KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia will seek international arbitration if Singapore does not renegotiate the 1962 Water Agreement, said Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah on Tuesday (Mar 12).
During parliamentary debate, Mr Saifuddin also took aim at his counterpart, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, for what he said was a “reckless” statement on Mar 1 criticising Malaysia for its attempts to renegotiate the deal.
Mr Saifuddin said in Parliament: "If they (Singapore) no longer want to negotiate, then we will bring it to international arbitration”.
“And when we reach such a level, I hope the lawmakers here will give us the support to do so."
He said before Putrajaya escalates the issue, it first needs to ensure that Johor state has ample water supply. "We need to work on zero dependency on water from Singapore,” he stated.
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 its request.
Malaysia has previously acknowledged that it chose not to ask for a review of the agreement in 1987 because it benefited from the pricing arrangement.
On Feb 28, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad urged the Johor government and its people to speak up on what he described as the "morally wrong" water deal with Singapore, a "rich" nation.
A day later, Dr Balakrishnan said in Parliament that Dr Mahathir’s comments were a “red herring” and “strong, emotive words” that were intended to rouse public opinion.
“The 1962 Water Agreement is not about who is richer or poorer," Dr Balakrishnan said. "It is about the fundamental principle of respecting the sanctity of agreements."
Dr Balakrishnan noted that when Singapore was ejected from the Federation of Malaysia in 1965, it took the precaution of ensuring that the 1962 Water Agreement was guaranteed by both governments.
"Any breach of the 1962 Water Agreement would call into question the Separation Agreement, and this Separation Agreement is the basis of our existence of an independent sovereign state.
"Therefore, Malaysia and Singapore must fully honour the terms of the 1962 Water Agreement, including the price of water stipulated in it," he said.
"Our longstanding position is that neither Malaysia nor Singapore can unilaterally change the terms of this agreement between our two countries."
SINGAPORE FOREIGN MINISTER ‘HITTING BELOW THE BELT’: SAIFUDDIN
On Tuesday, Mr Saifuddin accused Dr Balakrishnan of making reckless remarks.
He said: “We are honouring the agreement, which is why we say we can review 25 years after the agreement is signed”.
“Clause 14 of the agreement says that the (agreement) shall be subject to review after the expiry of 25 years from the date it is signed, and not at 25 years.
"So I don't understand what English is used by the Singaporean Foreign Minister to interpret it in such a manner," he said.
He claimed Dr Balakrishnan had also insinuated that Malaysia has problems with governance. "That is a malicious accusation, it is hitting below the belt," he said.
Mr Saifuddin said Malaysia has given subsidies of up to RM2.4 billion (US$587 million) in selling raw water to Singapore since the 1960s. This translated to RM42 million a year or about RM100,000 a day in subsidies, he said, without elaborating on how the figures were calculated.
Dr Balakrishnan, in his parliamentary speech on Mar 1, said Singapore had spent more than S$1 billion on water projects in Johor.
Johor owns the Linggiu Dam, but Singapore, he said, paid more than S$300 million for its construction and operational costs, as well as compensation for the land used for the Linggiu Reservoir, the potential loss of revenue from logging activities, and a one-time payment of the lease of that land for the remaining tenure of the 1962 Water Agreement.