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S’poreans can decide if water price is 'fair' or 'morally wrong': Dr Balakrishnan

SINGAPORE — Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said he will leave it to Singaporeans to decide whether the Republic has been “fair” or “morally wrong’ — in the words of Malaysian premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad — in the pricing of water.

Dr Vivian Balakrishnan noted that the 1962 Water Agreement, which was guaranteed by both nations in the 1965 Separation Agreement, is not about “who is richer or poorer”. Rather, it is about the fundamental principle of respecting the sanctity of agreements.

Dr Vivian Balakrishnan noted that the 1962 Water Agreement, which was guaranteed by both nations in the 1965 Separation Agreement, is not about “who is richer or poorer”. Rather, it is about the fundamental principle of respecting the sanctity of agreements.

SINGAPORE — Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said he will leave it to Singaporeans to decide whether the Republic has been “fair” or “morally wrong’ — in the words of Malaysian premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad — in the pricing of water.

Nevertheless, in a firm rebuttal to Dr Mahathir’s “red herring” which sought to paint Singapore as a “rich nation” paying its poorer neighbour an “unreasonable rate” for water, he pointed out that Singapore and Malaysia “have chosen different fundamental philosophies of governance and taken different paths of development”.

Among other things, Singapore has provided a “framework where all our citizens strive to do our best and can achieve their potential by the dint of our efforts”, Dr Balakrishnan noted. He added that the country also has a zero-tolerance approach on corruption.

Moreover, Singapore honours its international agreements and commitments.

“As a result, businesses have the confidence to invest and grow in Singapore,” he said.

Dr Balakrishnan went on to say: “I will let Members of the House and fellow Singaporeans outside decide for yourselves whether we have been ‘fair’ or, to quote Dr Mahathir, whether we have been ‘morally wrong’. I think the answer is obvious.”

His comments, made in Parliament on Friday (March 1) during a debate on his ministry’s budget, came a day after Dr Mahathir said that it did not make sense for a wealthy country like Singapore to still be buying water from Malaysia at such a low price of 3 sen per 1,000 gallons.

Speaking at the Johor Government Retreat with the Federal Cabinet in Putrajaya on Thursday, Dr Mahathir said Singapore has grown rapidly because of Malaysia’s supply of water to the Republic.

Dr Balakrishnan said that these comments were a “red herring”.

He added: “These are strong, emotive words, no doubt intended to rouse public opinion. I’m supposed to be diplomatic but I think members of this House also know that I call a spade a spade.”

He noted that the 1962 Water Agreement, which was guaranteed by both nations in the 1965 Separation Agreement, is not about “who is richer or poorer”. Rather, it is about the fundamental principle of respecting the sanctity of agreements.

Dr Mahathir has long called for Malaysia’s water deal with Singapore to be relooked. 

In August last year, he expressed his intention to increase the price of raw water sold to Singapore by 1,000 per cent, to reflect the increased cost of living from when the agreement between both countries was inked.

But neither Malaysia nor Singapore can unilaterally change the terms of the 1962 Water Agreement, said Dr Balakrishnan on Friday.

He pointed out that Malaysia has lost its right to review the price of water under that agreement, and that Malaysia had also chosen not to seek a review in 1987 as the country acknowledged that it benefited from the pricing arrangement.

This was affirmed by Dr Mahathir himself during his first stint as premier from 1981 to 2003, noted Dr Balakrishnan.

He reiterated that Singapore continues to sell treated water to Malaysia in excess of its obligation under the agreement, and at a fraction of the cost of treating water.

The Republic has also supplied additional treated water to the state of Johor at its request.

For example, between Jan 2 and 4 this year, Singapore supplied additional treated water to Johor when it needed more water because its water plants experienced disruption due to pollution, Dr Balakrishnan said.

And in periods of dry weather, the Republic continues to provide Johor additional treated water upon their request, with Dr Balakrishnan adding: “We do so out of goodwill, without prejudice to our legal rights under the Water Agreement.”

But as good neighbours, “we have never shied away from dealing with difficult bilateral issues”, he said.

Dr Balakrishnan pointed out that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had proposed to Dr Mahathir in November 2018 that both countries’ Attorneys-General meet to better understand each other’s positions on whether Malaysia still had the right to review the price of water.

They met in December, but the discussions were overshadowed by the maritime and airspace disputes, he said.

Nevertheless, the two will continue their discussions “in due time”, he added.

ON THE BILATERAL MARITIME DISPUTE

Earlier in the day, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen also touched on the issue of Singapore’s ongoing bilateral dispute with Malaysia over the maritime boundary, disclosing that two Malaysian government vessels remain anchored in Singapore’s waters off Tuas.

Citing the collision of a Greek ship and a Malaysian government vessel in those waters last month, Dr Ng noted that some in Malaysia had accused Singapore of orchestrating the incident.

“These false accusations would have been much… louder and strident to push for retaliation against Singapore and Singaporeans if lives had been lost in the recent collision,” the minister said, during a debate on his ministry’s budget.

The continued presence of Malaysian government vessels does not help ongoing discussions between officials from the two sides and, in fact, obstructs productive talks, Dr Ng said.

Meanwhile, Senior Minister of State for Defence Mohamad Maliki Osman said it was heartening to see many Singaporeans taking to social media to counter false claims and support Singapore’s position.

He said the disputes also reinforced the importance of Total Defence, referring to the Republic’s framework for threat response, comprising military, civil, economic, social, psychological and digital defence.

“Our security agencies stand ready and vigilant to safeguard our sovereignty,” he said in Malay. “Singaporeans also need to remain united and stand firm on our principles to protect our national interest.”

Related topics

water agreement bilateral Malaysia water

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