Budget debate

Consider holding rationing exercises: MP

Marine Parade GRC MP and Fairprice CEO Seah Kian Peng has urged the Government to consider holding water rationing exercises to encourage people to save water.
Marine Parade GRC MP and Fairprice CEO Seah Kian Peng has urged the Government to consider holding water rationing exercises to encourage people to save water. PHOTO: ST FILE

Should Singapore start periodic water rationing again?

Yes, Mr Seah Kian Peng (Marine Parade GRC) said yesterday.

He called for its return during the Budget debate yesterday, which saw eight MPs and two ministers speaking up on the impending 30 per cent hike in water prices.

While he backed the revised water tariffs, Mr Seah said the Government must go beyond water pricing to drive home the true value of water.

"Using price alone to motivate people to save water is not going to work," he said. He urged the Government to consider holding water rationing exercises, saying the last one was in 1964, when the country was experiencing prolonged drought.

"Since then, we have had no water rationing, not because we have not had severe droughts, but because our systems are now far more resilient," Mr Seah said.

In early 2014, Singapore faced a severe dry spell. While water rationing was implemented in neighbouring Malaysia, and some provinces in Thailand were declared drought disaster areas, there was no rationing in Singapore, Mr Seah noted.

In fact, Singaporeans born after 1964 have never experienced water rationing, he said. "They do not know the experience of having to go without water, or bear the weight of 130 litres of water that we would need if we take a long shower of 15 minutes."

The value of water is not only learnt by increasing water bills, but also "by personal experience and emotions" through exercises like water rationing, he added.

Concerns about the consequences of the rise in water prices continued to surface yesterday.

Nominated MP K. Thanaletchimi was concerned that some people might exploit the increase to raise food and drink prices. She urged the Consumers Association of Singapore to keep tabs on this.

Mr Chong Kee Hiong (Bishan- Toa Payoh GRC) also hoped for some reassurance from the Government that it would stop businesses from profiteering.

He said the hike comes at a challenging time as well, noting: "Businesses are experiencing slow to negative revenue growth. With the drive to push up productivity in a tight labour market, every added burden to costs could hurt the viability of the business."

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli responded to Workers' Party MPs Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC) and Png Eng Huat (Hougang), who asked when the Government decided not to subsidise water. Mr Masagos said that in 1997 - when the Government last announced a hike in water prices - it decided to look at how to price water to ensure people would understand its value.

To Mr Singh's query on deepening reservoirs to expand local catchment, Mr Masagos said there is a risk it could affect the yield. He has asked experts to study it further.

As for Mr Singh's suggestion of rewarding those who reduce their water usage, Mr Masagos said: "It is a bit counter-intuitive because in the first place, we want to make sure people pay for the cost of producing the water... and to give back that cost means we are subsidising the use of water."

Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 02, 2017, with the headline 'Consider holding rationing exercises: MP'. Print Edition | Subscribe