Muhammad Reza, advocacy coordinator for the People's Coalition for the Right to Water (Kruha), is trying to get the Public Information Commission (KIP) to declare key data and documents public.

With Private Control of Jakarta’s Water, Public in the Dark

Details of the management of Jakarta's piped water supply have long been shrouded in secrecy.

On several fronts, that might soon change.

Muhammad Reza, advocacy coordinator for the People's Coalition for the Right to Water (Kruha), is trying to get the Public Information Commission (KIP) to declare key data and documents public.

Kruha is also part of an NGO coalition that last month reported public water authority PAM Jaya to the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK). Reza says he's trying to increase transparency and accountability in a system sorely lacking in it.

To a lesser extent, Sri Kedari, PAM Jaya's new president director, is trying to do the same thing. He's negotiating with the water authority's "concessionaires," or operators, to increase its access to information.

The two men's efforts underline a lack of transparency in a system run by two private companies: Palyja, a subsidiary of French firm Suez Environment, and Aetra, which is owned by a consortium based in Singapore.

They hold a contract with state-owned PAM Jaya in an arrangement that began during the Suharto era.

In the information ecosystem surrounding the compact, it is the operators who sit atop the food chain. PAM Jaya occupies a secondary rung; it sees what the operators show them.

As for the public?

"In this situation, nothing is public," Reza said. "People don't know what really happens."

Behind closed doors

Last November, Reza wrote to PAM Jaya, requesting a long list of data and documents, such as assets/piping installations, investment plans, customer databases and even the contract itself.

But much of this was denied.

According to PAM Jaya's Sri, they were worried about breaching their contract with the operators, which includes a confidentiality clause that limits disclosure of technical and financial information. "Maybe Palyja or Aetra could take us to arbitration," he told the Jakarta Globe in a recent interview.

Palyja, however, said previously it was perfectly willing to disclose what Kruha requested, provided that PAM Jaya sign off on it.

"Palyja already agreed on the principle to disclose the RCA [restated cooperation agreement]," Palyja president director Philippe Folliasson wrote in an e-mail on Saturday, using an umbrella term for much of what Reza sought.

In response, Sri maintained he was just following what the contract stated. If KIP declares the information Kruha wanted public, he would be happy to hand it over.

Reza said the secrecy showed lack of political will for the public good. It could also be construed as evidence of corruption.

"It is clear there is another party in this who benefits from the secrecy of the agreement," he said. "The DKI [Jakarta] government, the central government."

Financial concerns

In his e-mail, Folliasson wrote that everything Kruha requested is "part of the extensive documentation and reporting delivered on a regular basis to PAM Jaya by Palyja."

However, Reza said it wasn't that simple.

PAM Jaya actually cannot see much of what the operators control. On some key fronts, PAM Jaya is only allowed access to summaries they provide.

This was pointed out by the Supreme Audit Agency (BPK) in a 2009 audit. It said there were a number of clauses in the contract that "weaken the authority" of PAM Jaya, barring it from key information and preventing it from fulfilling its role as guardian of public goods.

In the case of customer data, for example, PAM Jaya only receives a monthly "Master Print" and is not allowed to see the comprehensive raw data – billings, collections, etc.

This, according to BPK, prevented PAM Jaya from properly monitoring their operators, making it impossible to verify certain financial reports they provide.

As a result, BPK said it wasn't convinced the Rp 1.7 trillion ($185 million) in revenue collected from customers and deposited in a joint account of PAM Jaya and the operators in 2007 and 2008 was accurate.

Sri said the raw data issue was also one of several points PAM Jaya was trying to address in talks with the operators.

In total, BPK made 21 findings on problems with the cooperation agreement, and recommendations for how to fix them. These detailed improper disposal of assets, unfair calculation of PAM Jaya's payments to the operators, and more.

The NGO coalition's report to KPK based its claims in large part on those findings, as well as its own investigations. It highlighted the 2008 "rebasing" process, which every five years brings PAM Jaya and the operators together to set certain technical and financial parameters. It accuses certain PAM Jaya officials of conspiring to enrich the private parties at the expense of Jakartans.

Since new parameters were set in 2008, PAM Jaya has fallen hundreds of billions of rupiah into debt to the operators, a prime reason PAM Jaya has since 2010 been under orders to renegotiate.

Information tap runs dry

If releasing the information Kruha wants is shown to both cause no harm and be necessary for the public's basic needs, KIP would declare it open, its chairman Ahmad Alamsyah said.

If that happens, anyone would have the tools to calculate where money has been spent and for whose benefit, Reza said.

Reza's concern, though, is that the KIP process will take too long. Meanwhile, PAM Jaya and the operators were negotiating now, with the government having set an April 1 deadline for rebalancing.

During the 2010-2011 tenure of Maurits Napitupulu as director of PAM Jaya, Reza said he felt the water body was more open than ever before. Kruha was often invited to public workshops, where it gave input about what was going on. But since Maurits' removal, he said, it's been different.

Sri said that currently, the negotiations were closed to the public. It must be that way, he said, because ordinary citizens lacked the expertise to participate.

"If we make the negotiations open, I think it will be very difficult because not enough people know about the operations of the water services," he said, adding that Jakarta and central government officials had been invited to take part in the talks.

After PAM Jaya drafted a new agreement with the operators, Sri said, there would be some kind of seminar or forum where the public would have a chance to weigh in.

Reza said that wasn't enough. Plenty of people knew about the issues at hand, he said, and they should be able to have their say throughout the process.

"It's not the final decision they should consult, but the basic principles," he said. "So people have a real chance to make change after all these bad years."

Based on experience, he said, he was skeptical there would be a real effort.

"This is a call for the public of Jakarta to be aware of this case," he said. "There is something wrong. Why do they keep on hiding this?"

Philip Jacobson | February 26, 2012
Published in Jakarta Globe