Singapore PM raises concern over Johor water supply pollution, sustainability

Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong speaks during a joint news conference with Malaysia’s Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in Putrajaya April 9, 2019. — Picture by Mukhriz Hazim
Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong speaks during a joint news conference with Malaysia’s Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in Putrajaya April 9, 2019. — Picture by Mukhriz Hazim

PUTRAJAYA, April 9 — Lee Hsien Loong expressed today Singapore’s concern over pollution and sustainability of the water supply from Johor, pointing at the recent toxic waste incident in Sg Kim Kim that saw students hospitalised and schools closed.

Amid a protracted tussle over the water deal between the republic and Malaysia, the Singapore prime minister suggested reviewing the water supply to meet both countries’ requirements.

“If the Johor River suffers an incident like that which happened in Sungai Kim Kim recently, it will be disastrous for both countries. That is one concern we have,” he told a joint press conference with Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad after their 9th bilateral Leaders’ Retreat here.

Lee highlighted that the Singaporean Public Utilities Board’s (PUB) water processing plant in Kota Tinggi, Johor, had to be closed last week due to high ammonia levels.

An oil-palm mill in Sedenak, Johor, had polluted Sungai Sayong that flows into Sungai Johor (Johor River).

Lee also expressed worry about sustainability when pointing to Johor’s water plants at Loji Air and Semanggar that were upstream of PUB’s own waterworks.

“These plants combined, plus the Kota Tinggi waterworks belonging to PUB, draw from the Johor River quite possibly more water than the river can sustain,” Lee said.

“It is in both countries’ interests to work together to ensure sustainable water supply for both sides because this will reduce the potential for conflict between the two countries.”

Both leaders today continued to disagree on the right to review the price of water under the 1962 Water Agreement that will expire in 2061, with Lee calling the document “sacrosanct”.

Under the agreement, Singapore may buy 250 million gallons of water per day from Sungai Johor at 3 sen per 1,000 gallons.

In return, Johor may buy back treated water from Singapore, of up to 2 per cent of the volume of raw water supplied, at 50 sen per 1,000 gallons.

Dr Mahathir said today the two leaders were committed to finding an amicable solution, even to the extent of bringing the dispute to international arbitration.

Bilateral relations between the federation and the island republic cooled after Dr Mahathir said last year that the price of raw water being sold to Singapore was “manifestly ridiculous.”

Putrajaya said Malaysia has given subsidies of up to RM2.4 billion — about RM42 million a year or RM100,000 a day — in the sale of raw water to Singapore since the agreement took effect.

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