SPAN: Govt mulls consolidated body for water agency to minimise redundancy

The proposed national water protection agency will be able to oversee pollution cases that require pressing action

by SHAHEERA AZNAM SHAH/ pic by ARIF KARTONO

THE government could create a consolidated governing body at the federal level to address the worsening condition of the country’s rivers which are the main source of raw water.

National Water Services Commission (SPAN) chairman Charles Santiago (picture) said the proposed national water protection agency could minimise the redundancy of government agencies in the water sector.

“The most important part, the water pollution issues are resulted from the lack of enforcement and a redundancy of water agencies. The issue has always been ‘who will take ownership’ to manage the problem when there is pollution.

“These agencies are all in the discussion, but when it comes to solving the problem, they all point fingers at each other.

“This is why the idea of establishing a national water protection agency under the Prime Minister’s Office is being discussed,” he told reporters at a press conference in Petaling Jaya, Selangor, yesterday.

Santiago said the governing body could oversee water pollution cases that require pressing action such as Sungai Kim Kim in Pasir Gudang, Johor, and Sungai Selangor.

“River pollution has been a constant and serious issue and has disrupted water supply in Selangor, Perak and Johor.

“Almost 98% of raw water sources treated at the treatment plant are coming from the river.

“If the water issues are not being taken care of, the cost to treat raw water will increase and it will have a direct impact to consumers,” he said.

Santiago said SPAN has proposed for a tight management for water pollution to be included in the 12th Malaysia Plan (12MP) (2021-2025) while being addressed in the upcoming Budget 2020.

“We have met up with the Ministry of Economic Affairs several times to continue pushing for water pollution to be a national agenda.

“We also hope that the management for water pollution will be addressed in the country’s financial allocation to improve rivers,” he said.

Meanwhile, he said the proposal to impose stiffer punishment for the Water Services Industry Act (WSIA)

2006 has been brought to the ministerial level for a consultation with the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC).

“SPAN has completed the discussion on amending the act and we have brought the proposal to the ministry to include some thorough revisions.

“Now, the proposal is with the Ministry of Water, Land and Natural Resources to obtain legal advice from the AGC before it could be brought up to the Cabinet,” he said.

Santiago said the proposed changes could be presented to the Cabinet by early 2020.

Currently, Section 121(1) of WSIA 2006 states that polluters of water supply with the intention to endanger lives can be sentenced to death if the actions result in fatalities.

The convicted polluters can also be imprisoned up to 20 years, while whipping can be meted out if the actions do not result in death.

However, the federal government has been committed to abolish death penalty, in line with the Pakatan Harapan’s manifesto.

Last November, the government decided to abolish capital punishment for 32 offences under eight acts of law, including WSIA 2006. The death penalty is to be replaced with a jail term of at least 30 years.

In March 2019, more than two tonnes of chemical waste was dumped into the Sungai Kim Kim, causing about 2,000 residents to be hospitalised.