A Tale of Oil & Water
Water, water, everywhere but not a drop to drink
If you’re living in KL or Selangor, there’s a good chance you’ve had the same, shitty kinda weekend as us and 1.2 million others. Thinking of creative solutions to flushing toilets, ordering out instead of enjoying a weekend cook-up and showering with water from a pail – or worst case, not showering at all (no judgement here).
In the unlikely event you’re clueless as to what we’re talking about, this piece has a pretty good background on what happened. But we at BTL live to serve you, so here’s the Reader’s Digest version.
Close to 1,300 areas in Selangor and Kuala Lumpur have been left high and dry since Sept 3, due to water cuts caused by pollutants being discharged into Sungai Gong. The affected areas include Kuala Lumpur, Petaling, Klang, Shah Alam, Kuala Selangor, Hulu Selangor, Gombak and Kuala Langat.
The source of the pollution is the industrial area near Sungai Gong, a tributary of Sungai Selangor. The crap (not literally, we hope) being poured into the river caused the shutdown Sungai Selangor Phase 1,2,3 and Rantau Panjang water treatment plants four days ago – causing our stinky ‘pits and unwashed plates.
Of course, while all this was going on, it didn’t help our mood any that the geniuses behind the National Security Council’s l̶o̶v̶e̶ ̶l̶e̶t̶t̶e̶r̶s̶ texts chose to send us all repeated reminders on the merits of frequent hand-washing to stave off Covid-19!
As of this morning, Air Selangor says water has been returned to 73.37 percent of affected areas. Petaling and Kuala Selangor are almost entirely back to normal, while Hulu Selangor is already at 100%. Gombak isn’t too bad either – 73% of areas have had their supply restored. But if you’re in Klang/Shah Alam (38%), Kuala Lumpur (47%) or Kuala Langat (50%), sorry but you’re still kinda f***ed.
The water concessionaire says water will be restored in three phases but unlucky users may have to wait till Sept 9 for that luxurious hot shower.
Of course, as is the Malaysian way, not everyone suffers equally. While we common folks have had to buy bottled water or line up to fill our pails from Air Selangor tankers, VIPs – glorious leader Selangor MB Amirudin Shari and his fam bam among them – have had tankers driven right up to their homes. Well, Orwell did say some animals are more equal than others.
Meanwhile, four brothers – owners of the factory suspected to be behind the pollution – have been arrested and the offending factory has been ordered closed and demolished. But get this – the same company was fined just a few months ago for THE SAME offence! And what’s more is that they didn’t even have planning permission from the local authority to build the factory in the first place. Arseholes!
The National Water Services Commission (Span) is investigating the case and is considering charging the factory owners under the Water Services Industry Act 2006, which calls for up to half a mil in fines, rotan, three years in the slammer, or all of the above. Can we have option D please, pretty please?
The factory owners should consider themselves lucky that nobody died due to their actions – under the Act, a person convicted of contaminating water supply with any dangerous substance and causes a death could be sentenced to death themselves.
Federal Environment and Water Minister Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man has promised to expedite the court action and wants to toughen the Water Services Industry Act and Environmental Quality Act 1974.
While this tough love is well and good, will it be enough to prevent repeat occurrences? After all, no one seemed to have learnt their lessons after the double Pasir Gudang scare of 2019. But even in cases where the law is being followed, bad city planning and inadequate standards governing what is considered permissible levels of discharges are killing our rivers and putting us all at risk (This special report by Malaysiakini outlines this case). So clearly, a more holistic, national-level approach is very much needed.
Meanwhile, here’s the skinny on other water cut-related news:
- Klang MP and former SPAN chair Charles Santiago is calling for the creation of a national river protection authority and business-free buffer zones between rivers and factories. Same old, same old.
- Air Selangor has also denied viral messages implying water supply will be cut once more and that the water quality is unsafe.
- MCA is baying for Selangor environment exco Hee Loy Sian’s resignation over the water woes. Sure, the debacle falls under the Pakatan Harapan-led state government, but the same MCA called for the resignation of federal environment minister Yeo Bee Yin during the Pasir Gudang incident last year. Yet they make no move to throw fellow PN minister Tuan Ibrahim under the bus this time, proving no emergency is too big or too dire for politicking.
The goose that stopped laying golden eggs
Petroliam Nasional Berhad, the national oil and gas company and Malaysia’s most profitable company (at least as at 2019), known fondly as Petronas, for the second quarter of the year reported its first quarterly loss for nearly five years.
In figures released on Friday, the company reported a loss after tax of RM21 billion (US$5.06 billion) in the April-June period. This compares to a profit of RM14.7 billion ringgit for the same period last year. Meanwhile, its quarterly revenue dropped 42.4 percent to RM34.03 billion from RM59.1 billion for Q2 last year.
While depressing, the numbers are not unexpected. Company president and group chief executive officer Tengku Muhammad Taufik Tengku Aziz says Covid-19 resulted in weaker demand, and the dip in global crude oil prices had set the tone for lowered expectations.
In fact, he warned that Malaysia cannot expect demand to return to pre-pandemic levels till after Q2 of next year, and even then, it’s a big ‘maybe’. Yet in a good news-bad news, glass-half-full situation, he says Malaysia’s only Fortune 500 company still generated a cash flow of RM26.3 billion for the first half of the year. Yeay?
Petronas will embark on several measures to mitigate the problem, including instituting pay cuts, expanding its renewable energy portfolio, and shaving capital expenses by up to 21 percent. In this way, it hopes to save jobs.
Petronas isn’t in a unique situation. While the lower oil prices have resulted in cheaper petrol for our vehicle tanks, oil and gas giants companies the world over have been left reeling by recent events. Giants like Exxon and Royal Dutch Shell recorded losses in Q2. Even Saudi Aramco, the oil company of the Saudi Arabia and often listed as one of the most profitable companies in the world, ‘only’ made a $6.6 billion profit for the quarter.
Anyway, back to Petronas. The company contributes significantly to our national coffers in terms of dividends, so any losses it suffers, regardless of what the factors are, is cause for concern as it could leave the entire country stuck up shit creek without a paddle – which is likely why Petronas has committed to paying the government the normal RM24 billion dividend this year.
Tengku Taufik says any discussion on this amount will only be done after the fourth quarter, aka year-end and that Petronas will find it tough to meet additional federal government obligations to fund post-Covid economic stimulus packages. If you remember, the Harapan government received an additional RM30 billion special dividend last year to help repay GST and tax refunds. No such luck for the Perikatan Nasional gomen, which just last month sought to raise the national debt ceiling from 55 to 60 percent to accommodate additional borrowings for Covid-19 economic packages, already valued at RM295 billion.
In other words, Petronas is telling the government that this particular cash cow’s teat has run dry and they’re gonna need to find other avenues – the local ah long perhaps? – of raising money. Tough beans.
Such dismal projections must certainly weigh heavily on PM Muhyiddin Yassin’s mind as he looks to steer Malaysia out of the health crisis with his popularity ratings, buoyed in part by his government’s quick response of financial aid, intact. With an election on the horizon and an economic crisis dragging on, dear Moo has his work cut out for him.
Petronas’ Q2 numbers also come amidst a backdrop of sudden leadership changes in the company which, according to The Edge at least, have raised eyebrows. The Edge speculated at least one move to be over possible amendments to the Petroleum Development Act 1974 (PDA) to likely be more favourable towards Sabah and Sarawak, as Muhyiddin looks to woo Harapan ally Warisan in Sabah.
Still, it is not all gloom for some. The Terengganu government, at least, can breathe a sigh of relief as Putrajaya has assured that despite Petronas’ losses, the state Terengganu will still be paid its share of oil royalties in September.
D-Day beckons in Sabah
There’s less than a week left for nominations in the much anticipated Sabah polls and all parties should be in the final stages of preparation for what will surely be a gruelling campaign ahead.
One NGO, the Society Empowerment and Economic Development of Sabah (Seeds) says Sept 26 polls could well lead to a hung assembly with no clear favourite in sight. Of course, it’s early days yet and anything can happen.
Not too dissimilar then to GE14 in 2018 when both Sabah BN and Warisan each won 29 out of 60 state seats. However, defections, two serving chief ministers and a court case later, the state government went to Warisan president and Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s good pal Shafie Apdal.
With such a tight race, it’s not surprising that both sides of the political divide are still fighting… we mean ‘discussing’ seat distribution. After all, everyone wants a piece of the Sabah pie, especially with 73 seats – 13 more than in 2018 – up for grabs.
PKR head honcho and opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim reportedly met with the Sabah caretaker chief minister Shafie Apdal to discuss seat distribution between Warisan, PKR, DAP, Amanah and Upko.
Over in the opposition corner, BN sec-gen Annuar Musa says BN, PN and allies are “95 percent” done with seat allocations. More importantly, they have agreed to ensure one-on-one fights with Warisan and co in the coming polls. For the uninitiated, Sabah BN is Sabah Umno, MCA, MIC and Parti Bersatu Rakyat Sabah (PBRS), while PN comprises Bersatu, PAS, Sabah STAR and Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP). Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) is an ally. Yeah, that’s not confusing at all.
Reportedly BN and Bersatu will take 30 and 19 seats while STAR president Jeffrey Kitingan says the party will possibly contest between 15 to 18 seats, with the rest carved up among the other opposition parties.
Though Sabah elections are centrestage now, you can be sure thoughts of GE15 and the future prime minister are never far behind. BN’s Annuar took great pains to point out that while Umno support Moo Moo (for now!), the party still has a shot at the top if the rakyat supported them. Wow, poor Moo. With ‘friends’ like these, who needs enemies?
Well, at least Rembau MP and man bun model Khairy Jamaluddin is standing by his man. According to KJ, the top post should go to the most charismatic leader and that according to the mirror, mirror on the wall, Moo is the most charismatic one of all. Okaaay bro, we guess leadership, honesty, integrity – or heck, even ability! – matter less than ‘charisma’. 🤷
Speaking of people with PM-ship on the brain, Azmin “Frog Prince” Ali says he’s more comfortable cooperating with Umno or PAS than he ever was with his old pal and mentor Anwar. The PN minister claims he was driven to jump ship out of Harapan due to the constant tussle between PM4/7 (and 8 wannabe) Maddey with PM-forever-in-waiting Anwar. Yeah, we believe you buddy.
Anyways, to keep you up-to-date on the rest of the weekend developments, here are a number of other things that made the news yesterday:
- Six new Covid-19 cases yesterday brings the total number of active cases to 154. Thankfully, yesterday marked the fifth day with no reported deaths. The death toll remains at 128.
- Still on the coronavirus, Tawau authorities are calling for players and spectators at recent football matches in Tawau to come in for testing after a referree tested positive for the virus.
- Department of Orang Asli Development (Jakoa) is looking to develop a pilot project in Perak and Pahang to replace foreign workers in oil palm plantations with Orang Asli and other local workforce.
- The two Aduns who defected from PKR in March and triggered the collapse of the Harapan-led Kedah government have officially joined Bersatu.
- Federal Territories Minister Annuar Musa says all billboards in KL must use Bahasa Malaysia as the main language while other languages can accompany the main text. So if Between the Lines hits it big and wants to put up a billboard one day, would we have to call ourselves Antara Barisan? 🤨
“Thousands have lived without love, not one without water.”
- W.H. Auden -
IN INTERNATIONAL NEWS
- India recorded 90,632 Covid-19 cases on Sunday, the global record for the highest number of positive cases in a day. It is set to surpass Brazil today as the country with the second-highest number of infections, next only to the US of A. Globally, the infection rate now stands at over 27 million people, with over 881,000 dead.
- Seven police officers in Rochester, New York have been suspended in the latest case of the death of a black man to come out of the United States. This, after family of Daniel Prude released police bodycam video of his death on March 23, which took place even before the killing of George Floyd.
- Schools and businesses have been ordered closed, flights have been cancelled and some eight million people have been asked to evacuate in Japan as Typhoon Haishen is set to roll pass. It’s expected to land in South Korea next.
- In his book, Donald Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen claims The Donald hired a “faux” Barack Obama in a video in which Trump belittles the former president and “fires him”. This was allegedly done before Trump’s bid for office, of course. And a new article by The Atlantic claims Trump called American soldiers who’d fallen in battle “losers” and “suckers”. The Atlantic’s editor says this is just the tip of the iceberg.
- Hong Kong sees more rounds of protests as hundreds took to the streets over postponed local elections and a new security law by China. Some 300 demonstrators have been arrested.