Sunday, December 5, 2010

Selangor water protesters tear-gassed

Selangor water protesters tear-gassed

UPDATED @ 05:17:44 PM 05-12-2010
December 05, 2010
Riot police begin firing their water cannons to disperse a crowd gathered for Selangor’s water rally in KL, December 5, 2010. — Picture by Jack Ooi
KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 5 — Riot police fired tear gas and used water cannons on at least 1,000 protesters near the KL Railway Station as they marched to the Istana Negara today to rally against a potential bailout of Selangor water utility companies.

Hundreds of protestors sought refuge at the Railway Station to avoid the police action after they started their march from the National Mosque.

Riot police later turned the water cannons on those who had gone back to the National Mosque despite organisers announcing an end to the rally shortly before 3pm.

The rally ended about 4pm when Pakatan Rakyat leaders appealed to the crowd at the National Mosque to disperse under the watch of phalanxes of fully-armed riot police.

Kuala Lumpur deputy police chief Senior Asst Commissioner Datuk Amar Singh promises to release those detained earlier to ensure a swift dispersal. It is understood that nearly 50 have been detained with
most of them held at the Police Field Force facility in Cheras.

“It is our guarantee that they will all be freed. So please disperse yourself.” he told the crowd.

Several policemen had earlier charged at more than 1,000 protesters, some of whom ran to seek sanctuary at the mosque. The crowd has so far remained at the vicinity of the National Mosque after failing to break through police barricades, water cannons and teargas.

The action at the National Mosque began after police had allowed a group of protesters through to deliver a memorandum the Yang di-Pertuan Agong seeking support for Selangor’s takeover of the
state’s water industry.

According to witnesses, police used tear gas and water cannons on the crowd after allowing Selangor Mentri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim and several state exco members to proceed to the Istana Negara.

“The MB and excos are inside the Istana gates. Submitting the memorandum. Or attempting to,” tweeted Khalid’s aide Tricia Yeoh.

In a statement issued this evening, the Selangor Mentri Besar’s office said Khalid handed the memorandum containing 250,000 signatures to Istana Negara public relations officer Khairi Abdul Rahman at 2.15pm.

The five-point memorandum asked among others that water rights to be handed back to the state.

Meanwhile, Kota Damansara assemblyman Dr Nasir Hashim was escorted by the police to Selangor’s water rally at the National Mosque, shortly after being detained earlier at the KL Sentral transport hub.

Apart from the Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) chairman, two other PSM members who had been detained — Shah Alam councillor A. Sivarajan and party secretary-general S. Arulchelvam — were also escorted to the National Mosque, said Subang MP R. Sivarasa’s personal assistant, Peter Chong.

“The three were officially released and sent in a police car to the National Mosque,” Chong told The Malaysian Insider today.

The three had been held in the morning at the KL Sentral on their way to the Selangor water protest that began this morning at the National Mosque.

Witnesses said the trio were later re-arrested for being in the vicinity of the Istana Negara but police have yet to confirm.

The crowd later dispersed from the National Mosque after PAS central committee member and Kuala Selangor MP Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad pleaded with them.

“We guarantee that the last person standing will be freed. So we ask everyone to disperse,” he told the protesters, most of whom were clad in red.

More than 40 people at the rally were detained, said Chong.

“About 40 plus people were arrested. They are being taken to the Cheras police station,” Chong told The Malaysian Insider.

“Dr Nasir, Sivarajan, and Arulchelvam were rearrested, but they were just released again,” he added.

Earlier at the National Mosque at about 1.30 pm, Khalid called on the Sultan to support the Selangor government’s efforts to control the state’s water industry by upholding the Water Services Industry Act
2006.

“We humbly request the Tuanku to uphold the spirit and aim of the Water Services Industry Act 2006, which is to restructure the water services industry into one that is holistic and managed by the Selangor state government. We call upon Tuanku to remind the federal government of this,” he said in a speech at the National Mosque.

The Selangor mentri besar further accused Putrajaya of practising cronyism by backing the water concessionaires.

“It is the perception of the people that the federal government sides with the private sector, in this case a particular company, which is equivalent to cronyism,” said Khalid.

“The rakyat has to now pay high water rates and Malaysian taxpayers are forced to undertake the risk of Syabas’s business. We call upon the Tuanku to remind the federal government of their promise to end
cronyism,” he said.

Dr Dzulkefly told reporters later at the National Mosque that he would inform Parliament about the “excessive” police force used against the protestors, some of whom were women and children.

“It is excessive use of force,” said Dr Dzulkefly.

“It is unfortunate that the police used unwarranted force. We’ll raise this in Parliament,” he added.

Khalid’s administration is fighting for the rights over the water industry and promised to provide the first 20 cubic metres water for free and maintain 12 per cent increase in water tariff, compared to Syabas’ plans of a 25 per cent increase in 2012 and a 20 per cent increase in 2015.

Sources told The Malaysian Insider recently that Selangor water bondholders will urge Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak to intervene directly in the state’s water restructuring deadlock in an effort to safeguard their bonds from being further downgraded.

The Malaysian Insider understands that major bondholders — including CIMB Principal Asset Management, Hong Leong Investment Bank and Great Eastern Life — have drafted a joint letter to Najib asking the federal government to bail out Syabas with a soft loan worth some RM1 billion.

In the letter, the bondholders contend that further downgrades of debt ratings will put capital markets at risk and will seriously impede the government’s effort to promote its Capital Markets Masterplan.

Putrajaya bailed out Syabas once already last year when it gave a RM320.8 million soft loan to parent company Puncak Niaga Holdings Bhd (PNHB) in December to help settle its debts to water treatment
concessionaires.

Selangor’s water players — Syabas, Puncak Niaga Sdn Bhd (PNSB), Syarikat Pengeluaran Air Sungai Selangor Sdn Bhd (Splash) and Konsortium ABASS — are at risk of debt payment default as water bonds
approach their maturity dates.

The debt service problem started when Syabas was barred from implementing a 37 per cent tariff hike agreed upon in January 2009, after the Selangor government claimed the sole water distributor had
not done enough to reduce leakages which cost the state millions.

This in turn led to payment problems between Syabas and water treatment concessionaires PNSB, Splash and Konsortium ABASS, who supply it with treated water.

Selangor water concessionaires are also already in technical default owing to the shortfall of money in the reserve account.

The Malaysian Insider understands that the reserve account, meant to hold at least six months’ worth of bond repayment money, is currently short by some RM50 million.

This shortfall may double in six months if the current water consolidation impasse remains unresolved.

The technical default triggered a downgrade of the debt issuances by Malaysian Rating Corp Bhd (MARC) and RAM Ratings Services Bhd on September 8, who warned of further multiple-notch downgrades in this quarter.

An industry source told The Malaysian Insider that bondholders suffered RM457 million in mark-to-market losses following the downgrade.

A statement by MARC at the time urged the federal and state governments to urgently interfere in the water industry’s restructuring negotiations to prevent a free fall of ratings in following months.

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