Archive for April 2009

The new dealers in hope

In this photo, Datuk Peter Chin Fah Kui and Senator Kohilan Pillay hand over the Plantation Industries & Commodities portfolio to Tan Sri Bernard Dompok and Datuk Hamzah Zainuddin.

Chin has moved on to head the Energy, Green Technology & Water Ministry.

Below, my boss made a keen observation when Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak announced his new Cabinet line up.

RECENTLY, I met some executives who told me how hard it was for their company, a large multinational that has invested about RM3 billion in Malaysia, so far, to open new facilities.

They have done everything by the book and yet the top civil servant at the relevant ministry still said no. The reason was flimsy, with no solid data to back up his refusal.

I'm sorry because I have to be quite vague here. The executives didn't want the story to be out because they believe that it can still be sorted out without going to the newspapers. But the strain was showing, they were worried. They worry because it seemed like the government doesn't want fresh investments, at a time when it needs it most.

This illustrates one of the many challenges facing the new Cabinet line-up.

On Thursday, during the live announcement of the new Cabinet line-up on TV, people went oohs and aahhs, like watching a football match. I have never seen so many people in the office so interested in a live telecast. It was a slight disappointment to me, though. Only one ministry merger was announced when there had been more expected.

The new faces are interesting. Some of them named to the powerful posts were not those who were normally in the limelight. One colleague even blurted out "who is this guy?" for one minister who shall remain anonymous in this column. Maybe it's a good thing that the minister in question is not well known. He will probably let his work do the talking. I like to give people the benefit of the doubt.

Asking ministries to set clear goals is a good move. Setting targets imposes a sense of unity and direction for an organisation and it does wonders for morale when the goals are met or surpassed.

Just look at Malaysia Airlines and what it has done under the helm of Datuk Seri Idris Jala. To do this, some of the targets need to be made public so that every one in the ministry can appreciate them and understand what needs to be done.

The next one month will be very important for our ministers as they need to put on their thinking caps and work out their key performance indicators (KPIs). I believe the new ministers will need all the help that they can get.

So here are two suggestions.

Ministers need to manage their time better. Pick and choose the right events to go to and make them short and sweet. Ministers also need to know the issues. This is where KPIs come in handy. The indicators make people focus not just on the targets, but also the problems.

Ministers should do spotchecks regularly to make sure their work is producing results.
Knowing the issues is crucial because there have been instances when reporters were left wondering if the minister actually knew what he was talking about.

French military leader Napoleon Bonaparte once said that leaders are dealers in hope. It means that leaders can have a big influence in the lives of others if they do their job well.
Now, let's get to work!

Malaysia banks on palm oil vitamin E exports

Walk into any pharmacy and you will see shelves lined with bottles of fish oil and evening primrose oil soft gels.

These yellow-coloured fish oil and evening primrose soft gels are imported and fortified with oilseed vitamin E called tocopherols.

But consumers may be better off with palm oil extracts. These orange-hued palm oil extracts are made in Malaysia and contain vitamins A and E, squalene and coenzyme Q10 that help boost our immune system.

It is a little known fact but palm oil extracts, which contain tocotrienols, are far more potent than fish oil supplements that are only fortified with oilseed tocopherols.

Vitamin E is actually a family of tocopherols and tocotrienols.

Malaysians are more familiar with imported fish oil than palm oil extracts because scientific studies on tocopherols are far more established than those for tocotrienols.

"There are not that many nutraceutical and cosmeceutical studies on tocotrienols compared with tocopherols," Ipoh-based Hovid Group managing director David Ho said.

Currently, less than one per cent of published studies on vitamin E focus on tocotrienols. Tocopherols are sourced from oilseeds such as soya oil, canola and sunflower, while tocotrienols are only available in high concentration in palm oil and rice bran oil. Both of these are grown in tropical countries.

Over the last decade or so, studies have shown that palm oil vitamin E, particularly the tocotrienols, is a far more potent antioxidant than tocopherols.

Preliminary studies prove tocotrienols can heal body cells and trigger cancerous cells to commit suicide. It is these unique biological activities in tocotrienols that show a promising future in finding cures for stroke, heart diseases and cancer.

Malaysia does not sell that much palm nutraceuticals locally because the export market is far more lucrative. A kilogramme of palm oil vitamin E sells for US$600 (RM2,160). Touted as "edible gold" among industry circles, the tocotrienol health supplement is the highest valued product in the sprawling palm oil supply chain.

Ho said his company exported more palm oil vitamin E than it sold locally. "We sell to 20 countries under the brand name Tocovid. Last year, we earned RM10 million in exports."

Another reason for the lack of awareness of heart-healthy palm oil extracts in Malaysia is the minimal advertising budget. The handful of Malaysian companies producing palm nutraceuticals prefer to spend their money on research and development rather than on marketing and advertisements.

"We spend RM5 million on research and development annually. Our health supplements speak for themselves," Ho said.

Tocovid is sold at a premium over other palm oil vitamin E soft gels because its patented SupraBio formulation boosts by three times the absorption rate into the bloodstream. "You would usually need to take vitamin E after a heavy meal like Nasi Kandar. But with our Suprabio formulation you can take Tocovid first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. It is that convenient," he said.