Friday, August 17, 2012

Asia Sentinel on "Malaysia's Murky Water War"

Does the Klang Valley’s water company mainly service UMNO?

Written by John Berthelsen
THURSDAY, 16 AUGUST 2012

Mahathir Mohamad built his power base through
privatization and crony capitalism
In the mid-1990s, then Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad ordered the privatization of a wide range of government activities from highways to airports to railways to shipyards and much more. However, privatization Malaysia-style would result in a cornucopia of money funneled to companies linked to the ruling national coalition, and particularly to the United Malays National Organization, the country’s leading political party.

There are few better examples of that river of cash than the system that provides water to the 8 million-odd residents of Selangor, the country’s biggest states, as well as, Kuala Lumpur proper and the new Putrajaya government center. The water service was hived off in a 30-year contract to a company called Syarikat Bekalan Air Selangor Sdn Bhd, more popularly known as Syabas, which was incorporated to operate the system.

Khalid Ibrahim, Selangor chief minister leading the war to
reclaim state water rights and take over Syabas
That was when the state of Selangor was an UMNO stronghold. But in the 2008 election, Selangor fell to the opposition Pakatan Rakyat coalition. And since that time, Pakatan Rakyat has been attempting to get the water service re-nationalized. It has been an intense and so far unsuccessful campaign that has become a game of chicken between the federal and state governments ahead of the next general election, which could be held in November.

The issue has become part of Umno’s attempt to re-take Selangor state from the opposition, with government figures charging that the standoff will lead to water shortages for the domestic and international companies involved in manufacturing in the area.

Umno crony and Puncak Niaga chairman Rozali Ismail
pays himself RM8.4 million annually despite massive losses 
Syabas is 70 percent owned by Puncak Niaga Holdings Bhd., whose chairman and beneficial owner is Rozali Ismail, a personal friend of Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak and his wife Rosmah Mansor. Rozali is also the former UMNO treasurer of Selangor state. He has been given the honorific of Tan Sri, the second-highest of Malaysia’s odd hierarchy of titles. The other 30 percent is held by two vehicles of the Selangor state government. Malaysia’s Finance Ministry holds a single so-called golden share, which gives it voting primacy.

The water system pays Rozali RM8.4 million (US$2.68 million) per year, making him Malaysia’s 16th highest paid executive director although he has denied the figures. In any case, the water company paid RM17 million to its executives last year despite the fact that the water company suffered an RM75 million pre-tax loss according to Bursa Malaysia. The company’s 2011 financial statement shows current liabilities of RM2.38 billion against assets of RM1.7 billion, with debt at nearly Puncak Niaga also faces a RM2 billion lawsuit over the fact that it has paid only 40 percent of its obligations to water treatment companies. Despite the debt – or perhaps because of it -- it appears that Syabas may have been a cash cow for a long list of UMNO cronies. According to an auditor general’s report that was abruptly withdrawn from public view under the country’s stringent Official Secrets Act, 72 percent of all subcontracts with the water company were awarded through direct negotiation to the contractors without recourse to public bidding.

Master of Murk: Umno
deputy-president & deputy
prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin
Syabas is just one of more than a score of government-linked companies that provide the mother’s milk of money for UMNO. As Asia Sentinel reported on Oct. 23, 2010, at least 23 of Malaysia's biggest companies appear to have been vehicles to siphon off money via government contracts. The companies and the people who run them are so hard-wired into UMNO and its investment arms that de-linking them could conceivably destroy the party. Many of the companies have suffered from disastrous mismanagement and have had to be rescued by the government.

In Syabas’s case, the government has staged a no-holds-barred fight to keep the water company in UMNO hands. A special cabinet committee set up to deal with the issue recently rejected a state government proposal to take back the system, with Muhyiddin Yassin, the deputy prime minister, saying the state government doesn’t comply with a variety of procedural matters.

The problem is that the squabble between the state and national governments has meant that some of the 34 water treatment plants in Selangor have hit capacity, with critics alleging that several areas of the Klang Valley, in which Selangor lies, to face water problems.

Crime minister Najib Razak presides over a moribund
rogue regime that has misruled for 55 years
The state government argues that the concession agreement granted to Syabas is not in the interest of citizens, that returning water to public ownership is a basic citizens' basic right and that in fact Puncak Niaga is asking an exorbitant penalty payment from Selangor to surrender the concession agreement.

In an effort to open up the issue to its constituents, the state government sought permission to make the concession agreement between Syabas and the government public. A high court in Selangor agreed with the opposition only to have the federal court, which is famously malleable to political winds, reverse the high court’s decision on appeal. That was a year and a half ago. The appellate judges have yet to furnish a written judgment justifying their decision.

[Read the entire sordid story here.]

1 comment:

dukuhead said...

malaysia's privatisation programme can be summed up in just one word -DISASTROUS. Fuck Maggie Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, may both of them rot in hell.