Budget debate

Water an existential issue for S'pore, says Chun Sing

Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing said that the intense debate on the water price hike shows Singapore needs to do much more to raise awareness of its water issues.
Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing said that the intense debate on the water price hike shows Singapore needs to do much more to raise awareness of its water issues. PHOTO: ST FILE

The intense debate on the water price hike over the past two days shows Singapore needs to do much more to raise awareness of its water issues, Minister Chan Chun Sing told the House.

"We need to do much more to socialise our people to the challenges that we are facing on the water front," he said.

"The fact that we have such an intense discussion reflects that we have left this issue off our national psyche for too long."

He said it would be too much for him or the Government to expect everyone to defend the price rise, but added that MPs had to get certain basics right no matter which side they were on.

He asked: "Do we agree that water is existential to our country's survival? Do we agree that we should price water properly? If we agree on these two questions, we can go to the mechanics of how to price it properly, what we should consider."

Mr Chan, a former army chief, said an entire generation that has worn uniform knows what this means, adding that Workers' Party MP Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC) used to serve with him in the same unit.

The Government spares no effort to manage the risks all these years, he added, recalling how when he was in primary school, there were three reservoirs. Today, there are 17, plus desalination and Newater plants.

"How many more desalination plants and how many more Newater plants must we build in order for water to never be a weapon pointing at our heads?" he said, adding that two-thirds of Singapore's entire land area is now a water catchment area.

A lot of money is also spent to ensure not a drop of water is wasted. "Some countries lose up to 5 to 10 per cent of their water supply through leaky pipes. If we lose 5 per cent of our water through leaky pipes, we need to build one more Newater plant."

There is never an easy way to stress the value of water, he said, noting the 30 per cent increase over two years is the first in 17 years - which works out to about a 1.6 per cent rise each year.

"We can do this every year. We can do this every five years," he said. "We can do this every 10 years but regardless which way we choose, we have to make sure that we never forget - that water is existential."

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 'Water an existential issue for S'pore, says Chun Sing'. Print Edition | Subscribe