Home TA Online Has Mahathir’s privatisation agenda failed the nation?

Has Mahathir’s privatisation agenda failed the nation?

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Recent news about the Sabah Water Supply Enactment 2003, which allows the state water authority to issue licences to undertake water supply distribution, has brought to the fore how ‘cartel-like’ operatives have hijacked the privatisation agenda, which was initiated by the administration of Dr Mahathir Mohamad several decades ago.

Sadly, this cankerous culture continues today.

The recent case in Kota Kinabalu of a private water supply company charging 10 times the price of water that was billed by state authorities, during times of water supply disruptions is in all likelihood the tip of the iceberg. 

The privatisation agenda from the 1980s to 2000 was a practice that was considered a panacea to rid the system of lagging productivity and corruption. Today we see how it has instead fed the greedy hands of certain politicians and other vested interests. 

From land grabs to rare earth mining to housing and the import of cheap foreign labour, we are seeing evidence of these ugly shadow operatives. 

This privatisation agenda may have made certain rich individuals wealthier and powerful.

Today, if the people are paying so much more for food, other essential items, education, housing and other services, it may not be because of inflation.

Many, including foreigners, are inclined to believe that privatisation in Malaysia is akin to ‘piratisation’. It may be true after all. 

Perhaps it is high time for essential goods and services like water, electricity and road works to be returned to the purview and management of the government. They should be subjected to mandatory public accountability and transparency. The service quality, performance and track records of the relevant heads of departments should be evaluated.

In the past, especially in the two decades of our immediate post-independence period, many in Malaysia were proud of the quality of government services such as postal and telecoms services, and water and electricity supply.

But the mortar and glass – the privatisation ‘success’ – that have made our nation look grander, with gleaming facades, after decades of privatisation has not relieved many people’s hardship.

Instead, many among the middle class have fallen into the low-income category of society. 

Despite this privatisation drive, many remain poor.

So, let us honestly ask ourselves if the quality of life for the people of Malaysia has improved, at more affordable prices, compared to people in India, Thailand, Cambodia or Vietnam.

Today, privatisation in Malaysia operates insidiously to milk huge profits from the people who depend on these essential services.

They may also be used by powerful individuals who may choose to profit from the shares in these listed companies. One may even speculate that these companies serve the interest of their ‘hidden’ shareholders, who may even be funding certain political aspirants.

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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Khoo Soo Hay
Khoo Soo Hay
25 Jul 2023 9.27am

Water & Electricity are the necessities of everyday citizens. They should never be privatized. Privatization means involving private investment, which prevails to make money for its investors. In the process, corruption comes into the picture for the officials in charge, and the investors laughing on their way to the banks. Our leaders must recognize this and stop it. Or our country suffers.

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