New Water Bill should provide for proper sanctions against water companies for supplying water unfit for human consumption


at the “Joint Consultation on Water Supply Privatisation” organized by Research For Social Advancement (REFSA), MTUC and Group of Concerned Citizens (GCC)
by Lim Kit Siang

(Ipoh, Sunday): The Energy, Water and Communications Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Lim Keng Yaik  is very proud of what he had learnt in his visit to the United Kingdom for the formulation of a national water policy and a blueprint for the water services industry, but he seems to have omitted some essential lessons from the British example. 

During the recent debate in the special parliamentary sitting on water federalization and privatization, I had asked  Keng Yaik during his Ministerial  winding-up whether he had seen or studied the initial and partial RIAs of the two water bills being prepared by his Ministry.  Keng Yaik was completely in the dark and had to ask what is this “RIA”! 

As Keng Yaik claimed that he had made a detailed study of the British experience of water policy and privatization, it is surprising that he does not know that the RIA concept has become an essential part of the policy-making process in the United Kingdom to assess the impact, in terms of risks, costs and benefits, of any proposed legislation.  

In addition to Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Social Impact Assessment (SIA), the formulation of the national water policy by the Ministry of Energy, Water and Communications should be the occasion to introduce the concept of RIAs to inform the policy decision-making process and communicate clearly the objectives, options, costs, benefits and risks of the legislative and regulatory proposals to the public to increase the transparency of the process.

There are three stages to an RIA in the United Kingdom experience:

  • Initial RIA. Carried out at the early policy development stage. This can help identify areas where departments need more information.
  • Partial RIA. This builds on the Initial RIA and should accompany the formal public consultation for the proposal.
  • Final RIA. This builds on the analysis in the Partial RIA, updating it in the light of consultation and further analysis and information. The Final RIA should accompany legislation when presented to Parliament.

I urge Keng Yaik to be the first Minister in the country to introduce  the concept of RIA, starting with the two draft water legislation on the National Water Services Commission and the water services industry. 

In the United Kingdom, water companies are prosecuted for supplying drinking water deemed unfit for human consumption. In fact, in the new UK Water Act 2003, which is supposed to be the model legislation for Keng Yaik,  the maximum penalty for supplying water unfit for human consumption had been enhanced. 

In Malaysia, no water company had ever been prosecuted for supplying water unfit for human consumption, even when the tap produces muddy water clearly undrinkable for human beings. 

As Keng Yaik has gone on public record to declare after he became the Minister responsible for water that “Gone are the days in Malaysia when you could drink water straight from the taps”,  he should ensure that that new Water  Services Bill which would be presented for first reading in the March Parliament would  provide for proper sanctions against water companies for supplying water unfit for human consumption in any part of Malaysia.


* Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman