Saifuddin blasts Singapore for ‘reckless’ remarks on water agreement

Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah and his counterpart Vivian Balakrishnan during their meeting in January. (Facebook pic)

KUALA LUMPUR: Putrajaya today hit back at Singapore’s suggestion that Malaysia was not honouring its water agreement with the republic, with Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah describing recent remarks made by his counterpart there as “reckless”.

Saifuddin was referring to remarks by Singapore’s Foreign Minister Dr Vivian Balakrishnan in response to Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s call for a review of the 1962 agreement, under which Johor would supply raw water to Singapore.

Vivian among others said Malaysia had lost its right to review the agreement after it chose not to review the price of water.

“I do not understand which English is being used by the Singaporean foreign minister in making such an interpretation.

“We are honouring the agreement, which is why we say we can review it 25 years after the agreement was signed,” he told the Dewan Rakyat today.

Saifuddin said he was shocked at Vivian’s statement in the Singapore parliament on Malaysia’s decision to review the water agreement, saying they were “reckless”.

He questioned the claim that Malaysia cannot review the agreement after a period of 25 years.

“In clause 14 of the agreement, it states that it shall be subject to review after the expiry of 25 years from the date of the present, not during the 25-year period,” he said.

Saifuddin also hit out at Vivian for dismissing Mahathir’s call as a “red herring”, saying he was insinuating that the current Malaysian government was facing problems with governance.

He also took to task Vivian’s claim that Singapore had been accommodating Malaysia by providing cheap treated water to Johor during dry spells.

“This is not an accurate fact,” he said.

Under the water agreement which expires in 2061, Singapore is entitled 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.

Saifuddin was responding to a question by Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar (BN-Santubong), on the terms of reference for discussions on the water supply agreement between Malaysia and Singapore.

Saifuddin said negotiations between both countries had stalled for a long time, but were restarted by the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government.

“It began with my visit to Singapore in July last year, to meet the Singapore foreign minister and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. But at the time, Singapore insisted on not negotiating.

“Subsequently, Dr Mahathir vocalised this to Lee in his visit to Singapore in November, and Lee agreed for the matter to be discussed,” he said.

Saifuddin said the Malaysian and Singaporean attorney-generals had already held a meeting arranged by his ministry.

“We are supposed to have gone to the second stage of discussions, to look into the issue of price modality, the time frame for that, as well as how related issues can be achieved,” he said, adding that the Ministry of Water, Land and Natural Resources and the Johor government also took part in discussions.

To a question by Wan Junaidi on whether there were subsidies given to Singapore in the sale and purchase of water, Saifuddin said:

“Malaysia has given subsidies at a minimum rate of RM42 million a year to Singapore, or at least RM2.4 billion to date, or about RM100,000 a day.

“This is at a minimum rate from the start of the agreement until now. As you said, we are selling them at such a cheap price, but buying at such an expensive rate.

“There are many technicalities involved. We will issue a comprehensive statement,” he said.

Siti Zailah Mohd Yusoff (PAS-Rantau Panjang) then asked on Putrajaya’s next move should Singapore refuse to negotiate.

Saifuddin said the government was working with the water, land and natural resources ministry and the Johor government to ensure Johoreans have adequate water supply without having to depend on Singapore.

“If this fails, then we will have to take this to the international court of arbitration. I hope that when we reach that stage, our MPs will give their full support, in the interest of all Malaysians in general, and Johoreans in particular,” he added.