February 28, 2009

Water, Water Everywhere

Posted in Economics, Selangor at 7:27 pm by egalitaria

“Water, Water Everywhere and not a drop to drink” is the quote most often in my head these days. No, I haven’t been obsessing about Coleridge’s “Ryme of the Ancient Mariner”, but have been rather involved in the water restructuring issue in Selangor recently. 

It’s actually a water fight, more like it. The Edge has a good report here.

Although it’s the financial and business news that’s been reporting on it mainly, I think the issue is beginning to take ground amongst the main papers and some blogs. Which is good because this is going to affect ALL consumers in Selangor and Kuala Lumpur. 

What is happening and why is it so important? In short, the Selangor water industry is in the midst of getting restructured. All this needs to be resolved by end of March or there will be a 31% tariff increase. 

The original plan was for the Selangor State Government to negotiate with the concession companies to buy them over. But before the offer expired, the Federal Government stepped in and announced it would negotiate directly with the concession companies because the State was taking too much time. They have sidestepped the State completely and this amounts to sabotage.

This is really bad news for us all because: 

  1. The Federal Government will be dealing with their crony companies Syabas and Puncak Niaga behind closed doors. More shady wheeling-dealing that has been going on for too many years. 
  2. The Federal Government will offer a higher price for the companies’ assets (compared to the State’s offer) and this is actually a Backdoor Bail-Out because they are heavily in debt today. 
  3. There will be a tariff increase in water as opposed to the State which is fighting to ensure NO tariff increases at all.
  4. The Federal Government will most likely continue to use Syabas as a licensed operator and we all know how bad the quality of water and services is today – just think about the quality of water you are receiving today at home… 

There have been a lot of silly statements coming from the Federal Government recently, and it’s tough because it can be a media perception war. And we all know what/who controls the media. 

For example, the Minister of Energy, Water and Communications said that they took the lead in negotiations for other states and were only “allowing” the Selangor State Government to take the lead. This is rubbish, because Water is a state affair. Please read the Federal Constitution. Water is listed under the Ninth Schedule as being a matter of the State. See here. 

Also, the decision to allow the State to lead negotiations was a Cabinet directive. Unless this decision has been revoked (which has not taken place), the State still has the mandate to be involved. Third, it is contravening the Water Services Industry Act 2006 if the State is excluded completely from these negotiations. Obviously, the State Government HAS to be involved – it is ridiculous to exclude the State from any decisions on water.

This exercise is an admission of the failure of privatisation. The Government privatised water, made the people lose out, and now in the de-privatisation process wants to benefit and prosper the rich crony companies yet again. Once bitten, twice shy, the saying goes. The people are wiser than that. 

CEO of Puncak Niaga Tan Sri Rozali Ismail was reported to have received RM5.1 million in 2007 as Director’s Fees. He claimed that “one must be willing to pay for a professional”. As far as I know, he is a lawyer and has had little experience in the water industry, much less a major international player. 

The bottomline is this: the Federal Government cannot bail out these crony companies. For the sake of the people whose taxpayer’s money will go to filling these greedy little pockets, this backdoor bailout should stop. 

Water, tolls, highways, hospitals, sewerage, and so on… all these are public utilities that should never have been privatised in the first place.

February 12, 2009

Universal Periodic Review of Malaysia’s Human Rights

Posted in Malaysia at 8:17 pm by egalitaria

There is a team of people comprising NGOs who are right now in Geneva, Switzerland, attending the Universal Periodic Review which is organised by the United Nations Human Rights Council. Malaysia’s national report is also being presented there. The UPR is basically a review of countries’ human rights records and this is the first time Malaysia is being reviewed.

Based on live feedback coming to us from Geneva, the consultation with NGOs has been rather perfunctory.

Also, Malaysia’s presentation at the UPR is apparently not truly reflective of what has been taking place on the ground in the past year(s). We cannot really forget the numerous incidents of human rights abuses that have stared us in the face including the multiple ISA arrests, the death of Kugan in police custody (which is only the tip of the iceberg really), the adamant refusal to admit that the migrant workers and refugees in Malaysia are treated shabbily to say the least.. and the list goes on.

In any case, I will leave some of those attending the session to tell the story with the press statement below.

Malaysia’s First UPR: Too Much Praise, Too Little Progress

 

The United Nations Human Rights Council conducted its inaugural review of Malaysia’s human rights record today. At the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), Malaysia’s national report was presented by Tan Sri Rastam Mohd Isa, Secretary General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Attorney General, Tan Sri Abdul Ghani Patail, and Datuk Faizah Tahir, Secretary General of the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development made additional statements. Representatives of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) from the Coalition of Malaysian Non-Governmental Organisations in the UPR Process (COMANGO), and the Jaringan Orang Asal SeMalaysia (JOAS) were present. Representatives of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) also attended.

 

The UPR process compels the government to critically assess Malaysia’s human rights record, in consultation with SUHAKAM and NGOs. However, the consultation with NGOs has been superficial, patchy and cursory.

 

Malaysia’s presentation during the review today described some of its successes without acknowledging any shortcomings. The government highlighted the overall reduction of poverty but failed to address the increase in income disparity, e.g. within the Bumiputra community.

 

Malaysia also made some inaccurate statements. “The government claimed that the rights of indigenous peoples were well protected under existing legislation. Mexico and Qatar correctly raised the issue of the rights of indigenous peoples which needs better protection. I urge the government to accept Mexico’s recommendation to ratify the ILO Convention No. 169 concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries. I am also disappointed that the government only mentioned Orang Asli and the Penans thus leaving out the other indigenous groups in Sabah and Sarawak,” said Mark Bujang of JOAS. According to Giyoun Kim, UN Advocacy programme manager of the Asian Forum of Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), “With all the several country visit requests made by the Special Procedures mandate holders since 2002, the Malaysian Government only repeated its rhetoric excuses that it remains open to further discussions and is willing to consider the requests positively on the merit of each proposal. It is regrettable that Malaysia, as a member of the Human Rights Council, did not present any will to closely cooperate with the Special Procedures by way of declaring standing invitations to these mandate holders to visit Malaysia, as encouraged by several countries.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Selangor to take over Water Concessionaires’ Assets

Posted in Malaysia at 3:49 pm by egalitaria

I will be putting up the Selangor press statements on my blog. The first one here is on an issue that is really quite an urgent one: the restructuring of the Selangor state’s water industry. I hope people will understand the importance of this whole deal. There’ll be a public briefing to be held soon to clarify matters. I’m looking forward to it.

STATE GOVERNMENT IS PREPARED TO TAKE OVER SELANGOR WATER CONCESSIONAIRE’S ASSETS

SHAH ALAM – The Selangor State Government is serious in ensuring that the restructuring of the water services industry in Selangor is implemented effectively, to provide maximum benefit to the people.

After six months of being engaged in the process of restructuring the water industry that has involved multiple parties, the State government is now ready to make an offer to take over the assets and equity owned by four water concession companies.

The State Executive Council has agreed today to release the offer letters within these two days to the four concessionaires, which are Konsortium ABASS Sdn Bhd (ABASS), Puncak Niaga (M) Sdn Bhd, Syarikat Pengeluara Air Selangor Holdings Berhad (SPLASH) and Syarikat Bekalan Air Selangor (SYABAS).

Before making this decision, the State Government, through its Water Review Panel that was established to review the restructuring process of the water industry in Selangor, has conducted a detailed study into the valuation and calculation of all companies’ assets and equity. It must be stressed that public interest was of primary importance when making this decision.

The State Government’s offer to all concession companies is one that is fair, taking into account the considerations of all stakeholders and will not negatively impact any of them. The rate of return and profit that will be earned by the companies is considered as fair.

It is the hope of the State Government that all parties will agree with this offer, in order that the restructuring process of the water services industry in Selangor is implemented before 31st of March, at the request of the Ministry of Energy, Water and Communications. The co-operation of all would avoid any increase in water tariffs, which if implemented would burden the rakyat especially during an impending economic slowdown.

The State Government is aware that the restructuring of the water industry in Selangor affects its residents and feels that the rakyat has a right to understand the issues involved. To that end, the Selangor Menteri Besar’s Office will hold a Public Briefing on a date to be soon announced. The Briefing is to provide updates and information on the situation to all stakeholders in the state, especially since the issue is one that needs complex analysis and explanation.

The public will then receive background explanations on the restructuring process of the water industry in Selangor, with relevant information, and the direction the State Government is headed in the entire process.

The Briefing is expected to be attended by industries affected by the water industry, policy makers at state and national level, civil society, non-governmental organizations, academicians, the private sector and members of the public.

PRESS SECRETARIAT

PEJABAT DATO’ MENTERI BESAR SELANGOR

February 11, 2009

Launch of Open Budget Index

Posted in Malaysia at 8:33 pm by egalitaria

How transparent is our Malaysian National Budget? 

While I was part of the CPPS, I conducted the country-level research on the Open Budget Initiative. This fed into an international index, which will be launched this Friday.

The Open Budget Index will for the first time include Malaysia on its list. The scores for Malaysia show we have a pretty low ranking – scoring about 35% out of a potential 100% – that can be viewed here. The government of Malaysia provides minimal to little information on the budget, which is the second lowest possible rank that a country can have. The range is “Extensive”, “Significant”, “Minimal” and “Scant to None”. See Malaysia’s full report here. We have a long way to go in ensuring that budget documents provide fuller information to the public so we know what taxpayers’ money is being spent on. 

Budget transparency is important because the national budget is one of the most crucial documents. This is the document that determines the entire financial health of the country in any particular year. 

In Malaysia, the proposal provides some information to the public, 

meaning citizens have a general, albeit incomplete, picture of the 

government’s plans for taxing and spending for the upcoming year.  

Moreover, it is somewhat difficult to track spending, revenue collection 

and borrowing during the year.  Even though in-year reports are published, 

they are incomplete, and a mid-year review is not released to the public.  

Publishing this document could strengthen public accountability by 

providing a more comprehensive update on how the budget is being 

implemented during the year. 

I won’t divulge too much information here, since the launch will be on Friday. All are invited to the launch, which will have representatives from the CPPS making presentations on the research that was conducted to showing how publicly available budget information has been. Click here for more information on the launch.

Date:      13th February 2009 (Friday)

Time:      9.30am – 11.00am

Venue:    Ballroom 2 – Level 1, Corus Hotel, Jalan Ampang 50450 Kuala Lumpur

Selangor Girl

Posted in Malaysia at 8:23 pm by egalitaria

It has been almost one full month since I’ve taken a slight career shift. Some would know already that I decided to leave from my previous employment at the Centre for Public Policy Studies (CPPS) and move onto something different at the Selangor State Government. I started at the Selangor Menteri Besar’s Office (for lack of an English translation, it is “Chief Minister”) in mid-January 2009 and am employed as a Research Officer there. So far, so good. A very steep learning curve and I am looking forward to working hard. 

It is indeed a change in environment of sorts. Many people would have known me in relation to the work done previously at the CPPS, research and forums and policy factsheets from an independent, non-partisan point of view. Back at the CPPS, the issues I was (and still am) most passionate about included national unity, race and religious relations, good governance, budget transparency, socioeconomic policy, human rights and young Malaysians.

Working on state-level issues is a different ball game altogether. Although all the macro and national-level issues are still extremely close to my heart, I am now confronted with the reality of governing a state – and not a small state at that – at the ground level. Such a broad spectrum of issues one has to grapple with on a daily basis, taking into consideration many parties’ opinions (not political party mind you!) and weighing options carefully. 

I am enjoying it thoroughly, even the long days at times. In a way, the unique combination of having come from an independent, semi-civil society-think tank-organisation observing from the outside, with the current opportunity to see the operations and clockwork from the inside – allow me to expand my own perspectives on the way I see Malaysia and society around me. 

The guiding principles that I – and many others – stood for have not changed. In fact, at times I would prefer to stand resolute to ensure these principles that brought me to where I am today will continue to drive me, serve me, lead me, as I carefully make decisions in whichever capacity I can. These are – good governance, accountability (to self and to public both), integrity, excellence, and putting others before self. If any one individual deviates from any of these principles, governance of a state (and country) falls flat. 

This is a lesson to take home in light of numerous political upheavals taking place of late (yes, again). 

The CPPS is thankfully progressing well, with my former colleagues still working at promoting governance from a think-tank’s perspective. There are numerous events taking place, which can be viewed on the website. 

For now, suffice to make a public announcement that has been long overdue – that I am now working for a Pakatan Rakyat State Government. Needed to wait for the dust to settle before my transition was made known to all.

Here’s to a fulfilling and exciting year ahead! A Belated Happy New Year and Gong Xi Fa Cai everybody!