The Penang Water Authority (PBAPP), the most efficient water authority in the country, has decided to impose a ‘conservation’ surcharge of 24 sen per 1,000 liters on domestic consumers using more than 35,000 litres of water per month.
First let me say, the publicly owned PBA has done a brilliant job in keeping non-revenue water low at around 19 per cent. Its efficient management has put private water utility firms elsewhere in the country to shame. Despite low water tariffs, its efficiency has allowed it to make a profit before tax of RM16 million for 2009 (RM28 million in 2008) on the back of RM185 million (RM188 million in 2008).
And yes, there is a pressing need to conserve water as consumption per capita in Penang is higher than acceptable. The surcharge-free 35,000-litre threshold is based on the basic needs of a household of five. This move could curb wastage but a few critics have contended that such a surcharge could burden low-income households with large families. Conversely, excessive consumers in smaller households will be spared the surcharge. What are your views on this? Perhaps large low-income households could be exempted from the surcharge or the threshold for exemption could be raised for such households?
The other thing I noticed is that, from September 2009, the PBA has gone into the business of producing bottled water through a wholly-owned subsidiary, Island Springwater Sdn Bhd. The company owns a 765-sq-metre bottling treatment plant located at the Guillemard treatment plant.
The PBA needs to clarify:
1) what the environmental impact of producing bottled water is (plastic bottles?), and
2) if there is any potential conflict with its core activity of providing clean water to the whole state. What happens if there is a water shortage in the state and water rationing is required? Would Island Springwater still be guaranteed a regular supply? Would precious water resources be diverted to the bottling plant? Wouldn’t supplying murky water encourage more consumers to buy pricey bottled water?
First, bottled water diverts water from public use especially during times of water shortage and rationing. Second, through skilful marketing, the public is encouraged to pay grossly inflated prices for water that is in bottles. Third, plastic water bottles are an environmental hazard that goes against the vision of a greener Penang.
It is for these reasons that I don’t think it is a good example for a publicly owned water organisation providing an essential service like the PBA to be involved in producing bottled water. It is environmentally unfriendly and sets a bad example.