Far more important issues than water deal

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad attends a press conference at the Malaysian Prime Minister's Office.
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad attends a press conference at the Malaysian Prime Minister's Office. PHOTO: BERNAMA

The joint decision by Malaysia and Singapore to mutually suspend the implementation of their overlapping port limits is welcome (S'pore, Malaysia agree to jointly suspend overlapping port claims, March 15).

It would not surprise me in the least if many sensible Malaysians, like Singaporeans, are tired of Kuala Lumpur's constant bickering with its neighbour under Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's leadership when there are far more important domestic issues for the respective governments to address (KL may seek international arbitration on water agreement, says minister, March 13).

On the 1962 Water Agreement, of course Malaysia, as a sovereign country, is at liberty to raise it for international arbitration according to the deal's terms and conditions, if it so wishes.

The country may even decide to forgo its daily entitlement to purchase up to five million gallons of treated water from Singapore before the treaty expires in 2061.

But this does not mean that Singapore will lose its fundamental right to buy raw untreated water as stipulated in said agreement.

One thing is clear - both sides must agree on any amendment to the deal. Singapore's views and actions for the pact have been very clear and consistent since 1962.

In fact, Singapore has done more than legally required out of neighbourly goodwill.

Sadly, one can't say the same for a grudging Malaysia during Tun Dr Mahathir's two terms as its prime minister - to be sure, no other Malaysian prime minister since 1962 has appeared to be as upset and possessed by this deal as him - notwithstanding its recent claims about providing huge subsidies for the sale of raw untreated water to Singapore.

The fact that Kuala Lumpur is still determining the details on how it purportedly subsidises the sale of raw water to Singapore after more than 30 years, despite being the aggrieved party initiating the dispute, is indeed astonishing.

I am sure the International Court of Justice will take these into account should the current Malaysian government proceed with arbitration.

Toh Cheng Seong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 19, 2019, with the headline 'Far more important issues than water deal'. Print Edition | Subscribe