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18 Mar 2019
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Suggestion View - 367
Solve the water dispute

I disagree with the approach taken by the foreign minister in dealing with the water dispute with Malaysia. 

He has taken an "act tough" approach. That is not being diplomatic. It is also not helpful.

The 1962 water agreement provides for the price to be negotiated "AFTER 25 YEARS". Singapore took the position that Malaysia lost the right to negotiate the water price when they failed to ask for the price to be negotiated in 1987. Malaysia said that they have the right to raise this issue at any time after 1987.

This matter can be sent for arbitration in a third party tribunal. But it is costly and a bad approach.

A better approach is to discuss the price asked by Malaysia and to find a reasonable price that is accepted by both countries. This new price and the adjustment mechanism can also be set for the future.

It is in the interest of both countries for Malaysia to continue the water supply to Singapore, which would otherwise go to the sea. It is possible that they will need the water for their own consumption, but any excess should be sold to Singapore, rather then be "wasted".

It is also in the interest of Singapore to buy the raw water from Malaysia at an agreed price, which is likely to be much lower than the cost of produced desalinated water.

There is also the question of timing. Dr. Mahathir and the new government in Malaysia had many domestic issues to take care of. They like to get this problem behind them as soon as possible. It should be possible for Singapore to get a deal that is not too costly, if an agreement can be struck at this time. 

A new agreement can also solve the other bilateral disputes, such as the port limits and the access to Seletar airport. 

We should see what are the big and costly issues, and not be distracted by stubborn adherence to "sanctity of international agreements". All agreements can be re-negotiated on mutual agreement of the contracting parties.

Have the two foreign ministers learned about "win-win" arrangeements? Surely, they must have studied this concept in their "art of negotiation" courses?

Tan Kin Lian


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