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Water investment in Indonesia

Friday, January 19, 2007

A good article on water investment appears on today's Jakarta Post:

No significant improvements in services have been seen since the Jakarta water business was taken control of by the foreign investors, as evident from the thousands of complaints sent to the companies. There are now a number of unresolved problems that the new investors will have to tackle as a legacy.

First, the scarcity of raw water, particularly during the dry season, as the companies rely too much on water from the Jatiluhur reservoir in West Java. Meanwhile, the water from the 13 rivers in the capital is too dirty to be processed into potable water.

Second, many people are unhappy about a clause in the agreement that provides for automatic water-price increases every six months. There have been rumors circulating that the privatization of the tap-water business was made possible due to collusion involving the family of then president Soeharto. Both Palyja and TPJ have denied the accusation.

Third, water privatization remains a controversial issue in this country, despite the enactment of the 2004 Water Resources Law. Many insist that privatization will deny the poor access to water.

Fourth, and most problematic, many customers say they have not seen any significant improvement in services since the arrival of TPJ and Palyja, although the two companies say they have invested a lot on improving water-supply infrastructure, such as the construction of new mains and the repair of old ones

The Judicial Review of the Water Law by the Constitutional Court arises important legal consequences for water investment, as I have previously discussed in my article at the LEAD Journal downloadable here. The consequences of the judicial review are:
The Court (with 7 concurring and 2 dissenting) held the Law to be “Conditionally Constitutional”. It considers the Law to be sufficient in protecting the citizen’s right and is so far compatible with the Constitution. It however warned that if the implementation is different than what has been outlined by the Court in its Decision, the Law can be subjected to a re-judicial review.

The Court is silence with regards to the parameters of “implementation”. Implementation can mean Implementing Regulations of the Law or the Government’ s Practice in the form of decrees, circulars or unwritten decision of the bureaucracy. It is not known as to whether -- for example-- a single cooperation contract between a regional government and a foreign investor or a bureaucratic behaviour requiring traditional salt farmer to obtain license from his village chief can be used as a ground for re-judicial review.

The author is of the opinion that examination of ‘Conditionally Constitutional’ should refer to policies of the Central Government and validity of the Law’s Implementing Regulations. It is also important to note that the Court tends to reinterpret the Law at several occasions in its Judicial Review as seen when examining Customary Water Right

"Pricing" is going to be a problem and a possible source of conflict. Unfortunatelly the law is silent of this matter. It is to be regulated in implementing regulations.