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Suhakam: Cops were unprofessional

The Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) agrees that the police acted unprofessionally in preventing an inter-religious seminar on water from being held at the National Mosque in Kuala Lumpur.

Commissioner N Siva Subramaniam said the opportunity for inter-religious dialogue and understanding – even on an issue as innocuous as water – may have suffered a setback and even led to further confusion.
“Such a gathering (at the National Mosque) would have united everyone… and (allowed them to) talk about things (that they have) in common,” he said at a meeting this morning with the seminar organisers.

Agreeing that the police had failed to clarify details with the seminar organisers, Siva said Suhakam would meet the Dang Wangi district police chief, and that he would seek a dialogue between all three parties.

Representatives of various religious groups had submitted a memorandum to Siva on what they claim to be the “abuse and misuse of police powers” over the revocation of the permit to hold the event at the National Mosque.

They included Muslim Youth Movement of Malaysia deputy president Azril Mohd Amin, Malaysian Gurdwara Council head Harcharan Singh, representative of the office of the Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur Augustine Julian, and Tony Wee from the Archdiocese Office for Human Development.

Also present was Charles Santiago, lead convenor of the seminar and director of Monitoring the Sustainability of Globalisation, as well as members of several residents’ associations.

In the memorandum, they requested that Suhakam facilitates a meeting between them, senior officers of the Dang Wangi district police station – which has jurisdiction over the location of the National Mosque – and mosque officials.

This is “to unearth the truth” as to the reasons for revoking the permit as well as to “clear the organisations’ good name”, they said.

Apology demanded

Despite having initially welcomed the request, National Mosque officials were said to have subsequently acted on police advice to revoke use of their facilities, the organisers said in the memorandum.

The police said they had information that the seminar included plans for “demonstrations, protests, and people carrying banners”.

“We are leading organisations in the country, representing the various religions and communities. We’re leaders of our communities. We manage temples, churches and gurdwaras,” Santiago told Siva.

“The police have opportunistically linked us with demonstrations and protests. This we find unacceptable.”

The groups demand an apology from the police for themselves and to the National Mosque “for (disseminating) disinformation”.

They also demand that the Special Branch officers responsible for processing applications for police permits be sent for religious and race-sensitivity training and nation-building courses.

Suhakam was asked to work with the organisers to hold a similar programme at the National Mosque.

The seminar – entitled ‘United for Water: Religions Speak on the Human Rights to Water’, aimed at shoring up people’s sacred right to clean and affordable water – was eventually held last Saturday in Brickfields.

Memorandum to Suhakam on Abuse, Misuse of Police Powers

We the organizers of the national event: United for Water: Religions Speak on the Human Right to Water are here to file a formal complaint with the Malaysian Human Rights Commission on the conduct of the Special Branch based in Dang Wangi Police Station located in Jalan Stadium.

In our view, the Special Branch and/or outside parties manufactured information to create a situation of fear, uneasiness and uncertainty leading to the National Mosque officials deciding not to host the meeting at the National Mosque in spite of having earlier agreed to the event being held there.

We find such actions bordering on total disrespect and an attempt to thwart civil society efforts to deliberate and discuss issues confronting society. In fact the SB held the Masjid Negara at ransom with their disinformation.

Furthermore the conduct and actions of the SB demonstrated that they or the parties that gave them the instructions were unhappy that people of all faiths, and races are coming together to deliberate and discuss societal issues and future of the country.

In fact, the conduct of the police has promoted their desired outcome: more suspicion among Malaysians. Is this what the government’s desires?

Is it possible that that the police are acting on the behalf of business interests in the water sector?

It is a sad, that after 50 years of independence that the police force is dictating public policy. And civil society is at their mercy.

We are leading organizations in the country, representing the various faiths and communities. We are leaders of our communities. We manage temples, churches and gurdwara’s. The police have opportunistically linked us with demonstrations and protest. This we find unacceptable. Thus we demand an apology in order to clear our organizations good name.

We propose that SUHAKAM organize an urgent meeting between the Police, Masjid Negara Officials and us in order to unearth the truth and clear our names.

Syabas disconnects water supply to reconnect profit

The Malaysian Trade Union Congress (MTUC) has accused water concessionaire Syabas of making profits by carrying out massive water supply disconnections.

According to MTUC president Syed Shahir Syed Mohamud, over the past two years, there have been a total of 500,820 water disconnections by Syabas in Selangor, Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya.

“The revenue from re-connection has brought in RM25.03 million at RM50 per re-connection for the concession company,” he told a press conference in Petaling Jaya today.

Explaining that more than 50 percent of all connections in Syabas’ concession area have been disconnected in the past two years, Shahir said: “Between January to September 2007, there were about 136,000 disconnections given that there were approximately 506 disconnections per day.”

“The high number of disconnections demonstrate that Syabas is more interested in making money as opposed to inculcating financial discipline among water consumers in its area,” he said.

Humane approach

Shahir clarified that MTUC does not defend consumers who fail to settle their bills, but urged Syabas to employ a more humane approach and methodology.

“Consumers, especially those from the middle and lower income groups are stressed with the re-connection fee imposed on them,” he said.

“They are mostly wage earners, and with inflation going up, they are struggling to make ends meet. The decrease in their real wages is the main reason for not paying their bills. And the re-connection fee, in addition to the amount stipulated in their bills, is just an additional burden on them,” he added.

He explained that before the privatisation of water supply took place, the re-connection fee imposed by the state government was just RM10, and consumers were even given room to pay their water bills in installments.

“Now the situation is different. We have received reports that Syabas has refused to reconnect water to households unless payments are made,” he said.

Impose moratorium

Meanwhile, coalition against water privatization coordinator Charles Santiago also believes that the large scale water disconnections are part of a money-making venture.

“Recently, we received a complaint from a Universiti Malaya student saying that she had to pay RM50 for re-connection when her pending bill was only RM18. And she did not pay because she had gone back home for her semester break,” he said.

“This is the case with many people. The re-connection fee is higher than the actual amount in their bills,” he added.

Santiago said the coalition is also concerned about consumers residing in high rise buildings.

“These people don’t pay their water bills directly to the concessionaire. They pay to the building management corporations and if these corporations fail to make the payment to Syabas, their water supply is cut,” he said.

Shahir and Charles urged the Ministry of Water, Energy and Communication and the National Water Services Commission (Span) to direct Syabas to impose an immediate moratorium on all water disconnections during the coming festive season.

They also called on the ministry to investigate Syabas’ disconnection exercise.