• Damage to utilities who pays?


    YEARS ago, Lat drew a two-panel cartoon that offered an ironic commentary on municipalities' proclivity in allowing drilling below street level. In the first panel, a dignitary presides over the opening of a new road; in the second panel, this same road is dug up one day later.

    Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) MP Nurul Izzah Anwar's statement in the Dewan Rakyat last Thursday recalled Lat's memorable cartoon.

    On Feb 15 this year, a water pipe at Mutiara Damansara was damaged by work on the mass rapid transit (MRT) project, an incident which disrupted water supply to households in the area, she said.

    While Lat's cartoon will still evoke a wry smile today, Nurul's speech suggests this issue of utility damage is no laughing matter.

    First, the Feb 15 incident wasn't the only example of utility damage.

    According to the Lembah Pantai MP, the construction of the MRT has witnessed 97 cases of utility damage. This includes 51 incidents involving water utility Syarikat Bekalan Air Selangor (Syabas) and another 27 linked to electricity giant, Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB).

    If there have been 97 cases of utility damage since the 51km project was launched on July 8, 2011, this suggests more than three incidents of utility damage occurred every month over the 31-month period an unacceptably high rate of apparent contractual clumsiness.

    Utility damage could include interruptions in the supply of electricity, water and telecommunications. Depending on the number of users affected and the length of time taken to make repairs, the impact on households, offices and factories could be devastating.

    Nurul didn't disclose the number of users distressed by the Feb 15 disruption of water supply or how long this stoppage lasted.

    According to Deputy Minister of Energy, Green Technology and Water Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid the Feb 15 incident was caused by removing a sheet pile used to support the 900mm pipe which led to soil erosion and this in turn damaged the water pipe.

    This answer raises further questions. Why was the sheet pile removed? Who authorised its removal? In deciding to remove the sheet pile, was the damage to the pipe foreseen? Were steps taken to ensure the removal wouldn't affect the water pipe?

    Second, if Nurul's figures are correct, the financial impact of these utility incidents is worrying. According to Nurul, RM172 million has been spent to repair utility damage, a figure she claims is based on information given by MRT Corp.

    Since the MRT project has reached the half-way mark, does this mean a likely doubling in utility damage accidents and a further increase in the repair bill?

    Third, with several mega projects in the pipeline, if the current rate of contractor clumsiness continues unchecked, will the incidence of utility damage accelerate?

    Recently, the federal government gave the green light for the MRT 2, a 56km line that involves working underground to build 11km of tracks and eight out of 35 stations.

    Other expressway projects both ongoing and yet to be launched include the Kuala Lumpur Outer Ring Road, the RM6 billion 233-km West Coast Expressway project stretching from Banting in Selangor to Taiping in Perak as well as the RM2 billion road upgrading project in Malacca .

    Fourth, why is the incidence of utility damage so high? Does the fault lie with the utility plans given to contractors which may be unreliable, outdated or both? Or are contractors ignorant of the utility plans and unconcerned about utility damage?

    According to Mahdzir, the utility plan of the Mutiara Damansara area was given to MRT contractor Mudajaya Sdn Bhd on March 16, 2012.

    He said Syabas, Mudajaya and MRT contractor, MMC-Gamuda, will take steps to prevent a similar recurrence.

    More important, are the relevant municipalities taking preventive measures? Are they also considering stepping up enforcement measures to ensure compliant work processes?

    Fifth, who is paying for rectifying the utility damage? Are contractors required to make good the damage they cause? Or will the cost of repairs be borne by taxpayers?

    As the developer and asset owner of the MRT project, the Mass Rapid Transit Corporation is fully owned by the Ministry of Finance Incorporated and, therefore, funded by taxpayers.

    Are contractors required to place with the relevant municipality a deposit to pay for any damage caused? If so, is the amount sufficiently prohibitive to ensure minimal utility damage?

    Sixth, can residents of an area who experience a cessation in the supply of electricity, water or telecommunication facilities launch a class action suit against the offending contractor?

    If contractors could be legally compelled to compensate long-suffering householders and businesses, would this prompt them to take more care when digging underground?

    Lat's cartoon should represent the past rather than continue to be a present-day reminder of the proliferation of seemingly drill-happy careless contractors.
    Kramit69 likes this.

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