Water price hike could have been better explained, but is necessary: PM Lee Hsien Loong

 PM Lee Hsien Loong was the guest-of-honour at  the Completion Ceremony of  the 3-Generation (3G) Wellness Centre and the ABC Waters project at Pang Sua Pond.
PM Lee Hsien Loong was the guest-of-honour at the Completion Ceremony of the 3-Generation (3G) Wellness Centre and the ABC Waters project at Pang Sua Pond. PHOTO: ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - In hindsight, more time could have been spent explaining the water price hike before it was announced, then people would not have been so surprised, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Saturday (March 25).

But "all in all, the increase is absolutely necessary" as water is a strategic and national security issue and key to Singapore's survival, he said in his first lengthy comments on the 30 per cent price hike since it was announced last month in the Budget.

Mr Lee was speaking at the completion ceremony of the madeover Pang Sua Pond in Bukit Panjang.

The price of water has been a hot topic since the Government announced that water prices will be raised by 30 per cent to reflect the true costs of supplying water.

The hike is the first in 17 years, and will be implemented in two phases: July 1 this year and July 1 next year

Mr Lee said while launching the new project that water is fundamental to Singapore's survival.

Despite the four national taps of water from Johor, the reservoirs, Newater, and desalination, Singapore will never have "more than enough" water, he said.

"We will never have the luxury of not having to save water, or to make every drop count," he said. "Every Singaporean must remain conscious of this."

Mr Lee said that water is not cheap to produce and that between taxes and tariffs, tariffs were the fairer way to spread this cost.

The PUB has said that the cost of developing and operating Singapore's water supply system has more than doubled in 15 years and had risen to $1.3 billion by 2015.

This included water treatment, reservoir operations, Newater production, desalination, used-water collection and treatment, and the maintenance of water pipelines.

Mr Lee said such infrastructure is required and PUB would have to invest in it whether or not tariffs were enough to pay for it.

In the end, Singaporeans will still be paying for it through general tax revenues instead of fee based usage of water, he added.

He said pricing water properly is an important step, and consumers must be "conscious of how precious it is every time they turn on the tap".

Acknowledging that the water price hike had provoked a strong reaction from Singaporeans, he said people now understand the issue better after a vigorous debate in Parliament with several ministers speaking on the increase and explaining why it was necessary and what the Government was doing to help households cope.

He added that the Government is supporting research into new techniques and materials for making Newater more cheaply, and encouraging industries that are big users of water to recycle more and improve industrial processes to conserve water.

More water will be needed as the economy grows, but at the same time, water supply was becoming less predictable because of climate change, said Mr Lee.

The supply from Johor will also come under increasing pressure as Johor's population grows and demand for water there goes up, he added.

He said Singapore's "obsession with water" has brought water security, and by keeping this focus, the county will be able to stay secure into the future.

But while water supply is a "very serious matter", the reservoirs and catchment areas in Singapore "can be fun and beautiful places", he said.

The Pang Sua Pond, originally a stormwater collection pond, was transformed over the last 30 months into a man-made floating wetlands system under the Active, Beautiful, Clean Waters scheme.

The scheme was launched in 2006 to turn Singapore's water bodies and waterways into attractive community areas.