Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah said that on Feb 21 that there were eight issues that needed resolving between Singapore and Malaysia. Of these, the dispute concerning the limits at the Johor Baru port would like to be resolved the fastest.
Some of the other issues were of course the water issue, the 1974 airspace agreement, as well as Singapore’s proposed Instrument Landing System (ILS) procedures for Seletar Airport in the northeastern area of the country.
He expressed optimism that one or two of these issues would see a resolution soon.
Speaking to the Malaysian press, the Foreign Minister said, “For the moment, I see the Johor Bahru port limits issue as being one of eight involving relations between Malaysia and Singapore which can be resolved first.”
He added, “I believe there will be good relations with Singapore and the discussions will be smooth. On the port limits, it can be resolved in the near future compared to the water issue, which I expect to take more time as it is quite complicated.”
The issue of port limits in Johor Bahru was raised again in October last year when Malaysia unilaterally chose to extend the port limits in Johor Bahru. Following this, the Malaysian government ships then set sail into Singapore’s waters.
This was vehemently protested by the government of Singapore, who claimed that the port limits that had been extended had reached its territorial waters in Tuas.
Both attorneys-general of Malaysia and Singapore met for discussions in December concerning the water issue, but Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) of Singapore said on Tuesday that these talks had at that time been “overshadowed” by airspace and maritime territorial disputes.
However, Mr Saifuddin said he believes that the current tone between Singapore and Malaysia concerning discussing the 1962 Water Agreement is a positive one. He also said that while more time is necessary, Malaysia’s government looks forward to a good outcome.
He added that most importantly, progress had been made and that talks are actually being held.
He said that he and Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Singapore’s Foreign Minister, are seeking a schedule soon for more talks to be held. “On the water issue, the Singapore foreign minister and I are looking for a suitable date in the near future to meet and hold further discussions. The willingness of the Republic is very encouraging, compared to before when there was no progress.”
Dr Tun Mahathir Mohamad, the Prime Minister of Malaysia, called the price of raw water sold to Singapore “ridiculous” in June of last year.
The Malaysian Prime Minister also recently said, “By right, price of goods should be current. Today we are not talking about millionaires, but billionaires because income has increased tremendously. So, if you think that the price set in 1926 still remains until the year 3000 — another millennium — is it reasonable? I feel it is unreasonable. Until when?”
The agreement had actually been set in 1962, contrary to Dr Mahathir’s assertion. Under the current agreement, the 1962 Water Agreement, Singapore is allowed to draw up to 250 million gallons a day (mgd) of water from the Johor River. This agreement is good until 2061.
The price that Singapore pays for this water is 3 sen per thousand gallons of raw water. It is then sold back to Johor as treated water at 50 sen per thousand gallons.
The steep hike in the price of water is justified by the fact that Singapore pays for the water treatment infrastructural costs, dams and treatment plants, pumps and pipelines, including construction, operation, and maintenance costs of these, as explained in a booklet entitled Water Talks, which was put out in 2003.
For example, in one 2003 project Singapore paid S$1 billion, while Malaysia shouldered none of the costs.
According to the government, the real cost of treating the water is RM2.40 (S$ .80) per thousand gallons, which means that Singapore pays for RM1.90 (S$ .63) per thousand gallons.