EARLY December 2020, Chief Justice Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat urged law enforcement authorities to up their ante and work tirelessly to combat environmental crime. This directive was issued following a series of river pollution cases in Selangor.
While Malaysia is fortunate and blessed with ample rainfall and water supply, our nation is rife with issues of illegal discharge into the sewerage system, causing water supply disruptions.
Despite all these issues, national sewerage company Indah Water Konsortium (IWK) Sdn Bhd continues to protect the environment and provide efficient sewerage service to all Malaysians.
The parties who knowingly or unknowingly contribute to pollution harm our very gift of nature, while IWK has been working incessantly to serve its mandate of operating and maintaining the public sewerage system effectively.
In a survey conducted by Merdeka Centre among IWK customers, reportedly close to 90% of its customers are satisfied with the service and a strong majority understands the importance of IWK’s service for the environment.
According to IWK chief executive officer Narendran Maniam: “This reflects a level of awareness towards the role the environment plays in our everyday lives. However, one persistent issue is that if not addressed promptly, it would undo the benefits we get to enjoy up until now.
“Despite the cost of living and inflation increasing, for more than two decades since IWK’s inception, the sewerage charge has not been reviewed, placing the national sewerage company in an unfavourable and unsustainable financial position.
“Maintaining operations of more than 8,000 sewerage assets nationwide can take its toll especially when many of the assets are ageing, most hovering over 15 years in age.
“All this while, the wastewater treatment process implemented in the sewage treatment plants (STP) adhere to the standards stipulated by the Department of Environment (DOE) to ensure the final effluent can be safely released into waterways.
“That is why when the movement control order was first announced in March last year and only essential services were allowed to operate, ‘nature went through a healing process’ while we were discharging the same volume of treated effluent, which resulted in better quality of our rivers, as observed by many, ” added Narendran.
The critical importance and high quality effluent standard set by the authorities on each STP creates a huge challenge to IWK. Over the years, the cost of operation has increased, recording RM18 a month per household. Nonetheless, domestic customers are paying a low fee of between RM2 and RM8 per month, understandably one of the lowest tariffs in the world for one of the best sewerage services.
If the inflation rate is applied to the sewerage fees, it would be RM14.45 as of 2019, but all the shortfall in expenditure have been borne by IWK for the past 26 years.
“Fortunately, the Government provided a subsidy amounting to RM2.68bil as at end 2019 but this cannot persist if we are to take greater strides towards environmental sustainability, ” said Narendran.
Addressing the importance of a tariff review further, Narendran said: “If we do not show support or enough care for our sewerage utility as we do for other utilities, we may not be able to enjoy carrying out activities that require water in our homes comfortably.
“Furthermore, there are many older properties in Malaysia using traditional systems such as septic tanks, be it in individual homes or communities. Without proper maintenance through scheduled desludging of these septic tanks or primitive systems, it can further contribute to environmental issues and potentially water-borne diseases.
“As a nation, we have developed exponentially and we cannot allow fundamental environmental and health issues to jeopardise our position. Therefore, it is time for all parties to review IWK’s financially sustainability to ensure the company will be able to carry out its responsibility not only in operations, but also to communities and the environment with greater efficiency.
“The tariff review will help alleviate much of the financial difficulties and help propel the nation’s sewerage services, ” concluded Narendran.