Malaysian Foreign Minister says Vivian Balakrishnan’s comments regarding water issue are “reckless”

Mr Saifuddin said he was extremely surprised that in Parliament, Singapore’s Foreign Affairs Minister criticised overtures from Malaysia to review the water agreement between the two nations that had been established in 1962

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Kuala Lumpur—The Foreign Minister of Malaysia, Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah, was evidently unhappy with how his Singaporean counterpart deemed the water agreement between the two countries, calling Dr Vivian Balakrishnan’s words as “reckless.”

Malaysia pointed out how Dr Balakrishnan criticized Malaysia in three ways:

“First, he accused Malaysia of not respecting the 1962 agreement by saying we can no longer review it after 25 years.

Clause 14 of the agreement says that the (agreement) shall be subject to review after the expiry of 25 years from the date it is signed, and not at 25 years.

So I don’t understand what English is used by the Singaporean Foreign Minister to interpret it in such a manner.”

Mr Saifuddin was replying to a question from Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar (GPS-Santubong), who had inquired about the terms of reference for the discussion on the water supply agreement between the two countries.

Furthermore, Mr Saifuddin took issue with what he perceived to be Singapore’s Foreign Affairs Minister’s insinuations that Malaysia was having problems with governance, and sounded quite unhappy about this. “That is a malicious accusation, it is hitting below the belt.”

Singapore took a critical stance since it had been providing Malaysia with subsidies for water.

According to Saiffudin, Malaysia has given subsidies amounting to RM 2.4 billion (approximately S$800 million) in selling raw water to Singapore since the 1960s, when the price was agreed upon and signed as part of the agreement.

He claims this means costs of RM42 million (S$ 14 million) yearly, or RM100,000 (S$ 33,000) daily.

He added, ”This is at a minimum rate, if you want to measure it from the period of the agreement. And as you mentioned, we are selling (raw water) at such a cheap price and we are buying it at an expensive rate,” Mr Saifuddin told Mr Wan Junaidi.

According to Malaysia’s Foreign Minister, the two countries agreed to discuss to review the Water Agreement in November of 2018, when Malaysia’s Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad visited Singapore.

“Singapore’s Prime Minister had agreed to discuss the matter, as such the Attorney Generals of both countries met for the first discussion. My officers and I followed up so we are already on the second phase of discussion, looking at the price modality, the period and other matters related.”

In reply to a separate question from Siti Zailah Mohd Yusoff (PAS- Rantau Panjang), the Malaysian Foreign Minister said that his government must ensure an adequate water supply for their country, especially Johor before any “stern measures” are taken.

“We need to work on zero dependency on water from Singapore. If they no longer want to negotiate, then we will bring it to the international arbitration and when we reach such a level, I hope the lawmakers here will give us the support to do so.”

He was answering a question as to what “stern measures” would be made by Malaysia should Singapore dig its heels in and refuse any review of the Water Agreement.

The 1962 Water Agreement between Singapore and Malaysia allows for the Republic to get 250 million gallons (946.3 million liters) of water every day from the Johor River at a price of 3 sen for every 1,000 gallons. This agreement is in effect until 2061.

Singapore sells treated water back to Johor at 50 sen per thousand gallons. The steep hike in the price of water is justified by the fact that Singapore pays for the water treatment infrastructural costs, dams and treatment plants, pumps and pipelines, including construction, operation, and maintenance costs of these, as explained in a booklet entitled Water Talks, which was put out in 2003.

According to the government, the real cost of treating the water is RM2.40 (S$ .80) per thousand gallons, which means that Singapore pays for RM1.90 (S$ .63) per thousand gallons.

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