Our new broom sweeps in more water woes

When water was taken out of the Ministry of Works and transferred to the Ministry of Energy, Water and Telecommunications early last year, the public was elated when Datuk Seri Dr. Lim Keng Yaik, the minister with a new broom, boldly announced a number of initiatives to revamp the water supply industry in this country, the most important of which are:

1. Put on hold all water supply privatization;
2. Establish National Water Services Commission to regulate privatized water supplies;
3. Establish benchmarks for all water supply operators to comply and
4. Transfer of jurisdictions of water treatment and distribution from the state governments to the federal government.

At long last there was a light at the end of the tunnel for many water consumers in this country who had been for years complaining of water shortage, dirty water, etc. without much response from the authorities.

The process of reorganizing the water supply management was then set in motion with the amendment to the Federal Constitution early this year. It was reported that under this amendment, the Federal Government would take over control of the water supply and distribution while the States would be responsible for looking after the raw water sources.

Also the Water Services Industry Bill and the National Water Services Commission Bill were drafted which would pave the way for the regulation of the water industry in this country.

After all these have been set in motion, the first bombshell was dropped when in December last year the Government gave the green light to Syarikat Bekalan Air Selangor (Syabas), a subsidiary of Puncak Niaga to proceed with the privatization of Perbadanan Urus Air Selangor (PUAS). Dr Lim's lame excuse was that the financial situation of PUAS had become critical.

With the floodgate now open, the states would gaily go ahead to award water privatization contracts before there is another U-turn.

Less than two months after the privatsation of PUAS, the local dailies reported that the water departments of Negeri Sembilan and Pahang would be privatized. But Dr Lim declared that he was being informed.

Then early this month, Dr Lim spoke out strongly against Syabas for using imported pipes in the pipeline replacement program in the Klang Valley. This was a clear defiance of the terms of the concessionaire agreement in which local materials are to be sourced by open tenders. But what actions have been taken against Syabas so far? It looks like Syabas would get away scot-free!

In his latest bombshell, the Energy, Water and Telecommunications Minister announced that water supply services in all states would not be federalised, i.e. put solely under the control of the Federal Government. The minister further explained that the National Water Services Commission in the process of being set up would only be used to regulate the water supply services in the states.

From all the above it is clear that the minister in charge of water in this country is fickle minded and is now well known for his frequent about-turns. All these have caused a lot of confusion to many consumers and with little or no progress made in the revamp of the water industry in this country, we are now sadly back to square one.


An edited version of the above was published in Malaysiakini on July 20, 05 with title "Minister for water wishy-washy".

nakedeyeview.com.my 2007