Finally a light at the end of tunnel

The new Cabinet line-up has generated a lot of interest in Malaysia. In the water industry, the hot topic is the new home for water under the Ministry of Energy, Water and Communications.

Water Supply was an important branch of the Public Works Department (PWD), which had been under the Ministry of Works for over a century and Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu had been its Minister for since 1995.

Traditionally, the Water Supply Branch of PWD plays an important role in providing consultancy and technical advice to State water Supply Authorities by setting standards and criteria for the designs, operations and maintenance of water supply systems. It also coordinates all water supply projects funded by the Federal Government and other international funding agencies. The Pahang/Selangor interstate water transfer is one important project initiated and to be implemented by PWD.

There had been hardly any complaints by consumers nationwide on water supply in Malaysia before. Since the late 1980s the quality of water, in particular in the Klang Valley, started to deteriorate and keeps on deteriorating. The rest is now history.

With the rapid deterioration of standards of water supply in Klang Valley, the transfer of responsibility for water supply from the Ministry of Works to another ministry is timely and will lead one to conjecture that Datuk Seri Samy Vellu had not been performing all these years.

A good example of his unsatisfactory performance is the implementation of the mammoth Pahang/Selangor raw water transfer scheme. This scheme was identified in the early 90s and the design works were to have started in 1999 with construction scheduled to commence in 2001 for completion in 2006. It was also reported that the scheme would be financed with a loan from Japan. It is now 2004 and still no one has any inkling when this scheme is going to kick off. Even if the project starts now, it will take five years to complete, i.e. in 2009 or 2010, and Klang Valley will be in dire straits from 2007 onwards when the demand for water in Selangor would exceed supply, as often been announced by both the State and Federal Governments. It was reported (The Star, 31 March, 2004) that the Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak had said that this interstate water transfer project would be implemented but will only be completed in 2009 - missing the target by at least two years!

Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu's attitude vis-à-vis the dirty tap water problem in the Klang Valley is even more appalling. His many statements in the media have incurred the wrath of many consumers in the Klang Valley. He has stubbornly insisted that the water supplied to the Klang Valley is wholesome and safe to drink without further treatment to the disbelief of many consumers.

Even within the Government circles, there was big disagreement. The then Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister, Tan Sri Muhyddin Yassin announced that his ministry would begin laboratory tests on potable water supplied to Kuala Lumpur because of numerous consumers' complaints (The Star, Jan 23, 2003). However, a couple of days later Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu poured cold water over the planned water quality testing by another ministry and insisted that our water was safe to drink and there had been no complaints so far about the quality of our drinking water.

To address the water woes in the Klang Valley, the clever good move to take water supply out of the Ministry of Works in which Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu is still the Works Minister, is long overdue. But it is hoped that with this ministerial transfer of responsibility for water, there is a light at the end of the tunnel for water consumers in Malaysia. 2007