Don’t muzzle civil society, Syabas

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Aliran is disturbed over privatised water operator Syarikat Bekalan Air Selangor's (Syabas') plan to take legal action against the Malaysian Trade Union Congress (MTUC) and the Coalition Against Water Privatisation (CAWP) over their recent statement.



We see this as an attempt to muzzle and intimidate civil society. The CAWP's 'no water privatisation' position has been endorsed by 126 groups – one of the largest numbers of endorsements for a specific issue in recent times – who are extremely concerned about the direction of water supply management in Malaysia.

Does Syabas plan to take legal action against all groups who are concerned about the way things are going?

Aliran reiterates its view that water is a public resource and should never be privatised for private profit. The right to water is a basic human right – water is essential to life and the right to life is enshrined in international human rights treaties.

We call on Syabas to open its books for an independent audit of its performance to see how well it has complied with the terms of the concession. In particular, we want a thorough audit into the claims that the company has managed to reduce the amount of water lost through leakages (the reduction of non-revenue water). Only in this way can we know if a water tariff hike is indeed warranted. We will not be satisfied with figures obtained from "industry sources" or unaudited figures.

The best way for Syabas to silence its critics is to open up its books for inspection. It should engage its critics in debate – the essence of what a democracy is about – rather than try to intimidate them through legal action. If everything is above board, then Syabas should have nothing to fear from an independent audit and a policy of engagement with its critics.

We also call on the government to make public the concession agreement with Syabas. If the government is really sincere about being transparent and accountable to the rakyat, it should at least do this. Since public money is involved, the rakyat have a right to know what kind of agreement has been concluded. Otherwise, all that rhetoric about transparency will ring hollow.

Keep water in the public domain. The right to water is a basic human right. Stop the privatisation of water!

Executive Committee
2 February 2006

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