Learn from Singapore how to manage water: Johor Sultan

Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar blamed the privatisation of Syarikat Air Johor (SAJ) for the severe water shortage plaguing the southernmost state in Peninsular Malaysia.
Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar blamed the privatisation of Syarikat Air Johor (SAJ) for the severe water shortage plaguing the southernmost state in Peninsular Malaysia.PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

Johor's state ruler blames privatisation of water supply for severe shortage

JOHOR BARU • The Sultan of Johor has expressed regret over the privatisation of his state's water supply 16 years ago and said the authorities need not "look further than Singapore to learn how to manage water".

In an exclusive interview with the New Straits Times (NST) published yesterday, Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar blamed the privatisation of Syarikat Air Johor (SAJ) for the severe water shortage plaguing the southernmost state in Peninsular Malaysia.

"A few years ago, I had cautioned my government about an impending water crisis. The biggest mistake Johor ever made was to privatise Syarikat Air Johor," said the state ruler. "Now, me and my MB (Menteri Besar) are cracking our heads to solve this problem. It is an issue that causes me sleepless nights."

SAJ was established in February 1994 as a state government company. It is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Ranhill Utilities, with an exclusive concession to treat, supply and distribute water to consumers in Johor for a 30-year period from March 1, 2000.

Water has been tight in parts of Johor, including Mersing, since April due to plunging dam water levels that have forced SAJ to implement scheduled water rationing.

"The record of rainfall this year is half that of last year's. You can ride a bicycle in the Congok Dam in Mersing," said the Sultan.

SAJ chief executive Abdul Wahab Abdul Hamid said last Thursday that water rationing to some areas in Mersing which has been prolonged for the past four months is expected to end by Sept 15.

But this is subject to the water level at the Congok Dam, Mersing's main reservoir, which saw its water level dipping to 2.7m on Aug 25, compared to its critical level of 4.5m, The Star reported.

The seaside town of Mersing is a popular gateway to nearby tourist attractions such as Pulau Tioman.

"There is no rain. There is even water rationing in Mersing town. So, we had to take a bit of water that was meant for Singapore," said Sultan Ibrahim, in an apparent reference to Singapore's urgent additional supply of potable water, on top of what it is already supplying, to Johor in July.

Pointing to the island state's water resource management, he said: "We don't have to look further than Singapore to learn how to manage water. Don't be shy! Why must we look to faraway countries to learn? It would be a waste of government money. We must have recycled water for industrial use."

He added: "There are instances where we have taken industries that Singapore had rejected. My advice to the authorities is to be selective and choose industries properly, and not make life difficult for the people."

Training his fire on the federal government, he said: "Whatever decisions you make in Kuala Lumpur, please understand the Johor sentiment... When you make deals with Singapore and don't refer to us when we share the same geography and resources, our people are affected."

Sultan Ibrahim also revealed to the NST that a company is currently studying the feasibility of having maglev trains weaving through Johor, adding "it has nothing to do with the High-Speed Rail" between Malaysia and Singapore.

"It will link Johor Baru, Pasir Gudang, Kempas, Iskandar Puteri and other areas (in Johor). We are also looking at the maglev entering Singapore, in view of the massive traffic jam at the Causeway every day," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 31, 2016, with the headline 'Learn from S'pore how to manage water: Sultan'. Print Edition | Subscribe