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This is Rubbish!

POSTED BY Yamin Vong ON 10 January 2012

Rubbish collection is the kind of essential service that one shouldn’t muck about with unless one knows what one is doing.

The saying about the shit hitting the fan couldn’t be truer in this instance.

The 45 subcontractors who do most of the rubbish collection in Shah Alam have refused to accept a two-month extension from Jan 1 to Feb. 29 offered by the Shah Alam City Council.

But don’t think that it’s just a Shah Alam problem. The stink and unsanitary conditions from piled up rubbish and week-old uncollected household waste will soon come to you if you’re from Petaling Jaya or Subang Jaya, that is, if it hasn’t already affected you.

It’s coming close to Chinese New Year and the tradition for Chinese households is to clean up the house. That means more rubbish will be thrown over the next two weeks to CNY on the 23rd and 24th January.

So who’s causing the problem? It’s caused by a new state government which wants to prove that it can provide municipal waste management services at a lower cost than the previous state government.

When zeal is combined with ignorance, it can result in unfortunate results. In the case of Selangor, the mishandling of the municipal waste collection business is going to blow up in the face of the new state government, much to the secret delight of several parties.

If the household waste remains uncollected, well, try to imagine it yourself. It would be a very tangible and unsanitary political issue.

There is no secret to good municipal waste management services – treat the rubbish collectors with professional respect and pay them a decent amount so that they can afford to re-invest in their business.

In practical terms, this is what the new state government politician in charge of urban services can do:

1.Employ an experienced council service head from one of the excellent city councils like Kuantan or Kuching or older staff from the MBPJ because they can very quickly determine the average cost of collection per service area.

2. With this approximate cost in hand, retain the rubbish contractor but on a five-year contract. The trend in London and Paris is to award contracts on 12-15 year terms to two or three giant contractors.

For Selangor, it should at least be five years so that the contractor can buy a truck, and the bank can approve a loan based on a government contract. The current way of awarding contracts on a yearly basis is obsolete and doesn’t recognize the need to re-invest in capital equipment. The principle is that, like a utility business, the rubbish business is a long term business and players need to invest in RM200,000 plus 16-tonne trucks with compactor bodies.

3. With a good rate in hand and a long term service contract, the owners of the business will work hard to collect the rubbish three times a week as contracted. And if, with the more lucrative rate, they still cut corners by collecting once a week instead of three times a week, or eight times a months instead of 12.9 times a month, then they should be terminated with the proper notice and procedure and their contract awarded to the contractor in the neighbouring area.

4. There should be a transparent complaint process because many of the council urban service supervisors are known to collaborate with the contractors so that public complaints are suppressed. With a lucrative contract value, the supervisors who are corrupted may have an stronger hand in demanding gratification, even though the waste collection service is according to specifications.

5. The council should also educate the householders about their responsibilities. An efficient waste management company with a good 16-tonne truck and a strong compactor can collect about five tones of municipal household waste in one morning round of about 500 houses. This is based on the assumption that there is 10 kg of household waste in each garbage bin. The company has costed its bid based on this assumption and the council must educate householders that the garbage man can’t also pick up bags of yard waste, or broken chairs and unwanted mattresses. Bulky waste and yard waste is separate from municipal solid waste, which anyway, must be in a specific type of garbage bin, and not tied up in bags and hung on the gate or the tree.

This is somewhere in Larkin Gardens, Johor. How can the rubbish contractor finish his day's job of collecting from 500 houses in one day's route if his "klinden" (attendants) have to spend more than a minute a house? The council has a duty to educate the responsibility of householders because the essence of having a clean neighbourhood is that all of us have to look after our rubbish. there are not enough rubbish men to service each of us

An open lorry for rubbish collection is unsanitary and simply inefficient.

This is a modern compactor truck, the sort that you'll see not only in Switzerand, but also in Singapore, Bangkok, and Hong Kong.

The black bin liners are filled with recyclable waste that the rubbish collectors have separated from the household waste and which they will later sell to the scrapyards. if they see it or feel it, the rubbish truck attendants will keep aside anything that's metal or aluminium that they feel has a scrap value.

The cost of collection will vary depending upon density of population, type of household unit (whether it’s a high-end area like Damansara Utama or a densely-populated area like Kampung Medan/ Datuk Harun and an experienced council urban services head of department can quickly do an approximate cost per routing per compactor truck.

The Selangor state government had earlier said that it would not participate in the Federal Government’s plan to privatise municipal solid waste management.

Accordingly, it terminated Alam Flora’s rubbish collection contract on December 31 and appointed its own subsidiary, Hebat Abadi, to collect rubbish for the state.

From amongst a group of bidders, both local and international consortia, DRB-Hicom was awarded the central zone contract comprising of Selangor and the Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur.

The Act was passed about 10 years ago but only gazetted last year. In the meantime, DRB-Hicom formed a subsidiary, Alam Flora to operate the municipal waste collection business.

How Alam Flora did it was to get DBKL and the major local councils in Selangor to ask the existing sub-contractors to accept working under Alam Flora. Almost all accepted and signed the agreement to novate their contracts to Alam Flora.

Then Alam Flora took over, and in a move that’s still resented by the sub-contractors, Alam Flora charged the sub-contractors a management fee. To the further distress of the sub-contractors, most of whom had won bids by undercutting (and then lowering service standards), Alam Flora also penalized them for not performing according to service standards.

The replacement for Alam Flora is Hebat Abadi, a subsidiary of the state government’s investment arm – Kumpulan Daruk Ehsan Bhd (KDEB). Hebat Abadi threatens to do another round of rate cutting for the new tender exercise it proposes to call on March 1.

If the new state government wants to make a point about saving money in the waste collection service, then they have made an unfortunate and uneducated choice.

The waste collection service in Selangor is severely underinvested and the level of service is declining because of underpaid contractors.

A long long time ago, when KL grew from village to town, the colonial british government appointed the KL Sanitary Board to manage sewage and rubbish collection. The KL Sanitary Board hired the night-soil workers as they were euphemistically called to remove the buckets of sewage from the houses in KL. and also bought carts, and hired workers to collect rubbish.

As the KL grew from town to city, as Malaya grew to become Malaysia, the DBKL could not manage the waste and rubbish collection. Because the population grew faster than it could award tenders to buy trucks and create the budget allocation to hire workers, the DBKL was allowed by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government to hire waste contractors.

The first two municipal waste contractors were Douglas Waste and Conwaste. Then when the New Economic Policy (NEP) was formed, only Bumiputera contractors were allowed to bid for municipal solid waste (household rubbish) contracts.

Contracts were awarded to the lowest bidder. Many of the successful contractors won because they had inside knowledge of the bid prices, and they just put in a lower bid.

This led to a situation where the contractors who won, did not have enough operational revenue to perform according to specifications — namely three collections a week, non-leaking trucks, a proper truck depot. But the underperforming contractors were seldom sacked because they bribed the council supervisors to give a good monthly report.

Then when the national waste privatisation act was passed by Parliament, it laid the way for the winners like Southern Waste Management and DRB-Hicom’s Alam Flora to take over.

these major consortia subcontracted the bumiputera contractors (already operating in a survival mode because of non-existent profits) and charged these poor fellows a management fee of 5 per cent.

So waste management is in a poor situation in Malaysia and unlikely to get better until the relevant authorities go to the ground and understand the situation.

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