Make sure services are up to mark

The recent rulings (in Nov 96) made by the government on the suspension of billing by IWK and the writing off of arrears of sewerage charges including formulation of new charges are laudable and heartening.

The above rulings were the results of numerous complaints by consumers vis-a-vis IWK's sewerage charges, billing system and services. Apart from the above rulings, it is apparent from recent statements made by the government that the scope of IWK's services has not been thoroughly reviewed. The government must realize that the discontent of many consumers is not only charges and billing but also the appropriate and effective services that are required to be carried by IWK.

Many questions have been raised by concerned consumers about the effectiveness of the privatisation of national sewerage services in its present form in improving the environmental quality of our rivers and waterways and reducing the risks of outbreak of water borne diseases, the principal objectives of this privatisation contract. The role expected of IWK in taking over the responsibility of local authorities should not be just confined to maintaining the existing sewerage treatment facilities but also to improve them so as to ensure that they perform satisfactorily and comply with the Environmental Quality Act.

To gauge the effectiveness of this privatisation contract in meeting the main objective of this exercise, let's look at the scope of services to be carried out by IWK with regard to individual septic tanks, which is the most common form of sewerage treatment facilities in Malaysia. It is reported that there are over one million of these tanks in our country.

It is apparent that IWK's role in this respect is only confined to desludging the tanks once in every two years. This is a grossly inadequate measure taken to meet the main objectives of the national sewerage services privatisation. The principal reasons are:

(a) One must realize that a septic tank consists of a settling tank and a filter bed. Desludging the tank only forms a part of the general maintenance of the septic tank Maintenance of the filter bed is equally important as it is reported that up to 50% of the removal of impurities (BOD and Suspended Solids) takes place in the filter. The filter bed can be choked and would require periodic maintenance like flushing or purging and even rehabilitation.

Furthermore, the desludging frequency of once in two years as stipulated in the privatisation contract is at best a " guesstimate" only as it can not be technically justified.

(b) A septic tank, including the filter bed is only a simple and rudimentary form of sewage treatment facility. The treatment of sewage in a septic tank will not be complete and the effluent it produces can not comply totally with the Environmental Quality (Sewage And Industrial Effluents) Regulation, 1979.

Therefore, one of the responsibilities of IWK should be to formulate programms to slowly phase out individual septic tanks and replace them with modern and efficient central sewerage treatment facilities. By merely desludging the septic tanks at two-year intervals would not have a significant effect in enhancing the performance of the tanks.

It is therefore imperative that if the main objectives of the privatisation of national sewerage services are to be achieved, the government should look into more thoroughly the scope of sewerage services to be provided by IWK. Charges may be made affordable to consumers, but it must be cost effective and of value for money. However, it would money down the drain if consumers are to pay, no matter how small the sum is, for services that are ineffective in meeting the objectives of this privatisation exercise. Indeed, it would be a great disappointment to many consumers if the government does not take the appropriate action now to rectify all inconsistencies and deficiencies in this privatisation contract.


(The above article was published in The Star on Nov 27, 1996) 2008