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Unclogging PJ’s drains

BROKEN and clogged drains are common complaints in Petaling Jaya. Often, members of the public have to complain for the umpteenth time before the Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) shows up to repair their broken drains.

It would be reasonable for the public to wonder why they even need to complain before drains are repaired. Isn’t the whole purpose of paying assessment rates to ensure such facilities are maintained? Shouldn’t there be a monitoring system in place or even an inventory system whereby drains would be automatically repaired or replaced, say, once every five years?

Unfortunately, this is not the case, due to a combination of systemic faults and other compounding factors, some of which are highlighted below.

Broken system

  • New developments

Petaling Jaya has an assortment of high-density condominiums and office towers developed on pockets of land surrounded by existing houses, usually over where ‘squatter villages’ once stood.

When these high-density developments were built, there was usually no additional work done on the surrounding drainage infrastructure. With the once porous land covered with concrete and no longer absorbing rainwater, the additional rainwater would flood the existing drainage and wear out the drainage much faster.

The addition of more people being introduced into an area also means more waste is generated, some of which ends up in the drainage system. This also causes more wear and tear. I’ll explain how this rubbish ends up in our drainage system in the next segment.

  • Privatisation

There’s also the issue of the drainage cleaning services being privatised to Alam Flora back in 1998, along with household rubbish removal services. This privatisation merely prescribed a service fee without an inventory system attached to the contract. This meant that Alam Flora could not be properly audited by MBPJ to ensure they were cleaning all the drains in Petaling Jaya according to any kind of fixed schedule.

Since MBPJ no longer cleans the drains, it does not have workers to report back to the council on the state of drainage in the township. While Alam Flora does file reports on damaged drains from time to time, I have personally found instances where they did not perform their jobs on schedule, which means that damaged drains could go unnoticed.

  • Record keeping

There’s also the problem of shoddy record keeping, as MBPJ does not reconcile what developers have built with existing drainage maps. In fact, I had to instruct for this exercise to be done a few months ago when the officers told me that the drainage inventory was kept by Alam Flora, and even then, there were areas missing from the inventory.

Compounding factors

There are also issues that compound the problem indirectly, such as illegal rubbish dumping on the streets.

This problem occurs regularly in Petaling Jaya, where lorries carrying waste simply dump their loads in secluded spots late at night, usually around 3am to 4am. This leaves a mess for MBPJ to clear up the next day. MBPJ spends several hundred thousand ringgit a year cleaning up this mess, which is why the public may be unaware of this problem.


Some of this rubbish gets dumped on the road curb just beside drains, which ends up clogging and damaging the drains.

Presently, lorries do not require a special license to carry rubbish so long as the waste is not classified as hazardous waste materials. So anyone with a lorry can simply offer their services to remove rubbish for a fee. However, lorry owners who want to offer competitive rates tend not to dump rubbish at authorised landfills. These landfills charge tipping fees and are located far away from major city areas and requires passing through two to three tolls to get to.

Many customers for these lorry drivers are Petaling Jaya residents themselves. Rubbish generated by some condominiums and commercial properties are not removed by MBPJ, so these properties engage their own waste removal contractors. Since a prudent money-saving exercise would be to employ a contractor that can remove rubbish cheaply, these high-rise properties’ management would not scrutinise too closely where their contractors eventually dump the rubbish.

The council’s continued approval of high-rise development projects is slowly compounding this illegal dumping problem, which indirectly contributes to the wear and tear of our drainage system.

Not straightforward

As we can see, an issue that appears straightforward can be extremely messy in the backend. And no matter how many times a councillor instructs for a drain to be fixed, more will break down and the cycle will repeat itself until the systemic shortfalls and compounding issues are remedied.

Furthermore, it should be noted that property development has a huge impact on the environment, beyond the traffic congestion that people are mostly concerned about.

The slow progress in identifying these shortfalls, in part due to the penchant among government officers to answer questions without really answering anything, also means that solutions will not present themselves until more information is made available.

The Selangor government has only recently instructed for drain cleaning services to be removed from Alam Flora’s contract for all local councils. This was after I highlighted the matter in February 2011. New contractors will be appointed to carry out the cleaning services. Whether this new system would help improve the monitoring of the city’s drainage system remains to be seen, but it is a start.

However, until the other shortfalls I mentioned are also addressed, the complaints about damaged drains will continue.

MBPJ councillor KW MAK decided to talk about drains in this article because Selangor executive councillor Ronnie Liu may want to assess councillors’ performance based on whether they know how many broken drain cases there are in the areas they serve.

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6 Responses to “Unclogging PJ’s drains”

  1. Shawn Tan says:

    Good summary. Learned a lot. Did not know that rubbish was such a big systemic problem since it all seems to disappear in the end. When would the contract with Alam Flora end or come up for renewal? Could new clauses be included then?

    • KW MAK says:

      Alam Flora’s contract is signed yearly. However, there are standing orders from the state government that unless they give the ‘ok’, the contract is not to be terminated.

  2. teckwyn says:

    Very good article. Thank you for highlighting the complexity of the issue. Can MBPJ be bound by “standing orders” from the state government? I thought that local authorities had autonomy. The state government can only issue policy guidance of a general nature: they are not allowed to micro-manage.

    • KW MAK says:

      @ teckwyn

      Pardon me if I sound cryptic in my reply.

      Depends on how you interpret ‘micromanage’ and ‘general orders’.


  3. Melvin Ng says:

    Besides the municipal having the bear responsibility, all of us Malaysians are culprits as well. Look at the numerous hawker stalls around the country, dumping waste, oil, etc into the drains and clogging them in the process, and here we are patronising those stalls. Are we not as guilty then?

  4. lay cheng says:

    Thanks for the insightful write up, Mak. As I see it, everything boils down to proper and comprehensive planning, efficient management and coordination among the various departments within MBPJ. To achieve all these, MBPJ and the state government need people who are passionate about their work and who are willing to think through issues and solutions. It is time that we act without fear or favour to terminate those who fail to deliver! How long more do we need to put up with such lackadaisical attitudes?

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