Sarawak, Shafie and his yellow tank contractor


The recent news of Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal being detained by police over suspected embezzlement of funds from the Ministry of Rural and Regional Development (KKLW) which he previously helmed does not come as a surprise as after all, he is now no longer with Barisan National (BN), some claimed. Others questioned why he was not arrested earlier, when he was the rising star of UMNO, rubbing shoulders with all the top guns of Malaysia. The rest just assumed that his alleged gluttony was the main reason why he was dropped by UMNO.

But what came as a surprise is the fact that Shafie and his KKLW team and ‘kakis’ were detained for their alleged ‘misappropriation’ of funds for Sabah only. Although he was the minister-in-charge of taking care of dirt poor rural folks in whole of Malaysia, he and his team were alleged to have stolen only from Sabah. As much as you and I would like to believe that his alleged thievery involved only Sabah’s money, it is hard to believe that Sarawak’s pie was spared.

It is not a secret that Sarawak is one of the biggest beneficiaries of allocations under KKLW. With a widely scattered population and underserved infrastructure, Sarawak is lacking in the most basic of amenities like water and electricity.

If memory serves us correctly, Shafie was launching one rural project after another here. Billions of ringgit were allocated for Sarawak, and Shafie was entrusted to look after it on Sarawakians behalf!

Shafie (left) launching a water supply project in Machan, Kanowit on March 2, 2015.

One of the notable programmes is a particular water treatment system that was launched with much fanfare during the height of Shafie’s career. Known as the Life Saver M1 Tanks, the yellow tanks were all paid for and sponsored by KKLW to the Bornean states starting from 2013.

Dubbed as ‘the answer’ in delivering treated drinking water to Sarawak’s interior, each unit of the treatment system cost RM41,000. An estimated 1,007 interior settlements throughout Sarawak were supplied with these tanks, based on a statement made by the contractor from H20 Saver Sdn Bhd, Dr Rajiv Bhanot during one of his visits to Miri on April 6, 2013.

Rural residents waiting to collect water from a Life Saver M1 tank.

Claiming that each tank can filter up to 2 million litres of water during his visit to Kanowit on March 21, 2013, what the contractor did not reveal what was the ideal type of water the system could treat, in order for the filter to last as long as 2 million litres of water.

Snapshots of elated rural folks drinking treated water from newly installed Life Saver M1 Tanks were flooding all over Sarawak. Before you knew it, there were numerous requests by Sarawakian state assemblymen for these magical tanks to be delivered to longhouses in their constituencies which were not connected to reliable treated water sources. It was unbelievable. It was almost a ‘gold rush’.

There could not have been better timing. The tanks were paid for by KKLW. The communities were desperate for treated water. PRU-13 was round the corner. The strategy was a stroke of genius. If the number (1,007 settlements) revealed in Miri on April 6, 2013 was for real, based on a conservative estimation that each settlement was supplied with just three units of these yellow tanks, that would have meant that the contract sum was not less than RM123 million.

The tanks were deployed in rural areas with much fanfare.

But alas, the raindrops that followed the thunder were merely drizzle before the long drought. The yellow M1 tanks didn’t do much to deliver treated water as most ‘tuai rumah’ reported that they ‘didn’t last too long’ and before long, the water began to stink and the handpump became leaky. Pretty much abandoned, these tanks continue to occupy open spaces and gleam proudly under the hot afternoon sun.

Offspring of rural residents who returned to the longhouses during their short breaks from working in towns and cities began to discover the obvious that has gone unnoticed — that there are two different labels on these abandoned yellow tanks.

Most noticed the colourful label in front of the Live Saver M1 tanks approved of usage for filtering ‘air sungai’ (river water), ‘air hujan’ (rain water), ‘air perigi’ (well water) and ‘air graviti’ (graviti feedflow water) while disapproved the use of these tanks to treat hot water and seawater. However, another smaller label located at the back of the tank was not so bold with the claim and stated that the tank is meant ‘to be used only for approved rainwater harvesting systems’.

The colourful label on the front of the tank approving the tank for various uses, which were not supported by the smaller label on the back of the tank.
The smaller label on the back of the tank which stated it should only be used to filter harvested rainwater, which disputes the claims made by a more colourful label on the front of the tank.

While the rural folks left the M1 yellow tanks alone after being disappointed with its performance, it is business as usual for the supplier. On Jan 9, 2015, the contractor who sold these leaky tanks filed a patent application with the Intellectual Property Corporation of Malaysia. In the documents filed (ref. PCT/MY2015/050157), the inventor Dr Rajiv Bhanot revealed all the faults of the M1 yellow tanks and why they are deemed ‘undesirable nor practicable for communities in rural remote areas’.

Part of the filed documents by Dr Rajiv Bhanot which explain the undesirable characteristics of the M1 yellow tanks for use by rural communities in remote areas.
Part of the filed documents by Dr Rajiv Bhanot which explain the undesirable characteristics of the M1 yellow tanks for use by rural communities in remote areas.

By April 8, 2015, a new blue tank known known as H20 R1 by the same contractor began to appear in Sarawak. The launch in Sarawak was by the then Assistant Minister of Public Utilities Datuk Roland Sagah who is also the state assemblyman for Tarat. For a start, 76 units were installed in various villages in the Tarat constituency costing RM40,000 a unit.

Launching of the new blue tank by Dr Rajiv Bhanot (second row, fourth right) and Datuk Sylvester Entrie.
The new blue tank.

With a lousy track record, but blessed with good interpersonal and networking skills, the contractor certainly knew how to play his cards right with the then Minister of KKLW by the name of Shafie. The effort Shafie and his wife put in, flying all the way to Udaipur, India for his contractor’s wedding will certainly be appreciated by a good friend. It takes not less than 10 hours with connecting flights to travel from Kuala Lumpur to Udaipur.

Shafie and his wife flew all the way to Udaipur, India for Dr Rajiv Bhanot’s wedding on Feb 26, 2017.

With the tide now turned against Shafie and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission(MACC) hot on his heels, it would be interesting to see if any of the alleged RM1.5 billion embezzled involved the implementation of yellow tanks in Sabah. With only around 300 settlements in Sabah having these yellow tanks, maybe the amount is simply too small and insignificant.

Meanwhile, with GE14 inching closer, it is maybe advisable for Sarawakian politicians to be on high alert lest the tank seller strikes again. The unsuitable yellow tanks previously deployed to 1,007 rural settlements in Sarawak would be ‘dead’ useless by now. Sarawakians being trusting might just be ripe for exploitation yet again! — DayakDaily