On the actual impact of the water hike, and telling it like it is

Running water from a tap and a shower in a domestic home. ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

The hike in water prices has been a hot topic since the Government unveiled this year's Budget, and grassroots leaders voiced concerns about the difficulty in communicating the impending rise to residents at a Budget forum yesterday.

One participant said the Government should have focused on the increase most households have to face after taking into account the GST Utilities-Save voucher, instead of the 30 per cent price hike which, judging by residents' feedback, seems to be the biggest takeaway from last Monday's Budget statement.

Acknowledging this, Senior Minister of State for Finance and Law Indranee Rajah said it would have been useful to highlight the actual impact on residents earlier, to leave less room for alarm.

Those living in one- or two-room flats, for example, would end up spending a dollar less on their monthly water bills on average after the rebates are applied. Those in four-room flats would see their bills rise by about $5 from the current average of $42 after rebates. The price increase would be further buffered by the fact that it will be implemented in two phases, starting this July, she noted.

But she stood by the Government's decision to announce the hike as it did, citing higher production and operation costs, as well as to encourage people to conserve more water as reasons for upping prices.

She told reporters later: "You can't run away from the facts - you have to say what the percentage of the increase is... But I hope with these dialogues, people will get more information and feel more reassured that the impact would not be so large."

She added that the Government is working on ways to communicate its policies more effectively.

Ms Indranee was speaking to 200 grassroots leaders at a People's Association-organised Kopi Talk, a series of dialogues aimed at helping grassroots leaders raise concerns, as well as understand policies.

The price increase of water dominated this forum - as it had in a Reach forum two days earlier.

Human resources practitioner Mark Chan, 56, said the rebates should have been applied directly to PUB instead of given to residents, so that their water bill does not change. But Ms Indranee said it was important people know the true value of water and use it with care. "If you remove the cost element completely, the signal you're sending is that 'It's okay, it's free, you can use it without thinking about the price', which is not the signal that we want to send," she said.

Other topics raised at the forum included the Committee on the Future Economy suggestions, and what the Government was doing to help the elderly.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 26, 2017, with the headline On the actual impact of the water hike, and telling it like it is. Subscribe