Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Malaysia's Mahathir taunts Singapore over water, again

Mahathir Mohamad says price of water sold to Singapore 'ridiculous', seeks to renegotiate water supply agreement while taking potshots at both Donald Trump and China

Singapore, Malaysia must comply fully with 1962 water agreement provisions, says MFA in response to Mahathir comments
Foreign Ministry responds after Malaysian PM Mahathir criticises price of water and speaks about renegotiating water agreement
By Royston Sim, Deputy Political Editor, The Straits Times, 26 Jun 2018

Singapore has reiterated that both Malaysia and the Republic have to adhere fully to the 1962 water agreement, after Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad yesterday criticised the price of raw water sold to Singapore as "ridiculous", and said he planned to renegotiate the pact's terms.

In a statement yesterday, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) spokesman said that the 1962 treaty was guaranteed by both governments in the Separation Agreement, which was registered with the United Nations when Singapore broke away from Malaysia in 1965.

"Both sides must comply fully with all the provisions of these agreements," the spokesman said.

In separate interviews with Channel NewsAsia (CNA) and Bloomberg Television, Tun Dr Mahathir revived the water price issue which was a recurring source of tension between both countries, especially during the later half of his previous term as prime minister from 1981 to 2003.

He told CNA that the price - 3 sen per thousand gallons - is "ridiculous", and that Malaysia will approach Singapore on renegotiating the terms of the deal.

Asked if he will talk to Singapore about going back to the drawing board on the issue, Dr Mahathir said: "We are studying the case properly and we will make a presentation."

However, he said it is "not urgent" during a news conference yesterday after a Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia supreme council meeting.

On whether the Cabinet discussed the matter before his media interviews, he replied: "We didn't discuss the water issue. But I was asked by the press."

The water agreement, which expires in 2061, entitles Singapore to draw up to 250 million gallons a day (mgd) of raw water from the Johor River daily. In return, 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.

Singapore pays 3 sen per thousand gallons of raw water, and sells treated water back to Johor at 50 sen per thousand gallons.

In his interview with Bloomberg published yesterday, Dr Mahathir criticised the 1962 water supply deal with Singapore as "too costly", and said it is among the issues with Singapore "that we need to settle". This follows on his announcement last month that Malaysia plans to scrap a multi-billion-dollar high-speed rail (HSR) line from Kuala Lumpur to Jurong East. He has yet to inform Singapore about its intent, he confirmed during the CNA interview.

In an earlier interview with The Straits Times in March, before he won the election last month and became prime minister for a second time, Dr Mahathir described the price of the water sold to Singapore as "absurd".

A veteran diplomat who declined to be named told The Straits Times Dr Mahathir is reviving the water price issue now as he has never accepted the terms of the 1962 pact.

The 1961 and 1962 water agreements provided for a price review after 25 years - in 1986 and 1987, respectively. Malaysia chose not to review the price then, MFA said in an article on its website on the issue.

But Singapore allowed for a renegotiation of the issue when Dr Mahathir later raised it in 1998.

Over the span of four years, both countries underwent several rounds of talks on water and other bilateral issues as part of a package. Malaysia continually raised its asking price for water, and the matter became a sore point in relations.

In October 2002, Dr Mahathir decided to abandon the process.

In January 2003, then Foreign Minister S. Jayakumar made public all correspondence on the matter, and the Government released a booklet, Water Talks, to debunk Malaysia's claims.

In it, the Government said that it costs Singapore RM2.40 to treat every thousand gallons of water. By selling at 50 sen, Singapore is providing a subsidy of RM1.90 per thousand gallons of water.

"His intention is to make the Singapore Government look unreasonable hoping, first, that Singaporeans will pressure our government on his behalf, and, second, to set up an alibi with his own people," he said.

"All this is out of Dr M's standard playbook. Singaporeans should not be deceived. Good neighbourliness ought to be a two-way street."

It also said Johor sold the treated water to Johoreans at RM3.95 per thousand gallons, which amounts to RM46 million in profits a year.

All in, Singapore has paid over $1 billion on various water treatment infrastructure, including building a dam to create the Linggiu Reservoir that increases the yield of the Johor River, said the Government.

In a Facebook post yesterday, diplomat Bilahari Kausikan said Malaysia buys "considerably more" treated water from Singapore than it is entitled to under the terms of the agreement. "Why should it do that unless it is getting a good deal?" he wrote.

In a written parliamentary reply last year, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said Singapore has been regularly supplying Johor with 16 mgd of treated water - in excess of its entitlement.

Mr Kausikan said he believes Dr Mahathir is now raising the water issue "only as a diversionary tactic" in preparation to ask for a waiver or reduction of the compensation Malaysia has to pay Singapore if it formally cancels the HSR project.

Price of water sold to Singapore 'ridiculous'; Malaysia to renegotiate deal, says Mahathir
By Sumisha Naidu, Channel NewsAsia, 25 Jun 2018

PUTRAJAYA: 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 revival of the water issue comes on the back of Dr Mahathir's decision to scrap the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore high-speed rail project agreed upon by the previous Najib Razak administration.

Dr Mahathir had cited a need to reduce the country's debt and liabilities exceeding RM1 trillion (US$251 billion) as the reason for scrapping the deal. Singapore has, however, stated that it has not been informed of Malaysia's intent.

At the interview, Dr Mahathir was asked about his foreign policy decisions, and he conceded that Malaysia had yet to inform Singapore about its intentions on both issues.

"Sometimes we make public statements without actually finalising the process," he said. "When we want to make a decision we don't wait until we inform Singapore, we just say something. Of course they would want to know, and we will inform them in time."

Asked if there is any timeframe on when he's planning to inform Singapore, he said: "It's not so urgent."

Dr Mahathir repeated this during a press conference on Monday evening, when he was asked again if he would be speaking to Singapore on renegotiating the water deal.

"It's not urgent," he reiterated. "We have many other problems that we have to focus on".

At the same conference, he also confirmed that the water issue had not been discussed in Cabinet before he made his comments, but that he was "pressed to announce" the issue after being "asked by the press".

Earlier, Malaysia's longest-serving prime minister said any bilateral problems that may arise from these choices could be resolved. 

"I think whether we like it or not, Singapore is our closest neighbour and we have a common history. Whether we like it or not, we have to live with each other," he said.

"There will be little problems, conflicts and all that, (but) we'll resolve them."


In a response to Dr Mahathir's comments later on Monday, the Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said both Malaysia and Singapore must "comply fully" with the provisions of the 1962 Water Agreement and the 1965 Separation Agreement.

"The 1962 Water Agreement is a fundamental agreement that was guaranteed by both governments in the 1965 Separation Agreement which was registered with the UN," a spokesperson said in a statement. 

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.

Johor Crown Prince thanks Singapore for helping Johor during drought seasons
The Straits Times, 29 Jun 2018

JOHOR BARU - Johor's Crown Prince Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim has thanked the Singapore Government for helping the Malaysian state during drought seasons.

Calling Singapore "a neighbour and a friend", Tunku Ismail said in a tweet on his official JohorSouthernTigers account on Thursday (June 28): "Thank you to the Singaporean Government for helping Johor during the drought seasons & when we had our water crisis. We have always helped each other. May the close ties & friendship forged hundreds of years ago last forever."

His tweet came as the Malaysian government said it planned to renegotiate the 1962 water supply deal with Singapore.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has in recent interviews criticised the deal as "too costly", and said that Malaysia will approach Singapore to renegotiatie the terms of the deal.

Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the 1962 treaty was guaranteed by both governments in the Separation Agreement, which was registered with the United Nations when Singapore broke away from Malaysia in 1965 and that both sides must comply fully with all the provisions of these agreements.

In 2016, Singapore's national water agency Public Utilities Board (PUB) supplied additional potable water to Johor after water levels in the southern state's dam hit all-time low levels due to the dry weather.

Under the 1962 Water Agreement, PUB is entitled to draw up to 250 million gallons of water from the Johor River daily. In return, Johor is entitled to a daily supply of treated water of up to 2 per cent - or five million gallons - of the raw water it supplies to Singapore.

Over the years, PUB has - at Johor's request - supplied about 16 million gallons of potable water per day to Johor. During the drought season in 2016, PUB increased Singapore's supply of treated water to Johor to 22 million gallons daily.

Besides the water deal, the new Malaysian government has also said it would review the multi-billion dollar Singapore-Kuala Lumpur High-Speed Rail project. Dr Mahathir has said Malaysia needs to scrap big budget projects so that it can reduce its US$250 billion national debt.

In an interview with The Straits Times on Thursday (June 28), Malaysia's Defence Minister Mohamad Sabu said he is confident that the two sides can resolve these bilateral issues.

He said that relations between Malaysia and Singapore go through periodic problems, but the two neighbours are adept at resolving them.

"Singapore is our most important neighbour. There will always be problems, it is normal, even married couples have problems, but they can be resolved," Mr Mohamad said. "So far, there is no problem that cannot be resolved between Malaysia and Singapore. We are good neighbours."

Social media users mostly welcomed Tunku Ismail's comments, which were also posted on his official Facebook page.

Facebook user Vicknesh Rajamohan said: "Class act Your Highness. A true inspiration of how a leader should conduct (himself). Wisdom is not in age but in actions, and you have shown your wisdom."

Netizen Nasrulhadi Noh posted: "Many forget that during the July 2016 drought, Singapore supplied an additional 6 million gallons of water a day to Johor. That is what neighbours are for."

Some, however, asked why Johor could supply water to Singapore, but could not collect and treat enough water for its own citizens, who undergo intermittent water rationing in towns like Muar. A Mohd Nizam wrote: "Johor sells water to SG... SG citizens never had problems with water (supply). But the country where the water comes from has water problems everywhere."

Others said the Prince's praise for Singapore was actually an indirect attack on Tun Dr Mahathir for wanting to renegotiate the water deal.

Wrote Azhar Latif: "TMJ (Crown Prince)'s statement has a deeper meaning that will redden the ears of Tun (Mahathir)."


* Johor chief minister suggests raising price of water sold to Singapore by almost 1600%
State may charge 50 sen per 1,000 gallons of raw water, up from 3 sen, says Menteri Besar
The Straits Times, 6 Jul 2018

JOHOR BARU • Johor's Menteri Besar Osman Sapian said the state hopes that it can raise the price of the raw water that it sells to Singapore after discussions with its southern neighbour.

The price could well be raised from the current 3 Malaysian sen (1.01 Singapore cent) per 1,000 gallons to the same level that water is sold to Johor's northern neighbour Melaka - at 50 sen per 1,000 gallons, he told a news conference yesterday. "It is about time that we raise it. Maybe we will increase it to the price of raw water that we sell to Melaka," the Astro Awani news site reported him as saying.

"Or maybe with further discussion, the price 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."

Datuk Osman said that he discussed the issue with Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad last week, the news site of the private TV channel said.

Mr Osman said Malaysia will study the water agreement with Singapore to see whether the price could be reviewed.

"This needs further discussion. I feel that if the Johor government were to raise it to a reasonable rate, Singapore will accept it because that is our hope," he added.

Tun Dr Mahathir had, in recent interviews, criticised the 1962 water deal as "too costly" and "ridiculous", and said Malaysia would approach Singapore to renegotiate the terms of the deal.

Dr Mahathir said last month: "We are studying the case properly and we will make a presentation", but he said the issue is "not urgent".

Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the 1962 treaty was guaranteed by both governments in the Separation Agreement, which was registered with the United Nations when Singapore broke away from Malaysia in 1965.

Singapore says both sides must comply fully with all the provisions of these agreements.

The water agreement, which expires in 2061, entitles Singapore to draw up to 250 million gallons a day (mgd) of raw water from the Johor River.

In return, 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.

Singapore-Malaysia water agreements

MFA Spokesperson's Comments in Response to Media Queries on Malaysia's Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad's Comments to Bloomberg dated 25 June 2018 with respect to the 1962 Water Agreement -25 Jun 2018

Singapore-Malaysia Water Agreement a Matter of International Law - K Shanmugam

Keeping Singapore's taps flowing in the quest for a robust water supply

Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail postponed, not scrapped, says Mahathir two weeks after axing project

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