IJOK, Feb 2 — The spat over Selangor’s water supply has continued with Selangor Mentri Besar Tan Sri Abdul Khalid Ibrahim describing Cabinet Minister Datuk Seri Peter Chin Kah Fui as a “businessman” interested only in “profits” for blaming the crisis on Pakatan Rakyat’s (PR) cheap water policy.
Two days ago the energy, green technology and water minister blamed the policy for Selangor’s frequent and widespread water supply cuts that have affected hundreds of thousands of households and businesses in Malaysia’s wealthiest state and federal capital Kuala Lumpur.
“I think Peter Chin should learn how to help the people,” Khalid told The Malaysian Insider in response to the minister’s remark.
“He spoke like a businessman and if I were to be him of course I would raise the water tariffs. He only thinks of profit,” the Selangor mentri besar said.
Treated water supply in the country’s most developed state has become major campaign fodder in the run-up to Election 2013 after utility company Syarikat Bekalan Air Selangor (SYABAS) raised the alarm in 2011 of a possible crisis in the near future due to near-zero reserves at the state’s water treatment plants.
PR promised domestic consumers free water up to 20 cubic metres on a monthly basis after it took over Selangor government from the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition in Election 2008.
Chin argued that when water was cheap, usage spiked and the government had to step in to subsidise the price, which meant public funds would not be used as efficiently.
He also said that the ongoing crisis showed that it was vital for Putrajaya to restructure energy and water tariffs to ensure supply of the two utilities would not be further disrupted.
Khalid, however, defended the policy, saying water was a fundamental right of the people and that voters should not be burdened by the aim to make profit through high tariffs.
“Water is a basic right, meaning it should be provided without burdening the people. That is why the state government is giving out cheap water,” he said.
PR has recently locked horns with the BN federal government and SYABAS, the sole supplier of treated water in the rich state as well as the two neighbouring federal territories of Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya, for the past four years over the Klang Valley’s water crisis.
The blame game between the private firm and the Selangor government has gone on for months and took a new turn earlier this month when the Khalid mooted a media drive, relating the state’s version of events plus a weekly update of the water problem, alleging that the latest disruption was due to SYABAS’s poor upkeep leading to faulty pumps in urban Wangsa Maju and Pudu Hulu Baru.
Continuing the attacks, Khalid announced on Wednesday his administration’s plan to buy over SYABAS and other water concessions in the state to sustain its cheap water policy.
Chin in response said Putrajaya will not block the move but said Khalid was barking up the wrong tree by asking the federal government to consider its takeover plans on the state’s water services when he should have negotiated directly with the companies instead.
“I think Peter Chin lacks experience. I think I have more experience than him. I don’t think Peter Chin understands what the Selangor government is asking for.
“When we want to buy over the concession we are not only buying the companies but buying them over from the major shareholders. And who are the major shareholders? The federal government,” said the mentri besar.
SYABAS’s chief stakeholders are Puncak Niaga, Kumpulan Darul Ehsan (KDEB) and the Ministry of Finance.
Khalid said his administration submitted a second letter calling for the federal government to consider its buyover plans to Chin’s ministry last Friday and has yet to receive a formal response.