Feb 4, 06 2:05pm
The government should ensure that two draft bills slated to reform the water industry fulfill the human right of all consumers to adequate and clean water, said the Federation of Malaysian Consumers Associations (Fomca).
The Water Services Industry (WSI) Bill, on the one hand, seeks to establish a licensing and regulatory framework to promote national policy objectives for the water supply services and sewerage services industry.
The National Water Services Commission (Span) Bill, on the other, provides for a corporate body to supervise and regulate the industry and to enforce related laws.
A number of concerns, however, need to be introduced and incorporated into the bills “to safeguard consumers’ welfare and to ensure that clean, safe and reliable water supply without disruption will be provided to consumers,” said Fomca in a statement received yesterday.
The Span Bill is opaque on the criteria for appointing the commissioners, said Fomca, whereas the choice of the commission’s members is crucial to the provision of water “as a public good and an essential need to every living being.”
“Commissioners should ... be selected from several sectors such as the ministries, academicians, environmental groups, civil society and consumers’ associations.
“The commissioners should (also) have knowledge about the water issues and should represent an organisation with an excellent track record of working on water-related concerns,” it said.
Fomca expressed concern over the explicit powers, on the other hand, given to the Energy, Water and Communications Minister ‘to revoke the appointment of any member of the commission without assigning any reason for the revocation.’
“Fomca feels no individual should have the power to compromise the commission’s independence as well as the water industry,” it added.
The association also believed that the Span Bill lacked clarity on the functions and responsibilities of the commission.
The WSI Bill also suffers from several shortcomings, said Fomca, chief among them pertained to the disconnection of water supply in cases of non-payment.
The time-frame for consumers to settle their water bill should be increased from 14 to 45 days, while re-connection should be shorted from three days as provided for in the bill to 24 hours.
A subsection should also be added “to ban any disconnection during weekends, public holidays and the festive season ... to avoid inconvenience to consumers as the re-connection will not be done within 24 hours even if they manage to make the payment.”
“Taking the examples of countries like the United Kingdom, Belgium and France, disconnection is not practised at all. This is due to the reason that water is accepted as a basic human right.”
In this regard, a “disconnection code” should be formulated in consultation with consumers.
The Span Bill should also provide for more specific categorisation of consumers and include provisions in the interest of low-income earners, the disabled, the chronically sick, older persons, and rural residents.
Section 68 of the Bill on ‘consumer standards’ should also include a provision on the approval of “consumer standards codes... to ensure that they reflect consumers’ needs and will be enforceable.”
Sections 69 and 70, furthermore, relating to the Water forum should be modified to limit the participation and influence of the water industry to prevent its interference in what should be “a venue for consumers to voice their concerns,” said Fomca.
“The consumer groups strongly recommend that the membership of the forum be limited to (representatives of) government, public and consumers to maximise the functions and achieve the objectives of the Water Forum.”
Fomca also proposed additional provisions, widely-found in other Water Acts around the world, on water resources management plans, drought plans and drinking water quality regulator.
“These provisions are proposed to enhance the state of the water industry as to ensure that the quality of water provided are as per standards.”