Selasa, Mei 09, 2006

Debate on water bills turns into a zoo

Beh Lih Yi

Energy, Water and Communications Minister Dr Lim Keng Yaik was visibly agitated during the debate on the controversial Water Services Industry Bill 2006 when it was tabled for its second reading today.

He took offence when M Kula Segaran (DAP-Ipoh Barat) implied that the minister had lied by “making false undertaking” during an earlier parliamentary debate.

Kula Segaran claimed that he had personally met with voters in Lim’s constituency of Beruas who wondered why the minister was making inconsistent statements over the water bills.

Two water bills are to be debated in Parliament - the Water Services Industry (WIS) bill and the National Water Services Commission (Span) bill, which will be tabled in the coming days.

The opposition MP also questioned why the minister had only adopted three minor recommendations from the public after a five-month long consultation that had elicited some 350 suggestions.

Lim, interjected: “Don’t play politics with me in this House on a serious matter. I had try my best to amend where I can in this bill.”

Sovereignty not at stake

The minister later said that the country’s sovereignty would not be threatened if the bill was passed despite that Malaysia was a signatory to the World Trade Organisation’s general agreement on trade and services (Gats).

Civil societies have argued that Gats would allow essential services like water, if it is provided on a commercial and profit basis, to be taken over by multinational corporations.

The multilateral trade agreement also required countries to remove barriers to foreign investment and stipulates that foreign companies must be treated on equal basis with local companies.

“I have checked with the International Trade and Industry Ministry. We are not required under Gats to open up our water services for foreign takeover,” he said in rebutting Kula Segaran’s argument.

Lim also took offence by a leaflet that was handed over to him in the House by Kula Segaran. The leaflet, which had a number of children stating their opposition to water privatisation, was published by the Coalition Against Water Privatisation (CAWP).

“Don’t use these nine-year-old, 10-year-old children ... Jangan main dengan saya. I have fought with the NGOs for a long time,” said the minister, who appeared irritated by the leaflet.

“You can debate but don’t twist the facts and said I lied. I can’t stand that. I will fight back and the backbenchers will support me. Is that right?” he said to the approval from the backbenchers.

Lim also challenged Kula Segaran “not to talk too much” but to challenge him in his constituency in the next general elections.

At one point, as the Ipoh Barat MP was reading out his speech from a laptop computer, the minister suddenly interjected and asked the speaker whether the MP was allowed to do so in the House.

“He has got no brains. He is reading out the comments prepared by other people. What is this? This is a third-class opposition leader,” said the minister.

Kula Segaran retorted: “I know he is worried that I am debating with all the facts and statistic... I can debate till the cows, or horses, come home tonight.”

When Lim responded that he would “bring the camels”, House deputy speaker Lim Si Cheng ticked off the duo, saying: “No need to mention horses or goats here. This is not a zoo.”

‘We run the government’

Outside the House later, the minister held a press conference to explain that despite Malaysia being a signatory to Gats, it was up to the member state to decide which sector it would liberalised.

“In the case of water services, this sector has not been offered by Malaysia under Gats (to be liberalised) and Malaysia is not bound to the provision under Gats on this,” he told reporters.

The press conference later turned into an open debate between the minister and CAWP spokesperson Charles Santiago, who was present in Parliament today to follow the proceedings.

Santiago argued that the government must ensure water remain part of government services and while Lim had argued that there would not be any foreign takeover, this must be reflected in the bills to be passed.

“A personal commitment is not internationally binding,” said the economist.

Lim, who did not respond directly to the question, instead questioned why the coalition had implied he was lying in the leaflets they distributed.

As Santiago insisted on no water privatisation being written into law, the irate minister said: “Charles, this is how the government works. You don’t run the government, we run the government.”

WhenWhile Santiago said “that’s unfortunate”, Lim, who appeared annoyed, retorted “fortunately”, and added that he was “more sensitive than water” when he was accused of lying.

The debate on the bill continues tomorrow. The other water bill, the National Water Services Commission (Span) Bill 2006, will also be tabled for second reading in this parliamentary sitting.

Early last year, the government pushed through constitutional amendments which effectively put water under shared federal and state jurisdiction.

The two bills, however, were then put on hold to enable the ministry to gather feedback from the public, who feared the two bills would pave the way for water privatisation.

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