I refer to the malaysiakini report Water concession agreement 'top secret' .
I was appalled to learn for the above report that the government is insisting that the details of the agreement that was signed between the people of Malaysia (represented by the government) and Syabas will not be made public on the grounds that it is secret and confidential. What is there to hide?
We are talking about the supply of clean, potable water for the people - a basic human right and an equally basic responsibility of the government, which it has chosen to abdicate to a private sector entity whose raison d'etre is to make profits (which it has been doing very well indeed). The very least the government can do now is to tell us the terms under which it has signed away its responsibility to the people.
Energy, Water and Communications Minister Lim Keng Yaik seems to be only interested in 'justifying' to the people why they will have to pay a higher tariff - because it is 'provided for in the concession agreement' (notice the similarity to Works Minister S Samy Vellu's 'justification' for toll hikes?) Yet when we ask what exactly is in the concession agreements, they have the temerity to tell us that the concession terms are secret and that we should be satisfied because the cabinet has approved the rate increase!
The secretary of the ministry's water division, Japar Abu, says that Syabas is entitled to get the increment in the water tariff because Syabas has apparently succeeded in reducing by 5% non- revenue water (NRW) that is water stolen or lost through leakage or not accounted for due to organisational inefficiencies). There are three questions demand answers:
First, what is significant about a 5% reduction in NRW that it warrants a hike in rates? Second, why is the government not willing to make public the audit report which purportedly confirms that Syabas has indeed achieved the 5% reduction in NRW? It seems strange that the public is denied access to the audit report - paid for with public funds - and which is being used as the basis for asking the public to pay more for the water.
Third, one would have thought that if NRW is reduced, profits for the company would increase. So why penalise the public if Syabas has succeeded in reducing wastage - something which any self-respecting company should be doing anyway in order to remain competitive.
Lim Keng Yaik and his team should be put on notice that the public views the water concession agreement as murky as the water that is usually supplied to the public. Secrecy and confidentiality when dealing with public sector concessions are totally unacceptable from a government which got its mandate based on its election pledge to root out corruption and to promote transparency and good governance.
If the government persists in making and maintaining secret deals with concessionaires, the public can only conclude that there is something very shady and unsavoury about the deals - why fear public scrutiny otherwise? It is time the prime minister walks the talk, even if he cannot get his ministers to do so.
Lim Keng Yaik should publicise the Syabas concession agreement on its website in order for the public to know what to expect from Syabas. Furthermore, if the government intends to enter into any other concessions (as undoubtedly it will), it should publicise the proposed concession terms well in advance for public review and comment.
If this condition is not acceptable to the proposed concessionaire, there will surely be others who would be ready to do 'national service' by accepting to undertake a concession which brings in profits in the region of RM200 million a year, in addition to some very lucrative remuneration for its directors.