KUALA LUMPUR: Matthew Tee, President of the Master Builders Association of Malaysia (MBAM), comes across as a progressive and articulate building professional when he talks about the Malaysian construction industry.
Being absolutely passionate about the industry, he feels that its players should be more pro-active if they were to move forward with the times.
He usually calls a spade, a spade when he speaks openly about the industry’s challenges, especially in relation to human resource and the use of better and modern techniques to become more efficient contractors.
Tee’s career in the construction industry has seen him rise to become Group Executive Director of Bina Puri Holdings Bhd, President of the Master Builders Association of Malaysia (MBAM) and a Director of the Construction Industry Development Board (CIDB).
“You have to constantly improve yourself. We need to look within ourselves and improve ourselves first before highlighting the shortfalls of the industry, which are all well known to its players. When faced with problems, we often tend to just complain. We have to be more proactive,” he says.
“For instance, if you’re not happy with something and want your message to be heard, just don’t talk after meetings. Follow up with the right (working) paper,” he adds.
Tee is especially concerned about the human capital aspect of the industry. He is all for the reduction of foreigners in the construction industry but feels that the authorities need to have a thorough examination of the issue and not just hand out piecemeal solutions.
“When we talk about human capital issues, the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Human Resources should consult with us before implementing certain policies. When we tell them we have a problem they should see us instantaneously rather than being bureaucratic. Taking into account CIDB Chairman, Tan Sri Dr. Ir. Ahmad Tajuddin Ali’s statement that all these foreigners for today’s solution is tomorrow’s problem,” he stresses.
But on the other side of the coin, Tee says that if one were to look at the practical side of things, reducing the number of foreigners is easier said than done.
After all, he acknowledges that Malaysia’s population is still relatively small, and very few Malaysians want to be in the construction industry.
“Our industry pays well, but it’s always a ‘don’t want’ syndrome. A mobile crane operator, who goes for a course with CIDB in collaboration with the Malaysian Mobile Crane Association, actually gets a monthly allowance of RM600 to train.
“We usually get Form 5 or so school leavers as these are the only people we can tap to join the industry. From there the company itself gives them RM60 every day in allowance to work. So after three to four months, they graduate. For such trained workers, their salary then ranges from RM2,500 to RM2,800 and that’s quite a lot.
“You get people working as toll collectors and being paid RM900; drivers RM1,400; hand phone sales staff RM1,200 and some people in the hotel line are getting RM400 to RM900 before the service tips. So it goes to show that our industry pays well.”
Taking cognisance of the issues of productivity and innovation in the 11th Malaysia Plan, Tee believes in harnessing skilled foreign workers in the current tight labour situation.
He feels that industry players must work extra hard to fill the void, such as marketing themselves better or looking at improving the wage structure.
If there needs a mind-set change to effect employment of more locals, Tee believes that there should also be a parallel condition to compel employers to do so with more stringent requirements by the government.
“Only then it can be done. If you pay more, you should have better productivity in an ideal situation,” he adds.
Tee believes that the long term solution will be greater mechanisation among industry players.
It is really a chicken and egg situation or a cat and mouse game. Presently, import duties for heavy machinery used for construction are rather prohibitive and employers are therefore playing a waiting game for duties to come down.
“We have been highlighting the reduction of import duties to 5.0 per cent to be on par with regional peers since 2006. Until now, except for reduction for 3 categories of construction machineries which saw a reduction from 10% to 5% effective 11th June 2015, the Government has not heeded our request for reduction on other construction machineries with import duties above 30% and these are things that I feel that the Government can do to (seriously) tackle the labour problem,” he says.
After 20 years, what are Tee’s perceptions of his peers in the industry? “Our industry must elevate our own standards and look within our own organisations, rather than always complain about all the shortfalls and difficulties of our industry. If everyone does his or her part to improvise, then the industry will move along the same (progressive) path,” he feels.
On CIDB’s 20th year milestone as an industry regulator, Tee says that the agency has been instrumental in raising construction standards and training all kinds of workers for the needs of industry.
He is also pleased that the construction industry is now more structured, with CIDB having taken over many functions.
Tee regards such developments spearheaded by the CIDB as the construction courts and Construction Industry Payment and Adjudication Act 2012 (CIPAA) as game changing for the industry.
“CIDB worked with us to implement the CIPAA. For us contractors, when we perform the work, we want to be paid. Payment is a lifeline for every contractor. After so many years, this to us is a very important thing.”
As for the future, Tee is especially optimistic that the recently launched Construction industry Transformation Plan (CITP) will be important for the industry. This is especially so when other ministries rather than just the Works Ministry have to be part of the CITP’s thrusts and processes.
With that assurance, Tee is working with industry peers and associations to make sure that “all of us are working towards the common goal.”