MFA says Singapore position clear: KL lost its right to review water price in 1987

Visiting Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah meeting Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean yesterday. Datuk Saifuddin was in Singapore on a two-day introductory visit.
Visiting Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah meeting Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean yesterday. Datuk Saifuddin was in Singapore on a two-day introductory visit.PHOTO: TEO CHEE HEAN/FACEBOOK

Singapore has been clear and consistent in its position that Malaysia lost its right to review the price of water under the 1962 Water Agreement in 1987, Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said yesterday.

The statement, on the second and final day of Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah's introductory visit, comes as Malaysia's national news agency Bernama cited the minister as saying in an interview that "the agreement says the content of the agreement can be reviewed after 25 years".

"It doesn't mean at 25 years... so we can continue talking," Bernama reported Datuk Saifuddin as saying in the Monday interview.

The MFA said Singapore's position was most recently set out in Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan's remarks in Parliament on July 9.

Dr Balakrishnan had told the House that Malaysian leaders had previously acknowledged that they chose not to ask for a review in 1987 because they benefited from the pricing arrangement under the agreement: Johor buys treated water from Singapore at 50 Malaysian sen per 1,000 gallons, which is a fraction of the true cost of treating the water.

Dr Balakrishnan had added that in 2002, then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said Malaysia did not ask for a review when it was due as it knew that any revision would also affect the price of treated water sold by Singapore to Malaysia.

The issue of water was among the issues discussed during the visit of Mr Saifuddin, who called on President Halimah Yacob and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Monday, and on Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security Teo Chee Hean yesterday.

Mr Saifuddin also had a meeting with Dr Balakrishnan on Monday, followed by lunch.

"During the visit, both sides reaffirmed our commitment to work closely together to build on our strong bilateral relations for mutual benefit," the MFA said.

"Discussions covered a range of regional developments and bilateral issues, including the KL-Singapore High Speed Rail (HSR) and the 1962 Water Agreement," it added.

"Singapore's leaders emphasised the importance of abiding strictly by the agreements and contracts related to these matters, while exploring potential new areas of collaboration," the MFA said.

Tun Dr Mahathir, who became Malaysian Prime Minister again in May, has sought to defer the HSR project and renegotiate the water pact, both of which are legally binding agreements.

In his interview with Bernama, Mr Saifuddin said bilateral relations are at a very good level, and both governments saw the HSR project and the water agreement as issues that need to be tackled, but that should not be obstacles to maintaining good relations.

Mr Saifuddin added: "I tried my level best to explain the situation. We are looking at the big picture. As far as our bilateral relations (are concerned)... our ties are strong and we want to work hard to take them to greater heights."

He also said he had informed the Singapore leaders that on July 23, Economic Affairs Minister Azmin Ali had written to his Singapore counterpart, saying he will be travelling to Singapore to discuss the HSR project. "It will take place very soon," said Mr Saifuddin, adding that Datuk Seri Azmin had "stated the fact that we want to sit down and discuss".

On the 1962 water pact, Mr Saifuddin said there were discussions in the past, but there had been no progress then.

"Surely we can continue the discussion," he told Bernama.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 01, 2018, with the headline 'MFA says S'pore position clear: KL lost its right to review water price in 1987'. Print Edition | Subscribe