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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

> Keng Yaik for water talks?

The Selangor state government has extended an olive branch to the federal government over the prolonged battle for water assets in the Klang Valley by stating that former minister of energy, water and telecommunications Tun Dr Lim Keng Yaik will be a welcome representative in the three-way talks with private concessionaires.

The move appears designed to capitalise on recent reports that Putrajaya is ready to allow Selangor to take the lead in consolidating water assets under a statutory requirement for all assets — such as dams, pipelines and treatment plants — in the Peninsula and Labuan to be owned by the federal government and then leased back to licensees in each state.

It now hopes that if Putrajaya reverts to the mandate given to Selangor in February 2008, it will be able to move ahead with further plans to bring the entire water industry in the state under its control via one of its state-owned companies, a move it claims will lower water tariffs.

In a press statement today, Selangor proposed that Dr Lim, the former Gerakan president who was water minister when the Water Services Industry Act 2006 was passed, to lead the federal government’s team as he “is very familiar with the act and the country’s water industry” and would “conduct a fair negotiation.”

Ostensibly, Dr Lim, who last year said that most Gerakan wanted to leave Barisan Nasional, would be able to step into the negotiations directly instead of new water minister Datuk Peter Chin, who having just taken over from Datuk Shaziman Mansor, would need time to study the situation.

“We hope that the negotiation will reach a conclusion that is in the interest of the public. The state is committed to increase efficiency of the water industry, reduce tariffs, and to maintain the free water for the first 20 cubic metre for all households in the state,” said Selangor mentri besar Tan Sri Abdul Khalid Ibrahim in the statement.

Talks over the water deal appeared to have hit a brick wall when Selangor made an RM5.7 billion offer to acquire all four water concessionaires in the state including their assets but two days before the Feb 20 deadline, National Water Services Commission (Span), the national water regulatory body, declared that the federal government would commence negotiations with the concessionaires.

This came after Selangor, who in fact own 80 per cent of water assets in the Klang Valley, had also made an official complaint over Syabas’s non-compliance with the concession agreement, calling on Putrajaya to cancel it, thereby lifting the April 1 deadline.

Despite the stalemate over the water assets, no tariff hike has been announced, reflecting the delicate political scenario over water supply for some 1.5 million customers in the Klang Valley - The Malaysian Insider.