SINGAPORE: Malaysia Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has dubbed a water supply deal with Singapore as “too costly” and said his government needs to renegotiate the agreement with Singapore.
In a Bloomberg interview published on Monday (Jun 25), Malaysia’s 92-year-old leader said water was among the issues with Singapore “that we need to settle”.
"We will sit down and talk with them, like civilised people," he said in the interview.
In a Channel NewsAsia interview also on Monday, Dr Mahathir called the price of water being sold to Singapore "ridiculous".
"I think it is manifestly ridiculous that we should sell water at 3 sen per thousand gallons. That was okay way back in the 1990s or 1930s. But now what can you buy with 3 sen? Nothing," he told Channel NewsAsia in an exclusive interview.
Bloomberg quoted Dr Mahathir as saying that he would be friendly with Singapore and other nations, while focusing on striking fair deals and ensuring balance.
“I think we can benefit from each other," he said. "We need the expertise of Singapore. Lots of Singapore people invest in Malaysia because it’s much cheaper here."
Dr Mahathir told Bloomberg that he also plans to review Chinese investments and called US President Donald Trump “mercurial”.
“He changes his mind within 24 hours … When you have a man like that, you need to be cautious,” Dr Mahathir said, referring to Trump’s decision on whether to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at a summit in Singapore earlier this month.
AIM IS TO TURN AROUND MALAYSIAN ECONOMY: MAHATHIR
Since taking power following the shock defeat of Malaysia’s Barisan Nasional coalition, Dr Mahathir has cast doubt on several large government-backed projects, including the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore high-speed rail project with Singapore.
Mahathir told the news agency that he was not worried about his critics: "I want to turnaround the economy to grow once again, to achieve developed country status within the shortest possible time … Whether people appreciate me or not, is not relevant. Once I’m dead, they will say nasty things anyway."
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Malaysian former prime minister Najib Razak in January had reaffirmed the importance of undertaking measures to ensure the reliable and adequate water supply from the Johore River as provided for in the 1962 Water Agreement.
In a joint statement issued after a Singapore-Malaysia Leaders' Retreat, both countries also affirmed the terms of the agreement, under which Singapore is given full and exclusive rights to draw up to a maximum of 250 million gallons of water per day from the Johore River.
In a written Parliamentary reply in January last year, Minister of Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan said the 1962 Water Agreement was "sacrosanct" to Singapore.
"It was guaranteed by both the Governments of Malaysia and Singapore under the 1965 Separation Agreement, which was deposited with the United Nations," he said.
The water issue: What's at stake and how did we get here? Explore historical footage and documents in our interactive special: http://cna.asia/water