Delaying Langat 2 treatment plant does not hold water
FOURTEEN years ago, many people in the Klang Valley waited in long lines under the hot sun for tankers to deliver water. Though the worst drought in a decade brought by El Nino caused the rivers and streams to run dry and the water levels in the dams and reservoirs to drop, it was ultimately a mismatch between supply and demand that resulted in the perfect storm of dry taps, parched throats and hot tempers. It was to address the underlying dynamics of rapid development and urbanisation behind the 1998 water crisis that the Pahang-Selangor Raw Water Transfer Project, including the Hulu Langat water treatment plant, was proposed. To most people, as the cross-border project is capable of making up for the shortfall of supply, this would seem to be a reasonable solution. But not to the current Selangor government, however, whose adversarial stance explains why residents in the Klang Valley may well face interruptions to their water supply in 2014, or even earlier.
One reason the Selangor government gives for refusing to give planning permission to build the Langat 2 facility is that there are other options to increasing production capacity, such as tapping groundwater, reducing leakages and promoting conservation. It also asserts there is no real necessity for the project as there is no looming water crisis. But to understand the real reason behind the opposition to the water transfer project, one only has to look at the way it has been using Langat 2 as a bargaining chip to take over the four water concession companies in Selangor. What is clear from the demand to put in writing the promise not to raise water charges and declare the water facilities as "state assets" is that the state administration is interested in dictating terms, not negotiating them.
There is no doubt that the stand-off over the treatment plant and industry restructuring is predominantly a political problem. The use of the dispute with the water concessionaires to essentially disrupt and delay the raw water transfer project leaves little to commend it. Issuing ultimatums is not the way a government should function. This is the way of an administration that does not know what it is doing and where it is going. It is driven by raw political ambition and caters for the false promises of populist economics, where everything else is considered expendable. What is clear is that unless this misguided partisan position is reversed, prospects for a solution look bleak. What is most disquieting is that when taps run dry, this political folly will bring real consequences.