Battle over Selangor’s water continues unabated

Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad, Member of the Selangor Water Panel

The raging battle over control of water in Selangor is expected to continue unabated. Its skirmishes have become a regular feature in the mainstream media throughout 2009 with the various contending parties taking potshots at each other. Needless to say the scenes invariably involved the contending parties ie the Selangor State Government, the Federal Government and the water concession companies, in a quest to reach an arguably tough solution for a ‘consolidation’ exercise.

In the latest round of conflict, the Deputy Prime Minister has unwittingly decided to join the fray. His accusation of the state government’s provision of free water hence their inability to allow for an increase in water tariffs to concessionaire was perceived by many as lending support to the latter.

His untimely intrusion of providing a flawed rationale of free water and water tariff withholding by the Selangor State Government smack of protecting Umno’s favourite water crony concessionaires, Puncak Niaga and Syabas. Notwithstanding is the fact that the Energy, Water and Green Technology Ministry and the federal government have earlier succeeded in their application for a stay of execution of a High Court order to make public a water concession agreement and its audit report of Syabas and the Ministry.

Above all, it was his attempt at doing an ‘Idris Jala-Alarmist’s approach that really caught on the raw nerve of the Menteri Besar of Selangor. The DPM has accused the State Government of not cooperating with the Federal Government and consequently places the consumers in Selangor, Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya into jeopardy of water rationing by 2012 as Selangor will face a water shortage then.

Pakatan Rakyat leaders have accused the Federal government of having political motive behind the water supply issue in Selangor. Klang Member of Parliament Charles Santiago has openly said the government was unhappy that Selangor had not committed to implement the Langat 2 Water Treatment Plant for the Pahang-Selangor raw water transfer project.

The project which was launched in April 2010 was initiated under the 9th Malaysia Plan with an estimated cost of RM8.9 billion. It includes building two dams and a 44.6km-long 5.2m-diameter raw water transfer tunnel to transport water from Pahang to Selangor and Kuala Lumpur. It is said to be supplying 1,867 million cubic metres of water to Selangor daily.

The State government to date has yet to approve the remaining 15 lots of land required for the construction of Langat 2. It is now an open secret that the raw water transfer project is carried out by BN-backed companies and contractors. The project is funded by Japan Bank for International Cooperation but the bank would only release the fund in stages according to work progress. With the project now hitting a snag, the firms involved with the raw transfer project are caught in uncertainties.

In support of the DPM, the Minister of Energy, Green Technology and Water and Syabas Chief Executive Officer were quick to point out that there will be insufficient water supply in Selangor, Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya come 2012. With the production between June 1 and July 2 at 4,086 millions per day (MLD) and the water supply capacity at 4,326 MLD, they claimed that the reserve capacity for the three states are only 240 million litres per day (MLD) or 5.9 per cent. With the projected demand anticipated to be 4,625 MLD by 2012, Selangor is projected to be facing water shortage by 299 MLD then.

The Selangor MB has fought back claiming that the data provided by the ministry and Syabas are both untrue as it were inaccurate. The Pahang-Selangor water transfer project was based on consultants’ projection that Selangor would face a water shortage crisis. Charles Santiago similarly refuted the claims of the Federal Government and backed MB Abdul Khalid’s statement that Selangor could meet the demands of the State and Kuala Lumpur consumers up to 2019.

Firmly  bullish, he believes Selangor can sustain its supply until 2020 as it was based on expert consultations and calculations of population growth rate, past and present water consumption rates, current production capacity, and water levels in the dams.

Even if there were a shortage possibility, the Selangor MB grudgingly pointed out to other alternative water sources which can be drawn from in a shorter period, including underground water, and treated water from rivers and lakes. But doing it the BN’s way, he alluded, will surely incur further national debt.

Be that as it may, it is best that the nation be reminded of some chronologies and lessons learnt from the failed privatization in the water industry.