Selasa, Mei 09, 2006

Water bills will drown consumer rights

maC Hashim

I am greatly concerned over serious inadequacies in the two water bills - WSI (Water Services Industry) and Span (Suruhanjaya Perkhidmatan Air Negara) Bills 2006. These two bills do not safeguard the consumers (ie, Malaysian citizens), do not protect the environment (the source of all water) and do not protect the sovereignty the country at large (particularly with the coming of Gats and WTO).

Water is a fundamental right and requirement for all Malaysians. While there is a need to regulate the water sector and embrace public sector reforms in order to improve efficiency, privatisation is not the solution.

There is no evidence that privatisation of water in Malaysia has increased efficiency or quality of the water supplied to the public. Rather, privatisation has merely transferred wealth to an appointed private sector. Since 2004, there have been over 17 cases of ammonia leaking into our rivers, despite privatisation, two in the last two months alone.

A working alternative to privatised water supply can be found in our own country, in the state of Penang, which is a public-public partnership for water management.

The tabling of both the bills should be stopped immediately until the bills can be totally re-written to properly protect consumers, the environment and the nation. If this is not possible, I would like to see, at the very least, the following changes made to the bills:

  1. The protection and rights of the consumer is very weak within the bills. Proper protection and avenues for compensation for the consumer, that are strong and enforceable, must be clearly written into the WSI bill. This must include the consumer’s right to compensation if the water company (licensee) breaches any provisions or conditions of his license.

  2. Ninety-seven percent of our water comes from our rivers, yet no part of the WSI bill addresses water resource management and conservation from an ecosystem perspective. The bill must include legally binding clauses for the long-term protection and conservation of the water catchment forest areas, lakes and rivers, all the way to the water in-take and treatment plants downstream along the river, in the form of Integrated Water Resource Management. A specific part within the parent act should be allocated for this vital issue.

  3. Water is a finite resource, yet water consumption is very high and often wasteful among Malaysian consumers. This must change if we want to have sufficient water for future generations. The water bill can address this by stipulating that water companies (licensees) be obliged to practice demand management of water, and conduct substantial awareness raising programmes for the consumer. If water demand is properly managed, much of this finite resource can be conserved. Demand management for water can also reduce the costs for additional infrastructure associated with un-managed water demand.

  4. The bill should also include strict, binding clauses on water pollution and effects on downstream health. At the moment, the bill only has a few clauses if pollution results in death or near death.

  5. The water commission should be an empowered regulator where the commissioners should advice the minister independently and without fear or favour. Therefore, any power to revoke the commissioners appointment arbitrarily in the Span bill should be removed.

  6. The water forum should be a consumer body to protect consumer interests in relation to supply and distribution of water. The forum members should comprise water consumers, with no members from the water industry allowed.

These changes can help to make the WSI and Span bills truly reflect the needs and rights of the consumer, the ecosystem and the nation. Until such changes are made, the WSI and Span bills should not be tabled in Parliament.

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