SINGAPORE - 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 on Tuesday (July 31).
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 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 saying in the interview on Monday.
MFA said Singapore's position was most recently set out in Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan's remarks in Parliament on July 9.
Dr Balakrishnan told the House that Malaysia had previously acknowledged that it itself chose not to ask for a review in 1987, because it benefited from the pricing arrangement under the agreement: Johor buys treated water from Singapore at 50 Malaysian sen per 1,000 gallons, which was 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 those discussed during the visit of Datuk 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 earlier on Tuesday.
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," 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, whilst exploring potential new areas of collaboration," MFA said.
Dr Mahathir has sought to defer the HSR 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 that both governments saw the HSR project and the water agreement as issues that need to be tackled, but that they should not be obstacles to maintaining good relations.
Mr Saifuddin had 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 bring 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 that he will be travelling to Singapore to discuss the HSR project. "It will take place very soon," said Mr Saifuddin, adding that he had "stated the fact that we want to sit down and discuss".
On the 1962 water agreement, 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.