Speak up on low price Singapore is paying for raw water, PM tells Johor

Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

PUTRAJAYA: Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad today urged the Johor government to be more vocal about the issues they are facing, specifically in relation to the ridiculously cheap price Singapore is paying for raw water from Malaysia.

Mahathir pointed out that Johoreans themselves were not speaking up about this and were merely waiting for the negotiations between both countries.

He said Malaysia had been selling raw water to Singapore at 3 sen per 1,000 gallons, and this has been the case since 1926.

“We need to argue and fight over this. A rich country is buying from a poor country at an unreasonable price.

“Singapore is a developed country with an income per capita of US$18,000, while Malaysia has yet to even reach RM10,000.

“But we are not so smart in promoting our problems. You need to tell all that this is not fair. Singapore has been rapidly growing, thanks to our water.

“The state government needs to constantly talk about this. Don’t just wait for Putrajaya or the negotiators.

“Speak out on how rich people are depending on poor people. Speak out, on how that is morally wrong. That Singapore is exploiting water from Johor,” he said in his speech at the start of the Johor government’s retreat session at the Pulse Grande Hotel here today.

Present were other Cabinet ministers, Johor Menteri Besar Osman Sapian as well as other Johor MPs and state assemblymen.

‘Johor must use its advantages’

Mahathir said while Singapore may have its advantages, it was similarly the case with Johor.

“Johor is equally as strategic as Singapore. Singapore has its advantages, but so does Johor.

“They must use these advantages to get part of the growth and development Singapore has attained.

“What is beneficial to Johor is its proximity to Singapore.

“If we realise this, we will get ideas as to how we can use Singapore as a comparison for Johor (to develop),” he said.

Last year, Mahathir had criticised the price of raw water sold to Singapore as being “ridiculous” and voiced his intent to renegotiate the terms.

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% 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.

Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah is leading negotiations with Singapore on the price of raw water.

Meanwhile, Mahathir also acknowledged that the oil palm industry has contributed to Johor’s development, as well as its income. However, he lamented that the estates are smallholdings, of two or three acres each.

Smallholder estates, Mahathir said, could not possibly enrich the country.

“The oil palm industry can generate income for us, but we need big estates.

“The problem these days is that when the price of oil palm drops, the workers suffer and will then ask for a subsidy from the government.

“This must be rectified. If we are to have oil palm estates, we need to merge all the smallholders, and let the professionals run the big estates. We need to change our approach,” he added.