THE topic of managing water resources in the country dominated the debate during the special sitting last week.
Datuk Seri Dr Lim Keng Yaik must have felt the “heat” during the sitting as he faced the challenge of providing satisfactory replies to more than 150 MPs who debated on the water issue.
But the Energy, Water and Communications Minister took it in his stride; he used wit and humour to tackle the “attacks” mainly from opposition MPs.
Opposition leader Lim Kit Siang (DAP – Ipoh Timur) asked the minister if the Government could guarantee there would be no tariff increase after the Federal Government took over the management of water resources.
He stood up and randomly pointed towards the Barisan MPs, asking them to support him in his argument.
Kit Siang continued to ask Keng Yaik if the National Water Services commission, to be formed soon, could protect consumer interests.
He said people were concerned about a possible privatisation of water resources and haphazard increases in water tariffs.
“Is it going to be like the recent toll increase that did not go down well with the people?” questioned Kit Siang, who at this point was getting booed by Barisan MPs.
The House became noisier when Works Minister Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu stood to answer Kit Siang, which resulted in a shouting match between the two veteran politicians.
Amid the commotion, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was smiling, obviously amused by the antics of Samy Vellu and Kit Siang.
Keng Yaik, finally told the DAP politician: “Ini bukan Oscar, sudah main 35 tahun, dia mahu main lagi ka? (this is not the Oscars, you have been “playing” for the last 35 years, and you still want to play?).
That drew a roar of laughter from MPs.
The minister’s answer about the tariffs was simple – he gave assurance that the people, operators and the Government would strictly assess proposals to tariff hikes by the concessionaire.
Earlier, backbenchers had voiced concern that after the takeover by the Federal Government, water tariffs would be raised.
Datuk Rosli Mat Hasan (BN – Dungun) said Parliament should be consulted in matters that would affect the people, particularly with regards to an increase in water tariffs.
“We do not want to be the one simply increasing water tariffs,” he said.
Echoing his sentiment, Datuk Bung Mokhtar Radin (BN – Kinabatangan) suggested that the Government should audit the concessionaire's books to ensure transparency.
Keng Yaik's way with words continued to tickle the backbenchers as he told Dr Tan Seng Giaw (DAP – Kepong) he would allow Dr Tan to ask him questions but not Kit Siang.
“When Dr Tan asks me, it means he really wants to find out, not like Ipoh Timur who wants to win an Oscar,” he said.
Even Kit Siang could not help but laugh at the minister’s remarks.
The special sitting was convened to debate the Constitution (Amendment) 2004 Bill, which proposed that the Federal Government be allowed to manage water resources.
Previously, states were in control of water resource management.
Other amendments included joint jurisdiction in heritage sites conservation and raising the retirement age of civil servants and judges.
Besides water talk, the MPs took the opportunity to offer their condolences to the thousands of victims of the recent tsunami tragedy that hit the region late last year.
Led by Speaker Tan Sri Ramli Ngah Talib, the MPs recorded a one-minute silence for the victims before the start of proceedings.
The Chair also urged the MPs to contribute to the tsunami relief fund set up by the Backbenchers Club.
An hour was allocated to debate a special motion for the tsunami tragedy, tabled by Ahmad Shabery Cheek (BN – Kemaman).
In replying to the motion, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said the Government planned to set up a system to effectively disseminate information in times of disaster.
He said suggested measures include placing sirens at beaches, using short-messaging service (SMS), cooperating with the mass media and using police patrol cars to inform the public.
“A public education system is also being planned so that Malaysians can be informed about tsunamis and know what to do if our beaches were hit,” he said.
Najib said that public donations collected so far for tsunami victims amounted to more than RM53mil.
The Dewan reconvenes in March.