JOHOR BAHRU: The Johor state government plans to be self-sufficient in treated water instead of relying on Singapore for the resource, said Chief Minister Osman Sapian said on Friday (Mar 1).
“We have a plan to be self-sufficient," said Mr Osman in a statement.
“But the matter is still at the planning stage and I cannot share the details at the moment until the plan is ready to be implemented."
The statement was issued after the Johor state government concluded a retreat session with Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and his Cabinet ministers in Putrajaya.
Dr Mahathir had during the retreat on Thursday 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.
“The state government must make their voices heard. The rich are depending on the poor?" Dr Mahathir said. "This is not only illogical but also morally wrong. We must put stress on this issue."
READ: Singapore, Malaysia met in December for water talks but discussions 'overshadowed by new issues': MFA
Under the 1962 Water Agreement, which expires in 2061, Singapore is entitled 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 had said.
READ: Mahathir intended to rouse public opinion with 'strong, emotive words' on water: Vivian Balakrishnan
In response to Dr Mahathir's comments, Singapore's Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said in Parliament on Friday that the Malaysian prime minister's “strong, emotive words” on the water agreement were intended to rouse public opinion.
It was a "red herring", he added.
“The 1962 Water Agreement is not about who is richer or poorer," Dr Balakrishnan told the House. "It is about the fundamental principle of respecting the sanctity of agreements."
On Sunday, a spokesperson from Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that it noted Johor state government's plans to increase its capacity to produce treated water to meet its own needs.
"This does not affect Singapore’s position that all parties, including Johor, must honour the terms of the 1962 Water Agreement, which no party can unilaterally change,” the spokesperson added.
Last year, Dr Mahathir criticised the price of raw water sold to Singapore, saying it is "ridiculous" and that he planned to negotiate a review of the terms.
Dr Balakrishnan reiterated on Friday that Singapore's longstanding position is that neither country can unilaterally change the terms of the water agreement.
"In 1965, when Singapore was ejected from the Federation of Malaysia, we took the precaution of ensuring that the 1962 Water Agreement was guaranteed by the governments of both Malaysia and Singapore," Dr Balakrishnan explained. "It forms in effect part of our 1965 Separation Agreement."
"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.