'Grave consequences' if Johor can't fulfil water supply agreement: Vivian Balakrishnan

Under the 1962 Water Agreement, Malaysia is obliged to provide Singapore with 250 million gallons of raw water per day. (PHOTO: Getty Images)
Under the 1962 Water Agreement, Malaysia is obliged to provide Singapore with 250 million gallons of raw water per day. (PHOTO: Getty Images)

SINGAPORE — There will be “grave consequences” if Johor is unable to provide Singapore with 250 million gallons of raw water per day as part of its longstanding bilateral deal with the Republic, said Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan in Parliament on Monday (2 March).

“It will undermine the sanctity of the 1962 Water Agreement. It will severely damage our bilateral relationship,” he said during his ministry’s Committee of Supply debate.

Dr Balakrishnan also spoke about the latest developments on the supply of treated water across the Causeway.

Malaysia has built two major water treatment plants upstream from the PUB’s Johor River waterworks and the amount of water drawn from these plants, in addition to the PUB’s daily amount, has “caused the total abstraction to exceed the Johor River’s sustainable yield”, Dr Balakrishnan said.

“In addition to that, there have been recurrent pollution incidents. These developments have forced the PUB’s Johor River waterworks to shut down temporarily on multiple occasions,” he added, in response to a question from Workers’ Party MP Pritam Singh.

While efforts such as the launching a barrage along the Johor River at Kota Tinggi in 2017 to keep sea water from affecting abstraction operations have helped, Dr Balakrishnan emphasised that “much more needs to be done, and done urgently”.

Johor’s water needs have grown in line with its economy and population, Dr Balakrishnan pointed out. The state’s supply had run short at times during which it has had to impose water rationing and purchase additional treated water from the PUB in quantities of up to four times the entitled amount, he added.

“We are even willing to discuss the possibility of Singapore sharing the cost of pollution control measures and new schemes to increase the yield of the Johor River,” he said, adding that Singapore has entered into negotiations with Malaysia “in good faith to explore a practical durable and mutually beneficial solution for both sides”.

However, should talks go south, Singapore is also prepared to resolve the issue “through arbitration on terms mutually agreed to by both countries”.

“This is like how we have successfully resolved other bilateral issues in the past,” said Dr Balakrishnan.

Water price discussions

Dr Balakrishnan also spoke about his meetings with his then Malaysian counterpart Saifuddin Abdullah in December last year and this January to discuss the water price issue.

“We made it clear to Malaysia, that any review of the price of raw water sold to Singapore will also mean a review of the price of treated water,” he said.

On Malaysia’s momentous political changes over the past week, Dr Balakrishnan said he and his colleagues are familiar with many of the personalities who are likely to form the cabinet headed by newly appointed Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, having known them from “our prolonged engagement over decades”.

“We hope that when Prime Minister Muhyiddin’s cabinet is formed, we will be able to pick up where we last left off and continue our discussions on the outstanding important matters, including water,” said Dr Balakrishnan.

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