Parliament has let down the five states which suffered the four-hour power blackout on Monday in failing to focus on the issue in its first week of meeting

Statement (2)
when launching the DAP’s 46th National Day Celebrations and the  “Defend Secular Malaysia” campaign at the Tanjong Bungah market
by Lim Kit Siang

(PenangFriday): Parliament has let down the five states, Penang, Perak, Kedah, Perlis and Kelantan which suffered the four-hour power blackout on Monday in failing to focus on the issue in its first week of meeting. 

Penang Chief Minister, Tan Sri Dr. Koh Tsu Koon said on Wednesday that Tenaga Nasional Bhd (TNB) took too long to restore power supply to the state on Monday. 

He said that although the outage did not last as long as the one in North America on August 14, TNB should have restored power earlier, asking TNB to take responsibility for any blackouts and “learn from the experience and improve its entire system”. 

Koh did not mention that the power blackout which brought much of central London to a rush-hour standstill  last Friday lasted only  half an hour, with the London Mayor Ken Livingstone fuming and declaring that it was “totally unacceptable”, asking why “a country which is the fourth richest in the world cannot invest enough in its power supply to maintain power”. 

The question in Malaysia  is why the five-state four-hour  power blackout in the five northern states (whose manufacturers have reported losses of between RM20 million to RM30 million) was not placed on top of the agenda when Parliament met for three days this week. 

Is this another example of the “Kuala Lumpur-syndrome” which would soon be replaced by the “Putrajaya-syndrome” which equated the Federal capital with the nation and  does not regard any disaster or crisis as a national one unless the Federal Capital is affected. However big the floods in the East Coast, for instance, the country is not facing any national catastrophe unless the Federal capital is inundated with flood waters.  Similarly, a four-hour  blackout affecting five northern states is not a national power crisis, while a four-hour blackout affecting the Federal capital would definitely be one! 

There is no reason however for Parliament to succumb to this “Federal capital-syndrome” with MPs coming from all over the country. 

The US and London blackouts occurred during the summer recess of their legislatures, but the first thing the United States Congress did when it reconvened this week was to hold a two-day congressional hearings on what went wrong resulting in the  August 14 US-Canada blackout, with the US Energy Secretary Spencer Abrahim as the leadoff witness.  

In the United Kingdom,  the House of Commons Select Committee on Trade and Industry has scheduled  hearings on Sept. 16 to cross-examine the senior executives of the London power company for the half-hour blackout in London last Friday. 

In Malaysia, however, Monday’s five-state four-hour power blackout  was not even important enough to top the parliamentary agenda while the  Minister for Energy, Communications and Multimedia, Datuk Leo Moggie did not deign it serious enough a matter to make a Ministerial statement in Parliament.

Statements and comments from Cabinet Ministers in the past few days on the five-state four-hour blackout ooze with complacency and self-satisfaction that Malaysia’s blackout was not as long  as the mammoth US outage, conveniently ignoring the fact that London’s blackout lasted only for half an hour.

The Senate and the House of Representatives in the United States are working on comprehensive energy legislation incorporating mandatory electricity reliability standards, which are totally absent in the Malaysian context as the  minimum standards binding TNB. 

In the United Kingdom, the British newspapers in the past few days were awash with  screaming headlines like Grid may face fine for London blackout”,  “Grid faces £1bn London blackout fine”, Bosses to pay for power cut fiasco” and “MPs quiz energy bosses on London blackout” because TNB’s counterpart in the UK, National Grid, faces a fine of  up to £1 billion as it  has  legal obligations to maintain the power grid to the required standard or face a punitive levy of a financial penalty of ten per cent of the company’s annual turnover of £9.4 billion.  

Furthermore,  the  pay package including bonus of the chief executive and directors of National Grid in the United Kingdom  are geared to the ability of National Grid to deliver power around the country.  If an inquiry concluded that a power blackout was the fault of management, the chief executive and directors would lose out financially – running into millions of pounds sterling or tens of millions of ringgit.

Parliament should not let down the people in the five northern states of Penang, Perak, Kedah, Perlis and Kelantan and in the coming week, debate not only the four-hour power blackout on Monday, but also the need to impose on TNB the legal  obligations to provide power supplies to the consumers to the  required standard,  triggering financial liabilities,  penalties and compensation in the event of any short-fall of such a standard.


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman