Parliamentary Select Committee on Water Policy and Legislation should be set up before end of present parliamentary meeting so that MPs could begin work immediately without any undue delay
by Lim Kit Siang
(Parliament, Friday): I welcome the assurance by the Minister for Energy, Water and Communications Datuk Seri Dr. Lim Keng Yaik yesterday that he had no intention to bulldoze the two water bills, the Water Services Industry Bill and the National Water Services Commission Bill, in Parliament and that he would respect “the voice of Parliament”, promising to resubmit the proposal for a Parliamentary Select Committee to the Cabinet next Wednesday.
In a parliamentary democracy, where there is the true doctrine of the separation of powers among the Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary as the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had pledged to restore and uphold in his maiden official speech which was made in Parliament on 3rd November 2004, Ministers individually and the Cabinet collectively must not only “respect” but yield and submit to the “voice of Parliament” – or Parliament would become a mockery, reduced to a mere rubber-stamp and appendage of the Executive.
Keng Yaik should not just be a postman of Parliament to resubmit to Cabinet the proposal for a Parliamentary Select Committee on the two water bills, but be the advocate on behalf of MPs to convince the Cabinet why it is right and proper that such a Parliamentary Select Committee should be formed.
Keng Yaik said yesterday that he did not at anytime in the past made any promise to set up a select committee as he only promised to take the MPs’ request to the Cabinet. Implicit in this undertaking is that he would not go behind the back of the MPs to oppose the establishment of a Parliamentary Select Committee in Cabinet, as his undertaking would be totally meaningless if he is going to secretly lobby against the proposition, rendering him guilty of trifling with the MPs, whether Barisan Nasional or Opposition.
I have no doubt that if Keng Yaik had fully conveyed and represented the legitimate views and positions of the MPs in earlier Cabinet meetings, the Cabinet would not have vetoed the establishment of the Parliamentary Select Committee and it would have been set up already and even started work.
MPs can agree with Keng Yaik about the urgency to have a regulatory framework for the water industry in the country, but Parliament is not the cause for any delay in bringing the water legislation to the statute books.
Keng Yaik himself admits that he had expected to table the two water bills for Cabinet approval next Wednesday on April 20, but he is now unable to do so even for the following Wednesday as only the English version of the Bills would be ready.
The urgency for national water legislation and regulatory framework cannot be an excuse to violate one of the most fundamental principles in the formulation and enactment of national water policy and legislation – the involvement of all stakeholders and sectors of society to create a consensus on a national vision on water from a full range of policy options.
Keng Yaik has claimed for instance that NGOs support the two water bills, but my information is different, as trade unions like the MTUC and in particular the Coalition Against Water Privatisation comprising some 30 civil society groups had been excluded from such consultation.
During the January debate in Parliament, Keng Yaik had said that he did not understand what Malaysian water specialist, Charles Santiago meant in advocating “Public-Public Partnership (PUP)” as an alternative to water privatization or PPP (Public-Private Partnership).
Anyone who googled “Water Public-Public Partnership” would be returned with 8,710 files, a mountain of literature on the PUP concept and practice, as well as the definition of PUP as “a partnership where the public sector (government) contracts another public sector or statutory body (e.g. a water board) to deliver services.”
This episodes highlights the need for a more extensive and meaningful public consultation process involving all stakeholders, including MPs and the consumers, before the two water bills are passed, which will have far-reaching repercussions for future generations.
Although the two water bills will not be ready for presentation to Parliament until the June meeting – through no fault of MPs – a Parliamentary Select Committee on Water Policy and Legislation should be set up before the end of present parliamentary meeting on April 28 so that MPs could begin work immediately without any undue delay on the two draft bills and a national water policy as a whole.
I hope Keng Yaik can advocate the establishment of a Parliamentary Select Committee on Water Policy and Legislation and secure Cabinet approval next Wednesday, so that such a Select Committee can be formed in the last week of April and start immediate work even before the presentation of the two water bills in June.
Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman