The water price hike is necessary to bring home the scarcity of water but more time could have been spent explaining the price increase before it was announced, so that people would not have been so surprised, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.
But the increase is unavoidable, with water a strategic resource in Singapore, he added.
Commenting on the 30 per cent price hike announced last month, Mr Lee spoke about water's importance to Singapore's survival and said that it must be priced properly to reflect its scarcity.
Raising water tariffs, rather than taxes, is a fairer way to foot the bill needed to pay for investments in water infrastructure, said the Prime Minister at the completion ceremony of the revamped Pang Sua Pond in Bukit Panjang.
He also said the Government is looking at other ways to bring down the cost of producing water and encouraging conservation.
WATER PRICE HIKE UNAVOIDABLE
In retrospect, perhaps we could have spent more time explaining this before announcing the increase, then people wouldn't have been so surprised. But all in all, the increase in the water price is absolutely necessary.
PRIME MINISTER LEE HSIEN LOONG, on the 30 per cent rise in water price announced last month.
The hike is the first in 17 years.
About 40 per cent of Singaporeans disagreed with the price hike, according to a recent survey by government feedback unit Reach.
Yesterday, Mr Lee acknowledged that the hike has provoked a strong reaction from Singaporeans.
However, he stressed that water is fundamental to Singapore's survival, as he put forth the case for the hike.
Despite Singapore's four sources of water - Johor, the reservoirs, Newater and desalination - the country will "never have the luxury of not having to save water, or to make every drop count", said Mr Lee.
He said that people now understand the issue better after a rigorous Parliament debate this month, during which ministers explained why the hike was necessary and what the Government was doing to help households cope.
For example, the increase is over two years, and lower-income families are given extra U-Save rebates so that "they actually have to pay very little", said Mr Lee.
He added that the Government is supporting research into new ways of making Newater more cheaply, and encouraging big users of water such as industries to recycle more and use water more efficiently.
"But we also have to price water properly. Because it's scarce, and not cheap to produce, and consumers need to know how precious it is every time they turn on the tap."
National water agency PUB has said the cost of developing and operating Singapore's water supply system has gone up from $500 million in 2000 to $1.3 billion in 2015.
This includes water treatment, reservoir operations, Newater production, desalination, used-water collection and treatment, and the maintenance of water pipelines.
Mr Lee said the PUB would have to invest in infrastructure and if water tariffs were not enough to pay for it, the shortfall would have to be covered by taxes.
"I think it's fairer to pay for it through the water tariff, so those who use the water pay for the water, rather than from general taxes like the GST (goods and services tax) or income taxes or car taxes."
He also said that Singapore's "obsession with water" has led to water security, and the country can stay secure by keeping this focus.
Addressing future trends, Mr Lee said that more water will be needed as the economy grows, but the supply of water is becoming less predictable due to climate change.
The supply from Johor will also come under increasing pressure as Johor's population grows and its demand for water rises, he said.
Citing the Pang Sua Pond, Mr Lee said he hoped people will enjoy the reservoirs and catchment areas and also be reminded of the serious issue of water supply.
Originally meant for storm water collection, the pond was transformed into a floating wetlands system under the Active, Beautiful, Clean Waters scheme, launched in 2006 to turn Singapore's water bodies and waterways into attractive community areas.
"We would like people to get close to the water, enjoy it, take care of it, so we can value and conserve it for ourselves and for our children," said Mr Lee.