The Long Journey of Affecting Change

By Michelle Ng

This is a story of what it takes to create change. It’s about technical (boring, to some) legislative stuff, but I hope that you will bear with me. I find this worth documenting to encourage all of you out there who are on a quest to do great things, but may feel tired or have faced setbacks. When I look back at this point in my life a few years on, I want to have this story here as a reminder of why I joined politics.

Subang Jaya has been hit by so many water cuts. Nine in total. Half for residents in SS12-19, USJ3ABCD and PJS7, 9 and 11. The other half – residents in USJ1-22. This is because each side receives water from two different source – the former, Sungai Selangor; the latter, Sungai Semenyih.

I was very frustrated. In November 2019, I brought a motion in the State Assembly to ask that a committee be set up to come up with plans to put an end to water disruption. It was a daunting move as a first time Assemblyman, and the youngest at that. Fortunately, the motion passed. With that, I became the first first-term Assemblyman in this cohort to bring a motion.

On the 21st of December 2019, which was my wedding day, I received news right after I took my wedding vows that Sungai Semenyih was contaminated, and USJ had no water. I rushed over after the lunch reception back to USJ to begin a water distribution plan.

It honestly felt quite defeating, to say the least. Just a few weeks before, we passed a motion which got things going. How I wished that things moved fast enough to prevent the December disruption. But change takes time.

Before the March 2020 State Assembly sitting, I learnt that there used to be a Select Committee on Selangor Water Resource that was chaired by YB Yeo Bee Yin when she was a State Assemblyman. A Select Committee, whilst it is not an agency with enforcement or decision-making powers, it can however provide legislative oversight. That means it serves as check and balance to the executive, by keeping them on track. I texted YB Ng Suee Lim, the current Speaker of the State Assembly, to ask that he revived the Select Committee.

When the March 2020 sitting came about, I was happy to see from the order paper that my proposal will be considered. I was shocked, however, when it was announced that I will be chairing the Select Committee. By convention, an Assemblyman with at least 2 terms under his/her belt will be selected as Chair. I knew this would be a heavy burden to bear, what more as someone who only had a year and 10 months of experience, by that time?

In May 2020, after the Movement Control Order, I immediately convened a two day hearing with all relevant agencies – Lembaga Urus Air Selangor, Suruhanjaya Perkhidmatan Air Negara, Air Selangor, Jabatan Alam Sekitar, Majlis Perbandaran Kajang, Majlis Daerah Hulu Selangor, Indah Water.

From the hearing, we produced a very comprehensive report with 38 recommendations, which includes water legislative reforms, systemic reforms, finance and enforcement. This report can be accessed from the State Assembly’s website. I would like to encourage all of you to take the time to read it.

When this was tabled in the July 2020 State Assembly, we learnt from YB Hee Loy Sian that there were plans to amend the Lembaga Urus Air Selangor Enactment to increase penalties from RM100,000 to RM500,000. Whilst it was a step in the right direction, I felt that they could do better. So here came another round of lobbying.

We immediately held a hearing after the July sitting ended to learn more. On many occasions, we made our position clear in private and in public. ALL legislation – whether Federal or State – must contain these:-

  1. Mandatory jail sentence
  2. A minimum fine of RM200,000
  3. A maximum fine of RM1million
  4. And the perpetrator must be made to pay the cost of cleaning up the rivers.

I would not be honest if I said it was smooth sailing. Yes, we faced opposition. Commitments came in slowly. First, on one item, then on two, then on more. But we kept at it.

I just want to address a few questions that have arisen in the course of our lobbying work:-

Why was mandatory jail sentence necessary? Well, for some rich corporations, a financial penalty is simply cost to their business. Given the gravity of the situation, we felt that mandatory jail sentence was proportionate to the crime.

Why a minimum fine? Through the first hearing conducted by the Select Committee, we found out that Courts would usually award a fine between RM10,000 to RM70,000. This is not wrong. Theoretically the Courts can award RM1,000 and it is still valid if a minimum is not stated. So, this has to change in order to provide the Courts a policy guide.

Why are you only looking at changing laws? No, we are not, we are pressing for many more changes. As I said earlier, we made 38 recommendations. In the art of lobbying, however, the strategy must be to keep messaging clear and focused. Do not muddy the waters. Achieve one thing and move to the next. We chose legislation because you do not need money to change laws. It is a low hanging fruit.

In fact, of the 38 recommendations, the executive just held a briefing on the 30th of October 2020 and the Menteri Besar announced in his Budget Speech that they will commit to 24-hour river surveillance, installing more telemetry systems, linking HORAS300 and other ponds which can serve as emergency resource, planning towards a policy of Total Maximum Daily Load, zero discharge policy and polluters pay principle. ALL these ideas were proposed in the aforesaid report by our Select Committee.

So, will we succeed in seeing the change I have been pressing for when the LUAS Enactment is tabled in this State Assembly sitting?

I am pleased to say (and with a huge smile) – YES.