Malaysia water “crisis” signals fierce fight for richest state

By Siva Sithraputhran
KUALA LUMPUR, July 29 | Sun Jul 29, 2012 11:03am IST

(Reuters) – The surprise statement came during a rainy spell and when the seven dams in Malaysia’s richest, most populous state were full.

Reserves of treated water in the opposition-controlled state of Selangor were perilously low, said the water company supplying a population of 7 million in the country’s main industrial base. It was seeking approval to start immediate rationing.

For many it looked like politics, not water, was behind the problem – a measure of how high tensions are running ahead of national elections that must be called by early next year and which may be the closest in Malaysia’s history.

“Of course, it’s a political conspiracy,” said Teresa Kok, a member of the Selangor state executive council and opposition member of parliament.

The July 14 announcement has set off an ill-tempered battle between the opposition-run state and the federal government that foreshadows an intense election struggle for the crucial swing state that is a base for multinationals including Panasonic Corp and British American Tobacco.

The state leadership says the ruling coalition is using water supplier Syabas to manufacture a water crisis and sow doubts in voters’ minds over the opposition’s competence.

Syabas, a unit of Puncak Niaga Bhd, has links with the Malaysia’s ruling United Malays National Organization (UMNO). Rozali Ismail, the chairman of Puncak Niaga and executive chairman of Syabas, is treasurer for the party’s Selangor branch and was dubbed Malaysia’s “water king” by Forbes, which ranks him as the country’s 37th richest person.

The federal government says the state has jeopardised its water supply by blocking the construction of a 3.8 billion ringgit ($1.2 billion) treatment plant.

“If we can make Malaysia the global centre for IPOs, how can it be that we can’t resolve water issues,” Prime Minister Najib Razak was quoted as saying this week by The Star newspaper, referring to several big stock debuts in Malaysia this year.

The problem could be resolved, he said, once the people of Selangor “choose a government that can do it.”

As Malaysia’s traditional engine of growth, the west-coast state was a prized, unprecedented win for the opposition in the last election in 2008, and the most potent symbol of the ruling coalition’s worst election performance.

Wresting back the state would help lay to rest doubts about Najib’s leadership within his own party and help the coalition rebound nationwide. For the opposition, retaining Selangor is crucial if it is to have any chance of winning a parliamentary majority and forming a government for the first time.

The state has been at the centre of concerns over voter fraud, with the opposition accusing the government of handing out voting rights to thousands of illegal immigrants.

“The stakes are the highest in Selangor. The prime minister really needs to win it back,” said Ong Kian Ming, a political analyst and lecturer at Kuala Lumpur’s private UCSI university.


The perceived performance of the four opposition-controlled states will be a crucial campaign issue as the three-party opposition alliance tries to convince voters it is capable of running the country.

Penang, another opposition-held state, has set an enviable record, attracting the country’s highest level of investment in the manufacturing sector for two years running and slashing public debt levels by over 90 percent in three years.

Selangor’s record is less spectacular. The state government has been dogged by talk of infighting and Malaysia’s ruling coalition is presenting the water issue as exhibit A to show the state is being mismanaged.

“They want to influence the course of the elections. They have a monopoly over water resources and are holding the people to ransom,” said opposition MP Tony Pua, adding that uncertainty over water supply was endangering investment in the state.

Syabas’ shock warning of water rationing this month prompted i n dignant state officials to pose for pictures in front of dams brimming with water to show there was no shortage. Syabas hit back with images showing treatment plants at low reserve capacity, bolstering its case for the new plant.

“The responsibility for ensuring that Selangor has enough water treatment plants lies with the Selangor state government,” it said in a statement released on Thursday.

Selangor has threatened to take over the water company’s operations, a bid that was rejected by the government. The state government remains set on a takeover and is going ahead with plans to sack Rozali, aiming to use its 30 percent stake in Syabas to trigger a vote of no-confidence.

The federal government wants to open tenders for the new plant in a month, but it needs Selangor’s permission to proceed.

The state government says the plant would lead to a steep rise in water tariffs and that projections for water consumption and population growth used to justify its construction are too high. Instead, it wants 225 million ringgit from the federal government to upgrade two existing plants and is prepared to add 200-300 million ringgit of its own funds.

Selangor state sources say the level of non-revenue water — the volume lost before it reaches the customer — at Syabas is above 33 percent. That measure of efficiency compares with Singapore’s 5 percent, Denmark’s 6 percent, and even falls short of Bangladesh’s 29 percent, they say.

Campaigners against Syabas are urging the company to open its books to show if there really is a shortage.

“Failing to do so would only prove that the water crisis is manufactured,” said Charles Santiago, an opposition member of parliament and coordinator of the Coalition Against Water Privatisation group.

  1. #1 by Bigjoe on Sunday, 29 July 2012 - 8:22 pm

    Honestly, UMNO/BN deserved to kicked out of office, as wikileaks suggest their Singapore counterpart said, for sheer INCOMPETENCE. They may have literally guaranteed Khalid Ibrahim and PR Selangor back in power with their incompetence.

    The water ‘crises’ together with others like Talam ‘scandal’, Unisel PTPN thingy etc. made Khalid Ibrahim and PR Selangor HEROIC in no uncertain terms. Selangorian as well as others are now noticing the numbers and accomplishments of PR Selangor and have to admit sheer admiration..

    Honestly, if I were Najib, I would have the heads of the people who created the mess of the water ‘crises’ and the Talam ‘scandal’..

  2. #2 by yhsiew on Sunday, 29 July 2012 - 8:49 pm

    ///The federal government wants to open tenders for the new plant in a month….///

    Stop all show and pretense please; tenders or no tenders, the winner is already pre-selected. BN cronies should stop milking Selangorians.

  3. #3 by Winston on Sunday, 29 July 2012 - 9:09 pm

    The federal government is even stupid enough to try to push all their misdeeds for the past five and a half decades onto the opposition.
    By getting their MSM to blame PR for all their misdeeds.
    But with the Malaysian electorate being so much better informed, it is a very stupid more.
    It is helping PR by reminding the electorate that they just cannot tolerate UMNO/BN, not just for one more term, but even for a minute!
    Their fate is sealed!
    They are doomed!

  4. #4 by good coolie on Sunday, 29 July 2012 - 9:09 pm

    Which is better, using water-terrorism or the original terrorism? Friends, we will just drink less water and defeat the water-terrorists, but not from water bottles, which are dangerous weapons (Barisan said).

  5. #5 by monsterball on Sunday, 29 July 2012 - 11:05 pm

    First they accused Bersih use mineral water to topple the government.
    “Water” deep into crooks minds and now like Teresa Kok said….UMNO b using WATER to squeeze millions from consumers.
    Santiago challenged them to open the books to show if there is really a shortage.
    Out come the mastermind….Najib scolding Government buggers unable to solve the problem…twisting again.
    Dumb dumb must support the master twister as billions are spent to promote what a fantastic PM he is.
    Consumers of water left off temporarily.
    What is new idea to squeeze…wait and see.

  6. #6 by monsterball on Sunday, 29 July 2012 - 11:16 pm

    All seem to forget ….we have Security crisis for the past 2 years and house dwellers are made to pay fees to private people to safeguard their properties.
    Only under Najib this is happening.
    Thousand of policemen are paid to guard and protect UMNO b politicians from harm’s way.
    That’s how precious Malaysians are to Najib…..”you protect yourself”…”karki koo karki”

  7. #7 by k1980 on Monday, 30 July 2012 - 2:01 am

    PKR has more Malaysian Indian MPs and ADUNs than MIC. Yet Palinivel has the audacity to say that more Indians now support Umno/BN.

  8. #8 by gofortruth on Monday, 30 July 2012 - 2:09 am

    OMG 33% water loss before it reaches customers is a CRIME! The CEO must be FIRED!

  9. #9 by k1980 on Monday, 30 July 2012 - 2:24 am

    umno’s theme for Malaysia Day on 16th Sept—“Thanks to Jibby, we live in the best democracy in the world”

  10. #10 by Jeffrey on Monday, 30 July 2012 - 7:24 am

    “Access to safe water is a fundamental human need and therefore a basic human right,” said Kofi Annan, United Nations Secretary General. It is not right to hold Selangorians hostage to access water just to play political arm twisting games and score political brownie points to recover political control of the richest $ state. To do so puts expedience and $ above what is right. Just like the Constitutional Crisis in Perak, to pay $ and purchase crossovers to recover control of Perak. At national level the largesse of money payments is resorted – to households/students, the RM500 of1Malaysia People’s Aid or BRIM; civil servants get their bonuses, and now “duit raya” totalling RM43.2 million for all Felda settlers to ameliorate many objection to FGVH (listing). Those who receive bribes think that hatred for this practice may be ameliorated/soothed by same expedience of bribes, never mind that financial windfall thrown the way of rakyat is from their own money in Consolidated Fund or EPF! Something like Gold Ponzi scheme that could pays 3% monthly interest by selling gold at 20 or 30% higher price and using that margin to pay the buyer back!

  11. #11 by Jeffrey on Monday, 30 July 2012 - 7:28 am

    The prevailing thinking and golden thread running through all initiatives is money and throwing money can solve and buy anything (votes) and anybody. Any negative developments affecting image, contain it by finding a convenient scapegoat whether in PKFZ, NFC or Sime fiascos, never mind fair or not fair! Which also means political leadership at the moment has lost all moral cause. It does not have a vision; it does not try lead those whom it govern to the right path. It never asks the question, “is this right” as a means to garner electoral votes. It always asks, “is this course expedient, is it popular but never is this right or fair! It assumes semua including support can be bought by money thrown, and all that is essential in political vision offered by leadership is vision of the $ sign as benchmark – and always never whether it is the right or wrong course! This suggest that people governing have a very dim & cynical view of moral fibre or intelligence of those whom it depends on and canvass for support.

  12. #12 by dagen wanna "ABU" on Monday, 30 July 2012 - 9:14 am

    Running out of dusts to kick. So kick water instead. But no worries. All of umno’s shots are aimed at their own two feet. Soon umno would have no foot with which it could do any kicking. Or walking for that matter. Then we will just carry them up and dump them over the cliff – during GE13 of course.

  13. #13 by dagen wanna "ABU" on Monday, 30 July 2012 - 9:27 am

    Hmmmm …. so what the heck is going on in sabah? Are we seeing a meltdown of BN esp umno?

  14. #14 by ablastine on Monday, 30 July 2012 - 9:34 am

    I would bet that the 33% non revenue water does not just represent inefficiencies of Syabas but creative leakages into the pockets of stakeholders. At 33% it might even be cheaper to pump the water to Singapore (5%) to be processed and suck it back for local consumption.

  15. #15 by sotong on Monday, 30 July 2012 - 1:19 pm

    Complain of water rationing, now they might switch it off completely.

    This is what you could get if you mess around with powerful company/people.

  16. #16 by lkt-56 on Monday, 30 July 2012 - 4:35 pm

    The people of Selangor are the ones who have to suffer while the Selangor government and Syabas argue over who is to be blamed for the current water shortage (if indeed there is a shortage). From what I see Syabas is suing the Selangor givernment for loss of profit while the Selangor government claims that Syabas has failed to fulfill its obligations in the concession agreement to reduce non revenue water. They can fight it out in court. But what is being done to give us crystal clear water instead of tea coloured water? What is being done to increase the pressure of water supply to our houses? On weekends when most people are home, the pressure is low and flow unbearably slow. Our housing estate being an old estate suffer from regular burst pipes. These problems has been going on for a few years. Now we are threatened with rationing. If the Selangor can provide a solution to solve these problems, it will send shivers down the spine of the federal government. Let us have some action please.

  17. #17 by lkt-56 on Monday, 30 July 2012 - 4:51 pm

    Anyone knows who is the regulatory body that monitors the performance of Syabas? What has this regulatory body got to say about Syabas’ performance?

  18. #18 by Winston on Monday, 30 July 2012 - 10:01 pm

    Many Malaysians don’t seem to realise that in spite of being in power since Independence, the federal government has done almost nothing positive that is in the interests of the people.
    That’s why we get dirty water because the pipes are corroded.
    That’s also why the pipes burst very frequently.
    That’s why the water pressure is so low.
    Even such an important function of the government has been ignored.
    Now they say they want to channel water from Pahang.
    And it will take a few years to take effect and have the water flowing to Selangor.
    And they are talking about water shortages NOW!
    So, how can the project help?
    According to the Selangor government, all their dams are full, some to overflowing.
    If that is the case, having more water channeled from Pahang is like the proverbial “Carrying coal to New Castle”!
    Or sending ice to the Eskimos!
    According to the Selangor government, the problem lies in the shortfall of treated water from the incumbent water treatment company.
    Perhaps those who are conversant with this aspect can do a check and state his views.

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