PUTRAJAYA: The attorneys-general of both Singapore and Malaysia will continue discussions to "better understand each other’s position" on the right to review the price of water, the foreign ministers of both countries said on Thursday (Mar 14),
Singapore’s Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan and his Malaysian counterpart Saifuddin Abdullah reiterated this during a press conference in Putrajaya where they discussed measures to dial down maritime tensions.
Speaking during the conference, Dr Balakrishnan said: “Both sides have differing views on the right to review the price of water ... Both of us have agreed that the attorneys-general of Malaysia and Singapore will continue their discussions to better understand each other’s position on the right to review the price of water.”
Mr Saifuddin said the discussions between the two attorneys-general will be “with a view of finding an amicable way forward”.
“We also reaffirm our commitment to resolve bilateral issues in a constructive manner and encourage ongoing diplomatic efforts to find amicable solutions for our mutual interest. This is of course in preserving the vital relationship between both countries and improving bilateral ties on the basis of equality and mutual respect,” he said.
"That is the underlying spirit of all of the discussions that we have had in the past and we will be having (in future)."
The attorneys-general of both countries met once in December last year for this purpose, however, their discussions were overshadowed by issues between the two countries that had arisen over the Johor Bahru Port Limits and the Seletar Airport Instrument Landing System procedures.
NO AGREEMENT YET: VIVIAN BALAKRISHNAN
Speaking to Singapore media later on Thursday, Dr Balakrishnan said that the first meeting between the attorneys-general "really did not make any progress" and "certainly no agreements were reached".
He added that when they meet again "some time in the near future", it gives them an opportunity to discuss so that there is a better appreciation for the respective positions of the two countries.
However Dr Balakrishnan stressed that there has been no agreement made on the right to review the water price.
"There is only agreement to sit down, to explain, discuss and to appreciate each others respective positions," he said.
Singapore said on Wednesday that it has been "clear and consistent" in its position that Malaysia has lost the right to review the price of water under the 1962 Water Agreement.
The statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was in response to comments by its Malaysian counterpart on Tuesday, in which the latter said that the countries' prime ministers had agreed in November last year to begin discussions on the water agreement.
Mr Saifuddin also said on Tuesday that Malaysia will seek international arbitration if Singapore does not renegotiate the 1962 Water Agreement.
He added that before Putrajaya escalates the issue, it first needs to ensure that Johor state has ample water supply, in an effort to stop relying on Singapore for treated water.
During a parliamentary debate, Mr Saifuddin also took aim at Dr Balakrishnan for what he said was a “reckless” statement on Mar 1 criticising Malaysia for its attempts to renegotiate the deal.
On Feb 28, Malaysia Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad urged the Johor government and its people to speak up on what he described as the "morally wrong" water deal with Singapore, a "rich" nation.
A day later, Dr Balakrishnan said in Parliament that Dr Mahathir’s comments were a “red herring” and his “strong, emotive words” were intended to rouse public opinion.
The water agreement, which expires in 2061, entitles Singapore to draw up to 250 million gallons a day (mgd) of water from the Johor River.
Singapore pays 3 sen per thousand gallons of raw water and sells treated water back to Johor at 50 sen per thousand gallons, a fraction of the cost of treating the water.
Johor is entitled to a daily supply of treated water of up to 2 per cent or 5 mgd of the water supplied to Singapore. In practice, however, Singapore has been supplying 16 mgd of treated water to Johor at its request.
During a meeting between Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Dr Mahathir on Nov 12 last year, both sides had expressed their differing views on the right to review the price of water under the agreement.