Home of the world's richest

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  • Sunday, 02 Mar 2014

While Malaysia has the most billionaires in South-East Asia, it also has the highest level of income inequality among its counterparts.1

MALAYSIA has the most number of billionaires in South-East Asia, with tycoon Tan Sri Robert Kuok leading the pack.

The 90-year-old, who built a massive business empire that include palm oil, shipping, media, hotels and real estate, has assets worth US$11.5bil (RM37.7bil), according to the latest Forbes Malaysia’s Rich List.

For 2013, he was among Forbes’ 100 Richest People On The Planet, ranking 76th out of 1,426 billionaires in the world.

The second richest Malaysian is telecommunications giant Tan Sri T. Ananda Krishnan, with a net worth of US$11.2bil (RM36.07bil), followed by Genting Malaysia Bhd chairman and chief executive Tan Sri Lim Kok Thay and family (RM21.32bil), Hong Leong Group chairman Tan Sri Quek Leng Chan (RM21bil), Public Bank’s Tan Sri Teh Hong Piow (RM18.3bil), IOI Corporation Bhd’s Tan Sri Lee Shin Cheng (RM14.1bil), Tan Sri Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary of Al-Bukhary Foundation (RM10.2bil), YTL group executive chairman Tan Sri Yeoh Tiong Lay (RM8.8bil), Tan Sri Tiong Hiew King of Rimbunan Hijau Group (RM5.9bil) and Tan Sri Vincent Tan of Berjaya Group (RM5.2bil).

The world’s top billionaire is still Mexican mogul Carlo Slim Helu and his family, who edged out Microsoft founder Bill Gates with a net worth of US$73bil (close to RM240bil). Gates has US$67bil (RM219bil) while Spain’s Amancio Ortega and American Warren Buffett US$53.5bil (RM175bil) ranked third and fourth respectively.

Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, 29, is ranked 66th with US$19bil (RM62bil), making him among the world’s youngest billionaires.

The people on Forbes’ world’s latest richest list have a combined net worth of US$5.4 trillion, with United States still having more billionaires than any other country with 442 people, followed by Asia-Pacific (386), Europe (366), the Americas (129) and the Middle East and Africa (103).

According to Forbes, there were 97 new billionaires, 62 from Asia. Thirteen members from the previous died, which just to show that wealth does not buy immortality!

It is mind-boggling that just 1,000 of the world’s richest people are worth so much but at the same time, according to United Nations (UN) more than one billion people live on less than US$1 a day while 800 million go to bed hungry every day, 300 million of whom are children.

Every year six million children die from malnutrition before their fifth birthday. That is one every 5.25 seconds. Just imagine that — about the same time that Usain Bolt clocked to win the Olympic gold medal.

According to the Forbes list, Malaysia had the most billionaires in South-East Asia, followed by Indonesia with seven, Singapore (four), Thailand (three) and the Philippines (two).

There are 18 Malaysian billionaires including Datuk Mokhzani Mahathir, a son of former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who makes the list for the first time with a net worth of RM3.9bil. The top 50 richest Malaysians collectively have RM76.36bil, which is more than Brunei GDP of RM58bil. Some policymakers especially the neo-capitalists, will boast about these figures.

Yes, we should celebrate their success. Call me jealous if you must, but I am more concerned about the UN data stating that Malaysia also has the highest level of income inequality amongst South-East Asian countries.

The top 10% of Malaysians earns 22.1 times more than the bottom 10%, higher than Singapore (17.7%), Indonesia (7.8%) and Thailand (12.6%). We are also even higher than Hong Kong (17.8%) and South Korea (7.8%)

The 2009 National Employment Returns (NER) showed that 34% of Malaysians earned less than RM700, which is below poverty line. In Sabah and Sarawak where the cost of living is much higher, the figures are the dismal 63% and 48% respectively. As such, the income disparity in Sarawak is higher than the national figures.

A further 37% nationwide earned between RM700 to RM1,500. For a country to be a developed economy in 10 years, it is alarming that 72% of workers earned lower than RM1,500.

I note that we have a timber tycoon amongst the 10th richest Malaysians; yet the timber industry in Sarawak remains the most vehement opponent against minimum wage.

I do not for a moment suggest that the wealth of all these billionaires be shared or distributed, but the economic policy and political stability must benefit all.

And please, giving cash handouts is not the answer. We should be embarrassed that more than six million Malaysians qualify for BRIM 3.0. If at all, the figure conforms my views on income disparity.

It also perpetuates the “handout mentality” and does not empower ordinary folk to earn a decent living that promotes free thought and intellectual discourse, as well as criticism.

At its worst, it prolongs dependency.

The state’s vast natural resources — timber, petroleum and hydropower — must be developed to benefit ordinary citizens first. Cheap power must also be available to millions of ordinary folk, not just to a few foreign companies.

With this in mind, I look forward to the stewardship of Sarawak’s new Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem. I do hope that economic development would be inclusive and decision of policies to have input from the common people.

I have long lamented that in Sarawak, we do not have a tripartite mechanism for workers to have a meaningful say in economic and employment policies. This is despite the fact that we have our own Sarawak Labour Ordinance.

I hope that the new CM would seriously consider this, although it would not be easy for him with his predecessor Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud, who is now our Yang di-Pertua Negri, watching over.

The only time a chief minister became Head of State was in 1981 with Tun Abdul Rahman Ya’kub, who is Taib’s uncle.

  • The views expressed are entirely the writer's own.

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