Malaysia-Singapore water talks to include win-win packages

The govt has maintained the packaged approach to revise the water price upwards

by ALIFAH ZAINUDDIN & DASHVEENJIT KAUR / pic by BLOOMBERG

BILATERAL talks between Malaysia and Singapore to discuss the price of raw water will include negotiation packages that could lead to give-and-take solutions on other disputes.

Foreign Affairs Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah said the government has maintained the packaged approach, similar to what was done during Prime Minister (PM) Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s initial tenure as PM, as part of efforts to revise the water price upwards.

Saifuddin said there are eight items that have been presented on the discussion table. He did not deny that it could include provisions to settle the maritime and airspace dispute with the republic.

“It is true, we are still using the same framework. There are actually eight items on the table. It is not in any specific order but we hope that these items can be solved in stages,” he told the Dewan Rakyat in his winding-up speech on the royal address by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah.

“After one is completed, we will proceed with the others,” Saifuddin said in response to a question by MP Datuk Seri Reezal Merican Naina Merican (Barisan Nasional-Kepala Batas) who asked if the current administration would form a negotiated package, where both sides would offer various concessions on several outstanding issues.

Malaysia and Singapore had previously held engagements between 1998 and 2003 to revise the price of water sold to the latter.

In an 85-page booklet issued by Singapore’s Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts, letters exchanged between the two countries showed Singapore’s readiness to pay a higher fee for water, if there could be give-and-take on other issues.

Since negotiations were done in a packaged approach, Singapore’s agreement to pay more for raw water would mean that Malaysia is in agreement to supply water after the 1962 Water Agreement expires in 2061, in addition to allowing the republic’s air force to use the country’s air space.

However, talks of these bundled deals fizzled just before the end of Dr Mahathir’s first tenure.

The two countries started renegotiations on the review of the price of raw water in January led by Attorney General Tommy Thomas and his Singaporean counterpart Lucien Wong.

Dr Mahathir had previously described the three sen per thousand gallons price tag as “ridiculous” and said by comparison that Johor sells water to Melaka at 30 sen per 1,000 gallons — a rate he described as “charitable” given it is a domestic deal.

Malaysia is seeking to hike the price of water sold to Singapore by tenfold as the country considers ways to pay off its massive debt.

Dr Mahathir had said the decades-old treaty governing the water agreement needs to be revised to reflect increases in the cost of living.