Smelly business in Kangar

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When the Kangar Municipal Council tried to terminate the unsatisfactory services of a privatised rubbish collection contractor, it was told that the contractor had a 22-year contract with a federal entity. Francis Loh describes the stinking situation.

Rubbish washed up from Sungai Perlis at Kuala Perlis. “Kuala Perlis would really benefit from a more efficient rubbish collection service”: Thrifty traveller. – Photograph: thriftytraveller.wordpress.com

On 23 August 2012, last Thursday, the Kangar Municipal Council terminated the services of Environment Idaman Sdn Bhd (Env Idaman), which had been contracted to maintain the cleanliness of the town and to collect its rubbish.

Accordingly, the Council issued an order to stop all compactors and other trucks from entering the Council’s landfill for final disposal of waste in Padang Siding.

Perlis Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Md Isa told reporters that the Council had taken the action because “the contractors had left uncollected heaps of refuse after the Hari Raya”.

Kangar must have been a very smelly place during the Raya festive season, and the stench must have been very busuk, so to speak. Before taking this latest action, the Council said that it had already complained of breaches in the agreement with Env Idaman that had occurred between September 2011 and June 2012.

Apparently, there was also some dispute about KPI targets in waste collection!

But on Monday, 27 August, it was reported in the front page of theSun that the Kangar Municipal Council ‘had no legal standing’ to terminate the contractor.

CEO of the Solid Waste Management and Public Cleansing Corporation (PPSPPA), Datuk Zaini Md Nor declared that under the Solid Waste and Urban Cleansing Management Act 2007 (Act 672), the contract for services is between PPSPPA and the contractor, in this case Env Idaman. “The Council should have written an official complaint to PPSPPA instead of abruptly deciding to ‘fire’ Env Idaman,” he stated.

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In other words, if you are unhappy with the contractor, tell PPSPPA about it. And put it in writing too. Apparently, PPSPPA were unaware that the Kangar Municiapl Council and Kangarites were unhappy with the contractor. Otherwise, surely, they would have acted, no?

The Act, which was enforced on 1 September 2011, gives the federal government executive authority in respect of solid waste and public cleansing via privatisation contracts, with the PPSPA as the overseeing regulatory body.

As we might recall, solid waste collection and maintenance had been part of the state government’s purview in our original Constitution. So, too sewerage, water treatment and supply, etc. All these, and more, have since been privatised and the responsibility for regulating them moved from the state governments to the federal government, in this case the PPSPPA.

Env Idaman is one of only three contractors that were appointed by PPSPA. The other two are Alam Flora Sdn Bhd and Southern Waste Management Sdn Bhd. Except for the states of Selangor (which terminated Alam Flora’s services last year), Perak and Penang, the three contractors share a monopoly over the cleansing and waste collecting services throughout the country.

When this privatisation exercise was being mooted in the era of Dr M, there were already rumblings of disagreement by the state governments, and protests by the NGOs and ordinary rakyat.

Opinions were expressed that it made no sense for such services to be privatised to only three companies, and for the federal to take over the regulatory role of the states. The trend throughout the world was to decentralise and devolve power, especially over matters that affected the everyday lives of ordinary citizens.

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One does not need to be a rocket engineer to know that a local entity, rather than a big-time company based elsewhere, would be more familiar with local problems pertaining to water treatment and supply, sewerage and solid waste collection services. But, no, the federal went ahead with the privatisation of these services. And centralising the regulation of them too.

There were also concerns about accountability. And yet, now we learn that in Kangar, the contractor Env Idaman has a “22-year contract for refuse collection and public cleansing of which it has completed three years”.

We wonder what’s the deal elsewhere for all the three companies. Also 22 years? And that we always have to go back to PPSPPA to complain about it, and in writing always, if we are dissatisfied with the contractors’ performance of services? And who regulates the regulator PPSPPA?

No wonder things have been so smelly.

Dr Francis Loh is president of Aliran

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