Selangor Water Crisis: Politicising Water

Mad rush for water at USJ4, Subang Jaya
Today is DAY SIX that taps have run dry for  about 360,000 account holders or 1.6 million residents in the most developed state of Selangor. DAP supporters have gone quiet in residents’ WhatsApp groups while those who will be celebrating Deepavali are screaming for vengeance. Some are already asking “Mana Hannah Yeoh?” while Azmin Ali who, under his tutelage Selangor has seen the most of water disruptions, has reneged on the usual promise of announcing the biggest exposé on those he blamed this current water crisis on.

The MP for Kelana Jaya, Wong Chen, has since appeared on WhatsApp groups trying to appease voters. The following is his message:

Message from MP Wong Chen this morning 27 Oct.

Good morning from Parliament. We have been sitting the last few days up to 9.30 pm every night. The budget session is the most important session of the year but this year the government slashed some 8 days of sitting and as such we are forced to go beyond our 5.30 pm sitting by four extra hours a day to 9.30 pm every day.


This morning I want to talk about the water crisis affecting 1 million residents in Selangor. I have been following closely the water crisis in Selangor, affecting a large part of my constituents in Subang Jaya. YB Hannah Yeoh has been updating regularly, she is on the ground distributing water and engaging residents. Residents are going into their 5th day without water. And we had a water crisis barely a month before.


In Parliament, I bumped into Minister Wan Junaidi and also separately the Deputy Minister Hamim on several occassions. I keep asking for their quicker action. They keep saying that Selangor must also do their bit. I have also relayed some of my ideas to YB Zuraida to pass on to the MB. 


Wan Junaidi do not believe the current pollution crisis to be an act of deliberate political sabotage. Deputy Minister Hamim, who is an engineer and someone I enjoyed working with on the TPPA (when he was Deputy Minister of MITI), will not speculate but says that the problem is not new. The federal government has resources but water is a state matter.


I am of the view that with the economy slowing, more and more companies will try to cut costs by dumping pollution straight into the river. 


Enforcement in Malaysia has always been a challenge. A widely held view is the enforcement officers are either stretched thin, overworked or at the other end of the spectrum, just plain corrupt being paid by polluters to turn a blind eye. 


If enforcement officers are not effective then we have to bring in the accountants. 


The obvious solution is to track historical records of industrial waste output of each factory and counter check with their disposal costs. If a factory is found to have slashed spending substantially on disposal of industrial waste in the last year, then we can assume that they are engaging in illegal dumping. A major discrepency in the accounts should be a basis for a full investigation and raid by enforcement officers. 


The state should also set up a benchmark of waste output for each industry to red flag any unusual data volatility. Setting up patrol units along the rivers is not going to help as much as sending in the accountants.


Bottomline is this. If the economy deteriorates, we can expect more and more water cuts stemming from increased pollution activity.


Irate residents will not listen to excuses or causes. Understandably, they just want water and they want this crisis to not repeat. As such Selangor must dramatically improve its emergency water delivery system. We need more water tanks and we need delivery to be on schedule and to be regular. 


We need to also beef up security monitoring at our rivers. We need night time road blocks to monitor all suspicious trucking activities. More importantly is we need new people to lead such enforcement. A fresh start with new officers.


We need to bring in the accountants. We need all factories in Selangor to disclose their waste inventory. And we need to catch the culprits, severely punish them to end this cycle of water cuts.


Lastly, I beg the residents to also empathise with the authorities. You will not find a harder working ADUN in Malaysia than YB Hannah Yeoh. If you see her on your streets at midnight distributing water, give her a pat on the back.

Wong Chen may be the sanest of the PKR lot probably due to being an idealist more than a politician. But he is saying nothing new, not a lot, and has nothing much to offer.

Firstly, it is obvious that as an MP he is not aware that all matters pertaining to land and water belongs to the respective states. Had he known this he would not have approached Wan Junaidi or his deputy Hamim.

As advised by industry players as early as 2011, the Selangor State government should gazette water catchment areas and implement the Langat2 Water Treatment Plant project. The State government did not do the first and delayed the second suggestion until it was too late.

Secondly, the economy is not slowing. Slowing down means that there will be negative growth. Wong Chen is probably not aware that even the World Bank says that the Malaysian economy is growing at a slower rate in 2016 but will pick up in 2017 and 2018.

Even in the 1990s when the economy was vibrant and our growth rate exceeded eight percent, business owners were dumping industrial scheduled wastes into rivers. It has nothing to do with our economy. It has all to do with our mentality and screw-all attitude.

Enforcement is lacking, no doubt, but stretched thin is the more than likely case. They can’t all be corrupted just as not all bungalows without swimming pools are cheap. So we just do not have the numbers needed to police based on a personnel to area ratio. And it doesn’t help when motormouth Tony Pua wants to trim down the civil service if he comes into power!

Even tracking of industrial waste output needs the manpower to do it. You can’t just sit in the office, tap on some keys and expect the numbers on the screen to tally with what is being produced in the real world.

Security monitoring of our rivers would go back to two things: manpower and gazetting water catchment areas! Why is there a need to repeat this over and over again? Everything points back to those two!

Hannah Yeoh the hardest working ADUN in Malaysia? I have seen better-working ones even from the DAP back in the 1970s. Distributing bottled water can be sub-contracted out to Bangladeshi workers. A hardworking ADUN would be screaming in the Dewan for more manpower to enforce gazetted water catchment areas. Not seek political mileage and benefitting from the misery of others!

Selangor Water Crisis: Time To Change The Top Management

By “Top Management” I mean the state government.

Yes!

For the people of Petaling district, this is the second time that taps have run dry. The first was just before Aidil Adha (2nd September 2016) when a pipe burst caused taps in Subang Jaya, USJ, parts of Puchong and Pinggiran USJ to not have water supply for about three days. The second time which began two days ago is caused by contamination of the raw water supply to the Semenyih River Water Treatment Plant and this time several districts are affected namely

  • Hulu Langat (Bangi, Bandar Bukit Mahkota, Kajang, Semenyih and Rinching),
  • Kuala Langat (Morib, Banting, Saujana Putra, Bandar Rimbayu and Teluk Panglima Garang),
  • Petaling (USJ1-27, Puchong, Seri Kembangan and Serdang),
  • Sepang (Putrajaya, Cyberjaya, Bandar Nusa Putra, Putra Heights, Pulau Meranti, Kota Warisan, Bandar Bukit Puchong and Sungai Merab).

If you have no idea how huge an area that is, let me represent them using the map below:


Both these situations were totally avoidable. Since 2010 various water-related non-governmental organisations, water industry players as well as the Federal Government have advised the Pakatan-led Selangor state government to allow for the construction and completion of the Langat 2 Water Treatment Plant. Else, Selangor would face a water crisis by 2014. The state government vehemently denied that Selangor would face such a crisis.

True enough, people in Selangor had to undergo scheduled rationing in 2014 and 2015. 60,000 accounts were affected. That translates into at least 360,000 people who were directly affected. This time it could be far more.

Selangor has been giving away 20 cubic meters of water free to consumers since 2008 when Pakatan won the state from the Barisan Nasional – a very poorly thought of political decision; a populist move rather than a prudent one. It costs a lot not only to treat water but also to maintain 27,420 kilometres of pipes. Giving away water for free and not increasing tariffs will ensure that you would not be able to maintain your operations efficiently, and even an idiot would know this.

When a pipe burst on the 2nd September 2016, instead of helping by explaining the situation, an assemblyman decided to take it out on Syarikat Bekalan Air Selangor (SYABAS). This assemblyman gave the most absurd ideas on how to manage water cuts:


This invited a basket of zombies to support her statement, some even blaming the Federal government for the problem. In one of the community WhatsApp groups one even said that maybe the problem was created by the Barisan Nasional to create hatred towards the Selangor state government. What they failed to realise is that the Selangor state government IS the one managing it’s water treatment and supply:


Not clear enough? How about this? From September 2015, the Selangor state government owns the water concessionaires in the state!

The second problem is that unlike Penang, Selangor does not gazette its water catchment areas. Factories, loggers have no problem whatsoever to encroach into the water catchment areas. It is a no-brainer that this is the contributing factor to the hundreds of cases of contamination of the Langat and Semenyih rivers and their tributaries.

Let us not kid each other. The Selangor state government has been in denial about the dire water situation in the state since 2008. It was made worse when the whole situation was not dealt with properly and by not heeding the advice of the industry players.

So, I hope Hannah Yeoh actually means it when she said there should be a management change. It should be a change in the management of the state. It can’t even handle the basic but extremely critical issues and it’s members are spending more time bashing others than actually looking into the problems the rakyat is facing! And when shit actually hits the fan, this is the sorry excuse to say “Oh! We’re with you! We feel your pain!


Yes, Hannah Yeoh. Let us have that change in the management soon. Your voters are already supporting your call.


In the famous words of your fellow party member and former USJ resident Jeff Ooi,