The onus is on the ratepayers themselves. They will have to put up with poor services, a non-committal and toothless city council and, above all, an indifferent private company….
The resistance by opposition-held states in accepting two Acts of parliament is considered petty and frivolous by the authorities in Putrajaya. Although the BN-held states are less vocal, it does not necessarily mean that they are in agreement with the federal government. The two contentious Acts are the Solid Waste and Public Cleansing Management Act 2007 and the Solid Waste and Public Cleansing Management Corporation Act 2007. If implemented the acts could make local authorities redundant as they would take away a huge chunk of the responsibilities of local councils, leaving them with practically nothing.
The Acts allow for the setting up of a dedicated solid waste management entity, like Indah Water Konsortium Sdn Bhd (IWK), which will oversee the collection and disposal of rubbish, grass-cutting and even the cleanliness of public toilets, markets and local council roads. This entity will take over the management and operations of all disposal sites currently managed by local councils, including the task of identifying new landfills, transfer stations and the management and technical overseeing of incinerators, if any. There will be little left for local councils to do. Even recycling activities by non-governmental organisations and environmentalists will be affected by the Acts.
These Acts, which are supposed to have come into force by the end of 2008, are actually a blow for local democracy where public participation is most frequent and active. Basic services such as rubbish disposal and public transport are best left to local authorities, as they are the ones who interact with the masses on a daily basis. A federal body organised along the lines of a corporation is not suited for the mundane job of soliciting and acting on feedback from ratepayers.
Indah Water Konsor-tium Sdn Bhd, formed in 1994 and responsible for providing sewerage services and the maintaining and operating of over 5,750 public sewerage treatment plants in the country, is a classic example of a ‘failed’ privatised entity. In June 2000, the Government, through the Ministry of Finance Incorporated, took over the entire equity of the company from its owners and in return compensated them handsomely. In spite of federal intervention IWK is still not out of the woods. Its services are far from satisfactory.
Private Sector Debts
In its haste to privatise, the federal government has, unwittingly, traded the good for the bad. And in order to encourage the untested and the inexperienced to take on the impossible, the government has to underwrite private sector debts. Such guarantees severely distort competition. Those who benefit from the government’s generosity will have an edge over those without. They will definitely outperform their opposite numbers not because they are more efficient or better at serving their customers but because they have access to cheap capital. This unfair advantage will, invariably, cause them to become complacent and soon most will go belly up, only to be rescued by the government with the infusion of public funds and oil revenue. Companies enjoying such generous largesse tend to be less competitive and will accumulate risks. Bailout of Bank Bumiputra (three times), Malaysian International Shipping Corporation, MAS and Renong are shining examples. The country has lost billions since privatisation began in 1984, a loss which is having a contingent effect on our economy, presently.
Cost and Effect
Now let us see how these two Acts would affect Ipoh City Council per se. Foremost, the nearly 1,000 staff involved in rubbish disposal will be out of jobs. They may be absorbed by the corporation, purported to be E. Idaman Sdn Bhd, but that is only a guess as the company may have other ideas. Contractors currently engaged to clear rubbish, clean drains and cut grass will see their services terminated. And having invested heavily on hardware and manpower, their financial losses may be colossal.
The 112-acre landfill in Ipoh at Bercham would be further abused although its lifespan is only up till 2010. The impact on the environment is obvious. What will become of the 120-odd council dump trucks currently in service? The company may buy them but definitely not the entire fleet as only about a third is serviceable at any one time. The council will have to continue maintaining the vehicles, the drivers and the repair facilities.
There have been talks about building a sanitary landfill on a 200-acre site in Lahat. This hygienic and environmental friendly landfill is very expensive, estimated at about RM200 million. Federal funding is the only option, as neither city council nor the state has that kind of money. What will be the responsibility of the corporation towards the upkeep of the dumpsite? Will it foot the bill or otherwise?
The onus, unfortunately, is on the ratepayers themselves. They will have to put up with poor services, a non-committal and toothless city council and, above all, an indifferent private company whose only concern is the amount of money it can squeeze from our pockets. Unfortunately, ratepayers are in no position to decide as decisions are being made for them, pro bono. This does not bode well for Ipohites.
The decision to adopt the two Acts lies with the current state government. Pakatan Rakyat, when it was in the controlling seat had, unequivocally, rejected them convinced that the Acts would bring more harm than good. “Having a private company monopolising the services, it’s inevitable that the cost borne by the local authorities will increase and the burden will eventually shift to the rakyat”, said Wong Kah Wah, the Adun for Canning recently.
At the last MBI full-board meeting on November 30, the mayor intimated that the adoption of the two Acts had been placed on hold. “The council will continue with the current arrangement, including the hiring of contractors”, said Roshidi. The Local Government Act 1976 and the Road, Drainage and Building Act 1974 hold sway and can be used to negate the subtleties. City Hall should take cognisance of this.
Ipohites, meanwhile, can heave a sigh of relief; but for how long? Only time will tell.
In Issue 87 page 3, the picture shows Keeshaanan Sundaresan and not