A Minister on a Mission

As the world awakens to the enormity of the plastic waste crisis, Malaysia’s Yeo Bee Yin has emerged as one of Southeast Asia’s most vocal champions for biodegradable plastics and a new circular economy.

Earlier this year, the Minister of Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change (MESTECC), together with her inspection team, discovered 450 tonnes of contaminated, low-quality plastic waste that was brought into the country illegally in shipping containers.

The containers, Yeo said, had originated from Australia, the United States, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Japan, China and Bangladesh, and were en route to illegal recycling facilities in Malaysia to be processed in an environmentally unsafe manner. Yeo estimated that they would find 3,000 tonnes of plastic waste once all the containers were inspected.

“Although people have started to segregate their waste, 90 per cent of the plastic waste in the world is actually not recycled,” Yeo shared with Asian Scientist Magazine from her office in Putrajaya, the government district south of the capital city of Kuala Lumpur.

“Instead, this waste goes from developed countries to developing countries like Malaysia, and ends up being dumped in some way or recycled in illegal factories.”


While plastics account for only 10 per cent of the total waste humans generate, they constitute approximately 90 per cent of all trash floating on the ocean’s surface, equivalent to 46,000 pieces of plastic floating on every square mile, says the United Nations Environment Program.

At the current rate, a 2016 report from the World Economic Forum estimated that plastics will outweigh all the fish in the ocean by 2050. And since it is impossible to rid the oceans of plastic waste and microplastics, the problem needs to be tackled at the source.

Since being sworn into office on July 2, 2018, Yeo has made plastic pollution a key policy focus. Besides plastic straws — 500 million of which are used every single day in the US alone — the problem also includes disposable plastic bottles, packaging, construction materials and other industrial uses of plastic.

“The only thing we cannot do is say, ‘there are problems to the solution, let’s go back to business as usual,’ because you already know business as usual will not be sustainable in the future for Malaysia, and for the world,” Yeo said.

Malaysia is ranked 8th in mismanaged plastic waste, behind China in first place, Indonesia in second place and the Philippines in third place, according to a study published in the journal Science in 2015. This statistic has not gone unnoticed by Yeo, who, on October 31, 2018, announced a 12-year roadmap and legal framework towards eliminating single-use plastics in Malaysia by 2030.

In phase one of the plan, single-use plastic bags will cost consumers a nominal 20 sen (US$0.047) per bag. In states such as Penang, supermarkets, department stores and pharmacies have gone a step further and stopped dispensing single-use plastic bags altogether.

The 20 sen cost is not simply punitive, Yeo said, pointing out that recycling plastic waste isn’t exactly free either.

“Hydrocarbon-based plastics have proven to be very difficult to recycle—many of them have to be recycled illegally to make it work (for the contractors financially). People need to pay not just for the cost of production, but also for the cost to recycle the plastics (in an environmentally safe manner).”

Yeo’s 12-year roadmap thus calls for research into new materials for bioplastics.

“We are seeing that with reduce, reuse, recycle, the recycle part is really not working for plastics. So perhaps we need a fourth ‘r,’ which is to replace it, and to replace it, we need a lot of science,” Yeo said.

“What sort of materials can we use to continue packaging because you still need packaging? How do we find a material that is environmentally friendly? Biodegradable bags have a lot of science (behind them). For some of them, the strength of the biodegradable bag is not good, and some of them don’t decompose.”


Citing a 2015 World Bank report that showed Malaysia spent only 1.3 per cent of its GDP on research and development (R&D), Yeo wrote on her personal blog that “this (statistic) is even lower than the average R&D spent in low- and middle-income countries.”

“When I first came in as a minister, I found that most of our grants are given to academics. Most of our R&D (funding) was spent on academics and higher education … but it’s not solving the problem; it’s not helping our economy,” Yeo told Asian Scientist Magazine.

“Historically, only 8.6 per cent of R&D funding in Malaysia was spent on industry research. We now want 50 per cent of (grant funding) to go to research collaborations with industry, or at least market-driven research,” said Yeo, adding that the four strategic areas her ministry is focusing on are halal food science, Islamic finance, health and wellness, and Industry 4.0.

Yeo also wants to create a pipeline of researchers to industry and raise the proportion of researchers in the private sector from the current 12 per cent today.

“There used to be a huge disconnect in Malaysia between scientists and the economy. We want to completely change how this works. And we’ll start very small; we’ll start by shifting our government researchers to industry for free for this year.


After being elected into office, Yeo was christened as one of the “Top 10 People Who Mattered in Science in 2018” by UK-based science journal Nature. In 2019, she was appointed a Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum. Could Yeo use her twin platforms of rising public popularity and policy making to shape the destiny of plastic use in the region?

Indeed, Yeo has ambitious plans for Malaysia to lead a new plastics circular economy in Southeast Asia.

“For the next three years we are developing a circular economy—how do we have a circular economy, not only for plastics, but also for electronic waste, like batteries? If we start changing our lifestyle to become more electrified, batteries need to be in a circular market.”

In parting, Malaysia’s plastics reformer spoke philosophically of the challenges in front of her, which include raising Malaysia’s renewable energy target tenfold by 2025 and implementing the 12-year roadmap to banning single-use plastics.

“The only thing we cannot do is say, ‘there are problems to the solution, let’s go back to business as usual,’ because you already know business as usual will not be sustainable in the future for Malaysia, and for the world,” Yeo said.

This story by Dr. Juliana Chan was first published by Asian Scientist Magazine on July 19.

In a male dominated field, Yeo Bee Yin stands out as a young female minister handling five portfolios. Her background in chemical engineering is unusual, making her an example of how a scientifically trained person can have an impact on politics. With climate change high on Yeo’s agenda, these factors led the Asian Scientist team to approach the Minister to find out what difference the unconventional individual sought to make. “One of the less well-explored areas in climate change coverage is the disparity between how it will affect developed vs developing nations. Malaysia, with its recent change of government, was in a unique position to come up with a new way of addressing that challenge,” said Dr Juliana Chan, editor-in-chief of Asian Scientist Magazine. Widely read and shared online, the article raised awareness about the Yeo’s plans to address plastic pollution in Malaysia.

Telling the story of LGBTTI migrants crossing over to US

They flee from poverty and violence to seek a better life in Central America.

Yet, their journey through Mexico remains rife with discrimination and harassment because of their sexual preference

That is the road trodden by migrants from the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transvestite, Transsexual and Intersexual (LGBTTI) community that photographer Roberto Hernández spoke to.

They were part of the second migrant caravan, made up of Central Americans and Cubans, heading towards the United States. The group arrived in Mexico on October 2018 after riding for miles.

Most Mexicans, normally in solidarity with their southern neighbours, are racist and xenophobic towards the LGBTII migrants.

In addition to the difficulties of the road, migrants belonging to this community must endure the teasing and rejection they receive within the same caravan Source: Roberto Hernández

Roberto, however, looked past their hostility and threatening attitudes and approached them in order to share their stories with Mexican readers.

“I asked him for an apology for addressing (him) and explained that it was important for me to know his story, that it might not help him at the moment, or even her, but that maybe it could be a story that would serve to make known the condition of other people from the LGBTTI community who were part of the caravans,” said Roberto, who empathised with their plight.

Gaining their trust took sincerity and effort.

“I approached (and) introduced myself, and she, Daphne Wahington, first gave me an annoyed look. She gave me her name angrily because she thought I was yet another person who was trying to harass her. I asked her how she was and how the road was going. She replied saying what was the use of talking to me if I was not going to give her food or money. I kept imagining how difficult it was (for the LGBTTI community) to even (be) approach(ed) for an interview, specifically if you were a gay out there that was being bothered,” said the photographer.

The authorities do not recognise them as people who are victims of violence and many of them stay in their caravans as it is the only way to keep themselves from being victims of highly organised crime in Mexico.

Since the migrant caravans developed at the end of 2018, LGBTTI communities generally walk very long distances. They always go to the end or they are relegated to the back mainly because they fear for their lives, said Rubén Zuñiga, reporter from Diario del Sur newspaper, who lives close to the migratory route, on the border between Mexico and Guatemala.

Finding out more about their plight, however, was not easy.

In Mexico, anti-immigrant sentiments arose due to the inconvenience caused by such an enormous flow of people through the communities.

The first caravan to enter the country was received with open arms. Shelters were packed with food, clothing and donations from people who sympathised with the Central Americans. Armies of volunteers helped migrants on their journey.

The second caravan was not so lucky.

So far it is not known exactly how many people belonging to the LGBTTTI community travel together with the caravan, and although they do not know each other, they form groups to remain united and protect themselves from the harassment they live on a daily basis. Source: Roberto Hernández

In cities like Tapachula, the migrants were accused of scandalising, vandalising and dirtying the city.

Migrants from the LGBTTI community were accused of practising prostitution, a job they were required to take on in their countries of origin because they did not receive opportunities for other work. Just because of their sexual orientation.

“Later on the road I found other trans girls who had previously taken pictures of themselves while they were travelling. I approached them to ask for their testimony, but they got very upset. They were fed up of just talking and crying about what happened to them without anybody helping. According to them, people only talked to them because of their condition. I apologised before walking away, ” said Roberto.

Although LGBTTI communities travel through Mexico, they are rarely seen as many of them try to stay out of public eye.

The authorities do not recognise them as people who are victims of violence and many of them stay in their caravans as it is the only way to keep themselves from being victims of highly organised crime in Mexico.

Roberto said: “When I covered the LGBTTI community, I felt good about making this part of the caravans known. From my knowledge, there had already been coverage of women with children, gang members and children travelling alone, but very little is known of this (LGBTTI) community, as well as disabled people, who also travel in caravans without medication or support they require in their day-to-day lives. ”

The article, Double Discrimination: Migrants From The LGBT Community Denounce Abuse In The Caravans, helped the LGBTTI community voice out their problems throughout Mexico when it was released.

Colleagues from other media outlets also reached out to Roberto to contact the community.
“Some time later, I read through notes of their passage through Veracruz, Puebla, Tijuana and I was pleased to read that the community was made visible,” he added.

“Even when they arrived in Mexico City, organisations in defence of rights of the LGBTTI community had already prepared some support and various activities to alleviate the substandard circumstances they face throughout their trip ,” Roberto said with satisfaction.
His coverage led non-governmental organisations, who defend human rights and treat diseases such as HIV / AIDS,to deploy support groups for these people in several cities between the northern and southern borders of Mexico.

This story by Roberto Hernández was originally published by El Sol de México on Oct 31, 2018.

On October 31, 2018, photographer Roberto Hernández published his article that documented the daily life of the LGBTTI migrant caravan en route to the US. His article cast a spotlight on these individuals, who are considered third-party citizens to Mexico, and helped gather support from various organisations. Of his effort, he said: “I think that the article made known certain aspects of the phenomenon. In part, the information has helped migrants, regardless of whether they told their story with a good or bad attitude ”.

Secret Policing? The Quint Finds Hidden Numbers on Electoral Bonds

In a major exposé, an investigation by The Quint revealed that electoral bonds have hidden alphanumeric numbers printed on them to track down the link between donors and political parties. The apparent out manoeuvring by the government poses a critical question – with the introduction of electoral bonds, are we being subjected to secret surveillance in the name of more ‘transparency’ in political funding?

Electoral bonds were introduced by the government to make donations through a banking channel to political parties by individuals and corporates.

The government said that electoral bonds would curb “the conventional practice of funding the political system in cash and undertake these expenditures in cash”.

They were promised to be anonymous as no one other than the donor themselves were supposed to know which political party they were contributing to.

Sold every quarter for the first 10 days of the month, electoral bonds can be procured from designated branches of the State Bank of India alone.

The Quint’s investigation revealed that while the public will remain clueless about who has donated to which party, the government has access to those details, collated through alphanumeric numbers on the electoral bonds, which are invisible to the naked eye.

An electoral bond purchased by The Quint Source: Arnica Kala/The Quint

The purchaser of the bond is therefore misled into believing that he/she cannot be tracked as no number or name is written on the bond apart from the date of issuance.

This adds to the government’s already burgeoning repository of data, which now may not only have details of our bank accounts and financial transactions, but also our likely political preferences.

The Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s previously assured citizens that political donations via electoral bonds will remain anonymous.

Following the purchase of two electoral bonds worth Rs 1,000 (US$13.95) each, The Quint got forensic tests done to find out whether these bonds carry any hidden letters or numbers.
The first bond was purchased on 5 April 2018 and the second one on 9 April 2018.

The image of the hidden number on the electoral bond as seen under UV Light Source: Arnica Kala/The Quint

Both were purchased at State Bank of India (SBI) branches designated to issue electoral bonds.

The test was conducted at one of the most reputed forensic labs in the country. The lab report revealed the presence of unique alphanumeric numbers on both bonds.

An electoral bond purchased by The Quint Source: Arnica Kala/The Quint

The electoral bond issued on 5 April carries the hidden and unique number OT 015101, while the one issued on 9 April has the unique number OT 015102.

The lab report revealed the hidden serial number was “visible on the right top corner of the original document showing fluorescence when examined under Ultra Violet (UV) Light”.
Naturally, this demands some answers from the government and the State Bank of India, which issues the electoral bonds.

Is someone playing Big Brother here?

Our investigation stands in stark contrast to the Union Finance Minister’s views on electoral bonds.

Mr Jaitley had earlier said “how much each donor has distributed to a political party would be known only to the donor.”

Meanwhile, a top-level State Bank of India official said that the number is merely a “security feature.”
“We don’t believe this code is a tracking mechanism. This was put in those papers as a security feature only,” he added.
The official thus confirmed the presence of unique alphanumeric characters on electoral bonds.

The SBI also issued a second statement, saying: “The number is a security feature and the design and security features have been incorporated at the request of SBI. The process of issuance and payment has been designed in such a manner that the bank will not have any record of the above number either for the donor or political party. Only the count of denomination-wise bonds issued and paid is captured in the records. There is no way to connect which donor has made donation to which party. The bank can share only KYC/AML-related records of donor to an authorised investigating agency or the courts under the relevant laws. Bank is not authorised to share the details with any other government department or agency.”

If the existence of these unique hidden numbers is for security purposes only, then why aren’t the existing watermarks on the electoral bonds enough?

As a result of the series of stories exposing how the electoral bonds scheme is making the system of political donations opaque rather than transparent, a Public Interest Litigation was filed in the Supreme Court on March 5 demanding a stay on the scheme.

The Supreme Court took cognisance of the petition and issued notices to the Election Commission of India and the Government of India.

Since The Quint’s article was cited by the petitioner’s lawyer in the Supreme Court, the Government of India was compelled to accept that a unique hidden alphanumeric serial number exists in the electoral bonds, although their defence was that it is an in-built security feature.

However, a former Reserve Bank of India director said that he has not even seen such ‘security features’ on currency. He also pointed out that the government could have used a watermark as a security feature rather than a unique hidden serial number that enables tracking of the bonds.

This story by Poonam Agarwal was published on 12 April 2018. Read more on The Quint’s website here: https://www.thequint.com/news/politics/hidden-number-on-election-electoral-bond

Published on April 12, 2018, The Quint’s Poonam Agarwal broke her story on hidden alphanumeric numbers printed on electoral bonds. The scheme began to unravel after she decided to purchase a bond, with the permission of the editors, which appeared to have no serial number or space to mention the donor’s name. The government had previously declared that there was no serial number on the electoral bond. The team then decided to do a forensic test on it to check whether the government was telling the truth. Purchasing a second bond helped to prove that the serial numbers were unique. This surfaced the troubling idea that the Indian government was tracking donors. She believes that the purchasers of the bonds should be kept transparent. She said: “There is no need for the government to hide the names of these donors.“Why keep it anonymous? They want to hide names that might be questionable later so the anonymity of the donor should not be there. The process of buying the bond will be fair if anonymity is removed.”.

Pricey problems with medicine

There is a global “war” being waged in the health industry.

Civil societies and several governments in poor as well as rich countries – including Malaysia – are up in arms over pharmaceutical companies setting prices so high that some life-saving drugs are beyond the reach of many.

The concern over astronomically expensive drugs and the lack of accessibility has reached the World Health Organisation (WHO) level, and access to medicines and vaccines is expected to be among the top items on the agenda at the 72nd annual World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland, beginning on May 20 (the assembly ends on May 28).

Sofosbuvir (400mg) was priced at US$8,939 (RM37,767) for a standard 12-week treatment regimen upon launch in China in November 2017, but generic alternatives are available for US$249 (RM1,052), a potential 98 per cent price reduction enabled by this decision, it says.

Geneva-based Health Policy Watch says that the WHO’s executive board in January held a lengthy debate on a road map for access to medicines, and now it will be put before the assembly.

On Feb 1, Italy proposed that the WHO set international standards for drug-pricing transparency. It has asked the assembly to adopt a resolution that would require drug makers to disclose their R&D and production costs, as well as prices charged for medicines and vaccines.

The proposal sent to governments on April 29 had 10 co-sponsors and Malaysia is one of them; the rest are Italy, Greece, Portugal, Serbia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Turkey, and Uganda.

Italy’s proposal “has generated significant discussion and may be overshadowing the focus on the WHO roadmap to access to medicines, vaccines and other health products,” says Health Policy Watch.

Skirmishes already began on May 7 at informal negotiations ahead of the assembly.
Several developed countries have proposed amendments to Italy’s proposal that activists claim will make it confusing, weak and useless in many areas. Some countries have also sought to postpone discussion of the proposal.

Following such resistance, more than 100 civil society organisations and health experts sent an open letter to WHO member state delegates on May 9, urging them to oppose harmful proposed changes to the resolution.

The proposal will give the WHO and national governments a strong mandate to collect and analyse data on drug prices, R&D costs, clinical trial results and costs, the patent landscape, and more, says the letter.

“At a moment when the public is looking to their elected governments to address the crisis in the pricing of new drugs and other biomedical inventions, the WHO has been asked to do something important: improve the transparency of markets for biomedical products and services,” says Knowledge Ecology International’s (KEI) director James Love on its website.

The International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations warns that the Italian proposal could lead to unintended consequences for the capacity of companies to offer preferential pricing to developing countries, and that it must be seen from diverse perspectives.

It urges WHO and its member states “to conduct careful analysis of the potential benefits and risks to patients and to health systems, particularly for less developed countries, in addition to future innovation,” the Health Policy Watch reports.

The federation says its industry has responded to concerns raised in the proposal, citing its Principles for Responsible Clinical Trial Data Sharing, and the Patent Information Initiative for Medicines as examples.


In the last few years, some countries have resorted to drastic legal action to gain access to affordable drugs.

Malaysia came to the forefront of this issue when, in 2017, it became the first country in the world to impose a compulsory licence to gain access to the cheaper generic version of the hepatitis C drug sofosbuvir for about 400,000 of patients.

The hepatitis C virus affects about 71 million people globally, over 66 million of whom are not being treated, according to the WHO. This is despite the fact that 95 per cent of people with hepatitis C can be completely cured within two or three months of beginning treatment.

The compulsory licence is provided for under the World Trade Organisation’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights. It allows for the generic version of a drug to be imported or manufactured while it is still under patent protection.

Malaysia was placed under a lot of pressure for the move, prompting the Health Ministry, on Feb 25, to urge the WHO to look into the pricing system of medicine by pharmaceutical companies.

The hepatitis C virus affects about 71 million people globally, over 66 million of whom are not being treated, according to the WHO. This is despite the fact that 95 per cent of people with hepatitis C can be completely cured within two or three months of beginning treatment.

Last August, China compelled a pharmaceutical company to withdraw unmerited key patent claims on the sofosbuvir base compound. With 10 million people in China living with chronic hepatitis C, the ruling opens the door to affordable generic treatment ahead of the patent’s expiry in 2024. The base compound patent on sofosbuvir was granted in China in 2009.

A nonprofit that specialises in uncovering unfair patents, Initiative for Medicines, Access & Knowledge (I-MAK), estimates that treating just 15 per cent of China’s hepatitis C patients with generic drugs would save US$13 billion (RM54.9 billion), with a massive US$87 billion (RM367.5 billion) saved if all patients are treated.

There is a growing global momentum to challenge unmerited patents to ensure more people can access life-saving treatments, I-MAK says.

Sofosbuvir (400mg) was priced at US$8,939 (RM37,767) for a standard 12-week treatment regimen upon launch in China in November 2017, but generic alternatives are available for US$249 (RM1,052), a potential 98 per cent price reduction enabled by this decision, it says.

China is also overhauling its healthcare system to provide better access to quality drugs and treatment for its population.

In December, news agency Bloomberg reported that the government had asked 11 major cities to band together to buy drugs in bulk through a tender process to bring down prices.


It’s not just developing or poor countries that are struggling with high drug prices.

In the United States, 18 lawmakers wrote to the US Department of Health and Human Services in February last year to consider issuing a compulsory licence for expensive hepatitis C treatments because rationing high cost treatment was harming the country’s public health.

“It is morally repugnant when ailing patients are forced to choose between filling that next prescription or putting food on the table, because they can’t afford both. It is morally repugnant when patients are forced to skip doses.”

On Feb 5 this year, President Donald Trump, in his State of the Union address, called on Congress to contain the rising costs of prescription medications, saying it is unacceptable that Americans pay vastly more than people in other countries.

I-MAK exposed drugmakers’ abuse of patent law in the United States in 12 bestselling drugs in 2017.

To protect themselves from competition, drug companies file hundreds of patent applications – the vast majority of which are granted – to extend their monopolies far beyond the standard 20 years of protection granted under US patent law.

I-MAK says the average number of years blocking generic competition are 38, years blocking patent applications are 125 and the average price hike since 2012 is more than 68 per cent.
The US Senate Finance Committee launched a bipartisan probe to examine drug pricing in the United States and the rising costs for consumers and taxpayers.

During the hearing on Feb 26, the committee censured a drug company that had, in 2017, spent around US$11.5 billion on dividends, stock buybacks, marketing, sales and administrative costs – roughly triple the amount it spent on R&D.

It also lambasted another company for increasing the price of insulin from less than US$100 in 2010 to nearly US$300 last year (the company raised prices again this year).

The committee also said that in 2017, a portion of a CEO’s multi- million-dollar bonus was directly tied to sales of an arthritis medication.

“Over six years, the company doubled the price of a 12-month supply from US$19,000 to US$38,000 .

“Can patients opt for a less expensive alternative? No they cannot,” it said, adding that the company protects the exclusivity of the drug like Gollum with his ring (referring to the character in the Lord of the Rings series).

“It is morally repugnant when ailing patients are forced to choose between filling that next prescription or putting food on the table, because they can’t afford both. It is morally repugnant when patients are forced to skip doses.”

Top executives from the seven largest drug companies were also hauled up before the committee to explain the skyrocketing cost of prescription drugs.

On May 15, the committee tweeted again, saying: “@HHSGov is starting to look into drug company middlemen that take millions from taxpayers. But more needs to be done to prevent these middlemen from using schemes like ‘spread pricing’ to take big profits while taxpayers get stuck with the check.”

(How spread pricing affects the consumer: a pharmacy benefit manager company pays a pharmacy a minor amount for a drug but charges the health insurer that employs it much higher prices; the insurer in turn will charge its customers higher premiums to cover its costs.)


In Europe, issues relating to external reference pricing was reignited by an unprecedented meeting in Brussels in mid-April that brought together national pricing authorities with drug companies, patients, payers, physicians, and civil society.

A decade ago, EU national authorities conceived a scheme known as Euripid to boost their negotiating powers with pharmaceutical manufacturers by exchanging pricing information among themselves. (One country compares the price of a drug in several other countries to derive a reference price that is then used to negotiate the product’s price in that country.)

Pharmaceutical companies say this could hinder drug access since companies tend to delay the launch of products in countries with the lowest prices, to counteract the downward pressure in price-comparison baskets. The industry is also pushing back against Euripid’s ambitions to shift its focus from list prices to net prices, PharmExec.com reports.

Now, with more countries holding pharmaceutical companies to account, more intense debate is expected at the WHO assembly on May 20.

More transparent pricing and a redirection of how medicines are sold is urgently needed.
Buying most products and services is a choice – but you can’t choose not to buy medicine, so if you need that patented drug to save your life, you have to find some way to cough up the exorbitant price.

This does not work, especially on a global scale, where millions lack access to the treatment for certain infectious diseases that continue to spread, setting up a vicious cycle. This is a free market failure that must be addressed.

The fight for price transparency saw fruition in May, when the concern was discussed at the World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland.

The drug price transparency resolution proposed by Italy for the WHO was adopted. Although diluted, civil society organisations and many countries were glad that it had made an inroad and the initial resolution serves as the first step in bringing greater disclosure of prices.

The resolution covers all health products, which include medicines, vaccines, medical devices, diagnostics, assistive products, cell- and gene-based therapies, and other health technologies.

This story by Loh Loon Fong was originally published on May 19.

The issue of access to drugs is not just a Malaysian issue but a global one. In fact, concern over astronomically expensive drugs and the lack of accessibility has reached the World Health Organisation (WHO) level. Written by the Star journalist Loh Loon Fong, the article gives an overview of the concern communities around the world have with high cost of drugs and the need to address the market failure relating to maximising of profits. For the past three years, Loon Fong consistently advocated for fair and lower drug prices. Her stories on high drug prices were part of the global effort to spur governments to get the issue addressed at the 72nd World Health Assembly (WHA), including this article published on May 19, the day before the WHA.

Malaysia polluted by imported waste

Just imagine this: plastic milk bottles infested with maggots find their way to Malaysian shores after their contents are consumed by Australians. Also being dumped on our soil are plastic bread wrappers that originate from Canada, Japan and France.

That’s not all. Industrial electric cables disguised as copper from the United Kingdom and stacks of damaged electric and electronic cables are covertly heaped onto Malaysia.

Plastic cups used for drinking zam zam water in Mecca , Saudi Arabia, also end up in this country.
Hundreds of thousands of tonnes of plastic waste are dispatched to Malaysia every year, part of which is stuck in hundreds of containers that have remained unclaimed in several ports in Malaysia.

Malaysia will send back hundreds of containers containing garbages to its countries of origin in the near future.

Recently, the Royal Malaysian Customs Department in Penang detected 265 containers of plastic waste that have not been claimed since January this year. At Westports in Port Klang, 152 containers believed to be filled with contaminated plastic waste have also been lying unclaimed.

Sources told Bernama that the relevant parties were reluctant to claim the containers for fear that the Ministry of Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change (MESTECC) would take stern action against them in its effort to restrain other countries from treating Malaysia as a dumping ground for their waste.

There have been instances when a container carrying waste is registered as coming from China but in reality, its contents are from France.

Southeast Asian countries such as Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam are known to serve as the world’s ‘garbage bins’ as they receive waste from several developed countries like the United States, Japan, Germany, Britain, Belgium and Canada.

The situation worsened after China imposed restrictions on the import of recyclable paper and plastic in January 2018. This resulted in more waste being diverted to Malaysia. Some 750,000 tonnes of plastic waste worth more than RM483 million (US$115.5 million) entered this country in 2018, according to the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries. China’s import of waste dropped from more than 600,000 tonnes a month in 2016 to 30,000 tonnes a month since January 2018.

Thailand has also taken action to stop the import of plastic waste while Vietnam has introduced tight control pertaining to this matter as it does not want the country to be used as a garbage bin by developed nations.
Recently, Malaysia was among the 187 countries that were signatories to the amendments to the Basel Convention to make global trade in plastic waste more transparent and better regulated. The amendments will be enforced on Jan 1, 2021.


Why does Malaysia have to take on the burden of disposing of all that foreign garbage, most of which are shipped from developed countries?

Apparently, both the exporters and importers involved label their consignments as “waste for recycling”. The reality, however, is very different as the bulk of the imported waste materials is not fit for recycling.
According to sources, not all the waste materials that enter this country come in hygienic conditions; on the contrary, they reek of rotting garbage and are infested with worms.

Containers in Port Klang, Malaysia, are filled with plastic waste from around the world.

One source said it was obvious that the recycling companies importing the waste were willing to turn a blind eye to the environmental pollution they were causing as a result of separating, cleaning, burning and disposing of the plastic waste that cannot be recycled.

“The ‘reward’ they get is only 60 sen for each kilogram of waste that is supposedly processed,” said the source.
The source added that even if the waste is recyclable, it has to be separated and cleaned thoroughly, which would require plenty of resources such as clean water.

“Waste that cannot be recycled will end up being burnt in the open. This can lead to carcinogenic toxic fumes being released into the environment, like what happened in Jenjarom (Selangor) recently.”

Malaysia’s soil and waterways also face threats from pollution during the cleaning process when water from the waste seeps into the ground. “In some cases, the waste is dumped on abandoned land or in the forest and left there,” said the source.


The situation worsens when recycling companies without their own waste processing premises hand over this task to factories that operate illegally all over the country, especially in areas located close to the ports.

“Selangor is among the states that have many illegal factories. Despite taking action such as closing down their premises and taking them in court, the owners (of the illegal factories) easily find new places to operate from,” said the source.

In its effort to curb environmental pollution, Mestecc has ordered 148 illegal plastic recycling plants to cease operations between January and April this year. These factories include 33 located in Jenjarom that had contravened the Environmental Quality Act 1974.

Malaysia’s Customs officers taking samples of plastic waste from one of the containers in Port Klang, Malaysia.

Since May , the ministry has inspected 123 containers carrying solid waste from the United Kingdom, United States, Japan, China, Spain, Canada, Australia, the Netherlands, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Bangladesh, Norway and France. These containers gained entry into Malaysia via approved permits (AP) issued by the National Solid Waste Management Department.

Sixty of these containers, filled with 3,000 tonnes of plastic waste, will be shipped back to the country of origin after thorough inspections by the authorities.

Mestecc Minister Yeo Bee Yin said 10 out of the 60 containers would be dispatched to the country of origin within 14 days. The ministry had previously ordered five containers of waste to be shipped back to Spain where they originated, she said, adding that the action was taken under Malaysian laws, including the Environmental Quality Act.


One of the pressing challenges faced by the ministry in ‘repatriating’ the imported waste is detecting the country of origin.

There have been instances when a container carrying waste is registered as coming from China but in reality, its contents are from France.

According to sources, certain unscrupulous middlemen alter the Bill of Lading (BL) to confuse the authorities and make it difficult for them to ascertain the container’s country of origin. In the shipping industry, making alterations to the BL, such as the name of the exporter and country of origin, was a normal practice to ‘smoothen business transactions’. As the link between the exporter and importer of the waste, it is the middleman helps to tweak the information as desired by his clients so that the consignment lands in the importer’s country.

Many plastic waste exporters also evade the Harmonised Commodity Description and Coding System (HS) by exporting using the 3920 code for solid waste such as plastic plates, sheets, films and foil strips. HS is a global system of classifying products that are traded internationally. To hasten the export process, these exporters avoid using the 3915 code for plastic waste, which also covers pens and scraps, because they would then require an AP.

Based on the industry’s practices, it is clear that many people are willing to commit fraud to gain from the global plastic waste trade, which has an estimated annual market value of US$5 billion.

To prevent the further pollution of our country, both this industry and foreign countries need to clean up their act.

This story by Nur-ul Afida Kamaludin & Ali Imran Mohd Nordin was first published by Bernama on June 7.

Curious about why Malaysia was labelled as one of the world’s worst countries for plastic pollution, reporters Nur-ul Afida Kamaludin and Ali Imran Mohd Nordin went behind-the-scenes to uncover the true cause. Published on June 7, their story exposes the irresponsible actions of some foreign countries in making Malaysia their dumping ground. Most importantly, it reveals a systemic problem underlying global plastic waste trade, which has an estimated annual market value of US$5 billion. For Nur-ul Afida Kamaludin, journalism acts as a tool in providing citizens with information that would benefit them as a community and society as well as being a watchdog of the government. By informing society, she hopes to raise awareness among the people about the dangers of waste, if left unaddressed.

Exposing an international human trafficking network

They are sold a dream – of a ticket to study and work in a foreign country, but after spending their family’s entire savings, they are caught in the harsh reality of being trafficked and trapped in a constant cycle of exploitation and extortion.

Thousands of young Bangladeshis have been trafficked to Malaysia through obscure private colleges and their unscrupulous “agents”.

Some pay over RM 20,000 (US$4,781), equivalent to three years’ wages in Bangladesh, for the agents to secure student visas and admission into these bogus colleges.

But that’s just the beginning of the exploitation.

When they arrive in Malaysia, the victims realise the colleges don’t offer any real classes, they can’t work under student visas, and there are often additional “fees” to be paid.

Many have no choice but to work illegally under inhumane conditions, creating a cycle of exploitation where they have to earn enough to repay their debts and buy a ticket home, or pay the agents again to renew their student visas so they can work another year.

“I can’t go home, because my family spent all their money on the agent fees.

“Now I need to work here to pay for my father’s medicine,” said one victim, 24, whose father has suffered two strokes.

An undercover journalist from R.AGE (right) meeting with suspected ‘student traffickers’ in Dhaka, Bangladesh
Source: R.AGE

The team met up with agents while posing as factory managers looking for cheap labour, infiltrated the colleges, and followed the trail all the way to Dhaka, Bangladesh. One agent told our journalist he works for a “Datuk” who owns a college in Kuala Lumpur, and that he has trafficked over 8,000 Bangladeshi students to Malaysia.

“Bangladeshi students are easy and quick money,” said the agent, who is Nepali.

“Bring in 200 or 300 of them, then distribute them (among the colleges), then you’ll make your money.”

Many of these victims live and work not far from the glittering lights of the Klang Valley’s major towns, hidden and suffering.

“Our living conditions here are worse than the garbage dumps in the slums of Dhaka,” said one victim, now a construction worker living in a makeshift ghetto in Cyberjaya.

His family had to take a loan to pay for his “studies” in Malaysia, for which they pay 21,000 taka (US$248) a month in instalments.

He now earns around RM1,500 a month.

“In my college, there were around 200-250 Bangladeshi students, but only 30-35 have renewed their visas (to continue studying).

“Where the rest are, we don’t know,” he added.

During the course of its investigation, R.AGE met over 30 student trafficking victims, and found almost 30 colleges that showed signs of having worked with student traffickers.

When a R.AGE journalist posing as a prospective student went to one of these colleges, an employee quietly warned him against signing up.

“If our own people (Malaysians) come, I’ll tell them not to study here,” she said.

“Look around, the whole place is empty! I wouldn’t want any Malaysian students stuck here.”

“Our living conditions here are worse than the garbage dumps in the slums of Dhaka,” said one victim, now a construction worker living in a makeshift ghetto in Cyberjaya.

An earlier report by The Star revealed a large number of foreign students arriving through dubious colleges in 2013. The Ministry of Higher Education revoked the international student licence of four such institutions in 2015.

Since then, a further 26 institutions have had their licences revoked or not renewed.

Though many of these colleges can no longer enrol international students, they continue to operate by channelling students to other affiliated colleges.

“We do have something like a collaboration, a group of companies,” said the Nepali agent.

“We have a language centre and four colleges, all are like ‘joint-venture’ companies.”

He also claimed that he enrolled 3,000 Bangladeshi students at one of these colleges, but R.AGE found its campus to be nearly deserted.

“I came here to study. Only to study. But now, my dream is dashed,” said one victim.

First published on Aug 14, 2017, the series of reports on the exploitation of Bangladeshi college applicants, which includes a Peabody Award-nominated documentary series Student/Trafficked, led to a crackdown on the practice by the Malaysian government.

It’s about time someone spoke up about student trafficking, the Bangladeshi community said.

“All of us appreciate that R.AGE took this step to show what many Bangladeshi students go through,” said Bangladeshi Student Union Malaysia president Mohammad Ziaur Rahman Zia about the documentary series.

Mohd Hafizuddin, a bartender, said he wished the series had been launched before he came here. He paid RM15,000 to an agent to enrol for a diploma in Multimedia Applications, and only later realised the college was a sham.

“If I knew it would be like this, I wouldn’t have come,” he said.

Over two dozen colleges/institutions had their international recruitment licenses revoked, and the number of student trafficking victims from Bangladesh has since drastically reduced after R.AGE’s coverage.

“The Malaysian government has not been issuing visas to colleges for the past year,” said Abdur Rahim Khan, CEO of Bangladesh Malaysia Study Centre (BMSC). BMSC is one of the more established student recruitment agencies in Bangladesh, and specialises in sending students to Malaysian higher education institutions.

“This is good, because college students don’t go to Malaysia to study – only university students do,” he claimed.

Colleges and universities were also encouraged by the Higher Education Ministry to apply anti-trafficking guidelines proposed by R.AGE, of which five colleges and universities pledged to implement in December 2017.

However, despite the then-Home Minister himself pledging to bring those involved to justice, no syndicate leaders were arrested in connection with the investigations.

This story by Elroi Yee and Shanjeev Reddy is a compilation of articles from Aug 14, 2017 to March 12, 2018 that was originally published by The Star.

In late 2016, reporters from The Star’s young investigative team, R.AGE, uncovered a new form of human trafficking in Malaysia’s private colleges. An international network of “education agents”, college owners, and allegedly corrupt government officers had been working together to exploit young victims – mainly from Bangladesh – by promising them a quality Malaysian tertiary education, before exploiting them for cheap labour through debt bondage. The team, made up of 14 journalists and documentary filmmakers, spent over a year undercover, systematically unravelling the syndicates’ operations by posing as factory managers looking for cheap migrant labour, and recording their conversations using hidden video cameras. First published on Aug 14, 2017, their series, Student/Trafficked, helped the Malaysian government clamp down on trafficking syndicates while providing evidence and measures to all stakeholders to implement anti-trafficking procedures. The team continues to advocate for the tens of thousands of victims that are said to remain in Malaysia, now mostly undocumented and driven to the fringes of society. “As far as we know, none of those at the top of these trafficking syndicates have been brought to justice. “But just as important, we urge the new Government, especially the Home and Education ministries, to consider measures to help the victims either restart their studies or return home with dignity,” said R.AGE deputy executive producer Elroi Yee, who led the Student/Trafficked investigations.

Ghost patients, scammers haunt Philippine health system

As a member of Philippine Health Insurance Corp (PhilHealth), patient Maria (not her real name) was getting free dialysis treatment at a city centre in Quezon, Philippines.

The state insurer’s health insurance coverage entitles each PhilHealth member to 90 free dialysis sessions a year.

But even though Maria died in March 2016, PhilHealth continued to pay for the rest of the dialysis treatments at P2,600 (US$49.60) each.

Dead patients undergoing kidney dialysis, ghost patients getting cancer treatments and fake members are just some of the fraudulent schemes that led to at least P154 billion losses in PhilHealth.

The state-owned corporation manages health insurance of public and private employees and their dependents, as well as indigents or poor beneficiaries.

In June, The Inquirer uncovered massive corruption in the health insurance agency, bleeding billions of pesos from health premiums paid by its 105 million members and beneficiaries.

Former employee of WellMed Dialysis Laboratory Center Corp, Edwin Roberto disclosed how he filed PhilHealth claims using the names of dead patients for non-existent dialysis sessions since March 2016 upon the instruction of one of his employers.

Owners of the clinic prepared the claims and told the centre’s employees to copy the patients’ signatures from their medical records so that these claims could be submitted to PhilHealth, he said. Edwin told reporters that he and fellow ex-employee Liezel Santos went directly to the PhilHealth office in January to follow up on the status of their complaints about WellMed, but the visit was futile.

Philhealth controversy whistle blower Edwin Roberto said in a press conference called by lawyer Harry Roque that he and another former WellMed employee sought assistance and protection from PhilHealth but were rebuffed. Source: INQUIRER PHOTO / GRIG C. MONTEGRANDE

Apart from turning a blind eye to payments for kidney dialysis treatments of dead patients, the list of fraudulent acts that corrupt PhilHealth officials and personnel knew about include cancer treatments for fictitious members, fake payment receipts of overseas workers as well as hospitals overcharging by declaring ailments like cough and common colds as pneumonia.

Overseas Filipino worker (OFW) Marveleca Bautista-Jauod is just another victim embroiled in the schemes of conniving PhilHealth employees and fraudsters. Hours before her flight to Kuwait on Aug 12, 2015, the OFW discovered that the PhilHealth benefit package which was supposed to cover the hospitalisation cost of her 8-year-old son, who had been stricken by dengue, was invalid.

But because her PhilHealth member data record did not reflect any payment made by her hiring agency, her family had to shell out around P12,000 for the hospital fees. Her mother eventually found out that the PhilHealth official receipt(POR) Marveleca received was fake.

“Eli”, a PhilHealth employee who monitored cases of fake PORs until September 2018, had recognised the same scheme in at least 48 hiring agencies handling land-based workers.

However, since the scam was first spotted in 2015, the lack of political will and general “inaction” of top PhilHealth officials hindered its speedy resolution, Eli said. The case files have been passed on to five PhilHealth presidents, illustrating the bureaucratic red tape plaguing PhilHealth’s inquiries into irregularities, he added. Eli cited the case of Dennis Mas, then the regional vice president of PhilHealth’s National Capital Region (NCR) office. Mas was supposedly concerned that picking up the issue of the fake PORs—which by that time was already being reported in six provinces as well—could affect his chances of promotion.

There is a culture of fear. You can’t blame them. Once in a while, there would be motherhood statements denouncing the fraud, but nothing happens. Those who really try to fix it, they get removed, end up being called troublemakers. I really feel sorry for them.

This widespread corruption in the public health system is an injustice especially since most Filipinos can barely afford hospitalisation and medicine. A 2016 study by the state University of the Philippines found that six out of 10 Filipinos die without ever seeing doctors. The country’s doctor-patient ratio is 1:33,000, a far cry from other countries which have an ideal ratio of 1:1,000.

In 2018, the newly-passed Universal Health Care Law which mandates universal health coverage of all 110 million Filipinos set aside a budget of P171 billion.

However, these efforts are nought if PhilHealth does not undergo a major overhaul. Documents obtained by the Inquirer showed that Health Secretary Francisco Duque III was made aware of the loss caused by PhilHealth’s overpayments and other fraudulent schemes in November 2017, a month after he took office.

Minguita Padilla, former head executive staff of former Health Secretary, Janette Garin said:“There is a culture of fear. You can’t blame them. Once in a while, there would be motherhood statements denouncing the fraud, but nothing happens. Those who really try to fix it, they get removed, end up being called troublemakers. I really feel sorry for them.”

After the Inquirer’s series of reports, President Rodrigo Duterte asked for the resignation of a dozen top PhilHealth officials and ordered the arrest of the Wellmed Dialysis Center owner and the others involved in the scam on June 7. He replaced the PhilHealth president with a retired military general to undertake sweeping reforms in the agency.

In his fourth State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 22, the President singled out the Inquirer’s PhilHealth expose as an example of corruption he wanted to weed out.

The Philippines president said: “The recent uncovering of the massive fraud perpetrated against the public health insurance system proves that corruption is pervasive. Huge amounts of medical funds were released to cover padded medical claims and imaginary treatment of ghost patients. I am grossly disappointed.”

On August 14, the Senate blue ribbon committee opened an investigation on the Philhealth scam after several senators filed resolutions calling for an inquiry.

Two months since the Inquirer began the series, the story is still unfolding with more revelations of corruption in PhilHealth.

This story is a compilation of a series of articles by Leila Salaverria, Jovic Yee, Mariejo Ramos, Marlon Ramos and Melvin Gascon originally published by the Philippine Daily Inquirer from June 6 to June 21.

The Inquirer investigative team first scratched the surface of the massive corruption in PhilHealth upon receiving documents and interviewing two whistleblowers. The former employees of Wellmed Dialysis Center exposed their employer’s scheme of charging kidney dialysis for dead patients. Five reporters from the team spent weeks pouring through voluminous documents, interviewing insiders and taking out-of-town trips to find victims of the scam. The team took more than a month to launch the series of investigative reports. After the first series came out on Jun 6, 2019, more documents and whistleblowers came forward about PhilHealth’s systemic misconduct. The Inquirer ran a total of 24 stories on the issue. The unravelling corruption included an exclusive report on the Secretary of Health’s conflict-of-interest, as his family corporation was found leasing a building for PhilHealth and supplying medicine for the Department of Health.

Defying the odds to walk and help others find their feet

It was a hot January afternoon in 2013. The sun was beating down on Desmond Lim as he sat astride his Kawasaki Versys 1000, waiting for the traffic light to turn green on a country road near Kanchanaburi.

The former flight attendant was heading back to Bangkok after a month-long motorbike sojourn which had taken him from Singapore to Thailand.

A sudden impact from behind threw him to the ground. It was a truck driven by a man too engrossed with his phone to notice Desmond. The 43-year-old recalls: “I saw tyres, they went over me. I saw tyres again, turned on my side and got run over again.”

He lay groaning on the hot tarmac for more than six hours before an ambulance arrived.

For over a year, the hospital was his home because his injuries – fractured pelvis, broken right leg and organs which had shifted – were horrific. Doctors told him he would never walk again, which threw him into a deep malaise.

But Desmond eventually walked again, thanks to his grit and the love and support of his family and several medical workers.

Today, he walks with the help of a brace because his right leg – the lower part is paralysed – is now shorter than the left. “There is pain when I sit or stand but I have learnt how to manage it,” he says.

With his employability limited, he got a loan from his sister and used his savings to start The Prosthetic Company three years ago. The social enterprise specialises in prosthetics and orthotic equipment and services. The outfit has since grown to become one of the largest of its kind here and has expanded into Malaysia.

Knowing what his clients need has helped the business, he says.

“I’ve been through it and I know what it is like. I understand how they feel, I listen and try my best to give them what they want.”

Because of his family circumstances, Desmond became independent and started earning his own keep at a young age. By the time he was 15, he was working full time as a banquet staff in a hotel along Dunearn Road, pulling more than $1,500 a month including overtime.

“I’d go to school in the morning and work from 3pm until 11pm every day,” he says, adding that the hotel provided him with a room.

Before the accident, Desmond – a purser at Cathay Pacific Airways by then – enjoyed flying because it was relatively stress-free and gave the motorbiking enthusiast opportunities to take long rides to Malaysia and the region.

The day his life changed is seared in his memory.

The accident attracted a crowd and caused a big traffic jam, one reason why the ambulance took six hours to reach the scene.

“It was a hot day. I was burnt because the ground was so hot. Some people sheltered me with umbrellas and poured water on the ground to cool it. I couldn’t move my body, only my hands and my mouth,” he says.

“I don’t know how to describe the pain. I can only say I felt as though I was dying. I thought about whether I would die, what I had done and not done.”

He was taken to a provincial hospital which looked like it had not been renovated since the 1960s.

“I was rolled into an operating theatre which had fans,” he says, adding that none of the medical staff spoke English.

By then, his riding companions had come to know of his accident and informed his family in Singapore.

Because the hospital was not equipped to deal with his injuries, he had to endure another two-hour bumpy ride to a hospital in Bangkok where his mother and one of his sisters were waiting anxiously.

“I’d been conscious throughout, my eyes were wide open for more than 10 hours. But when I saw my mother, I hyperventilated, cried and then blacked out,” he says.

The next time he regained full consciousness was several weeks later at Singapore General Hospital (SGH).

He did not get to go home for the next 15 months.

“I couldn’t sit up or turn sideways for the first eight months. There were pressure sores all over my back and heels,” says Desmond who went through half a dozen operations.

Desmond Lim in his workshop on 14 June 2019. He started The Prosthetic Company three years ago because he felt the variety of prosthetic and orthotic aids here was limited. Knowing what his clients need has helped the business as he understands how they feel and tries to give them what they want.
Source: Kevin Lim

For nearly a year, the sight of wheels – on TV or in newspapers – would set off anxiety attacks.

“I felt lost, I didn’t want to talk to anyone,” he says, adding that he had to see a psychiatrist.

He credits his family and several hospital staff for getting him out of depression.

“Some of the physiotherapists went out of their way to help me. They bought me food and visited me on their days off to encourage me.”

To regain his mobility, he started swimming and walking up and down from his family home on the 11th floor of his flat, even though it took him a few hours.

“I’ve been through it and I know what it is like. I understand how they feel, I listen and try my best to give them what they want.”

He started The Prosthetic Company in 2016 because he felt that the variety of prosthetic and orthotic aids here was limited.

After drawing up a proper business plan, he approached his eldest sister, a professor at a local university, for financial help. By then, Desmond had attended short courses on prosthetics and related subjects in Europe and China.

“I’m not certified and all the doctors and clients I deal with know that. But my staff are. I have good technical knowledge, I know how to troubleshoot. My job is to deal with clients and run the business. We’ve not had a single complaint ever since we started,” he says proudly.

Because others have helped him, Desmond wants to pass the kindness on.

When he recovered, he donated blood several times and took part in support groups for those who have lost their limbs or mobility. As founder of The Prosthetic Company, he now works with different associations to offer free prosthetics to those who can’t afford them.

Life is unpredictable and we have to live it well, he says.

“As long as you’re hardworking and you make decisions not just to benefit yourself, things will turn out well.”

This story by Wong Kim Hoh was originally published by the Straits Times on June 16.

This inspirational tale is part of Wong Kim Hoh’s award-winning profile series, ‘It Changed My Life’, in The Sunday Times. Named Straits Times Journalist of the Year in 2016, the Senior Writer has persuaded many to share how they overcame the darkest moments of their lives. In a book that compiles interviews from Kim Hoh’s column, former ST Deputy Editor Alan John said: “The greatest mystery to me is where Kim Hoh finds this never-ending parade of memorable individuals with remarkable life lessons of determination, strength and resilience.” Kim Hoh has also written other books, one of which is Big Hearts, Big Dreams, a compilation of inspiring stories about the 2015 and 2016 ST Singaporean of the Year nominees. “I get a lot of readers telling me that the stories have moved them, inspired them and galvanised them to do more,” he said. “In some ways, I guess what they are telling me is that the stories have changed their lives.”