Exclusive: Price of water sold to Singapore 'ridiculous'; Malaysia to renegotiate deal, says Mahathir
The price of water being sold to Singapore is "ridiculous", and Malaysia will make a presentation to its neighbour on renegotiating the terms of the water supply deal, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said on Monday (Jun 25).
"I think it is manifestly ridiculous that we should sell water at 3 sen per thousand gallons. That was okay way back in the 1990s or 1930s. But now what can you buy with 3 sen? Nothing," the 92-year-old told Channel NewsAsia in an exclusive interview.
Earlier, Bloomberg had reported that Dr Mahathir intended to go back to the drawing board on the water accord, which is set to expire in 2061.
"We are studying the case properly and we’ll make a presentation," he told Channel NewsAsia.
The Malaysian leader said the country had yet to inform Singapore about its intent to pull out from a Kuala Lumpur-Singapore high-speed rail project agreed upon by the previous Najib Razak administration as well.
Since his coalition assumed office in a stunning election victory on May 9, Dr Mahathir has stated publicly that the rail link will be scrapped for now in a bid to reduce the country's debt and liabilities exceeding RM1 trillion (US$251 billion).
"Sometimes we make public statements without actually finalising the process. When we want to make a decision we don't wait till we inform Singapore, we just say something. Of course they would want to know, and we will inform them in time."
Asked when Singapore would be informed, he said: "It's not so urgent."
WATER AGREEMENT "SACROSANCT" TO SINGAPORE
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Malaysia's former prime minister Najib Razak in January had reaffirmed the importance of undertaking measures to ensure the reliable and adequate water supply from the Johore River as provided for in the 1962 Water Agreement.
In a joint statement issued after a Singapore-Malaysia Leaders' Retreat, both countries also affirmed the terms of the agreement, under which Singapore is given full and exclusive rights to draw up to a maximum of 250 million gallons (mgd) of water per day from the Johore River.
In return, Johor is entitled to buy treated water of the same volume as up to 2 per cent of the water extracted by Singapore on any given day, or about 5 mgd if Singapore draws its full entitlement of water from the Johor River.
In February this year, then-Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Chan Chun Sing said Singapore must ensure that it has an adequate supply of water by the 2050s, before the water agreement with Malaysia expires in 2061.
Under national water agency PUB’s masterplan, NEWater and desalination will meet 85 per cent of Singapore’s water demand by 2060. That is also when the total water demand is expected to double.
In a written Parliamentary reply to Member of Parliament for Marine Parade GRC Seah Kian Peng in January 2017, Minister of Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan said the 1962 Water Agreement was "sacrosanct" to Singapore.
"It was guaranteed by both the Governments of Malaysia and Singapore under the 1965 Separation Agreement, which was deposited with the United Nations," he said.
In March 2017, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said Singapore must be psychologically prepared to face water shortages if its reservoirs dry up and when the second water agreement with Malaysia ends in 2061.
At present, imported water meets half of Singapore’s water needs. But water levels in Johor’s Linggiu Reservoir are falling. There is also the danger of prolonged dry weather, Mr Teo said at the time.