Water tariffs: Income-based won't work

The announcement by the Minister of Energy, Water and Communications, Datuk Seri Dr Lim Keng Yaik (NST 9 July) that water tariffs would be revised so that the rich would pay more, looks like another one of his many off-the-cuff statements on water issues in this country.

As a public utility and an essential commodity, water pricing for domestic consumption should not be based on income level of consumers, as it is difficult to implement and will not encourage water saving.

In Malaysia and in many other developing countries, water tariff has always been based on the following rationale:

Higher rates for higher consumption to discourage wastage; and
A very low "lifeline" rate to meet the "ability to pay" criterion of the lower-income group to cover
  basic everyday domestic needs.

To reduce water consumption it is important to review the current structure of our water tariff. Basically, our water tariff for domestic consumption is structured in three blocks:

(a) The first block is the lifeline quantum of 15 to 20 cubic metres per month;
(b) The next is for use of conveniences such as water closets and the like (20 to 40 cm/m).
(c) The last block is the penalty block for any wasteful use exceeding 40 cm/m.

The above tariff structure, if properly formulated, can encourage water-saving. The tariff for the second and third blocks should be raised significantly; otherwise consumers, rich or poor, will not bother to conserve water.

Owing to the scarcity of our water resources, it is about time that we revolutionise our thinking on providing a water supply system that would optimise usage. A tariff structure based on income level will not, in any way, serve this noble objective.

The Minister has made many similar off-the-cuff statements since taking over the water portfolio more than a year ago. It is time that he continues to swallow his own words instead of to spit out more.


An edited version of the above was published in NST on 19/07/05.

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