GEORGE TOWN - Penang folk will soon have to dig deeper into their pockets to pay their water bills.
According to Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, this was because many Penangites were wasting water, which he believed could lead to scarcity, as seen in some states.
Lim, who is also Penang Water Supply Corporation (PBAPP) chairman, said the state government was left with little choice but to raise the water tariff.
"We have tried many ways to check against wastage but failed. Water usage by Penangites is the highest in the country even though our rates are the cheapest, at 31 sen (S$0.12) per 35,000 litres," he said after chairing the weekly state executive council meeting here yesterday.
Lim said Penangites used an average of 311 cubic litres of water daily compared with the people in Sabah and Perlis, whose daily consumption stood at 115 and 241 cubic litres, respectively.
Penang's water consumption was 50 per cent higher than the national average rate of 212 cubic litres per person daily.
Lim said the proposed water rate hike, which is still being worked out, would not be a burden.
"PBAPP, which had recommended the water tariff hike, is conducting a study and will recommend the new rates.
"The proposed rates would be submitted to the National Water Services Commission for approval.
"I assure the people the new rates will be lower than the national average of 66 sen for the first 35,000 litres."
Asked if the new rates would be implemented by year's end, he said: "That is too long. It will be sooner."
Asked whether his earlier announcement that Penang would consider water rationing still stood, Lim said it was now not necessary.
However, he said there was a need to implement a contingency plan to avoid water rationing in the future if there should be an extended dry season.
"I think Penangites, too, would like to avoid water rationing."
The last time water rates were increased in Penang was 23 years ago. However, Lim's announcement was greeted with mixed reactions by various quarters.
Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) president S.M. Mohamed Idris said the water tariff increase was long overdue.
"The water rate hike will definitely stop water abuse. Consumers will react fast when they have to dig deep into their pockets to pay for utilities."
Penang Hoteliers Association president Datuk Lim Mee Lee, however, disagreed, saying the increased water tariff would be a burden to hoteliers.
"The state government imposed levies on hotel rooms, which will come into force in June, and now we have to contend with a water tariff hike.
"This will hit us hard," he said, adding that some hoteliers would be forced to increase their room rates to offset the increase in their overheads.
He said it could not be ruled out that a water rate hike would cause a chain reaction to other businesses and it could ultimately affect consumers the most.
Penang Malay Congress president Rahmad Isahak said the state government should postpone its decision to increase the water tariff. "The economy is bad right now and the people are already feeling the pinch.