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Dr M says Singapore should pay at least 10 times more for Malaysian water

PUTRAJAYA — Prime minister Mahathir Mohamad said on Monday (Aug 13) that he wants to increase the price of water sold to Singapore by at least 10 times. In an interview with the Associated Press, Dr Mahathir noted that Melaka pays Johor 30 sen per 1,000 gallons of raw water in what he described as a "charitable" rate because it is a domestic deal.

A general view of the Linggiu Reservoir in Johor.

A general view of the Linggiu Reservoir in Johor.

PUTRAJAYA — Prime minister Mahathir Mohamad said on Monday (Aug 13) that he wants to increase the price of water sold to Singapore by at least 10 times. 

In an interview with the Associated Press, Dr Mahathir noted that Melaka pays Johor 30 sen (10.1 Singapore cents) per 1,000 gallons of raw water in what he described as a "charitable" rate because it is a domestic deal.

"To a foreign country, we need to get more than that," he said.

He declined to go into specifics, citing what he claimed to be ongoing negotiations.

Under the 1962 Water Agreement, Singapore’s national water agency PUB may draw 250 million gallons of raw water from the Johor River daily at 3 sen per thousand gallons.

Dr Mahathir had first said in June that water is among issues with Singapore “that we need to settle”, criticising the 1962 agreement as “too costly” and "manifestly ridiculous”.

“I mean, that was okay way back in the 1990s or 1930s, but now, what can you buy with 3 sen. Nothing," he said at the time.

In the wake of Dr Mahathir's comments in June, Singapore said the 1962 Water Agreement is "a fundamental agreement that was guaranteed by both governments in the 1965 Separation Agreement which was registered with the United Nations".

"Both sides must comply fully with all the provisions of these agreements," the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) added in a statement on June 25.

Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan later told Parliament that Singapore will “fully honour” the terms of the 1962 agreement and expects Malaysia to do so, adding that “neither Malaysia nor Singapore can unilaterally change the terms of this agreement between our two countries”.

Three weeks after Dr Balakrishnan spoke in Parliament, his Malaysian counterpart Saifuddin Abdullah said there is still scope for a review of the water deal between Singapore and Malaysia.

“The agreement says the content of the agreement can be reviewed after 25 years. It doesn’t mean at 25 years... so we can continue talking,” Mr Saifuddin was quoted saying by Malaysia’s official news agency Bernama.

In response, MFA said Singapore has been clear and consistent in its position that Malaysia lost its right to review the price of water under the 1962 Water Agreement in 1987.

The 1962 agreement, along with another 1961 agreement which expired in 2011, have been a constant source of public political wrangling over the years.

Under the 1962 agreement, Johor is entitled to receive a daily supply of up to five million gallons of treated water - or 2 per cent of the water supplied to Singapore - at 50 sen per 1,000 gallons.

Singapore has said that the cost of treatment is in fact RM 2.40 per 1,000 gallons while Malaysia sells the treated water to Johor citizens at RM3.95 per 1,000 gallons.

Singapore has also been regularly supplying Johor with up to 16 million gallons of water a day at its request.

Despite this, the Johor government said last month that the time has come to raise the price of raw water it sells to Singapore, adding that it may ask for a price hike of up to 1,600 per cent that it hopes the Republic would accept.

“It is about time that we increase (the price of raw water). Maybe, we will increase it to the price of raw water that we sell to Melaka,” Johor Chief Minister Osman Sapian reportedly said, adding that he had discussed the issue with Dr Mahathir.

“Or maybe with further discussion, the price of the water that will be sold to Singapore will be less than the price sold to Melaka, but it will not be at the current price that Singapore buys it now.”

Mr Sapian had said that Melaka pays Johor 50 sen per thousand gallons of raw water, a price higher than what Dr Mahathir told AP.

In his interview on Monday, Dr Mahathir also continued to cast doubt on the high-speed rail project linking Kuala Lumpur to Singapore.

"We cannot afford it. If the price is brought down within our means, then maybe we'll go ahead," he said.

The HSR project, first proposed by Malaysia in 2013, is a 350km line that would have slashed rail travel time between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur to 90 minutes.

But its fate has been uncertain since the new Pakatan Harapan (PH) government won the May 9 election, with Dr Mahathir and some of his cabinet ministers vowing to scrap the project in order to trim Putrajaya's RM1 trillion debt.

Since then, Putrajaya has sent mixed signals on the issue, saying that it wants to postpone the project instead of cancelling it.

Malaysia has also made conflicting remarks on the proposed meeting between both sides on the issue, although Malaysia’s Economic Affairs Minister Mohamed Azmin Ali was said to have met with representatives of the Singapore government on Saturday (Aug 11) to discuss the issue, with a detailed report to be presented to the Malaysian Cabinet this week. AGENCIES

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