Cabinet should not yield to the pressures of vested interests of water companies to reverse its January decision to set up Parliamentary Select Committee on water federalization and privatization and the two water bills
by Lim Kit Siang
(Parliament, Friday): Minister for Energy, Water and Communications Datuk Seri Dr. Lim Keng Yaik yesterday made a surprise disclosure of Cabinet reversal of its January decision to set up a Parliamentary Select Committee on water federalization and privatization and the two water bills of National Water Services Commission (SPAN) and the water services industry. (Sin Chew Daily)
He said the Cabinet has agreed not to have a Parliamentary Select Committee on the two water bills as it would involve a tedious process which will be very timestaking of at least one year.
The Cabinet should not yield to the pressures of vested interests of water companies to reverse its January decision to set up Parliamentary Select Committee on water federalization and privatization and the two water bills.
DAP had welcomed the Cabinet decision on January 19 to refer water federalization and privatization as well as the two water bills to a parliamentary select committee for deeper study and public feedback, although the parliamentary select committee should have been set up before Parliament passed the Constitution Amendment Bill 2004 on water federalization and privatization. This was most unconstitutional, “putting the cart before the horse”, but as I said at the time, “half a loaf is better than no bread”.
Now the “half a loaf” is being taken away with the Cabinet decision to reverse its decision on the Parliamentary Select Committee on the two water bills, without any satisfactory reason.
After the Cabinet meeting on January 19, the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz had said that those worried about escalating water tariffs once the government takes over water management would have an opportunity to make representations to the Parliamentary Select Committee. According to Nazri, the Parliamentary Select Committee would be headed by Keng Yaik and will comprise six other MPs, with two members from the Opposition, one each from DAP and PAS.
Nazri said the Parliamentary Select Committee would have three to six months with which to gather public feedback and present its report to Parliament, so that the two water bills could be passed by the end of the year.
The reversal of the Cabinet decision to set up a Parliamentary Select Committee on water federalization and privatization is a setback to a programme of wide-ranging parliamentary reforms to make the Malaysian Parliament a “First-World Parliament”, where MPs regardless of political party play a meaningful role in the decision-making process for laws and policies.
The poor government commitment to consultative governance and parliamentary reforms is also highlighted by the one-sided handling of privatization contracts, such as the recent announcement by the Works Minister, Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu that the government will amend the law to allow Projek Lebuhraya Utara-Selatan (PLUS) to fine motorists suspected of cheating toll payment.
Samy Vellu said PLUS loses about RM25 million a year and so far an estimated 3,500 road users, namely lorry drivers, have been found to have cheated the concessionaire. Just as PLUS had falsely claimed that it has the legal right to impose “fines” under its North-South Expressway (NSE) concession on “overstaying motorists”, Parliamentarians must verify PLUS claims about its losses and be satisfied as to why toll cheats are not handed to the police and charged in court instead.
I had once told Samy Vellu that if PLUS is to be allowed to fine motorists for “overstaying” in the NSE, PLUS must also be required to compensate motorists when they are held up on the expressway for an excessively long period because of massive traffic jams in violation of its pledge to provide a “smooth, safe and fast journey”.
Before there is one-sided variation of the NSE concession just to benefit the concessionaire, the North-South concession should be made public to allow for public feedback as how to vary it to make it fair and reasonable to the motorists.
This is a subject which should come before a Parliamentary Select Committee on Privatisation, empowered to address all abuses and public dissatisfaction about privatization in the country.
* Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman