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MGG: Quo Vadis, IWK?
By M.G.G. Pillai

9/1/2002 10:26 pm Wed

The Indah Water Konsortium, to which was privatised the right to operate the country's sewage systems, is back in the news. The two Establishment cronies who operated it in succession racked up losses so high and without a system to operate it that the government took it over. Now a third group, in which a former cabinet minister, Tan Sri Megat Junid Megat Ayob, is the key crony, is given a letter of intent; but it also has a former Anwar Ibrahim comrade-in-arms suggests other political developments though he has nothing to do with the mess this new group is ladled with. Two failures, and one more in the offing. All was set, and the government was to have announced it. But it cannot. The cabinet suddenly got an attack of clarity and integrity and desired know from those who made the decision why they believed that after two failures, this would succeed. And getting no answers, it refused to approve. Those who thought it would provide them with million-ringgit Mercedes Benzes and BMWs must now wait longer.

IWK was set up to fail. The aim was for whoever controlled it to make lots of money, not to provide an efficient sewage service. It still does not have a system to collect sewage rates from houseowners and businesses. It had a payment rate that made one pay more for sewage than water. It was a ripoff. It was blatant. It insisted, with no basis in law, a privatised municipal function has municipal law behind it and forced down one's throat. It sends bills, and follows that with thugs and bill collectors, frightening wives to pay up on threats of worse. It does not even know who its "customers" are. I have received three bills in the last eight years, since IWK was formed in 1994, in three different names, none of which mine, and the last bill showed that to be RM192. I asked each time to let me look at the contract I signed, told each time I must pay, even without a contract. I told them I would not, and sue me in court. They did a lawyer of my acquaintance, and when he asked for particulars, they wisely withdrew. In any case, how am I a defaulter.

The government is put on notice because its cronies saw only the money they could make of this privatisation, not the service it was to provide. And that the houseowners are cannon fodder for their greed. But the worm turned. This highway robbery was seen for what it was, and political problems intruded into the Malaysian conscience after one man was forced to remove his residence from Damansara Heights to Sungei Buloh prison. The new consortium now wants a government guarantee that people would pay the rates. In other words, it wants a free ride. It would not individual contracts with its "customers" as it must, but it wants government guarantees they would pay as it demands. The government is caught in a cleft stick. Because it allowed the highway robbery, it is forced to come to terms with the resulting bad debts. The papers reported that its debts mount and insist its "customers" owe them hundreds of millions of ringgit. They do not explain why it did not collect the dues, and it now talks of legal action to recover it. In other words, nothing has changed, the losses would continue, and the government would have to bail it out again in this latest privatisation.

M.G.G. Pillai