Singapore will lose on water issue if it goes to World Court, says Dr M

Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad says Singapore cannot be paying 3 sen per 1,000 gallons of water perpetually.

PUTRAJAYA: Singapore will lose its case if it goes to the World Court over the “ridiculous” price of raw water it is receiving from Malaysia, Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad said.

He said Singapore does not want to go to the World Court – a common name for the International Court of Justice or the International Court of Arbitration – because “if they go to the World Court they will lose”.

“To go to the World Court, you must have agreement from both parties,” he told reporters after officiating the National Landscape Day 2019 celebration at the Putrajaya Botanical Gardens today.

Calling on Singapore once again to pay more for the raw water it draws from Johor, Mahathir criticised the island republic’s foreign minister, Vivian Balakrishnan, for describing his previous comments on the issue a “red herring”.

“It is ridiculous that something agreed in 1926 – 3 sen per 1,000 gallons of water – is still being used now. At that time, it was reasonable but today, it is no longer reasonable.

“I want to know whether in the year 2060 it is still going to be 3 sen per 1,000 gallons and if Singapore will be selling the water at a very high price,” he said.

He questioned if Singapore would still be making “big profits” when it develops new water through desalination.

“And yet they get water from us for 3 sen and sell it for more than 1,000% profit.”

Mahathir, however, said the two countries will sit down to discuss the issue.

“We will talk to them,” he said, adding that both sides cannot unilaterally change the terms of the decades-long agreement.

Mahathir had urged the Johor government last week to be more vocal about the issues they are facing, specifically in relation to the “ridiculously cheap” price Singapore is paying for the raw water.

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

In an immediate response, Balakrishnan said Mahathir’s comments were “strong, emotive words, no doubt intended to rouse public opinion”, and a “red herring”.

He said the water agreement is not about which country is richer or poorer, and added that Singapore’s longstanding position has been that neither side can unilaterally change the terms of the deal.

“Singapore has no natural resources; we are even short of water,” the former environment and water resources minister had said. “But Singaporeans have long internalised that no one owes us a living.”

Johor Menteri Besar Osman Sapian then joined in the debate and said the state is planning to end its dependence on Singapore for treated water supply, without providing a timeline.

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% 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 the negotiations with Singapore.

When contacted by FMT, a spokesperson for the Singapore High Commission in Kuala Lumpur declined comment on Mahathir’s sentiments today.