The National Water Services Commission (SPAN) is determined to play a more active role in disciplining water industry players in the country. - NSTP/EMAIL

KUALA LUMPUR: THE National Water Services Commission (SPAN) is determined to play a more active role in disciplining water industry players in the country.

Chairman Charles Santiago said water operators need to be more efficient.

“It’s time for them to improve the way they are managing non-revenue water or water resources in their states. This is the new SPAN, and we want to tell them to buck up,” he said.

He said SPAN would impose a business plan on the water operators and they needed to adhere to it.

“One of the things we will roll out next month is the integrity plan. Operators cannot choose to not follow or ignore it. This is one way to cut down leakages and corruption, which is a big problem in the industry. We focusing on this now,” he added.

As part of the plan, integrity officers must be placed in the establishment, and their work starts from the time the operator decides to offer a contract until it is awarded.

“The officers will be part of the contract and remain throughout the process,” he added.

He said contracts would no longer be awarded through direct negotiations and had to be public information, and not hidden. Soon there would only be online approvals, so there would not be shortcuts or cheating.

“When there is a public offer, vendors will be informed of the integrity plan, and they must follow this in their company. This will work throughout the supply line. All firms that work with the operators must have integrated policy officers at the highest level. This is one way to close the leakage and corruption in the industry,” he said.

“There is no compromise on this as instructions are from the prime minister himself,” he said, adding that the commission had consulted the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission and other bodies working on the issue of transparency, governance and integrity.

Santiago said SPAN would conduct a public auditing exercise on the water operators.

“They have been monopolising the industry, so there is no competition and no benchmark. They don’t have a sense of urgency, of developing new technology or product.”

Santiago said the audit involved talking to and evaluating performance companies from the consumers’ perspective right up to how they manage their equipment, work responsibility, manage reservoir and treatment plant.

“We will either do it or bring in a third party to carry out the exercise. Some experts will get inside the company and talk to their technicians, engineers and experts to find out what is happening. This is something that has never been done before,” he added.

The report, which includes assessment on the company’s operation, perception and financial status, will be made public.

“With this, we get the water operators to be publicly accountable. In that way, you introduce competition,” he said.

SPAN chairman Charles Santiago says water operators need to be more efficient. PIC BY SAIFULLIZAN TAMADI

We are working out the process, but it will happen. This will put pressure on the operators to buck up.”

He said the exercise was not to punish the operators, but to provide the companies a fair assessment of people’s perception, including their own staff, on what needs to be done to improve their performances. The exercise would be carried out on all water operators, except Pahang, Kedah, Labuan and Kelantan.

Following the discovery of traces of arsenic poison, which resulted in the closing of the Ayer Ganda water treatment plant in Gerik, Santiago said almost 95 per cent of Malaysian rivers were polluted.

“We had a major problem in Perak. Then it was Johor. You can pick any river in Johor and get a polluted one,” he said, adding that the commission was serious about water security.

Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) senior lecturer Dr Faizuan Abdullah, who has been conducting research on river pollution in the state since 2008, named 16 of the most polluted rivers in the Straits of Johor.

They are Sungai Kopok, Sungai Kim Kim, Sungai Tukang Batu, Sungai Laloh, Sungai Buloh, Sungai Perembi, Sungai Masai, Sungai Rekoh, Sungai Plentong, Sungai Tebrau, Sungai Stulang, Sungai Skudai, Sungai Danga, Sungai Melayu, Sungai Perepat and Sungai Pentas.

Santiago said SPAN’s jurisdiction was limited as rivers fell under the Department of Environment. In some states, there are dedicated river authorities, such as Luas in Selangor and Bakaj in Johor.

“For us, legal jurisdictions start from the intake point, but the intake point is part of the river, where you take water into the treatment plant.

“So you cannot say that I am only concerned after the intake point and not before, because pollution only starts upstream. These are issues we have to deal with.”

He said the commission would organise a seminar next month where experts would discuss the best practices and mechanism, and the way forward in advising water operators on water security.

“We need to do something. If you don’t clean up the rivers, then don’t complain when there is no water in the future. People complain when there are water cuts, but they are contributing to the problem by dumping things into rivers.”

He urged Malaysians to change their water consumption behaviour. “We need to educate people about water security. For example, use rain water to wash cars. With 1.5 million vehicles in the Klang Valley, can you imagine how much of water goes to washing cars?”