Thu, 30 Jan 2003

Govt assures water still free for daily needs

Moch. N. Kurniawan, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The government assured on Wednesday that the public would not have to pay for river water used for daily needs such as bathing, washing clothes, cleaning and cooking, and that water used for farming and fish ponds owned by small-scale farmers would also remain free of charge.

Director General for Water Resources Roestam Syarief at the Ministry of Resettlement and Regional Infrastructure, however, said that farmers with export orientation and industrial plants would have to pay for their water.

Roestam was speaking on the sidelines of a hearing with the House of Representatives (DPR) Commission IV for transportation, resettlement and regional infrastructure Wednesday, responding to concerns raised by several non-governmental organizations (NGOs) over the water resources bill. The bill is currently being deliberated by House members, and encourages the privatization of water resources.

Some NGOs opposed the increased role of private firms in public utility services, claiming that the firms would merely think about profits and limit public access to utilities.

The Kehati Biodiversity Foundation and the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) are two NGOs that have expressed their reservations with the water resources bill.

Kehati executive director Ismid Hadad said on Tuesday that the bill would bring more hardship to the people, particularly farmers.

If the bill is passed into law as is, it will endorse privatization with a lack of public control, which could lead to excessive water exploitation by private entities, higher water rates and also limit the urban poor's access to water. In the long run, uncontrolled exploitation of water resources by private entities could create water scarcity in urban areas.

Roestam said the bill required public consensus at the regional level on whether or not a water resource could be managed by private firms.

"If the public doesn't agree, the government will not issue any licenses to private firms," he said.

On Tuesday, Minister of Resettlement and Regional Infrastructure Soenarno said that the water resources bill would only offer limited privatization and ensure public access to clean water.

He stressed that under the current bill, private companies would be limited to managing clean water for household (tap water) and industrial uses.

"We don't want people who are already deprived of clean water to become more marginalized after the endorsement of the bill," he said.