Malaysia's Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah in Parliament on Tuesday (12 March 2019). Source: Buletin TV3 YouTube screengrab/RTM

Singapore’s Foreign Minister’s recent remarks on 1962 Water Agreement “reckless” and unbridled: Malaysia’s Foreign Minister

Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan’s recent remarks against Malaysia in relation to the 1962 bilateral Water Supply Agreement were reckless and unbridled, said Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah.

Responding to queries from several Members of Parliament (MPs) regarding the water dispute, Dato’ Saifuddin stressed that at this stage, Malaysia should be “in the second stage of the discussion” with Singapore, which entails “looking at the price modalities and the time frame and duration of the price modalities, as well as other related matters”.

He added that the Ministry of Land, Water and Natural Resources, as well as the Attorney-General’s Office, alongside the Johor state government are also playing their respective roles in the bilateral negotiations on the Agreement.

“Therefore, Mr. Speaker, I was very shocked when Singapore’s Foreign Minister [Dr Balakrishnan], [when] speaking at the Singapore Parliament, had launched unbridled criticisms against our actions in reviewing this Agreement,” said Dato’ Saifuddin.

“First, he accused Malaysia of not respecting the 1962 agreement by saying we can no longer review it after 25 years”, charged Datuk Saifuddin.

“Clause 14 of the Agreement says that the Agreement shall be subject to review after the expiry of 25 years from the date it is signed, and not at 25 years.

“So I don’t understand what kind of English is being used by the Singaporean Foreign Minister for him to interpret it in such a manner,” quipped Dato’ Saifuddin.

Dato’ Saifuddin’s statement was specifically made in response to a question by Santubong MP Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, who had asked Dato’ Saifuddin to elaborate on the terms of reference used in discussions on the Agreement.

Secondly, he noted that his counterpart had also made the “malicious insinuation” that Malaysia has problems with governance.

“It is hitting below the belt,” said the Malaysian Foreign Minister.

“If we were to calculate the subsidies we give to Singapore, it can be estimated that Malaysia has provided Singapore a minimum subsidy rate of approximately RM42mil a year, or around RM2.4bil from the time the Agreement was inked until now,” said Dato’ Saifuddin.

“We sell [raw water] at such a low price, but we buy [it back] at an expensive price,” he added.

WATCH: Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah on Singapore’s Foreign Minister’s Vivian Balakrishnan’s remarks regarding the Water Agreement | Skip to 1:30:00

Third, Dato’ Saifuddin stressed that before any strict measures are taken against Singapore in the event that the Republic continues to refuse a review of water prices, the Malaysian government needs to ensure that the country, especially Johor, has its own water supply at an adequate level.

“We need to work on zero-dependency on water from Singapore.

“Should Singapore no longer decide not to negotiate, then we shall take this matter for arbitration at an international level.

“If and when we do reach such a level, I hope fellow legislators in this House will fully support us in doing so for the benefit of Malaysians, especially the people of Johor,” he concluded.

Dato’ Saifuddin’s statement was made in response to Rantau Panjang MP Siti Zailah Mohd Yusoff’s question regarding the government’s plan in the event that Singapore continues to object to a review of the Agreement.

1962 Water Agreement not about economic standing, but about “respecting the sanctity of agreements”: Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan

Previously, Dr Balakrishnan responded to Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s comments regarding the absence of a review of the Agreement, branding the latter’s statement “a red herring” meant to stir public sentiments against the Republic.

Channel NewsAsia reported Dr Balakrishnan as saying earlier this month in Parliament that “the 1962 Water Agreement is not about who is richer or poorer”, but rather “about the fundamental principle of respecting the sanctity of agreements.”

“Any breach of the 1962 Water Agreement would call into question the Separation Agreement, and this Separation Agreement is the basis of our existence of an independent sovereign state.

“Therefore, Malaysia and Singapore must fully honour the terms of the 1962 Water Agreement, including the price of water stipulated in it,” he stressed.

“Our longstanding position is that neither Malaysia nor Singapore can unilaterally change the terms of this agreement between our two countries.”

A day before Dr Balakrishnan’s made his remarks in Parliament, Dr Mahathir had described the Agreement’s terms, when couched in the present-day context, as unfair to Malaysia, as the country is required to sell raw water at such a low price to a “rich” nation such as Singapore despite unfavourable economic conditions today.