It’s raining outside, but the taps are dry, and even when there is water, it’s dirty
24 December 2018
Last week, DAP member of parliament Teresa Kok blamed Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB), the Energy, Green Technology and Water Ministry and the Federal Government for the current water supply disruption in the Klang Valley.
In September, Selangor Menteri Besar Dato’ Sri Azmin Ali blamed factories along a river in an adjacent state and cried sabotage for water pollution in Selangor. The state government leaders seem to blame everybody except themselves.
It’s the rainy season now, there was a flood in Kajang, but the taps are dry in Selangor, and even when there is water, it is dirty; and the state government, which is in charge of this basic necessity, and its associates keep blaming others for the problem. What is going on?
The two recent major water supply disruptions affecting millions of people in Selangor in the last three months are not isolated cases. They are symptoms of a bigger systemic problem of water supply management in the state. When it is pouring outside your home but no water is coming out of your taps, you know the problem is not nature, it is man-made, and it is either a problem of management incompetence or shirking of responsibility.
Malaysia is going to be a developed nation in less than 4 years, but Selangor seems to have a Third World problem that the state government cannot seem to resolve.
Last year, according to Malaysian Water Association there were 83,729 incidents of water supply disruptions in Selangor. This number is about half of the total incidents of water supply disruptions of all other states in Malaysia combined. Selangor, with about twenty percent of the population of Malaysia, has half of the country’s water problems, much higher compared with other states on per capita basis.
Major district-wide disruptions affecting tens of thousands of people have been happening at the average frequency of at least once a month in Selangor in the last fifteen months, much higher than the rest of the country.
The problem stems from the low reserve capacity of water treatment plants in Selangor. Demand for clean water supply managed by the Selangor state government or its related water companies is 4,900 million liter per day, but the supply capacity that they provide is only about 5,000 million liter per day, hence there is a razor-thin reserve capacity of only about 2 to 3 percent.
No wonder a minor maintenance of water-related infrastructure such as the one recently carried out by TNB or a slight change in the weather patterns causes a major water supply disruption in Selangor and the Klang Valley.
To add to the disappointment, the cause of the problem was actually known way back in 2008 when the negotiation for the restructuring of water assets in Selangor started. The upgrading of water infrastructure capacity requires billions of ringgit of investments. Relieving the state government of this heavy financial burden requires the consolidation and restructuring of Selangor water assets.
The restructuring involves transfers or sales of water assets owned by the Selangor state or its related entities to the Federal Government. The Federal Government will then lease the assets back to the state government or its related entities for use. With this arrangement, the new owner of the assets, the Federal Government or its associated entities, can finance, facilitate and expedite the upgrading of water infrastructure through federal agencies such as Pengurusan Aset Air Berhad (PAAB) and National Water Services Commission.
The major water supply disruptions that we are experiencing now and in the last two years could have been averted if the above-mentioned restructuring exercise was not delayed. Today, eight years after the restructuring exercise started, it is still not finalized.
If the Selangor state government had finalized the restructuring as planned with the Federal Government, Langat 2 water treatment plant project would have been completed in 2014 and it would have brought an additional supply capacity of 1,000 million liter per day of clean water into Selangor. This would have increased the water supply reserve margin from the current 3 percent to the target 20 percent, enough to provide a continuous supply of clean water to the seven million people living in the Klang Valley.
Though the solution and execution plan has already been in existence since 2008, until today the state authorities have been lackadaisical in execution. For example they have yet to approve the construction of Langat 2 water treatment plant after all these years.
The restructuring exercise has also been delayed because the parties involved, the federal buyer and the state sellers, still cannot come to an agreement on the price of the asset to be transferred. The current owners of these assets, the state related entities, want a high price for the sale of their assets to the Federal Government. But, the high price means that they are going to have to pay a higher lease rate for the assets resulting in higher water tariffs for the people. On the other hand, the Federal Government wants to buy the asset at a more reasonable price to keep the water tariffs low for the people.
To add insult to injury, the razor-thin reserve capacity is not the only problem hindering a continuous clean water supply in Selangor. In the last eight years since 2008, critical maintenance and upgrading works of water infrastructure in Selangor have been stalled, pending the restructuring. Only little and limited upgrading works have been undertaken on the assets so not to affect their valuation while negotiations are being carried out for their sale.
So the water assets now under the care of the state government may have been under-maintained, rundown or damaged for eight years. This is evidenced by the high rate of water supply disruptions related to unscheduled repairs by the state related water companies in recent years. Out of the 83 thousands water disruptions reported in Selangor last year, almost all or 98 percent were unscheduled or due to emergencies. Another piece of evidence is the fact that more than 30 percent of the water supply in Selangor is lost or leaked from the water pipes network somewhere between the supply upstream and the consumers downstream.
The Selangor state government and its related water companies have probably known for a while that to mitigate the frequent water supply disruptions it has to do and spend more on the upgrading and maintenance of the water infrastructures under its care. But it hasn’t done so, or at least has not done enough to deal with the problem.
The state government probably also knows that the water tariff rates would probably have to be raised to finance the upgrade and maintain the water infrastructure in a more reasonable condition than it is now. But, it seems that they would rather choose to delay, do nothing, shirk or blame others for this predicament.
The restructuring plan would also allow the Federal Government to inject more funding to upgrade and repair the existing water infrastructure in Selangor with federal grants and soft loans. However, until the restructuring and transfer of assets is completed, this initiative has been put on hold.
Nonetheless, despite the hold up in the water restructuring exercise and much unnecessary constraint imposed by the Selangor state government, the Federal Government continues to help the Selangor people with the water problem. The Federal Government under Prime Minister YAB Dato’ Sri Najib Razak administration has spent more than RM4 billion to upgrade water infrastructure in Selangor since 2009.
A greater amount needs to be invested and could have been invested if not for the unnecessarily imposed constraints. The 45 km water tunnel from Pahang has been completed and ready to transport 40 percent of water needs to the Klang Valley. But it can’t start transporting water due to the hold up at Selangor side.
The Selangor state government and its executives and politicians have been giving away free water that it can’t afford at the expense of adequate maintenance, upkeep and upgrade of the water infrastructure. This is not right. They should know that water should not be used for political purposes.
Ironically, karma has caught up with them and their populist water policy implemented by the state government has now backfired, however at the expense and suffering of the people. But much to our consternation, intransigence to public outcry to resolve the problems, they now resort to pointing fingers and blaming others instead.
And now the state government or its related entities want to sell their water assets at a high price and perhaps delay the transaction until after the general election because it may involve them having to increase the water tariffs. If this is the case, perhaps they would rather let the water disruptions continue for another year to get a higher payment for the assets and lay the burden on the 7 millions people in Selangor and Klang Valley, many have to carry buckets of water up several flights of stairs in the meantime.
We shall not be held to ransom by the political ploys, greed or insouciant shrugging of the very people entrusted to manage this basic necessity for us. If the Selangor state government can’t even handle this basic need, how are we to trust them with other things involving our lives and well being? And what good is free water if there is no water?