No water, no talk
THE prime minister has announced the formation of the Water Supply Fund under Budget 2017 with an allocation of RM500 million. Unfortunately, this is not positive news as it shows the severity of the water issue at national level.
We aspire to be a developed nation by 2020 and water is part of our national security. Short disruptions once or twice a month may be tolerable but reoccurrence with higher frequency will start to create more issues and challenges for our economy.
When a pollution incident takes place, the water treatment plant concerned will be shut down immediately. This will cause the water reserves in the balancing reservoir and service reservoirs to deplete in meeting the demand for treated water. A drop in pressure and water disruptions occur after the reserves run out. There will be losses incurred by the manufacturing and commercial sectors and domestic consumers, they will be put under stress.
The water treatment plant also incurs losses due to shutdown and water supply company has to prepare emergency water supply services. We must claim all these losses through the wrongdoer(s) and why should the water tariff absorb this cost?
At the moment, the Environment Quality Act (EQA) allows the Department of Environment (DoE) to recover the cost incurred in clean-up of the pollution on top of the penalty. Losses to industrial, commercial and domestic consumers as well as the water company cannot be claimed.
Awer would like to propose a new clause to be added into the Water Services Industry Act 2006 to allow such losses to be claimed. The National Water Services Commission (SPAN) should also develop subsequent rules and procedures to standardise the claim process against the wrongdoer.
But, before any claim is done, we need to identify the cause of a pollution incident and eventually catch the wrongdoer.
Let’s look at the pollution incident that took place in Sg Semenyih and Sg Semantan. DoE came late to collect samples and the blame game startd between state and federal government agencies.
The legal requirement to prosecute someone under EQA requires DoE to take samples. The department’s enforcement arm must be enhanced and there should be a team operating round the clock.
So, if DoE misses the boat, can the wrongdoer go free? Can SPAN take samples? Is SPAN empowered to take samples? Is SPAN allowed to enter premises with or without a warrant to collect evidence? Do not be surprised, SPAN has the power.
The Water Services Industry Act 2006 (WSIA) is a very important law that protects the water services industry. SPAN is the technical, economic and service regulator. Those who pollute raw water can be prosecuted under Section 121.
If death is the result of the polluting act, then death is the punishment for the wrongdoer. There are other penalties in terms of jail terms as well as financial penalty.
Section 148 gives the power of investigation to SPAN to implement WSIA, including Section 121.
In addition to that, Section 149 allows SPAN officers to enter with a warrant and Section 150 is used to enter without a warrant. In an act of pollution, SPAN can utilise Section 150 to enter premises. However, SPAN also has to develop subsidiary legislation to ensure the prosecution process is not flawed.
Therefore, since in many of the pollution incidents SPAN officers can arrive faster (for a young entity with small workforce), we urge SPAN to utilise the legal powers vested upon them to go after the wrongdoer.
Even if DoE (a larger outfit with a huge staff force) arrive late, SPAN officers still can collect samples. At least, we can prosecute the wrongdoer under WSIA and claim all the losses.
Maybe such competition will assist in better protection of our raw water resources.
This article was contributed by Piarapakaran S, president of the Association of Water and Energy Research Malaysia (Awer), a nongovernment organisation involved in research and development in the fields of water, energy and environment.