Abdul Kadir Mohd Din, Indah Water Konsortium Sdn Bhd CEO answers...
1. What is the main reason that Indah Water Konsortium (IWK) ended up saddled with massive collection problems? Jack Singh, KL
The remark that IWK is saddled with massive collection problems is not exactly true. The number of defaulters is small but the outstanding amount is substantial totalling more than RM700mil since 1997. Awareness has improved among Malaysians and this is reflected in the higher rate of collections.
2. Do you agree that generally, the public is reluctant to pay for services perceived as intangible such as that by IWK? Ng, Seremban
Many have shown appreciation for IWK’s sewerage services by paying their bills promptly. There is still an average of 20% unpaid sewerage charges that we are pursuing. While addressing the unpaid sewerage charges, we will still carry out our responsibility to operate and maintain the public sewerage systems efficiently and protect public health, safeguard our water resources and protect the environment.
Sewerage services are often taken for granted and perceived as “invisible” since sewage disappears after flushing, without realising that whatever is flushed flows into the public sewage treatment plant. The cost to clear a blocked sewerage system is certainly more than RM8.
3. IWK was initially run as a private enterprise before it was taken over by the Federal Government in 2000. What are the major changes that have taken place? Bashir, Selangor
IWK operated as a private entity from 1994 to 2000. In June 2000, the Government took over IWK from private shareholders. Since then, there has been negligible outbreaks of waterborne diseases in the country due to good sewerage systems.
IWK is recognised as a leader and model sewerage company in many Asean countries. The standard of living of about 1.8 million Malaysians and the water quality of our rivers have improved following the refurbishment of over 4,000 dilapidated sewage treatment plants, installation of 18 modern mechanical sludge dewatering units, operating of six central sludge treatment facilities and 12 new regional sewage treatment plants in five states.
The public acceptance has also improved markedly as reflected in the average collection of 80%. But the financial status of IWK will still remain in the red even if all Malaysians were to pay their bills due to the low tariff. The Government has been compensating IWK annually for the past few years to ensure that the sewerage systems are maintained efficiently.
4. The country’s water sector is undergoing a major revamp. How will this revamp change things for sewerage services and its tariffs? Susan, Johor
IWK provides sewerage services nationwide, with the exception of some areas in Johor Baru, Kelantan, Sabah and Sarawak. Even the tariff of sewerage services is common in all states in Peninsular Malaysia, including Labuan.
The water industry restructuring will increase major stakeholders’ appreciation for proper sewerage infrastructure. Hopefully, this will spur higher allocation from the Government to upgrade existing assets and the construction of more regional sewage treatment plants. Our 30-year master plan and 3-year business plan, which includes the costs of operations in the proposed tariff revision, has been approved by the National Water Services Commission but is subject to the Government’s approval.
5. There have been many construction works by IWK in many areas in the country over the last few months creating traffic jams, dusty conditions and flash floods after heavy downpour. When will these problems be rectified? Low, Seremban
The sewerage construction works undertaken by the Government in various parts of the country is part of the National Sewerage Development Programme to upgrade and improve the existing sewerage infrastructure.
We will always ensure minimal inconvenience for the long term benefit of the public. The proactive actions and precautionary measures undertaken include provision of adequate safety, warning and traffic sign boards, proper traffic management, maintaining good housekeeping at the construction site and proper planning and execution of the sewerage projects.
Trenchless technology has also enabled the laying of underground sewerage pipes without the need to dig the road surface. This further minimises the inconvenience although the cost is higher than the conventional method.
6. Low sewerage tariffs on the back of rising operating costs is but one of the major challenges for IWK. How do you plan to tackle this? James S, Pahang
The tariff of sewerage services has not been revised since 1997. At RM8 a month for a house, the current tariff barely covers the cost of operating and maintaining 5,480 sewage treatment plants, 750 pumping stations, 13,900 km of sewer network and also providing desludging services to over 500,000 individual septic tanks.
Tariff adjustment is crucial to reflect the real costs of providing and sustaining the sewerage services. IWK plans to initiate ancillary businesses that could potentially generate additional revenue such as focusing on sewerage-related works. This will help reduce dependency on Government compensation and establish a more equitable and affordable sewerage tariff for customers.
7. How do you explain to your children what you do for a living? Oh Boon, Puchong
Fortunately, I do not encounter problem with my children, relatives or friends. I started my career with IWK in 1995 as senior manager for the planning department.
I managed to enlighten many people about the Government’s initiatives for more comprehensive sewerage systems to preserve the environment, safeguard water resources and improve the quality of life. I always tell my children that provision of good sanitation and water supply saves millions of life.
I am glad that after 15 years, more people I know have acknowledged the importance of modern sewerage systems. Sewage is no comparison to municipal waste (rubbish). Unlike solid waste (rubbish), people will not be willing to dispose sewage using plastic bags every day.
8. There are still complaints about IWK being slow in providing customer service. How much do you think the company has improved in this aspect? Tanga, Alor Setar
Customer complaints, requests and enquires are registered and closely monitored through our customer care information technology systems. IWK is committed to fulfil our promises but not to the extent of “over promise and under deliver.” Any unattended complaints within the stipulated level of service will be escalated to the various supervisory levels and ultimately to me.
Perhaps customers have yet to understand the limit and scope of our services in operating the public sewerage systems.
We generally do not provide services to sewerage assets that are within the boundary of private properties, such as condominiums, flats and apartments that are managed by property management companies or private developers. Landed property is also not within our scope of services. Sometimes, IWK is blamed for issues in these premises. In critical cases where the sewage pollution is harmful to public health, we offer complimentary community services as part of our corporate service responsibility.
9. As CEO of a company that carries out sewerage services, do you get teased a lot? Kenny, Penang
When I joined IWK in 1995, my family used to wonder what I do as an engineer in a wastewater company. When I took over as CEO, my colleague from the water sector joked that he was not sure whether to congratulate or convey his condolences. It is understandable as IWK has been running at a loss for many years. But somebody has to do the “dirty job” to protect public health.
Generally, public perception towards our blockage and desludging crew is still unfavorable. Many fail to realise that not everyone is capable or willing to perform waste cleaning jobs.
However, the public’s perception has improved over the past 16 years. More people appreciate our dirty, dangerous and difficult work. I am proud to be associated with the company.
10. As CEO of IWK, how do you wish to drive the group and where do you wish to see it, say in five years? Cecilia, Seremban
We have strategies to turnaround IWK into a long-term entity that is less dependent on Government’s financial assistance and to transform the business from a utility to resource base. IWK is also in the process of using microbes to optimise our sewage treatment processes.
We will soon embark on bio-technology and nano-technology. Efforts have been put in place to utilise the three key by-products from our sewage treatment plants – bio effluent, bio gas and bio solids – and convert them into environmentally safe products.
This is in line with the Government’s green technology and zero waste management initiatives. IWK will also patent its products for the sewerage industry and offer expertise and services abroad. IWK aims to be a leading regional water entity within the next five years.
DATUK SERI IDRIS JALA was propelled to national prominence when he was made MD and CEO of Malaysia Airlines back in December 2005. In August last year, he was called to do further national service when he was appointed Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department and CEO of Pemandu, the performance management and delivery unit overseeing the implementation of the Government’s Key Performance Index to transform the nation. Email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org