Penang would financially back intra-state water authority to protect Ulu Muda River Basin, says deputy CM

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Malay Mail
Malay Mail

GEORGE TOWN, Sept 10 — The Penang state government will financially support the establishment of a regional water authority to protect the Ulu Muda River Basin, said Penang Deputy Chief Minister II P. Ramasamy today.

The Penang lawmaker said the state government will not give in to threats and blackmail by the Kedah state government over the long-standing water rights issue between both states.

"A trajectory towards a regional water authority in the name of Ulu Muda River Basin Authority (UMRBA) might get the moral as well as financial support of the Penang government," he said in a statement here.

He said the proposal to set up UMBRA by the Penang state government was to address the water needs of those in the northern states of Perlis, Kedah and Penang.

Kedah draws about 96 per cent of water from the Ulu Muda water catchment area, Penang about 80 per cent and Perlis 70 per cent.

He said the establishment of a regional water authority to conserve, manage and regulate water supply in the Ulu Muda water catchment area was not an affront to the rights of Kedah nor its sovereignty.

Ramasamy was responding to Kedah Mentri Besar Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor, who claimed that the setting up of a regional water authority was an affront to the sovereignty of Kedah and the state's rights.

Sanusi accused Penang of refusing to pay for the water supply it draws from Sungai Muda and that Kedah had lost out on logging revenue by not allowing logging in the Ulu Muda area to protect the water catchment area.

He also said the setting up of a regional water authority goes against the Malaysia Agreement of 1963, which clearly spelt out the rights of the states over land, natural resources, forests and others.

"It is perfectly understandable why Sanusi is repeating his argument about the need for Penang to contribute RM100 million per year to Kedah to compensate for water drawn from Sungai Muda," Ramasamy said.

He pointed out that Penang draws water from its side of the river so the state is enjoying the universally acknowledged riparian rights.

He reminded Sanusi that the natural flow of water from the river was there long before Malaya was colonised and state boundaries were demarcated.

"The formation of states did not usurp the natural and inalienable rights of the use of water from the river," he said.

He said the states' rights were enshrined in the Federal Constitution long before the formation of Malaysia in 1963.

"In actual fact, states in Malaysia such as Kedah do not have sovereignty as such. Sovereignty refers to the nation and not to the states as such," he said.

Ramasamy also claimed that logging is taking place in the water catchment area but not on the scale envisaged by Sanusi.

He said the formation of a regional or intra-state water authority is important to meet the increasing demand for water across the three northern states.

"States by themselves are finding it more and more difficult to manage water resources," he said.

He cited the Murray-Darling Basin in Australia as an example of the setting up of a regional water authority to manage water resources.

He also stressed that Kedah cannot claim exclusive rights to the water from the Sungai Muda even though the water flows from the water catchment area of Ulu Muda in Kedah.

"It is not that Penang does not want to contribute to the preservation and protection of the Ulu Muda water catchment area," he said.

He said Penang is taking a strategic and long-term view by asking the Environment and Water Ministry to undertake a study for the eventual establishment of a regional water authority.

"It is within the powers of the federal government to intervene on matters of conflict between the states," he said.

However, he said the ministry has not taken any steps to resolve water problems between states, not only between Penang and Kedah but also between Penang and Perak.

"The proposal for Penang to draw water from Sungai Perak in the state of Perak has hit the stone wall," he said.

He then accused the Environment and Water Minister Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man of letting political party ties take precedence over the future of water supply to the northern states.