Ministry of Foreign Affairs Committee of Supply 2020 – Cuts by WP MPs and NCMPs

(Delivered on 2 March 2020)

Raw Water from Johor – Pritam Singh

Sir, like all members of this House, I had to file my Committee of Supply cuts before the onset of the political imbroglio that unfolded in Malaysia over the last week. I filed this cut amongst other reasons, in view of comments made over the course of the last year both in Singapore and Malaysia about pollution and water security issues surrounding the abstraction of raw water in Johor, an issue that affects not just Singapore, but Malaysia too.

On pollution, since 2017, there have been seven incidents affecting the Johor River which shut down the PUB’s Johor waterworks, disrupting the supply of raw water to Singapore. This has arisen because of illegal discharges within the water catchments area from industries such as chicken farms and palm oil mills in particular and pollution in general.

Separately, Singaporeans and Malaysians would also the recall the shutting down of schools in Malaysia arising from pollution in Sungei Kim Kim in Johor last year. Questions have also been raised in this Parliament about safety of water supply and air quality, questions which would be far more immediate and pressing for our friends in Malaysia and specifically, Johor.

Separately, the issue of the price of water sold to Singapore has also come to fore strongly over the course of the year with the matter discussed on Malaysian talk shows and unsurprisingly, in the Malaysian Parliament. More recently, a number of Malaysian political office holders have on more than one occasion raised the price of raw water sold to Singapore as a bug bear.

Sir, this matter of the price of raw water is a genie that is not going back into bottle anytime soon. This is especially so since various Malaysian states already charge more for raw water to their own fellow Malaysians. For example, in September last year, Water Watch Penang raised concerns about the neighbouring state of Perak offering to sell its treated water to Penang at 70 sen per 1000 litres. The matter is coming to head because Penang draws water from Sungei Muda, a river shared with the state of Kedah, and it is estimated that the river can only cater to Penang’s demand until 2025. In Johor, senior Malaysian leaders shared last year that by the second half of this year, Johor’s water reserve threshold will drop down to zero, and alluded that Malaysia would have to look after the interests of Malaysians first. More broadly, the Malaysian National Water Services Commission has proposed that Malaysian states should look to increase water tariffs by 10% to 20%.

Sir, these developments, and the matter of greater water insecurity in Malaysia is likely to bring the headline figure we purchase raw water from Johor – 3 sen for every 1000 gallons – in the political spotlight, more so than before. The fact that Singapore has in turn locked the low price of treated water sold to around 11 sen per 1000 litres and supplied more water to Malaysia than required under the existing water agreement – is likely remain a footnote.

Singapore has a lot of experience in water collection, treatment, supply and separately, waste management, including the discharge of effluents. The rising water security issues in Malaysia provides an opportunity to consider how both Singapore and Malaysia can look to reduce the prospect of our water agreement as a potential source of strain in our relationship. For Singapore, water from Malaysia is cheaper to treat than desalinated water.

Is there scope for greater cooperation between Singapore and Malaysia in this regard?