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03 Mar 2019
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Feedback View - 450
Need to side with Singapore on the water dispute

Some people accused me of siding with Malaysia on the dispute over the water agreement. I was also accused of being "disloyal to Singapore".

We need to get above the pettiness and see the dispute from a higher perspective. We should see the issue from the perspective of both sides. 

Let me address the key points.

Here are the points put forward by the Singapore side:

a) We must respect the sanctity of an international agreement.
b) If we agree to increase the price of water, the Malaysia side will keep asking for a higher price in the future. 
c) Malaysia can bring up other agreements for renegotiation.
d) Singapore has spent over $1 billion in water projects in Malaysia 

Here are the points put forward by the Malaysian side:

a) The price of 3 sens per 1,000 gallons is ridiculously low
b) The water agreement allowed for the price to be renegotiated in 1987, i.e. 25 years after the treaty was signed in 1962.

Sanctity of international agreement
I must point out that Malaysia has respected the sanctity of the international agreement. They have continued to supply the raw water in accordance with the agreement, and have kept to the agreed price. Malaysia only ask for the price to be revised to a higher figure.

The agreement did provide for the water price to be negotiated in 1987. Malaysia did not exercise that right at that time. Singapore argued that they have forfeited their right by failing to act in 1987. Malaysia argued that they retain the right to ask for the water price to be revised at any time after 1987.

While this matter can be argued from the legal perspective, we should also consider it from a perspective of "what is reasonable".

It is reasonable for Singapore to pay a higher price for the raw water, as the cost of alternative sources of water are many times higher, may several hundred times higher?

When we agree on a higher price, we can agree to fix it for a number of years. Beyond that period, we should also agree to adjust the price based on inflation.

There is the fear that this will "open up all other treaties for renegotiation". This fear is exaggerated. 

All treaties are subject to negotiation from time to time. Many of them have an expiry date and is subject to renegotiation. Most treaties have a cancellation clause, such as Britain's decision to leave the European Union (which has ramifications of a gigantic scale compared to the water agreement).

The principle should continue to be that any agreement should be fair and beneficial to the contracting parties.

Loyalty to Singapore
All citizens should be loyal to Singapore where our stand is correct and is in the long term interest of our country. 

We should not be blindly loyal to a stand that is harmful to our long term interest.

It is not in our long term interest to treat Malaysia in a manner that they perceive to be unfair to them. They have many ways to retaliate against the unfair treatment. We have seen the steps that they took on the sea boundary and the use of their air space.

I remain loyal to the long term interest of Singapore.

Sorry, this is not the same as siding with the Singapore government's stand on this dispute. I disagree with the stand taken by our government. I have voiced this view for several months.

Tan Kin Lian

 


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