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Malaysia, Singapore agree to find amicable solution to water supply issue - Mahathir

Last update: 09/04/2019
PUTRAJAYA, April 9 (Bernama) -- Malaysia and Singapore have agreed to find an amicable solution to the issue over the supply of water between the two countries, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said today.

The effort will include the possibility of dispute resolution through arbitration on a mutually agreed basis, he told a packed joint press conference with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong after the 9th Malaysia-Singapore Leaders’ Retreat here.

The water agreement between the two countries was among the issues discussed by Dr Mahathir and Lee in their talks.

The 1962 Johore River Water Agreement, which expires in 2061, requires Malaysia to supply Singapore with 250 million gallons of raw water per day at three sen per 1,000 gallons. Malaysia purchases a portion of the treated water at 50 sen per 1,000 gallons.

Malaysia regards the resolving of the longstanding issue of the water price review as a priority.

“We were engaged in active negotiations on the review in the late 90s and early 2000s," Dr Mahathir said.

The issue of the water agreement cropped up in the middle of last year after Dr Mahathir pointed out that the price of raw water supplied to Singapore “did not make sense” and said he planned to negotiate a review of the terms.

Lee, meanwhile, said it was in the interest of the two countries to work together to ensure sustainable water supply for both sides, which would reduce the potential for further conflict in the future.

He, however, raised Singapore's concerns about the recent water pollution in the Johor River and the long-term water yield.

He said that just last week, the Singapore Public Utilities Board (PUB) waterworks at Kota Tinggi was forced to shut down because of high ammonia level and the source was traced to a palm oil mill in Sedenak, Johor.

He also said that if the Johor River suffers an incident like the one at Sungai Kim Kim recently, it "will be disastrous".

Many people had to be treated at hospitals following the pollution of Sungai Kim Kim in Johor early last month due to the dumping of chemical waste in the waterway.

Lee said that although Singapore's position was that Malaysia has lost its right to review the price under the water agreement, the two leaders agreed that their respective attorney-generals (AGs) will meet in November to understand each other's legal position on the right to review.

On the long-term water yield, Lee said Johor has built water plants on the Johor River upstream of the PUB waterworks at Kota Tinggi, and the combined amount that these plants draw may well exceed the river's sustainable yield.

"We need to study how to meet both the Johor and Singapore water requirements for the remainder of the water agreement. We also agreed that our two AGs should continue their dialogue and understand each other's perspectives and concerns," he said.

Asked whether Singapore views Malaysia's request for a review of the water agreement as reasonable and how much is considered a reasonable price, which drew laughter from the audience, Lee said: "I told Dr Mahathir I can understand his perspective why he sees political necessity to ask for a water price review, but I also explained to Dr Mahathir to see from Singapore's point of view."

Lee said the water agreement is a fundamental finding document for the Singaporean government and it (Singapore government) has to go according to it.

"Let's find a way forward which enables us to talk this issue constructively and, hopefully, to be able to make some progress,” he said.

"One of the issues we need to talk about is the security of the water from Johor due to population and yield to make sure Singapore is able to get 250,000 million gallons a day as per the agreement,” he said.

Lee said it is a prejudged question to ask him what the reasonable water price is.


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