Takeover of water concessions not solution to water woes: Tee Keat

KUALA LUMPUR, March 10 – The Selangor Government’s fresh bid for a takeover of the water companies at RM9.65 billion does not appear to hold water.

It is merely a political tool to gain support from the rakyat in the coming polls as the offer fails to address the depleting supply of raw and treated water in the state, says former MCA president and Pandan member of parliament Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat (picture).

The federal lawmaker said the state administration’s denial of a water crisis was placing the rakyat at risk of a severe shortage in the near term, noting that the state’s obsession to take full control of the water companies was not going to boost supply of raw and treated water overnight.

“The state government’s argument that, only by taking over the management rights and 100 per cent equity of Syabas, would water problems be solved, is absolute nonsense. The state government already has board representation in Syabas at 30 per cent equity. It’s not that they have no say on board matters,” he said in a recent interview.

Ong took to task the Selangor Government’s immediate steps on water development resources projects, should the four companies accept its RM9.65 billion offer, saying the state administration’s announcement last October to restore the Bukit Jelutong water treatment plant for its ‘membrane technology’ appeared to have vanished into thin air.

“As an engineer (by training), I would like to know in detail, the ‘membrane technology’ that was publicised by the state government to treat water. I would like to know the type of filtration, its operation method, and whether it will solve problems. Sadly, I have not seen any further information on ‘membrane technology’ that has been published,” the seasoned politician pointed out.

In January, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak promised to solve Selangor’s water woes, should Barisan Nasional (BN) be given the mandate to govern the state in the 13th General Election. The opposition-led state has been plagued with water shortage attributed to a pump house breakdown and inadequate water treatment plants.

In February, the state government had through its subsidiary, Kumpulan Darul Ehsan Bhd, offered to buy the state’s four water concessionaires for RM9.65 billion. The offer includes absorbing all the liabilities of Syarikat Bekalan Air Selangor Sdn Bhd (Syabas), Puncak Niaga Sdn Bhd, Konsortium Abass Sdn Bhd and Syarikat Pengeluar Air Sungai Selangor Sdn Bhd (Splash).

Selangor Menteri Besar Tan Sri Abdul Khalid Ibrahim said the water services restructuring exercise must be implemented in the state as per the Water Services Industry Act (WSIA) and as such, water concessionaires could opt for international arbitration, if they disputed the pricing.

On the notion that the RM9.65 billion offer is an offer from the rakyat of Selangor, Ong said: “It’s easy to make such claims on behalf of the rakyat. I’m also from Selangor. Since when has the state government conducted a referendum on the takeover of the water companies and to determine if rakyat Selangor is agreeable to such offer?”

He said the state administration had not provided the people of Selangor a comprehensive picture on the current water situation but was preoccupied into de-privatisation of the water concessionaires in the state and to oppose the construction of the Langat 2 water treatment plant mooted by the federal government.

“The Langat 2 project was mooted even before the 12th General Election and this was based on water demand projections back then. If the current state government does not trust the figures provided from such research, it should not find reasons to fail such a project,” he added.

Energy, Green Technology and Water Minister Datuk Seri Peter Chin Fah Kui earlier this month reiterated that the construction of the Langat 2 water treatment plant must go on as it was vital to ensure adequate supply of clean water to Selangor, Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya till 2025.

Ong, a former transport minister, also took a swipe at the state government for freezing the capital expenditure (capex) of Syabas as it had caused constraints to the water provider in maintaining water assets and upgrading of facilities such as pump houses in the state.

“The state government claims Syabas has overspent or that it has exceeded limit. In my opinion, if the state government does not trust Syabas’ request for capex, why doesn’t the state government seek the advice of an independent body that is specialised in this water aspect? Why can’t they do that?,” he asked.

On the RM120 million additional allocation by the federal government for water companies to help solve the water woes in Selangor, the Pandan MP said the announcement by the prime minister in February, was timely as such an allocation could, among others, help Syabas upgrade the pump houses and increase the capacity of treated water. – Bernama


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