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M'sian foreign minister to lead team for water talks with S'pore: Mahathir

PUCHONG — Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah will lead a group of Malaysian officials for talks with Singapore on the price of raw water that the city-state buys from Johor, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said on Sunday (Feb 17).

M'sian foreign minister to lead team for water talks with S'pore: Mahathir

PUCHONG — Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah will lead a group of Malaysian officials for talks with Singapore on the price of raw water that the city-state buys from Johor, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said on Sunday (Feb 17).

He did not say when or where the negotiations would take place.

“We are of the view that the price of 3 sen for 1,000 gallons of raw water was decided in 1926. At that time, the value of 1 sen could buy a lot of goods, but now with 1 sen we can’t buy anything, even with 3 sens we can’t buy anything,” Dr Mahathir told reporters after launching the National Community Policy in Puchong.

“By right, price of goods should be current. Today we are not talking about millionaires, but billionaires because income has increased tremendously.

“So, if you think that the price set in 1926 still remains until the year 3000 — another millennium — is it reasonable? I feel it is unreasonable. Until when?”

Singapore and Malaysia have tussled over the price of water for decades. Malaysia sells raw water to Singapore under water agreements signed in 1961 and 1962. The first expired in 2011 and the second will expire in 2061.

The pacts were guaranteed by the Malaysian government in the Separation Agreement that established Singapore as a sovereign state in 1965.

At the height of the Asian Financial Crisis, the two sides entered into a six-year-long negotiation on the matter, but this was later called off by Malaysia.

The water issue resurfaced in the middle of last year, after Dr Mahathir led the Pakatan Harapan coalition to power in Malaysia’s general elections. The prime minister had then criticised the price of raw water sold to Singapore as “manifestly ridiculous” and said that Malaysia will make a presentation to its neighbour on renegotiating the terms of the deal.

The water deal entitles Singapore to receive up to 250 million gallons a day of raw water from the Johor river.

Singapore pays 3 sen for every 1,000 gallons of raw water, and resells treated water to Johor at 50 sen for every 1,000 gallons.

The Singapore government released a booklet entitled Water Talks in 2003, explaining why the Republic buys raw water at 3 sen per thousand gallons.

Singapore bears the full cost of treating the water, and other infrastructural costs, building dams and treatment plants, and operating and maintaining the pumps and pipelines, the document explained.

It had spent S$1 billion on such projects as of 2003, while “Malaysia did not have to spend a cent”.

The government added that the real cost of treating the water is RM2.40 per thousand gallons.

Singapore is therefore absorbing RM1.90 per thousand gallons in cost.

Dr Mahathir raised the water price issue with Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong when they met last November in the Republic.

Both prime ministers “expressed their differing views on the right to review the price of water under the 1962 Water Agreement”, but they also expressed their willingness for officials to have further discussions to “better understand each other’s positions”.

In Parliament last month, Singapore’s Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said that the two prime ministers had also agreed that their countries’ Attorneys-General would meet for discussions to better understand each other’s positions on whether Malaysia still had the right to review the price of water under the 1962 Water Agreement.

“The Attorneys-General subsequently met in December 2018,” Dr Balakrishnan said. “Unfortunately, their discussions were overshadowed by the new issues that had arisen over the Johor Baru port limits and the Seletar ILS (Instrument Landing System) procedures. But the two Attorneys-General will meet again to continue their discussions.”

 

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