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Wading into deeper waters

July 24, 2012

The water players are courting extreme danger when they hold millions of people to ransom all in the name of politics.

The federal government is playing a dangerous game when it uses water as a weapon to punish people who gave their mandate to the opposition to govern their state. Water is a precious commodity and every citizen has right of access to it. It is a common property which cannot be tampered with for political purposes. Cutting off water supply to score political points is inviting trouble.

It appears that the battle for control of the water resources of Selangor will intensify given the adamant stance of the central government, which wants to retake the richest state in the country by means fair or foul. In water the bully sees a chance to squeeze the people dry until they cry out for federal help. It is a crude strategy designed to sow fear in the people at the prospect of taps running dry. Going for maximum effect, the power of the mainstream media was harnessed to hammer home the grim message. The howling headlines did indeed frighten consumers. But it also whipped up their anger against these heartless power players.

What is the water issue all about? Stripped of all the layers of polemics and rhetoric, the matter is quite simple. One water concessionaire – Syabas – is a sole distributor of treated water to the Klang Valley, which has a population of seven million. Because of the burgeoning population, the concessionaire wants to build another treatment plant to meet the soaring demand of consumers. But the Selangor government refuses to approve the RM3.94 billion project to source raw water from Pahang because there are enough treatment plants in Selangor. The concessionaire then beat the drums of war when it warned of serious consequences. The crux of the matter is money.

All parties who have vested interest in the lucrative multibillion contract will lose out if the project is washed down the drain. The public perception is that the concessionaire is deliberately creating problems for the state government. It is as if it is acting on instructions from its political bosses when it went to town screaming: Water crisis looming! Grim images of residents queuing up for water were splashed across the pages of the dependable dailies and allies. With all solemnity, the concessionaire wants to rush to the government to seek permission to start water rationing right away. It was a dumb show because all the dams are filled to the brim.

Water, politics intertwined

The so-called crisis could have been avoided if all matters related to water are placed beyond the reach of politics. A truly federal government would ensure that all states would enjoy uninterrupted supply of water regardless of political affiliations. If a drought hits a state, federal assistance should be prompt and swift. If a tunnel has to be built to transfer water from one state to another, it must be done without any political intrusion. If the state can restructure its water industry without outside interference, it should be allowed to proceed unhindered. If the water concessionaire is incompetent and inefficient in treating water, the state should terminate its services without further ado.

But in Malaysia water and politics have become inextricably linked. The water concessionaire in Selangor is seen wedded to the politics of the governing party. Such a “marriage” could only bring disastrous consequences.

Suspicion is growing that the water supplier and the federal boss are working in cahoots to create a state of emergency so that the crisis would trigger the downfall of the state government in the battle of the ballot box. The voters would be expected to flee in droves to the water gods and deliver to them the biggest prize in return for the exilir of life. With the wave of a wand, the taps would flow again. But such trickery would not come to pass in the face of growing resentment.

When people are deprived of water, they would become extremely agitated. They would go berserk because thirst would drive them to the edge of sanity. They would eventually lose their sanity and go on a rampage. The water players are courting extreme danger when they hold millions of people to ransom all in the name of politics. Trouble would flare when patience runs thin. The “bucket army” could turn into a potent force with their water votes. Don’t play God. Don’t play with fire. Don’t play with water.


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