Solid Waste Management Needs Total Rethinking

It is high time for a total rethinking of solid waste management, fourteen years after the Federal Government attempted to federalise the service, which is the basic function of any local authority worldwide, since 1997.

We welcome the postponement of the implementation of the Solid Waste Management Act 2007 (Act 672), as announced by Housing and Local Government Minister Datuk Chor Chee Heung. The enforcement of the Act which was supposed to be effective this April 30 has now been postponed “as some technical aspects needed to be sorted out first”, according to Chor.

The Act is a product of the privatisation spree of public services under the then Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad. After the first wave of privatisation that involved mostly infrastructure projects with the North South Highway as the chief example in the 1980s, rent seekers looked to essential services like water, sewerage and solid waste in the 1990s.

The Federal Government aided the rent seekers by federalising these essential services that are local in nature, and are in fact governed by either state governments or local authorities.

The disastrous outcomes of water privatisations in Selangor and Johor which experienced increased cost with no improvement if not regression, as well as the failure of sewerage privatisation through Indah Water Konsortium, are sufficient lessons for the Federal Government to put a stop on the federalisation and privatisation of solid waste management.

The poor state of affairs of solid waste management in areas served by Alam Flora, especially Kuala Lumpur, is more evidence that the ideas behind the Act are flawed.

Solid waste management, like sewerage, cannot be divorced from political and administrative overseeing by the state and local authorities. It is just impractical for Putrajaya to be responsible for uncollected garbage from the capital, hundreds of miles away.

The impracticality of the concurrent federalisation and privatisation of solid waste that underpinned Act 672 has left the management of solid waste in this country in limbo for the last decade and half while other regional neighbours, such as South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand, have progressed leaps and bounds towards the direction of sustainability.

The future of solid waste management must be handled locally, with reduce, reuse and recycle at its core. Privatisation may not be necessary if the public sector is equally efficient.

We call on the Federal Government
• to consult the State Governments through the National Local Government Council to look into all possible options; and
• to convene a “Solid Waste Management” summit that will consider new thinking which is forward-thinking and not trapped in the misguided policies of the Mahathirist privatisation.

Chow Kon Yeow and Liew Chin Tong

Media Statement by DAP MPs for Tanjong Chow Kon Yeow* and Bukit Bendera Liew Chin Tong on 28th March 2011 at Parliament’s Lobby

*Chow Kon Yeow is also Penang Exco for Local Government and Traffic Management

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