Selasa, Januari 18, 2005

Suhakam, why the silence on water rights?

Beh Lih Yi
The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) was taken to task today over its silence on the impending water privatisation move in the country which is widely opposed by civil society groups.

Human rights lawyer-activist Malik Imtiaz Sarwar questioned Suhakam for keeping mum on the issue stating that access to water is deemed as a basic human rights while the poor may not be able to afford privatised water supply.

“Where is Suhakam?’ he asked before delivering his paper at a public forum on ‘Should water supply be privatised?’ in Kuala Lumpur this morning.

Malik, the deputy president of the National Human Rights Society, also urged the civil society to engage with the human rights commission and join forces with thm against the water privatisation move, as well as to bring up the issue at the regional level.

In December 2003, a group of 17 associations led by the Federation of Malaysian Consumers Associations (Fomca) and ERA Consumer submitted a memorandum to Suhakam urging the commission to intervene into the government’s water privatisation plan.

They expressed their concern over the plan such as the management of water resources and claimed that the government’s decision would breach a fundamental human rights.

However, Suhakam has yet to address the water privatisation move, much to the chagrin of those opposing it.

Constitutional rights

On Monday, Parliament will convene a special three-day sitting to debate the transfer of power for supply, treatment, distribution and billing of water supply.

Malik told the audience that the rights of access to water is prescribed in the Federal Constitution and the Convention of the Rights of the Child 1989 (CRC).

He explained that although water rights is not explicitly stated in the constitution, Article 5 of the constitution on the liberty of the person has a wide-ranging definition that could include the rights to water.

The article reads that ‘no person shall be deprived of his life of personal liberty save in accordance with law’.

“Rights to life means more than just a physical existence, it also includes sufficient standard of living and healthcare,” the lawyer argued.

Penang - the role model

Another speaker, Malaysia Trade Union Congress (MTUC) financial secretary-general A Sivananthen said the congress is supportive of the idea of a public-public partnership (PUPs) approach in managing water resources.

He said the approach could ensure that the water authority equates social responsibility with the commercial outlook.

PUPs is also an arrangement that could ensure water management continues to be under state and public control at the same time.

A role model of PUPs is the Perbadanan Bekalan Air Pulau Pinang, Sivananthen said.

Economist and water specialist Charles Santiago who was invited to present a keynote speech at the function reiterated his call to scrap the privatisation plan and his support for the PUPs approach.

Other speakers invited to share their views at the half-day event included Fomca secretary-general Muhamad Sha’ani Abdullah and several religious leaders. The organisers, Research for Social Development’s executive director Richard Yeoh was the moderator.

Parliamentary Opposition Leader Lim Kit Siang was among the 100 people present.

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