Water politics clogging the pipeline

Selangor’s water impasse looks unlikely to be resolved before the next general election, as a likely shortage looms.

The issue of water looks unlikely to be resolved with so much bad blood between the companies and the PKR-led leadership in Selangor, at least not before the next general election, the date of which is still “teka-teki” (guesswork in Malay).

M. Veera Pandiyan (The Star)

THREE weeks of thrills are finally over with Spain silencing critics by thrashing Italy 4-0 – the biggest margin yet in a Euro final.

As defending champions and holders of the World Cup, Spain have achieved a football treble never attained before.

The Spaniards are now seriously regarded as one of the greatest national football teams in history and living paragons of the beautiful game.

But it wasn’t the case in matches before the final. Spain was derided as boring for its “tiki-taka” style of football – the pert term used for the frequent short, sharp passing and possession to deprive the opposing team of the ball.

“Tiki-taka”, by the way, is the Spanish term for clackers, a toy comprising two plastic balls on a string which when swung up and down, knock to make clacking sounds.

The team’s success was based on the formula of keeping the ball and waiting for the moment for a breakthrough.

There are similarities in the game of politics, where it is also all about the quest or possession of power and waiting for the opportune time to strike.

But in politics, it is more of “tiki tiki” – a Spanish slang for endless blabber. And if “tiki-taka” is all about passing the ball, the “tiki tiki” for politicians is about passing the buck and pushing the blame.

The issue of water in Selangor is an example.

The Energy, Green Technology and Water Ministry has already given two warnings of a looming water crisis in the Klang Valley but Mentri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim insists otherwise.

He remains adamantly opposed to the Federal Government’s long-term solution to meet growing demand in the Klang Valley – the Pahang-Selangor raw water transfer project which includes the Langat 2 treatment plant.

The project is expected to produce more than 2,000 million litres of treated water a day (MLD), more than enough to meet the projected water demand of about 4,900 MLD by 2014.

Work on the plant, to treat raw water channelled through a 44.6km-long pipeline and tunnel, was supposed to have started two years ago.

Khalid’s reason for not wanting the plant is the cost – estimated at about RM4bil – and that consumers would have to bear this through higher water tariffs.

But the real issue is the state govern­-ment’s stance in using Langat 2 as a bargaining chip in its bid to take over Selangor’s water assets, supposedly worth more than RM10bil, from the four concessionaires.

Khalid has insisted that Selangor’s treated water needs could be met by restructuring the water industry, using water from natural resources like lakes, rivers and rainwater, reducing losses through theft or leakages, tapping groundwater resources and improving conservation.

Malaysian Water Association president Ahmad Zahdi Jamil has slammed the MB’s “impractical layman views, not based on research and against the opinion of water experts”.

The current statistics already look bleak. Selangor’s water reserves are just 2.4%, way beneath the ideal level of 20%.

Consumption has exceeded the production capacity of Selangor’s 34 treatment plants by some 50 million litres.

On June 30, 4,420 MLD were used when the maximum amount all the plants could produce was 4,371 MLD.

It has been reported that it is just a matter of time before supply is disrupted in Selangor, Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya.

Who would be blamed when that happens?

When taps ran dry for 48 hours in Kuala Lumpur and in the Gombak, Petaling and Hulu Selangor districts in June last year, Selangor blamed Syarikat Bekalan Air Selangor (Syabas).

Syabas claimed that the long-drawn-out dispute over the restructuring of the state’s water industry made it difficult for it to invest in solutions to ensure supply.

The state said Syabas was liable, citing poor upgrading and maintenance work.

Syabas distributes treated water to about five million consumers in the Klang Valley and Putrajaya.

The three other concessionaires which treat raw water are Puncak Niaga (M) Sdn Bhd (PNSB), Konsortium Abass Sdn Bhd (Abass) and Syarikat Pengeluar Air Selangor Sdn Bhd (Splash).

The concessions were given before Pakatan Rakyat took over the state in the 2008 general election.

And so, like most matters in the country, everything boils down to partisan politics.

The issue of water looks unlikely to be resolved with so much bad blood between the companies and the PKR-led leadership in Selangor, at least not before the next general election, the date of which is still “teka-teki” (guesswork in Malay).

One can only hope that the nerve centre of the nation is not hit by a water crisis like the one that hit Malacca in 1991, when the Durian Tunggal dam ran dry.

It has been 21 years but many people in the state still remember the harrowing experience of enduring without enough water for almost a year.

The crisis was blamed on a prolonged drought and technical misreading of the dam levels but the major cause was a politically expedient decision not to impose rationing.

Water is our most precious commodity and should never be subject to political play.