Oct 10, 2016

    Sabah squeezed dry by water dept graft

    MALAYSIA'S gaze is fixed on the alleged corruption in the Sabah Water Department, following the arrest of two of its senior officers.

    How can it not be when the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) displayed at a press conference on Wednesday the cash, cars and luxury goods found in the duo's homes and offices?

    If a picture is worth a thousand words, imagine how much power there is in photographs of items worth tens of millions of ringgit.

    And the numbers that the case has yielded so far are dizzying.

    The MACC has seized about RM57 million (S$19 million) in cash, nine cars (estimated value is RM3 million), 19.3kg of gold jewellery (RM3.6 million), almost 100 handbags (RM500,000) and 127 land title deeds.

    The commission has also frozen bank accounts with balances totalling RM60 million.

    It is certain that more assets will be uncovered as the probe deepens and widens.

    There are additional figures to digest.

    The MACC has discovered that the department had given contracts to 38 companies owned by family members and proxies of the two senior officers.

    These contracts were awarded for projects funded by the federal government.

    In total, RM3.3 billion was set aside for the projects.

    The Star reported last week that 60 sen out of every ringgit thus allocated was pocketed by many individuals.

    We marvel at the size of the MACC's haul and we are outraged by the extent of the apparent theft of government funds, but we should also take note of another set of numbers.

    According to 2015 statistics from the National Water Services Commission, which is better known as Span, 87.9 per cent of Sabah's population has treated water supply.

    Only Kelantan has a lower water coverage (64 per cent), although Span explained that many households in Kelantan relied on alternative water sources.

    At the national level, 95.5 per cent of the population has water coverage.

    Sabah did just as poorly in the handling of non-revenue water (NRW), which is the difference between the water that comes out of the treatment plants and the water for which consumers are billed.

    The gap is due to theft, leakage, burst pipes, faulty meters and maintenance works.

    Last year, Malaysia's NRW rate was 35.5 per cent.

    Sabah's rate was 55.1 per cent, which again placed the state as second from the bottom.

    Perlis was slightly worse, with 56.3 per cent.

    Yes, Sabah is large and its rural communities are dispersed.

    But the same can be said about Sarawak, which has performed better in these areas of water supply management.

    Whichever way you look at it, Sabah cannot claim to have a sparkling record in providing water to the people and in taking care of the water infrastructure.

    And now we can think of many million reasons why this is so.

    The MACC investigations probably have some way to go, and if it leads to people being charged in court, a lot more will have to happen before the Sabah Water Department case can be put to rest.

    Nevertheless, this is also a time for a compelling case study on how corruption directly hurts us.

    Here is a great example of why we should all fight corruption.

    Underestimate its impact, and we may one day be left high and dry.

    Let us not waste this learning opportunity.

    We have lately been fretting about being hit by a water crisis but we should also understand that an integrity crisis is just as disruptive, debilitating and damaging.