as a commercial entity, COSCO is actually an arm of the Chinese military establishment'."
According to the Defense Council report, there are 10 strategic global shipping "choke points" that are crucial to US oil and trade lifelines.
"In the last decade, China has succeeded in building, managing or operating strategic ports adjacent to, or, as in the case of the Panama canal, at the entrance and exit of seven of these 10 global shipping choke points."
What has not been widely reported is another paragraph in the Congressional investigation into Chinese spying:
"The Clinton administration has determined that additional information concerning COSCO that appears in the Select Committee's classified final report cannot be made public," concluded the watered down version released by the House Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare.
COSCO already has a strong presence in New Zealand, with offices in Auckland and Christchurch and a container line service that runs into Auckland, Tauranga, Napier, Wellington, Nelson, Lyttelton and Port Chalmers. Four of its vessels here, including the Aotea, are Panamanian registered.
While there is no doubt that COSCO routinely ships ordinary freight, every day, as any other commercial business does, there are also days when it ships the extraordinary, as this American news report notes.
"At least three arms shipments were traced from China to the Cuban port of Mariel during the past several months, according to an article Tuesday in the Washington Times. All the arms were aboard vessels belonging to the state-owned China Ocean Shipping Co., or Cosco, U.S. intelligence officials told the newspaper. The explosives were said to be "military-grade" material, the newspaper said.
"U.S. officials said Tuesday that the subject of arms trafficking between China and Cuba is a worrisome one, though they stopped short of confirming the Washington Times account. "We are very much concerned with this PLA [People's Liberation Army] cooperation and movement of military equipment in Cuba," said James Kelly, assistant secretary of state for East Asian affairs, when questioned during a hearing of the House International Relations subcommittee."
Questioning of Li Ka-shing is something Canadian government security advisor Scott Newark would like to do. He told the respected online journal NewsMax.com that a request by Li's Hutchison group to purchase ports in the US be given full congressional scrutiny.
"I'd like to suggest that the appropriate congressional committee hold hearings and that they call Li Ka-shing as the first witness. I volunteer to be second, but frankly there are people far more knowledgeable than me in this regard, including for example the International Association of Airport and Seaport Police, which just held their conference in NYC. As a speaker at that conference I urged ridding ports of such crime and rogue government-connected companies, not making them the local constabulary."
According to NewsMax, Newark identified five critical port security issues: "preventing smuggling of drugs, guns and people; preventing export of stolen products; providing site security as a result of 9/11; preventing terrorism related smuggling; and preventing attacks on ships leaving ports."
To that end, Newark sounds a warning that is relevant for New Zealand authorities as they consider whether to approve a buy-in by Hutchison into Lyttelton and possibly the Auckland or Tauranga ports.
"We need full scrutiny of the principals of Hutchison Whampoa and all of their business or government-related associations, and any history of any activity of them or their associates – including links to organized crime and terrorist groups, activities or states supporting the same – that would raise concerns to any of the above.
"We should give full scrutiny to any relationship of Hutchison Whampoa, its partners, directors or officers with any foreign government that would raise concerns to any or all of the above issues."
If that isn't ringing warning bells at the Christchurch City Council and in the Beehive, it should be, especially as the Li's business partner – the Chinese military's "merchant marine arm" COSCO - is already a big player in New Zealand ports.
Both COSCO and Hutchison have faced this negative publicity overseas. In COSCO's case, it hired one of America's leading public relations companies to spin the strong business and economic benefits of trade with China to the news media and key politicians, while playing down the "unfounded and negative" stories we've just highlighted. According to commentators the PR ploy has worked, with coverage of the company in the US largely restricted to positive business and trade stories in the media.
Nor is Li Ka-shing a stranger to New Zealand business. In Australia, he's the majority owner of Hutchison 3G Mobile, but you might be surprised to learn Theresa Gattung's Telecom New Zealand holds the remaining 19.9% in a joint venture.
Ironically, it was only a decision by US telecommunications regulators to threaten a veto that stopped Li Ka-shing's Hutchison from buying the giant international phone network Global Crossing three years ago. The purchase would have given Hutchison the possible option of eavesdropping on phone and data calls being made on Global Crossing's planet-wide network of undersea phone cables linking all the continents. Global was also bidding for US Defence contracts at the time.
Li's business ventures with the Chinese military include the Guangzhou Aircraft Maintenance Engineering Company, a Chinese air force company 25% owned by Li; and a one-third stake in AsiaSat, also part owned by the People's Liberation Army.
The move by Hutchison Port Holdings Ltd (HPHL) to purchase the Lyttelton Port Company in Christchurch raises some more questions for Helen Clark's Labour Government to answer. HPHL is registered in the British Virgin Islands, the same Caribbean tax haven at the centre of our February story about the New Zealand Labour Party's biggest campaign donor, Owen Glenn. Coincidentally, Glenn is also a shipping handler who's managed to get a rare Class A business licence in China and is said to have influence in Beijing, but whose operations don't appear to stack up based on what Investigate was able to discover. Glenn funneled $500,000 into Labour's election coffers last year.
Is the New Zealand Labour Party receiving money from the Chinese Government through a complex web of shady business figures and front companies? At this point Investigate doesn't have enough information to answer one way or the other, but the magazine's investigations are continuing.
In the meantime, we have discovered Li Ka-shing has reserved the name Hutchison Ports New Zealand Ltd with the Companies Office. The deal relies at this stage on Christchurch City Holdings Ltd acquiring the 31% of Lyttelton port shares that it doesn't already own, and that purchase offer closes on April 8. If CCHL gets the shares it needs, it plans to sell down 49.9% of the port to Hutchison. But Hutchison would get majority control of the company actually running the port on a daily basis, effectively putting the Chinese Government in command of imports and exports out of Christchurch.
The Christchurch Press reports the deal was driven initially by Lyttelton Port Company management, but picked up by Hutchison Port Holdings executive directors Mark Jack and Richard Pearson – both apparently ex-pat kiwis. A search of Companies Office records lists a Mark David Jack, resident in Hong Kong, as sole director of Ardmore Hangars Ltd – set up last year – and Ardmore Aviation Services Ltd, set up in 2003.
We have been unable to confirm any New Zealand directorships for Richard Pearson.
Christchurch mayor Gary Moore has dismissed reported links between Hutchison and the Chinese military as the work of "conspiracy theorists" who'd been listening to a sole US congressman, and Mark Jack has told critics to ignore the bad media and concentrate on the company's economic performance – a carbon copy of the PR stance Hutchison has taken in the US.
But Gary Moore – as provincial local body mayors often are – suffers from not being privy to intelligence. If it was only "conspiracy theory", why was Hutchison forced to back away from Global Crossing? And if Moore is correct about only one congressman raising concerns about Hutchison, why did the South China Morning Post report that Hutchison's paid lobbyists in the US were targeting three, including the then Senate Majority leader Trent Lott and former US Defence Secretary Caspar Weinberger who testified Hutchison's takeover of the Panama canal would pose a security threat to the US?
And if Gary Moore is correct, how does he explain the now-released 1999 intelligence briefing from the US military Southern Command which states: ""Hutchison's containerized shipping facilities in the Panama Canal, as well as the Bahamas, could provide a conduit for illegal shipments of technology or prohibited items from the west to the PRC, or facilitate the movement of arms and other prohibited items into the Americas."?
We put similar questions to a spokesman for Christchurch City Holdings Ltd, the current majority owner of Lyttelton Port Company, and ended up in a slanging match where the response to the allegations was "so what if he is?". The spokesman pointed out that national security issues were something for the Prime Minister to sort out, and Christchurch was only interested in the commercial deal.
The spokesman referred to a statement by a US Clinton administration official in 1999 to the senate hearing that Hutchison Whampoa's operation of the Panama ports would have no impact on shipping movements, and that the company had no known ties to the Chinese government.
However, those claims have already been tackled by the Washington Times' Insight magazine:
"Western policymakers and business leaders have little or no idea of China's grand strategy and how Beijing's leaders want to situate their country for the next century. When, in 1999, Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) sent Insight's report, "China's Beachhead at Panama Canal," to then defense secretary William Cohen, he called for a full national-security appraisal of the problem. Lott told Cohen, "U.S. naval ships will be at the mercy of Chinese-controlled pilots and could even be denied passage. It appears we have given away the farm."
"At Lott's request, the Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing in which four Clinton-administration witnesses testified that Hutchison Whampoa posed no security challenges to the United States [see "PC Answers on Panama Canal," Nov. 22, 1999]. But not one of the witnesses could answer the fundamental question, posed by Sen. Robert Smith (R-N.H.): "Do you believe the People's Republic of China uses commercial enterprises to advance their military interests?"
"Bill Clinton's assistant secretary of defense, Brian E. Sheridan, who had issued a defense of Hutchison Whampoa, confessed, "I don't know." Alberto Aleman Zubieta, whom Clinton had appointed to run the Panama Canal until 2005, didn't answer either. Neither did Joseph W. Cornelison, the deputy administrator of the Panama Canal Commission, nor Lino Gutierrez [the official referred to by Christchurch City Holdings Ltd's PR man], then principal deputy assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs. All had contradicted their testimony. Only Marine Gen. Charles E. Wilhelm, then chief of the U.S. Southern Command, answered affirmatively to whether Beijing uses commercial enterprises to advance its military interests, saying only: "I think so."
"That was it. And apparently the government has learned little since. "Many of those who are engaged in China policy or who invest there remain blithely ignorant of Chinese goals to replace the United States as the reigning world power," says Thomas Woodrow, a former senior China analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency."
Lino Gutierrez is the Clinton official whose testimony was used to rubbish suggestions of Chinese government investment. He told the senate hearing:
"Through publicly available information, we have been able to ascertain that neither
Hutchison-Whampoa, nor its subsidiaries Hutchison Port Holdings (HPH) and the Panama Ports Company (PPC), have any significant investment from mainland China."
What isn't clear is how Gutierrez determined that, when many key companies in the group including Hutchison Port Holdings are registered in tax havens so their true ownership cannot be searched.
Investigate did finally get to put a series of questions to CCHL Chief Executive Bob Lineham. The questions, and his answers, are as follows:
1. How is CCHL satisfied that, even if Hutchison is a front company for the People's Liberation Army of China, that its majority stake in the operating company for the Port of Lyttelton remains a good idea?
Answer from Bob Lineham:
"In the event that Christchurch City Holdings Limited's (CCHL) Takeover Offer for Lyttelton Port Company Ltd (LPC) succeeded, and Hutchison Port Holdings Ltd was introduced into the Port of Lyttelton, the Christchurch City Council would retain control of the Lyttelton Port Company with a 50.1% voting majority (through CCHL) of the shares in LPC.
"The purpose of the new port operating company in which HPH would have a 50.1% share is to operate the Port of Lyttelton. It does not and cannot control the Lyttelton Port Company. With HPH as a port partner, the Port of Lyttelton would be controlled, as it is today, by the people of Christchurch through CCHL and the Christchurch City Council.
1. How is CCHL satisfied that Li Ka-shing is a legitimate businessman, in the face not only of his vast personal fortune in a socialist country, but also his well-documented ties to communist China and its ruling politburo long before the 1997 handover of Hong Kong? No answer received.
2. Why is it not strange that a communist state can be home to the world's tenth richest man, without corruption being a factor? No answer received.
3. In what way has CCHL consulted with the New Zealand government or its officials over the proposed buy in?
Answer from Bob Lineham:
"The introduction of Hutchison Port Holdings to the Port of Lyttelton would be subject to the usual regulatory consents that are required when an overseas company is involved."
1. Li Ka Shing or companies and individuals associated with him have been implicated in smuggling 2,000 AK 47 fully automatic military rifles into California, and shipping componentry for nuclear weapons to Iran. CITIC, a Chinese Government company that Li helped found and sits on the board of directors of, is building an aluminium smelter in Iran the product of which can be used in missile technology and the production of nuclear weapons. Why are the reputational issues surrounding Li Ka Shing not a concern to CCHL? No answer received.
2. Why is CCHL not concerned about the fact that Hutchison was prevented from purchasing telecommunications provider Global Crossing in 2003 because of concerns that he was a security threat to the US? No answer received.
And if the Christchurch port administrators are relying on assurances by Clinton administration officials that Li Ka-shing is not a security threat, they could be backing the wrong horse. Sadly, Investigate has reported before on how badly briefed New Zealand officials are on international intrigue. Former National Government Prime Minister Jenny Shipley was given a briefing by Foreign Affairs and Trade on visiting businessman James Riady in 1999 that read like this:
"The Lippo Group is one of Indonesia's largest conglomerates in terms of market capitalisation with estimates of value putting it at having US$11 billion in assets.
"The vision of its founder Mochtar Riady is to transcend the institutional limitations placed upon organisations run in the traditional overseas Chinese pattern and adopt a modern publicly owned and professionally managed pattern of business.
"Mochtar has formed alliances and joint venture partnerships with world class multinational corporations and has high calibre professional management staff working for him.
"The Lippo empire rose out of the success of the Lippo Bank. Unlike just about all other banks in Indonesia its founder Mochtar Riady tended to shun the Suharto connections that for other conglomerates in Indonesia were the keys to success.
"He avoided lending to politically connected groups or to state enterprises and instead built his business on legitimate retail and trade finance."
Yes, well. That's the New Zealand intelligence briefing, but while our diplomats were talking about how politically-neutral and non-crony like the Riadys were, the businessmen themselves were on the run from US justice for illegally laundering $4 million of illegal Chinese government donations to President Clinton's re-election fund.
The saddest part of that story was the information about the Riadys was in the public domain, just as the information on Li Ka-shing is, but New Zealand trade officials chose to ignore it or write it off as "conspiracy theory".
Interestingly, one report from a US Congressional team that visited Panama says "Li Ka-Shing is an investor in the Riady family's Hong Kong China Bank." It is this international game of join the dots that seems too hard for New Zealand officials to understand.
The Riadys were heavily involved with a company called China Resources Ltd, which is also a joint venture partner with Hutchison in the Panama canal. China Resources has long been known as a front for Chinese intelligence, but this too was completely missing from the intelligence briefing given to Shipley. Indeed, judging from their innocuous contents one would have to suspect the briefing was in fact prepared by Chinese intelligence!
"The Lippo Group has a strategic position in China and Hong Kong with substantial investments and relationships with powerful business and government people and organisations.
"It owns 49% of the Hong Kong Chinese Bank with the remaining 51% held by China Resources (Holdings) which is a wholly-owned enterprise of China's Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation."
So despite Christchurch's insistence that New Zealand authorities have it all in hand and that citizens can rest easy in their beds, Investigate is reminded of this news release about the previous Asian-investor golden boy James Riady, issued by the US Department of Justice in 2001:
JAMES RIADY PLEADS GUILTY WILL PAY LARGEST FINE IN CAMPAIGN FINANCE HISTORY FOR VIOLATING FEDERAL ELECTION LAW
WASHINGTON, D.C. - James Tjahaja Riady will pay a record $8.6 million in criminal fines and plead guilty to a felony charge of conspiring to defraud the United States by unlawfully reimbursing campaign donors with foreign corporate funds in violation of federal election law, the Justice Department's Campaign Financing Task Force and the United States Attorney in Los Angeles announced today.
In addition, LippoBank California, a California state-chartered bank affiliated with Lippo Group, will plead guilty to 86 misdemeanor counts charging its agents, Riady and John Huang, with making illegal foreign campaign contributions from 1988 through 1994.
As the world's largest port operator, there are sound economic reasons for Hutchison to operate New Zealand ports. But there appear to be equally sound political and strategic reasons as to why they should not. If the deals proceed, it could turn into yet another political bombshell for the Labour Government to work through, a government that is, itself, close to China.
Far away from the sun-splashed fields of soybeans, corn or olives, how one man produced tons of oil destined for tabletops sourced from sewers
By Xie Haitao 18 Jan 2013
(Beijing) -- It's oil with an extra something, but there's nothing virgin-like about it. Pumped from sewers outside of restaurants, or pressed from trash, the oil is born from waste holes both human and mechanical.
Known as "gutter oil" in China, it's commonly used at greasy spoon restaurants and canteens, many of which purchased the cheap oil processed by businessmen like Liu Liguo.
In July 2011, Liu was arrested at the gate of one of the gutter oil companies he founded. Prosecutors say one of Liu's companies used cutting edge technology to produce, at peak operation, 60 tons of oil per day.
Investigators at Liu's trial in December 2012 revealed details of a massive distribution network concentrated in four provinces. The trial, which began in August 2012 in Ningbo, Zhejiang Province, exposed all links of one gutter oil supply chain, involving 58 companies, some of which were well-known cooking oil brands. A verdict has not yet been announced.
The largest case of gutter oil manufacturing to date, Liu's story began with a modest biodiesel facility that later gave way to companies which sold off as much as 12,000 tons of the waste as cooking oil and raked in nearly 100 million yuan in sales since 2007. Though the oil can resemble edible oil, it can contain carcinogenic compounds and hazardous chemicals.
The prosecution's indictment states that Liu knowingly traded the non-edible waste oil to resellers that would "pass off the purchased oil as soybean oil."
Taste for the Oil Business
Liu was born in Pingyin, Shandong Province, in 1977. He worked at a nearby aluminum plant for 10 years until the management failed to pay its workers. In 2003, Liu left and pooled money from relatives and friends to open the Pingyin Changshun Oil Processing Plant.
A former colleague from the aluminum plant surnamed Li said that at the beginning, Liu started off producing real cooking oil. "At the time, the factory processed pig lard. That is, the factory took animal fat, removed the color, took away the smell and sold it. It was for meant human consumption," Liu later told China Newsweek from the detention center.
In the first two years, Liu lost money due to his lack of experience. He continued to borrow money from relatives and friends, accumulating some 2 million yuan in debt.
For Liu, 2005 marked a turnaround in business. At the time, China's biodiesel industry was still in its infancy and there were no uniform regulatory standards. Liu's business acumen led him to restructure the company. He renamed the factory and purchased biodiesel equipment.
In other countries, biodiesel can be used as a renewable fuel for vehicle engines. In China, this is also seen as a lawful use of gutter oil. But fluctuations in the price of petroleum fuel – which gas stations were adulterating with biodiesel – later shuttered many of the industry's suppliers. For Liu, staying in business would mean the oil just needed go somewhere else.
The Liberation Daily reported that in 2005, the price of a ton of gutter oil was 800 yuan. By 2006, the price had shot up to 3,000 yuan per ton. Producers of biodiesel could refine it for roughly 3,500 yuan and sell it for 5,000 yuan per ton.
Much of the gutter oil used by Liu's companies came from Beijing sewers. With no domestic standards at the time, the biodiesel would sell as long as a customer agreed to buy it. "During that time, I learned much more about the gutter oil business," Liu said.
Fuel oil was in short supply, and many gas stations began mixing biodiesel with diesel. Liu's business grew daily. At its highest, monthly profits reached 200,000 to 300,000 yuan.
The price of diesel declined. The good times stopped rolling and the demand for biodiesel ground to a halt. China consumes as much as 90 million tons of diesel fuel annually, and there remains huge potential in the alternative fuels market. But many biodiesels produced can be more expensive than diesel and are not compatible with certain engines.
Another difficulty is that Sinopec and PetroChina control the diesel supply market, and few private companies can break into state-owned sales channels.
Secrets of the Oil Factories
Since 2007, Liu's plant, among other processing facilities in Pingyin took raw gutter oil and produced "red oil," for cooking oil suppliers across the country.
Up and down the gutter oil supply chain, there are illegal businesses. Take processing "red oil," for example. Liu later explained that in 2011, he purchased raw gutter oil at a cost of 5,000 to 6,000 per ton. Liu said that processing a ton of such oil could earn 500 to 600 yuan.
Liu said that there were at least five gutter oil companies on operation in Pingyin alone.
Prosecutors say Liu's factories produced gutter oil mainly for food uses. He denied this in court, saying that he was only producing feed oil for animal use.
However, producing feed-grade blending oil requires approval from a provincial-level agricultural department. Liu's company never obtained any official permits.
Factories without such permits make up a large share of the Chinese feed oil market, a regulatory gray area. Those outside the industry have no way of knowing whether this oil is entering the edible oil market.
On March 9, 2009, Liu rented a 1,300 square meter factory in Pingyin County's Jixi Industrial Park. With registered capital of 500,000 yuan, he founded Jinan Bohui Biological Technology Co. Ltd. The company stated that it had annual production capacity of 10,000 tons of bio-wax and two tons of refined feed oil.
In May 2010, Liu incorporated another company called Jinan Gelin Bioenergy Co. Ltd. Files with the industry and commerce department show that the company had registered capital of 1 million yuan and operations in the production and sale of biodiesel, oleic acid, stearic acid and fatty acid.
The average worker was not told where the product was destined. One worker, Yang Honglei, said that workers were not allowed to bring outsiders into the factory during production, leave their posts, or ask "careless questions."
After the incident, several of Jinan Gelin Bioenergy's core operating officers described the company's production process. Each day, a shipment of some 30 tons of raw gutter oil would arrive at the factory. After being melted and stewed, the oil would be sent to the hydrolysis workshop. In steel tanks, workers would add white clay and activated carbon to filter the oil. The gutter oil became clearer and smelled less.
The gutter oil would then be distilled to remove pungent flavors and fragrances. Finally, the oil would enter the gas-fractionation plant and separated to form the final products. Fatty acids accounted for 30 to 40 percent, and "red oil" accounted for 60 to 70 percent.
Among Jinan Gelin Bioenergy's products, fatty acid was a byproduct. "Red oil," which sold for around 8,000 yuan per ton when it exited the factory, was the company's main source of profits. Prosecution materials show that after the gutter oil was fully processed by the factory, the oil did not have a foul smell and appeared clean.
A woman surnamed Feng from a nearby village said that Jinan Gelin Bioenergy was a heavy polluter. "It smelled like rotting dogs. The stench assailed the nostrils until you retched, and then your head ached." After the plant went into operation, roses planted nearby withered and died. Fruit on nearby trees turned black and fell to the ground. Rabbits and chickens died of respiratory tract infections. The local residents petitioned authorities several times to no avail.
In October 2010, a project feasibility report conducted by the Jinan Municipal Engineering Consulting Co. stated that from an environmental impact standpoint, the factory met all standards. An August 2010 feasibility report from the same consulting company said the recycling of gutter oil into biodiesel would protect the urban and rural environment and in fact, serve to keep gutter oil off of kitchen tables.
From Sewer to Table
The sales of Jinan Gelin Bioenergy's gutter oil were kept secret by Liu personally. According to prosecution materials, if there were goods to deliver, Liu would contact the drivers on the afternoon of the day before the delivery and give them the contact information for the recipient. His sales of gutter oil went to many other provinces.
In 2009, Liu developed a customer network that included large cooking oil companies. That year, he contacted Cheng Jiangping, an oil business intermediary. That February, through Cheng, he met Yuan Yi, operator of a large grain and oil trading company on the Henan Qingfeng Grain and Oil Market. Liu confessed that in June and July 2009, after Jinan Bohui Biological Technology began producing, Yuan made a series of oil purchases from Liu.
Police later accused Yuan of selling large quantities of Liu's oil with the knowledge that it originated in sewers. Yuan sold the oil at a markup to grain and oil companies in Henan Province or in cans to construction site canteens and night market buffets. This brought gutter oil to thousands of dining tables every meal, bringing in total sales of 3 million yuan.
Another company, Henan Huikang Oil Co., also came under investigation in the second half of 2009. The company purchased inferior-quality oil from Liu, mixed it with regular soybean oil and sold it to a number of food companies. Total sales amounted to more than 160 tons at total value of 1.5 million yuan. The inferior-quality oil was also sold to feed producers and pharmaceutical processing companies.
Finally, just one month after Liu's company Jinan Gelin Bioenergy completed an equipment overhaul to increase production capacity, Liu was arrested in front of his other company, Bohui Biological Technology.
Liu's arrest led Shandong police to four other companies that sold gutter oil. Over 50 people were detained in relation to the gutter oil operations.
With the seven people that went to trial as part of the gutter oil sting in August 2012, Liu was argued there was insufficient evidence to prove whether the product was a "poisonous and harmful food product."
While tons of gutter oil continue to circulate through the food system, Nie Jianhua, deputy commissioner of the Supreme People's Procuratorate, told People Daily's Online that that addressing rampant food safety violations remains difficult. For now, food quality will remain a question entirely up to the judgments of consumers.
I HAD spent much of my life writing music for commercials, film and television and knew little about the world of philanthropy as practiced by the very wealthy until what I call the big bang happened in 2006. That year, my father, Warren Buffett, made good on his commitment to give nearly all of his accumulated wealth back to society. In addition to making several large donations, he added generously to the three foundations that my parents had created years earlier, one for each of their children to run.
Early on in our philanthropic journey, my wife and I became aware of something I started to call Philanthropic Colonialism. I noticed that a donor had the urge to “save the day” in some fashion. People (including me) who had very little knowledge of a particular place would think that they could solve a local problem. Whether it involved farming methods, education practices, job training or business development, over and over I would hear people discuss transplanting what worked in one setting directly into another with little regard for culture, geography or societal norms.
Often the results of our decisions had unintended consequences; distributing condoms to stop the spread of AIDS in a brothel area ended up creating a higher price for unprotected sex.
But now I think something even more damaging is going on.
Because of who my father is, I’ve been able to occupy some seats I never expected to sit in. Inside any important philanthropy meeting, you witness heads of state meeting with investment managers and corporate leaders. All are searching for answers with their right hand to problems that others in the room have created with their left. There are plenty of statistics that tell us that inequality is continually rising. At the same time, according to the Urban Institute, the nonprofit sector has been steadily growing. Between 2001 and 2011, the number of nonprofits increased 25 percent. Their growth rate now exceeds that of both the business and government sectors. It’s a massive business, with approximately $316 billion given away in 2012 in the United States alone and more than 9.4 million employed.
Philanthropy has become the “it” vehicle to level the playing field and has generated a growing number of gatherings, workshops and affinity groups.
As more lives and communities are destroyed by the system that creates vast amounts of wealth for the few, the more heroic it sounds to “give back.” It’s what I would call “conscience laundering” — feeling better about accumulating more than any one person could possibly need to live on by sprinkling a little around as an act of charity.
But this just keeps the existing structure of inequality in place. The rich sleep better at night, while others get just enough to keep the pot from boiling over. Nearly every time someone feels better by doing good, on the other side of the world (or street), someone else is further locked into a system that will not allow the true flourishing of his or her nature or the opportunity to live a joyful and fulfilled life.
And with more business-minded folks getting into the act, business principles are trumpeted as an important element to add to the philanthropic sector. I now hear people ask, “what’s the R.O.I.?” when it comes to alleviating human suffering, as if return on investment were the only measure of success. Microlending and financial literacy (now I’m going to upset people who are wonderful folks and a few dear friends) — what is this really about? People will certainly learn how to integrate into our system of debt and repayment with interest. People will rise above making $2 a day to enter our world of goods and services so they can buy more. But doesn’t all this just feed the beast?
I’m really not calling for an end to capitalism; I’m calling for humanism.
Often I hear people say, “if only they had what we have” (clean water, access to health products and free markets, better education, safer living conditions). Yes, these are all important. But no “charitable” (I hate that word) intervention can solve any of these issues. It can only kick the can down the road.
My wife and I know we don’t have the answers, but we do know how to listen. As we learn, we will continue to support conditions for systemic change.
It’s time for a new operating system. Not a 2.0 or a 3.0, but something built from the ground up. New code.
What we have is a crisis of imagination. Albert Einstein said that you cannot solve a problem with the same mind-set that created it. Foundation dollars should be the best “risk capital” out there.
There are people working hard at showing examples of other ways to live in a functioning society that truly creates greater prosperity for all (and I don’t mean more people getting to have more stuff).
Money should be spent trying out concepts that shatter current structures and systems that have turned much of the world into one vast market. Is progress really Wi-Fi on every street corner? No. It’s when no 13-year-old girl on the planet gets sold for sex. But as long as most folks are patting themselves on the back for charitable acts, we’ve got a perpetual poverty machine.
It’s an old story; we really need a new one.
Peter Buffett is a composer and a chairman of the NoVo Foundation.
Warren Buffet sees a different America than I do. I would wager he sees a different America than untold millions of people do too.
And with due respect to the kind-hearted Mr. Buffet, who is undoubtedly an accomplished and savvy investor, the man has been a major beneficiary of the greatest monetary fraud ever pulled in the history of the world.
In his most recent annual report just released yesterday, Mr. Buffet lauds the United States of America, writing:
“Indeed, who has ever benefited during the past 237 years by betting against America? If you compare our country’s present condition to that existing in 1776, you have to rub your eyes in wonder. And the dynamism embedded in our market economy will continue to work its magic. America’s best days lie ahead.”
Such language is typical for Mr. Buffett, he is one of America’s biggest cheerleaders. Again, with good reason.
For one, the unprecedented monetary expansion over the last decades has created a major boon for Mr. Buffet and his net worth.
His company Berkshire Hathaway has a balance sheet worth $485 billion. 25% of that is simply invested in the stock market with big chunks of Coca Cola and American Express.
These stock prices have boomed in an era of unprecedented money printing, adding billions to Mr. Buffett’s net worth.
Second, it’s important to note that over 75% of Berkshire’s revenue comes from highly regulated, absurdly profitable, tax advantageous businesses that are simply not accessible to the average guy.
For example, Mr. Buffett gleefully writes about the $77 billion ‘float’ from his insurance businesses.
This is money that is collected from insurance customers. And while he might have to pay out insurance claims someday, for now he gets to borrow from that kitty at 0% and generate higher returns elsewhere.
On top of this, Mr. Buffett has been able to defer a full $57 billion in tax, indefinitely kicking the can down the road on his IRS bill thanks to industry-specific tax rules.
Again, you and I couldn’t do this because we don’t have access to these special privileges. Warren Buffett does.
Warren Buffett also has special access to lawmakers in the US who clamor to be in his favor.
During the early days of the financial crisis in 2008, for example, Buffett was getting desperate phone calls from the Treasury begging him to make investments in the financial system.
And as a result, he was able to arrange sweetheart deals, brokered by the US government.
It also may just be a wild coincidence that the US government has rejected the Keystone XL pipeline… and Mr. Buffett’s railways just -happen- to be among the prime beneficiaries.
Yes, I think if we all had the special privilege, access, and benefit that Warren Buffett enjoys, we too would all be jumping for joy about America.
But Uncle Warren lives in a different America– the America of the past.
With due deference to his investment acumen, Mr. Buffett should know that no nation in history has been able to -permanently- stand atop the world’s economic mountain.
Like human beings ourselves, nations also rise, peak, and decline. It is their own life cycle.
And the America that Mr. Buffett doesn’t acknowledge is the one that is in debt past its eyeballs.
It is the America that spies on its citizens and threatens people with imprisonment for victimless crimes and administrative transgressions.
It is the America that conjures trillions of paper dollars out of thin air in total desperation, sending the labor force participation rate to multi-decade lows.
It is the new America that exists for a tiny elite at the expense of everyone else.
Sanhua《三花》 — A documentary film revealing the cruel cat meat industry chain and the struggle of cat and dog lovers trying to protect these animals as there are no proper legal protection for them in China. One fur trader revealed that probably 80% of the meat from the fur trade goes into making ham sausages.
Sanhua《三花》 — A documentary film revealing the cruel cat meat industry chain and the struggle of cat and dog lovers trying to protect these animals as there are no proper legal protection for them in China. One fur trader revealed that probably 80% of the meat from the fur trade goes into making ham sausages.
China ban on dog meat draw angry outcry — 7 Feb 2010
To put the crux of the matter into context – we wrote in our article –
“Based on the above estimate, she may get very little cash proceeds if she is forced to sell her flat in the open market ($470,000 – $15,000 flat transaction expenses – $100,000 loan balance – $240,000 to ex-husband’s CPF – $80,000 to her CPF = $35,000). How long will $35,000 last for her and her 2 sons, if she has to rent a flat in the open market (nobody may rent a room to a divorcee with 2 teenager children), plus the fact that she will lose her $1,000 monthly income from her 2 rooms’ rental?”
Research by the Bruno Manser Fund (BMF) has uncovered the vast dimensions of the Malaysian Taib family's illicit assets. According to the Swiss organization, the inner family circle of Malaysian potentate Abul Taib Mahmud has a stake in over 400 companies around the globe and holds illicit assets worth several billion US dollars.
Abdul Taib Mahmud ("Taib") has been Chief Minister, Finance Minister and Planning and Resources Management Minister of Malaysia's largest state, Sarawak, since 1981. He has been long criticized for corrupt practices and abuse of office but Malaysian authorities have failed to take action against him, despite an ongoing investigation by the Malaysian Anti Corruption Commission (MACC). Taib is a key supporter of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak's ruling Barisan Nasional coalition.
In Malaysia alone, Taib, his four children, eight siblings and his first cousin Hamed bin Sepawi have a stake in 332 companies worth several billion US dollars. The Taib family's share in 14 large companies' net assets alone has been calculated at 1.46 billion US dollars (4.6 billion Malaysian Ringgits). The three largest Taib family-linked companies are the 84% Taib-owned Cahya Mata Sarawak (net assets 2.4 billion Ringgits), the 25% Taib-owned Custodev Sdn Bhd (net assets 1.6 billion Ringgits) and the at least 35% Taib-owned Ta Ann Holdings Bhd (net assets: 1.4 billion Ringgits).
Cahya Mata Sarawak is a construction conglomerate listed on the Kuala Lumpur stock exchange (KLSE 2852) that has benefited massively from a cement monopoly and from untendered public contracts awarded by the Taib-led Sarawak state government. Ta Ann Holdings Bhd (KLSE 5012), which is chaired by Taib's first cousin, Hamed Sepawi, is an internationally active logging company. Since its foundation in the 1980s, Ta Ann has been granted more than 675,000 hectares of logging and plantation concessions by the Taib government. Privately-held Custodev Sdn Bhd is a Sarawak-based property development company. Achi Jaya Holdings (net assets 550 million Ringgits), which is wholly owned by the Taib family, holds a monopoly over log exports from the timber-rich state.
"We consider these corporate interests of the Taib family to be illicit assets", said BMF director Lukas Straumann today. "There are many clear indications that Taib has abused his public office to build a corruption and fraud-based billion-dollar empire."
"We are shocked to see that the Taib family has so shamelessly enriched itself while the people of Sarawak have to struggle with widespread poverty and an appalling lack of infrastructure and government services."
Apart from Malaysia, the Taib family also has stakes in at least 85 companies in 25 countries and offshore jurisdictions, namely Australia (22 companies), Bermuda (1), the British Virgin Islands (7), Brunei Darussalam (1), Cambodia (1), Canada (9), the Cayman Islands (1), Fiji (3), Hong Kong (7), India (2), Indonesia (3), Jersey (1), the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (1), Labuan (1), New Zealand (5), the People's Republic of China (2), the Philippines (1), Singapore (2), Sri Lanka (1), Thailand (2), the United Arab Emirates (1), the United Kingdom (4), the United States of America (6) and Vietnam (1).
The Bruno Manser Fund is calling on anti-corruption and anti-money-laundering authorities worldwide to investigate the Taib family's business activities and freeze Taib family assets in their countries.
Business leaders and corporations are advised not to conduct business with Taib family corporations for legal and reputational reasons.
Everything happens for a reason, when there is too much yin and very little yang, nature will correct the imbalance. Look at Singapore and the current situation from a different perspective, don't deprive yourself the opportunity to look at the other side of the coin... "A Nation Cheated" — Book Review
Everything we do is about making life better for our people, and especially for our workers.
We are making progress on our infrastructure, whether it is housing, whether it is transportation.
We are tackling population issues, including immigration and foreign workers. Very sensitive, very difficult to discuss, but we have to deal with them, otherwise we are going to have big problems coming to us.
We are strengthening social safety nets, especially in housing, healthcare and education. And we also have targeted programs to help vulnerable workers to help themselves. - PM Lee Hsien Hoong