PUTRAJAYA: Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on Thursday (Feb 28) urged the Johor government as well as its people to speak up on what he described as the "morally wrong" water deal with Singapore.
Dr Mahathir was addressing the Johor state leaders' retreat in Putrajaya when he said that Singapore, as a "rich" nation, should not depend on the "poor".
The 1962 Water Agreement, which expires in 2061, entitles Singapore to draw up to 250 million gallons a day (mgd) of water from the Johor River.
Singapore pays 3 sen per thousand gallons of raw water and sells treated water back to Johor at 50 sen per thousand gallons, a fraction of the cost of treating the water.
Johor is meanwhile entitled to a daily supply of treated water of up to 2 per cent or 5 mgd of the water supplied to Singapore.
In practice, however, Singapore has been supplying 16 mgd of treated water to Johor at their request, Singapore's water agency PUB said.
Last month, PUB said it supplied beyond 16 mgd of treated water to Malaysia for several days, after pollution disrupted production at Johor's water plants.
Dr Mahathir announced earlier in February that Malaysia's Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah would lead a team of officials to renegotiate prices of raw water sold to Singapore, although he did not say when or where the talks would take place.
Saifuddin said later that negotiations had started in January between the Attorneys-General of Singapore and Malaysia.
In response, Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Feb 19 that the Attorneys-General of both countries had met in December last year for water talks, but the discussions were "overshadowed" by new maritime and airspace issues.
READ: Singapore, Malaysia met in December for water talks but discussions 'overshadowed by new issues': MFA
On Thursday, Dr Mahathir said: “Singapore rapidly developed because we have been supplying them with water, but I find the Johoreans rarely talk about it.
“They just wait for negotiations to be undertaken by the federal government as if the state government is unaffected.
“The state government must make their voices heard. The rich are depending on the poor? This is not only illogical but also morally wrong. We must put stress on this issue,” he said.
Dr Mahathir said Johor would make a lot of profit if the state could properly manage the supply of water and electricity that it channelled to Singapore.
“This must be fought for, but we are not very smart in fighting for it or highlighting the problems and the consequences we suffered,” he said.
The prime minister said the state government should also look at its own advantages and disadvantages, rather than at Singapore’s, in order to surpass its neighbour in terms of development.
“Johor has a relatively larger land size than Singapore, and of course, cheaper. So, if investors are looking for a larger land size, this will definitely give an advantage to Johor compared to Singapore.
“The cost of living in Johor is also much lower than Singapore and this can attract investors as the investment cost will not be as high as in Singapore,” he said.
In terms of ports, Dr Mahathir said Johor could use its strategic position to attract the arrival of merchant ships.
“Singapore was once considered a strategic port because the ships were using sails and wind energy, but in this era, ships use engines and they no longer regard Singapore as strategic.
“In fact, Johor is as strategic as Singapore, but we are not getting the optimal benefit of it,” he said.