More to water pact than Malaysia lets on

Water pipeline along the length of the Causeway.
Water pipeline along the length of the Causeway.PHOTO: ST FILE

It is ironic that Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad is speaking about "morality" when he wilfully selects and distorts facts about the water agreement (Mahathir urges Johor to speak up against S'pore water pact, March 1).

The three sen which Singapore pays for every 1,000 gallons of raw, untreated water from Malaysia cannot be based on the 1926 agreement like he said, as there is no such agreement to begin with.

Rather, the three sen is based on the 1962 Water Agreement that Singapore had signed with the then federal government of Malaya, which will expire in 2061.

In turn, Singapore sells treated water back to Johor at a highly subsidised rate of 50 sen per 1,000 gallons capped at five million gallons per day, but has in fact sold more than three times that amount at the same discounted rate without any conditions out of neighbourly goodwill.

Indeed, there is far more to the water story between Malaysia and Singapore than Tun Dr Mahathir's focus on his three-sen tale, including the fact that Johor makes a profit selling highly subsidised treated water from Singapore back to its people, for example.

The fact that Singapore has also spent more than $1 billion on operating, maintaining and, in some instances, constructing, key water infrastructure in Johor remains little known to Malaysians because Kuala Lumpur has suppressed this to whip up its rhetoric for a price hike.

Above all, Malaysia also lost its right to review the terms of the 1962 Water Agreement because it chose not to exercise the option in 1987, including as part of the discussions leading to a 1990 supplementary deal on the 1962 contract which resulted in Singapore's investment in the Linggiu Reservoir in Johor.

Perhaps, it is time for our authorities to detail the key facts of our water talks to Malaysians, including how Malaysia had also flip-flopped on our proposal to pay more for water as part of a package deal towards the end of Dr Mahathir's first term in office in the early 2000s.

Toh Cheng Seong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 04, 2019, with the headline 'More to water pact than Malaysia lets on'. Print Edition | Subscribe