MFA: Singapore 'clear and consistent' on position that Malaysia has lost right to review price of water

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Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) says that no review of the price of water from Johor has taken place between the Republic and Malaysia.

In a media statement released on Wednesday (13 March), the MFA said that Singapore has been clear and consistent on its position that Malaysia “has lost the right to review the price of water under the 1962 Water Agreement”.

It was responding to a statement by its Malaysian counterpart on Tuesday, in which Wisma Putra said that the two countries’ prime ministers had agreed in November last year to begin discussions over the water agreement.

The Malaysian Foreign Ministry added, “Both parties should have already entered the second phase of negotiations, which was to discuss how the new water price would be determined.

“However, the statement made by Singapore’s foreign minister in Parliament on 1 March does not illustrate the agreement that had been decided on by both countries. In fact, he criticised and made baseless accusations against Malaysia.”

Differing views on right to review price of water

In its Wednesday statement, MFA clarified that, during the meeting between Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his Malaysian counterpart Mahathir Mohamad on 12 November last year, both sides expressed their differing views on the right to review the price of water under the 1962 agreement.

MFA added that both prime ministers expressed a willingness for officials to have further discussions to better understand each other’s positions on the issue. And while the attorneys-general of both countries met once in December for this purpose, their discussions “did not make progress”, as they were overshadowed by the issues that had arisen over the Johor Bahru Port Limits and the Seletar Instrument Landing System procedures.

“There was certainly no agreement between the Attorneys-General on any matter related to the 1962 Water Agreement during their meeting,” MFA said. “The Attorneys-General will meet again to continue their discussions.”

Singapore is prepared for third-party dispute settlement procedures

The ministry also noted Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah’s comments in the Malaysian Parliament on Tuesday that “if (Singapore) do not want to negotiate, we (Malaysia) should bring this to international arbitration”. It added that Mahathir had also said on 3 March that “Singapore does not want to go to the world court”, ostensibly because it would lose.

MFA stressed that Singapore has always been prepared to settle disputes by recourse to appropriate international third-party dispute settlement procedures, on terms mutually agreed to by the parties.

It noted that, as far back as 2003, then-Minister for Foreign Affairs S. Jayakumar said that Singapore was prepared to agree to refer this matter to international arbitration by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the interest of resolving the dispute.

The 1962 Water Agreement, which expires in 2061, entitles Singapore to draw up to 250 million gallons a day (mgd) of water from the Johor River.

Singapore pays RM0.03 (S$0.01) per thousand gallons of raw water and sells treated water back to Johor at RM0.50 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 two per cent or 5mgd of the water supplied to Singapore. In practice, however, Singapore has been supplying 16mgd of treated water to Johor at its request.

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