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Meet Halimah Yacob, Singapore’s first female president

Singapore: Halimah Yacob, 63, has become Singapore’s first female president and started her first day of work as the city’s eighth head of state.

She was named president-elect as the only eligible candidate this week, after two others were disqualified in an election reserved for minority ethnic Malay candidates.

As the former speaker of parliament started her new role on Thursday, Yacob sought to make the Istana, the Singapore president’s official residence, more accessible to the people.

The government changed the presidential election process for this year to ensure the largely ceremonial role isn’t dominated by the majority Chinese group, and so that minorities like ethnic Malays and Indians will get a chance to be represented in some elections that are reserved for their groups.

First ethnic Malay head of state

Halimah’s no stranger to breaking diversity barriers: she’ll be the first ethnic Malay head of state in almost half a century but was also the first female Speaker of Parliament in 2013.

Singapore doesn’t have room to be complacent.

Halimah, known to be an advocate for women’s rights, will be the figure head of a nation that’s lagging behind in putting women in corporate leadership positions.

A Deloitte study released earlier this year shows that Singapore is trailing Asian neighbors such as India, Malaysia, and Thailand in the percentage of board seats held by women.

Women make up 10.7 percent of boards in the city-state, according to the report.

That lags behind the 17.6 percent in Vietnam, the highest in Southeast Asia, and falls far short of the 42 percent in Norway.

AT A GLANCE

Halimah Yacob, 63, comes from member of Singapore’s poorest ethnic minority

She is set to become the first woman president of the island nation

Yacob was a former speaker of parliament

She will will be formally named to the mostly ceremonial post

Her role is aimed to strengthen a sense of inclusivity in the multicultural country

Other candidates fell short of the criteria set for contesting the election

Singapore had decreed the presidency would be reserved for candidates from the Malay community this time

Halimah’s experience as house speaker automatically qualified her under the nomination rules.

Of the 4 other applicants, 2 were not Malays and 2 were not given certificates of eligibility by the elections department

Yusuf Ishak was the last Malay to hold the presidency (1965 and 1970), the first years of Singapore’s independence following a short-lived union with neighbouring Malaysia

The separation of Singapore from Malaysia gave ethnic Malays a clear majority in Malaysia, while ethnic Chinese formed the majority in independent Singapore

Source: Bloomberg

Almost half of US families can’t afford basics like rent and food

The economy may be chugging along, but many Americans are still struggling to afford a basic middle class life.

Nearly 51 million households don’t earn enough to afford a monthly budget that includes housing, food, child care, health care, transportation and a cell phone, according to a study released Thursday by the United Way ALICE Project. That’s 43% of households in the United States.

The figure includes the 16.1 million households living in poverty, as well as the 34.7 million families that the United Way has dubbed ALICE — Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. This group makes less than what’s needed “to survive in the modern economy.”

“Despite seemingly positive economic signs, the ALICE data shows that financial hardship is still a pervasive problem,” said Stephanie Hoopes, the project’s director.

California, New Mexico and Hawaii have the largest share of struggling families, at 49% each. North Dakota has the lowest at 32%.

Many of these folks are the nation’s child care workers, home health aides, office assistants and store clerks, who work low-paying jobs and have little savings, the study noted. Some 66% of jobs in the US pay less than $20 an hour.

The study also drilled down to the county level.

For instance, in Seattle’s King County, the annual household survival budget for a family of four (including one infant and one preschooler) in 2016 was nearly $85,000. This would require an hourly wage of $42.46. But in Washington State, only 14% of jobs pay more than $40 an hour.

Source: by Tami Luhby

“Access to affordable and adequate housing is perhaps the social problem of our generation

An interview with Dr. Steffen Wetzstein on housing affordability

Housing affordability is currently one of the most complex policy challenges our societies in Europe are faced with. As part of our work to identify solutions to this challenge, and in light of the launch of the ‘State of Housing in Europe’ 2019 report next autumn, we present a series of interviews with institutions and international stakeholders that have been looking at affordable housing, publishing influential reports and generating valuable data.

Our fourth guest is Dr. Steffen Wetzstein, a Human Geographer and Political Economist with wide-ranging research, teaching and consultancy interests on urban transformations in a global world. Steffen draws on more than 25 years of professional experience in academic, policy and private sectors across Germany, Australia and New Zealand. His latest 3-year senior research position at the Brandt School of Public Policy (University of Erfurt) allowed him to investigate in-depth the Global Urban Housing Affordability Crisis from a comparative international perspective (Berlin, Vienna, Singapore, Sydney, Auckland).

  • Why would you say it’s important to look into housing affordability?

Under contemporary policy settings, we have focussed hard on creating the ‘liveable city’ based on amenities that the market rewards, but have largely forgotten about the ‘affordable city’ that ensures liveable futures for all. Access to affordable and adequate housing has become one of today’s fundamental urban problems, perhaps the social problem our generation faces. I got first-hand experience on the growing issues, tensions and contradictions surrounding urban housing across three continents; so I try to raise awareness and point out possible strategies that can future-proof our cities.

Affordable access to urban housing now strongly divides winners and losers. While the latter group suffers immediately, ultimately all residents lose out. I have observed vexed social issues (e.g. working homeless), cultural problems (e.g. losing mixed neighbourhoods), worrying spatial sorting (e.g. centrifugalisation), economic inefficiencies (e.g. ‘essential worker’ problems) and environmental issues (e.g. super-long commuting). As the lower middle classes get affected by imbalanced urban housing systems and the upper middle classes fear future material losses, protective ethical responses (e.g. NIMBY-ism) and escapist politics (e.g. rising populism) further jeopardise liveable urban futures for all. We are really only at the beginning of acknowledging the magnitude, effects and long-term societal impact.

  • Can you name one phenomenon/issue which shows a problem with housing affordability? How does this manifest in data/trends that can be monitored?

Meaningfully engaging with structural housing affordability means looking at historical trends that reveal imbalances much clearer. In fact, this ‘long view’ perspective is vital to comprehending and removing the road blocks to affordable urban futures for all. One application is the calculation of national and urban housing gaps. New Zealand economist Shamubeel Eaqub recently detected a 500,000 gap in national housing supply over the last 30 years, compared to previous decades. Massive for a country of not even 5 million, isn’t it?

Some analysts would see market failure at work and blame planning systems for restraining investment. This is largely nonsense. The private sector does what it has always done, although curtailing speculation like land banking needs stronger regulation. These structural housing gaps illustrate overwhelming and politically enabled urban demand-surges, wealth/income polarisation and a reluctance to supply subsidised housing. The latter is mainly about reduced commitment to social/communal housing, the privatisation of subsidised stock and the shift from supply-side to demand-side subsidies.

We should keep in mind that structural barriers to affordable housing solutions are made up of wider processes like financial circuits and demographic changes but also the often entrenched, self-protecting ethical and political behaviours of all of us.

  • If you have to choose one element as a major cause of lack of affordable housing, which one would it be?

Our century has seen the steep rise of the city, in particular larger, capital and international cities, in the centre of national wealth creation strategies. Rather than industries it is cities – fuelled by agglomeration and network economies, and the ability to absorb new populations – that function as wealth engines and social accelerators. Yet, under uncertain and low-growth conditions, cities are the quintessential asset-producing entities, and it is urban land that has become the most highly priced asset.

What oil was to the industrial age, urban land is to global financial capitalism. The expectation of rising urban land prices underwrites Financialised Housing, resources governments and promises private households and investors secure investments, capital gain, retirement support and often healthy rental returns. Owning land and property also ensures relative household security, expresses identity, reflects status and allows producing food; to name a few non-economic benefits.

Yet, the many residents, households and businesses that happen to not own urban land are paying the price. Moving from symptom-focussed ‘band-aid policies’ to ‘future-building policies’ means dealing with the urban land question head-on. Exciting intellectual work, proliferating initiatives and broader politicisation across the continent make me hopeful that we can still counter the trend towards a highly divisive Victorian-age urban landed gentry.

  • Can you name one or more solutions which could help tackling this?

The 21st century western city should re-introduce the almost forgotten leaseholdtenure (public land ownership and 99-year lease to flat/house-owning households) that forms the backbone of the best public housing programme worldwide; the Singapore housing system. Urban leasehold futures call for healthy, long-term urban government finance arrangements that do not rely on selling land. Much operational and financial innovation will be required (e.g. lease roll-over procedures), but the time is over-ripe for this tenure type.

The obvious other approach is to considerably raise the stock of subsidised housing based on urban/ communal landownership. Remarkable 100 years of the Vienna social housing pact inspire. For those who can’t access full homeownership, urban leasehold and private rental, we need to re-create the incentives for non-profits, communal organisations and cooperatives to build and manage affordable urban housing for generations to come.

For these strategies to become financially sustainable, we need to tax the current land winners; appropriately, fairly and transparently. But we must also mobilise all urban land owners and incentivise subsidised construction and operation. Such interventions are a challenging ethical and political task for democratic societies, and require consent beyond what party-political systems can deliver.  We face a truly ‘whole-of-society’ project.

Source: Housing Europe

Romania’s Most Powerful Man Sent to Prison for Corruption

Romania’s de facto leader was sent to prison for three-and-a-half years for corruption, shaking the Black Sea nation as it clashes with the European Union over concerns it’s curbing judicial independence.

The guilty verdict against ruling-party boss Liviu Dragnea for abuse of office was upheld Monday by the Supreme Court, adding to a previous vote-rigging conviction that carried a suspended jail term. It was the third blow to his Social Democrats in two days after an unexpected defeat in Sunday’s European Parliament elections and a referendum that will block part of its efforts to overhaul the courts.

The case further focuses the spotlight on the continent’s ex-communist east, where Hungary and Poland are both locked in disputes with the EU over democratic backsliding and have been threatened with the same kind of sanctions now looming over Romania. Officials in Brussels may seek to cut development funding to members not upholding the bloc’s values.

It’s also an embarrassment, with Romania currently holding the EU’s rotating presidency. But it’s unlikely to topple the cabinet, as Premier Vasilica Viorica Dancila will become interim party leader until a congress is organized to elect a replacement, according to several members of the party.

“She’ll face huge pressure from the party base,” Andrei Taranu, deputy dean at the Bucharest Political Science University, said by phone. “This should become more clear next week when they have to fight it out in parliament to replace Dragnea as the head of the lower house.”

Investors looked past the announcement. The leu traded little-changed against the euro, holding on to this year’s 2.2 percent drop, the most among east EU peers.

Dragnea surrendered to police and was met by dozens of protesters at the prison who booed and shouted “The door of justice is finally closed!” He wasn’t present earlier when the court upheld the verdict that he helped party members get public-sector jobs for which they were paid but didn’t work.

When asked about how he took the verdict, his lawyer, Flavia Teodosiu, said angrily “How do you think he reacted? How would you react?”

Party members said they hadn’t spoken with him about the ruling. Earlier, he appeared alone to supporters to denounce what he called a “hate storm” that caused Sunday’s ballot losses.

While his earlier conviction prevented him from taking the post of prime minister, he was the country’s most powerful politician. He spearheaded the tax cuts and increases in state salaries and the minimum wage that propelled the Social Democrats to power in 2016.

The situation is much different today. The European Parliament vote highlighted a plunge in the party’s popularity, while the fiscal largess is poised to send the budget deficit way beyond EU limits.

But it’s the judicial revamp that’s resonating most in a country that ranks among the worst in the EU for corruption and has been under a monitoring regime since it joined the bloc in 2007.

While the government says its reforms will create a more transparent legal system, plans to ease punishment for graft offenses and revisit some convictions have drawn rebukes from President Klaus Iohannis, the EU and Western allies. Hundreds of thousands of protesters have taken to the streets.

“Dragnea’s conviction is proof that justice is still independent,” the opposition Save Romania Union said in a statement. “Romania now needs to return to normal.”

Iohannis, who tried unsuccessfully to block the government’s removal of Romania’s top anti-corruption prosecutor, is leading polls as he seeks re-election this fall.

For Dragnea’s part, he says the case is politically motivated and had to be shushed by his lawyers last month when he questioned the five justices who convicted him.

“If you’re going to condemn me, I think it’s fair that you tell me why,” he said.

Source: Bloomberg

May’s replacement to determine future of $4.2bn Nigeria-UK trade

In less than two weeks from today, Theresa May will be stepping down as British Prime Minister, paving the way for a new successor from the Conservative Party. This is coming after months of intense pressure within and outside her party.

But this does not come as a surprise to many analysts who say it was expected.

“This is long envisaged. I knew that when May has been failing to convince the parliament on many occasions to go with her Brexit plans, there is little or no choice left but for her to quit,” said Jide Ojo, a development consultant and public affairs analyst. “I think that Theresa May came at the wrong time. She did her best but the system just didn’t work for her.”

Interestingly, the race to occupy No.10 Downing Street gathers momentum as party bigwigs throw their hats into the contest. Notable among them include Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Jeremy Hunt, Andrea Leadsom and Amber Rudd. Boris Johnson, 54, is widely regarded as the frontrunner in the Conservative leadership race. His plan is to see the United Kingdom leave the European Union in October with or without Brexit deal.

Micheal Gove is the UK Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and has consistently shown his support for May’s deal. Also, Jeremy Hunt, UK’s Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, has declared his intention to bid for the seat in the leadership election.

Andrea Leadsom is also being rumoured as a major contender for the Conservative leadership after resigning from the UK government as leader of the House of Commons.

Amber Rudd, who returned to cabinet as the Work and Pensions Secretary, refused to rule out the likelihood for running to succeed Theresa May. Rudd is regarded as one of the pro-EU members of the cabinet. She has vowed to quit the UK government if the no-deal Brexit becomes government policy.

The contest will be an internal process in the ruling Conservative Party, as candidates will be whittled down, in a series of votes, to two candidates by Conservative lawmakers in the coming weeks. The final two left standing will then be put to party members for a vote.
However, this new development has raised concerns about the likely impact on the existing bilateral relationship between Nigeria and the UK.

Nigeria is Britain’s second-largest trading partner on the African continent after South Africa. According to Britain’s Minister for Africa, Harriet Baldwin, the yearly trade between Nigeria and the United Kingdom stood at £4.2 billion.

According to UK trade statistics, Nigeria’s top exports to the UK include crude oil and gas, while exports from the UK include refined oil, pharmaceutical products, general industrial machinery, and electrical goods.

The UK is also among the foremost destinations for Nigerian students and tourists.
However, Akinola Olawore, president, Nigerian-British Chamber of Commerce (NBCC), said the resignation of the British Prime Minister would not impact negatively the existing bilateral relationship between the two countries.

According to Olawore, Nigeria plays a big role on the continent and the trade volume between the two countries keeps growing on a yearly basis.

“The new prime minister will still have to do business with Africa, and Nigeria remains the largest economy on the continent,” he said.

During May’s three-day visit to some African countries, including Nigeria, in 2018 as part of her efforts to deepen economic and trade ties with growing African economies ahead of the Brexit Plan, the prime minister promised that the British government would continue to increase its military support to Nigeria and help protect its citizens and British workers in the country from terror attacks.

May announced that the two countries had signed a defence and security partnership which could see the UK train for the first time, full army units to combat insurgents in the north-east of Nigeria. Insecurity is one of the major challenges facing the Muhammadu Buhari-led administration.

According to May, tackling the “menace” from groups like Boko Haram was in the UK’s interest.

May also agreed on a £10.5 million package to help victims of modern slavery. As part of this, the UK will provide counselling to up to 1,700 people who have been subjected to forced labour, domestic servitude and sexual abuse and help them reintegrate into their communities.

A joint initiative with France will also see the UK assist Nigeria and Niger strengthen their border cooperation to prevent trafficking of migrants to Libya and Europe.

May said Brexit plan would increase opportunities to extend existing commercial links with Nigeria, particularly in the area of financial services. She announced £4bn of extra British support for African economies, noting that the UK would overtake the US to become the G7’s biggest investor in Africa by 2022.

Source:   By OLUFIKAYO OWOEYE & OLUWASEGUN OLAKOYENIKAN

US-China Tensions, Threat To World Economy – IMF

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has alerted the global community that the fresh trade tensions between the United States (US) and China were threatening the world economy.

Head of IMF, Christine Lagarde, told journalists at a conference in Paris yesterday that, “clearly the tensions between the United States and China are the threat for the world economy,” adding that recent “rumours and tweets” made any agreement between the countries less likely.

President Donald Trump jolted global markets on Monday by threatening on Twitter that tariffs already imposed on $200 billion in Chinese exports to US would more than double to 25 per cent on Friday from the current level of 10 per cent.

Also speaking at the Paris Forum, French Economy Minister, Bruno Le Maire, warned about the impact of a trade war between the world’s two biggest economies.

Maire said: “We are following the current negotiations very closely between China and the United States and we want them to respect the principles of transparency and multilateralism.”

He called on the two sides to “avoid taking decisions that would threaten and could undermine global growth in the months ahead.”

“Increasing tariffs is always a dead-end and a negative decision for the whole world, for the United States, for China, for the Eurozone, for Europe and world growth,” he said. China said yesterday that its top trade negotiator would visit the US for talks with his American counterparts this week.

The countries have been locked in talks to resolve tensions that have seen both of them imposing tariffs on goods worth $360 billion. US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin described the negotiations as 90 percent complete but told reporters that in recent days the talks went “substantially backwards”, which he blamed on China reneging on previous commitments.

Source: By Bayo Amodu

World Bank Approves $250 Million to Enhance Access to Affordable Housing Finance for Kenyans

The World Bank today approved a $250 million International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) loan to enhance access to affordable housing finance for Kenyans who are unable to access long-term housing finance.

The Kenya Affordable Housing Finance Project (KAHFP) will support the establishment and operationalization of the Kenya Mortgage Refinance Corporation (KMRC) a largely private sector-owned and non-deposit taking financial institution under the supervision of the Central Bank of Kenya. KMRC’s goal is to drive affordability of mortgages by providing more long-term funding to financial institutions, an incentive to enable them to offer long tenure loans to homebuyers. The project will also assist the Ministry of Lands and Physical Planning to improve property registration and address structural constraints in the land management system in Kenya.

“We believe that Kenya’s vibrant private sector offers an excellent opportunity to crowd in privately held skills and resources towards achieving the country’s Big 4 affordable housing goals and in alignment with the World Bank Group’s Maximizing Finance for Development agenda,” said Felipe Jaramillo, World Bank Kenya Country Director. Urban housing currently remains unaffordable for most Kenyans due to cost of financing, the short loan tenures and the high cost of properties.”

Currently, commercial banks in Kenya hold only about 26,000 mortgage loans of an individual value of $110,000 (KES 11,000,000). The interest rate cap of 2016 coupled with an overall Non-Performing Loan (NPL) ratio of 12% led banks to tighten their credit standards and offer variable rate loans locking out middle to low income would-be homeowners.

Kenyans largely access loans from Savings and Credit Cooperatives (SACCOs) that are estimated to provide almost 90% of Kenya’s total housing finance. While SACCOs’ interest rates remain low at 12% they remain highly constrained by the short-term nature of their deposits liabilities and short loan tenures of not more than five years. The KAHFP support will target households that are classified by the Government of Kenya to fall within the mortgage gap and low-cost categories and represent 95% of the formally employed population.

“The project will endeavor to boost shared prosperity for all Kenyans by addressing rapid urbanization which often manifests itself through the development of slums,” said Caroline Cerruti, World Bank Senior Finance Specialist and Task Team Leader for the Project. The World Bank has supported many mortgage refinance companies in emerging markets, and Kenya has the right pre-conditions for KMRC to be successful, such as supportive macroeconomic conditions, well developed capital markets and financial institutions active in housing finance.”

KAHFP is expected to increase access to finance by tripling the proportion of urban households having access to a mortgage. The project will promote inclusive finance through KMRC serving SACCOs and microfinance banks which target borrowers on low and irregular incomes. Investment into affordable housing will have a strong economic multiplier effect given the number of linked sectors and could support 132,000 new jobs. Better housing conditions are also linked to improved health and education outcomes.

The project will be implemented through KMRC, the National Treasury and the Ministry of Lands and Physical Planning.

Source: Africannews

Hong Kong’s March Home Prices Rise at Fastest Pace in 2-1/2 years

Hong Kong’s private home prices, one of the world’s most expensive property markets, rose in March at their fastest pace since September 2016 on strong pent-up demand and improved sentiment.

Home prices in the densely-populated city gained 2.9 percent last month, the third straight rise and accelerating from February’s revised 1.6 percent increase, government data showed on Tuesday.

Hong Kong’s home prices fell from August to December last year weighed by U.S.-China trade tensions and higher interest rates after rising for 28 consecutive months, but then quickly rebounded since the beginning of this year.

“The rise is higher than expected,” said Thomas Lam, executive director of Knight Frank. “If the index continues to rise in the next two, three months and there are no other negative factors, housing prices will see another uptrend in the short term.”

Over the past decade, ultra-low interest rates, limited housing supply and large capital flows from mainland Chinese buyers into the financial city on China’s doorstep pushed housing prices up more than 200 percent, angering many Hong Kong residents who could not afford to jump on the bandwagon.

Property consultancy CBRE named Hong Kong the least affordable housing market for the eighth year in a research report published earlier this month, with an average property costing $1.2 million or $2,091 per square foot. That compares with Singapore, ranked the second priciest, at $874,372 and $1,063, respectively.

Another consultancy JLL said on Monday the drop in stamp duties levied on non-first time and foreign homebuyers in the first quarter suggested the bulk of buyers were local first-time purchasers.

As the property market starts to revive, developers are selling new launches at higher prices than a few months ago.

Last week, New World Development and Henderson Land launched their joint high-rise residential development in Kowloon at a floor price 10 percent higher than the neighbourhood. Analysts expected developers will offer less attractive selling prices than last year going forward.

 

In the first quarter, developers sold a total of 5,532 new flats in the first three months, the highest in 10 quarters. The figure was up 70 percent from the previous quarter and 44 percent from a year earlier.

Property developers also became more active in land auctions. A land plot in the New Territories received 11 tenders last week, according to Hong Kong media, a high in recent months despite the record-asking price of the area. ($1 = 7.8440 Hong Kong dollars)

By Clare Jim; Editing by Jacqueline Wong

New Bay Area Crown: Most Expensive Place in the World to Build

The Bay Area is the most expensive place in the world to build an apartment building, office tower, hospital, warehouse or school.

And it’s not even close — the region is 13 percent more costly to develop than second-place New York, according to a new report by UK-based consultant Turner & Townsend.

“Another dubious award for the Bay Area,” said Russell Hancock, CEO of the non-partisan, regional think-tank Joint Venture Silicon Valley.

The report blamed high costs on a combustible mixture of high demand, labor shortages, steel tariffs and rapid economic growth.

Even as the expanding Bay Area economy demands more homes, offices, roads and transit projects, rising costs could threaten development, forcing project delays or changes in size and scope.

The region eclipsed New York for the first time last year, and also outstripped London, Zurich and Hong Kong for the top spot. The average construction cost per square foot in the Bay Area is now $417, besting New York’s average of $368 per square foot.

Costs for commercial development, including apartments,  grew 5 percent in the Bay Area last year, tied with Seattle for the fastest-rising market in North America, according to Turner & Townsend. And it could get worse — the real estate consultant firm expects Bay Area prices to grow 6 percent more this year.

John Robbins, North American managing director at Turner & Townsend, said Bay Area developers have been forced to bring in labor from outside the region to handle the demand, and also raise prices as tariffs drive up the cost of steel, aluminum and other materials.

“It’s good old supply and demand,” Robbins said. “Contractors are stretched.”

The labor needs have pushed wages up for Bay Area construction workers, whose earnings now only trail workers in New York and Zurich. The region is also one of many in the world facing a shortage of skilled labor, according to the report.

Bay Area prices have also been pushed higher by tech giants desire to create more inventive and complex buildings, Robbins said. Facebook last year unveiled its sprawling new campus in Menlo Park designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry. The social media company spent an estimated $1 billion on recent construction in Menlo Park, according to city permits. Two years ago, Apple opened its vast, spaceship headquarters in Cupertino,estimated to cost $5 billion.

Google also has ambitious plans in Mountain View and San Jose. “These are not just square boxes anymore,” Robbins said. “They’re going to make some beautiful spaces.”

Although the study focused on commercial construction, Robbins said the labor and materials crunch is felt acutely in the residential home building market as well. He added that major tech companies definitely recognize and want to help address the region’s shortage of affordable housing and reliable transit.

It’s another hurdle for Bay Area policymakers to leap — rising construction costs have made it unprofitable for developers to bring homes for low- and middle-income residents to market.

Josh Roden, president of Brookfield Residential in the Bay Area, said the region’s labor shortage started about a decade ago during the last recession, when construction workers found other jobs and moved to cheaper areas.

During the recent economic boom, residential developers have had to compete for skilled workers with major commercial and municipal projects, driving up prices. “It becomes a feeding frenzy,” Roden said. “Some projects don’t get started.”

According to a study by Joint Venture Silicon Valley, the region is running a housing deficit of more than 100,000 units. More than 80 percent of the new homes permitted in the last four years were priced at the top of the market, affordable only to residents in the top-quarter of all earners.

Hancock said Bay Area developers plan for a long, costly public process to build a project, often complicated by legal and regulatory challenges. Cash-rich companies and individuals are also willing to pay a premium to get projects done, inflating prices. “We have a marketplace for affluence,” he said.

High construction prices means higher costs for building new apartments, often driving up rents in new projects. Government subsidies could help add more affordable housing, Hancock said, but “at the moment, that’s not a conversation we’re having.”

By LOUIS HANSEN

Bangladesh’s $33bn fabrics industry holds lessons for Nigeria’s textile dreams

For knit products, 80 percent of the yarn requirements is met by domestic supplies because the country has a competitive advantage in that area.
However, only 20 percent of the woven requirements for the garment sector is catered to by local firms.

The country’s parliament passed a bill specifying the level of quality which all export firms must meet in order to beat China to number one in competitiveness. Hence, emphasis was laid on competitiveness, with the government providing market access for companies through trade negotiations targeted at removing international barriers.

Moreover, some of Bangladesh citizens were sent to China and Europe to acquire the skills needed to run the mills.

Again, the country paid closer attention to the use of modern technology to lower costs.
Big global brands such as Walmart, H&M, Benetton, Gap and Zara were partnered with to distribute Bangladeshi ready-made garments.

Stitch Dairy, a local Bangladeshi publication, said that the South Asian country was able to enjoy duty-free advantage to export garments to the European Union, the US and Malaysia.


Experts equally attribute Bangladesh’s success to a convivial business environment with minimal government influence and low taxes, which attracted Chinese and Vietnamese firms to Bangladesh.

Textile Today reported in 2015 that firms from Singapore, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea, which had traditionally relied on low-cost production in China, were shifting out of China and making their way to Bangladesh as a result of well-developed Bangladeshi textile value chain that guarantees three to five years return on investments.

Another key factor in Bangladesh is cheap labour with minimum monthly wage of a garment worker at $197, which makes it have the last but one lowest wage among 21 textile-making countries in the world.

However, Nigeria has even more advantage than Bangladesh in terms of labour cost as its recent minimum wage hike to N30,000 amounts to only $83.3 per worker.

“The government of Bangladesh provides cash incentives as export subsidies, amid other supporting policies, to promote exports in various business sectors. There is no alternative to the export-led growth of the economy to achieve its goal of becoming a middle-income country by 2021,” said two researchers, Afsana Arafin and Belalur Rahman, in a paper entitled ‘Cash Incentives for Export Oriented Industries of Bangladesh: A Critical Evaluation’.

However, the number of full-fledged textile mills in Africa’s most populous country has whittled down to two, from over 180 in 1985. Industry players say the number of players is 24, but findings show that most of them are manufacturers of rugs, handkerchiefs, sweaters, towels and stockings.

“Some of the mills have even gone into receivership as they could not repay their loans. The lesson is that we should deal with the fundamental issues of production competitiveness in our economy. The textile industry needs to be saved from the excruciating burden of high operating and production cost,” Muda Yusuf, director-general of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), said.

The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) recently set up an additional N50 billion intervention fund to facilitate the takeover of existing debt and offer additional long-term loans and working capital to existing companies in the cotton, textile and garment sector.

As of 2016, N3.4 billion had been disbursed to local firms.
Recently, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) placed access to FX for all forms of textile materials on the FX restriction list.

Smuggling has turned textile hubs in the main cities of Kano, Kaduna and Lagos into solitary camps and event centres, the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) said.
“The hitherto manufacturing hubs in Kano, Kaduna and Lagos are now solitary camps with most of their factory sheds now used as event centres and warehouses to store smuggled textile materials,” MAN, which is an association of over 2,500 manufacturers in Nigeria, said in its review of 2018 performance of the sector.

Hamma Kwajaffa, director-general of Nigeria Textile, Garment and Tailoring Employers Association (NTGTEA), told BusinessDay that the problem is importation and smuggling.
“The level of importation and smuggling in this country are killing the few surviving companies. They used to run three shifts but they have closed down these shifts,” Kwajaffa said.

“The Executive Order 003, for instance, has been pronounced, but it is not being implemented. So we have low patronage in the industry,” he added.

Executive Order 003 mandates government agencies and departments to patronise local firms by as much as 40 percent during contracts or bids.

Independent checks show that a few Nigerian textile firms are still competing with imports. They include African Textile Mills, Angel Spinning and Dyers Limited, Sunflask, Nichemtex, among others.

Source: By ODINAKA ANUDU & GBEMI FAMINU

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