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.