SINGAPORE: Singapore must never forget that water is an existential issue for the country, needed for its survival, said Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Chan Chun Sing in Parliament on Wednesday (Mar 1).
He spent a good part of his speech addressing the subject of water prices, which will go up by 30 per cent over two years, as announced in Budget 2017.
“I can understand the angst of our people with the water price increase … how it will feed through to the cost of living,” said Mr Chan.
But Singaporeans must also agree that “water is existential”, said Mr Chan, adding that this has been the case since 1965 when Singapore became independent. “We have to start from this basic premise,” he told the House.
Mr Chan, who is also the labour chief, laid out the challenges that Singapore faces in managing water resources.
Demand for water has gone up, even as Singapore builds more reservoirs, desalination and NEWater plants.
He pointed out that the country now has 17 reservoirs, up from the original three - MacRitchie, Seletar and Pierce - and two-thirds of Singapore’s entire land is made up of water catchment areas. “I dare say no other country has planned it (as) such, no other city has planned it (as) such."
Mr Chan acknowledged that technology has helped Singapore meet some of its water demand, but its people still need to be prudent in using the resource, he said. “How many more desalination plants and NEWater plants must we build in order for water to never be a weapon pointing at our head?” he put to members of the House.
On the supply from Johor’s Linggiu Reservoir, Mr Chan warned that water needs of people in the southern Malaysian state are also increasing. They are also extracting water upstream of Linggiu Reservoir, said the minister. “That affects our yield but we want to and we are committed to work with the Malaysian and Johor government, the Johor authorities to see how we can develop the water system for both the benefit of Malaysia and Singapore.”
MORE AWARENESS ON CHALLENGES NEEDED
During the Budget debate which kicked off on Tuesday, some Members of Parliament had raised concerns over the timing of the water price hikes and their impact on the cost of living.
In response to those concerns, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli explained earlier on Wednesday that the costs of producing water have gone up for three reasons, and that the Government decided to revise water prices to "reflect its true scarcity value".
What the debate has shown is that more needs to be done “to socialise our people to the challenges that we are facing on water front”, said Mr Chan.
“The fact that we have such an intense discussion reflects that we have left this issue off our nation's psyche for too long.”
The minister stressed that there is never an easy way to manage the issue of price hikes but pointed out that a 30 per cent increase, after 17 years without any hikes, translates to an increase of about 1.6 per cent a year.
He said: “We can do this every year, we can do this every five years, we can do this every 10 years but regardless of which way we choose, we have to make sure we never forget that water is existential.”
Ultimately, he said the Government needs to be responsible in taking care of not only the short-term needs but also address future challenges.
“A responsible Government is not one which will raise the price and not take greater care of the poor,” said Mr Chan. “A responsible Government is one who knows what is not sustainable and puts a stop to it now.”