Malaysia’s foreign minister butts heads with Singapore counterpart over ‘reckless comments’

Malaysian FM Saifuddin Abullah (L), Singapore FM Vivian Balakrishnan. Photo: Vivian Balakrishnan / Facebook

The war of words over the 1962 Water Agreement escalated further yesterday when Malaysia’s foreign minister Saifuddin Abdullah accused his Singaporean counterpart of making reckless remarks.

To think that they were such fast friends the last time they met back in January.

The “reckless” comments were apparently made in Parliament by Singapore’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan on March 1, who had been responding to the remarks made by Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad the day before.

On Feb 28, Mahathir had urged the Johor state government to speak out on its water deal with Singapore — a deal that he repeatedly stressed as unfair.  The agreement signed in 1962 allows Singapore to draw 250 million gallons of raw water daily from the Johor River at 3 sen per 1,000 gallons. Once it is filtered in Singapore, Malaysia then buys back a portion of that at 50 sen per 1,000 gallons.

The Malaysian premier believes that his country got the short end of the stick and called the situation “morally wrong”. The man made it clear that he wants it changed, even though the government had a chance to revise the prices 25 years after signing the contract.

Dr. Balakrishnan dismissed PM Mahathir’s comments as “strong, emotive words” intended to arouse public opinion, and stated that it all just boils down to the “fundamental principle of respecting the sanctity of agreements”.

“Since Separation in 1965, Singapore has chosen a different and unique fundamental philosophy of governance, and quite frankly, we’ve taken a different path of development,” he added.

‘Below the belt’

In Malaysian Parliament yesterday, Saifuddin rebutted Dr. Balakrishnan’s comments, which he labeled as “reckless”.

The Star reported that the Malaysian foreign minister took issue with how his Singaporean counterpart insinuated that Malaysia has problems with its governance.

“That is a malicious accusation, it is hitting below the belt,” The Star quoted Saifudin.

He also pointed out that a clause in the 1962 Water Agreement mentioned that the prices shall be subject to review after the expiry of 25 years from the date it was signed, and “not at 25 years”.

“So I don’t understand what English is used by the Singaporean Foreign Minister to interpret it in such a manner,” he said.

Photo: Osenik via HardwareZone
Photo: Osenik via HardwareZone

The Malaysian minister affirmed that the priority is to ensure that the state of Johor has ample water supply and does not depend on water from Singapore anymore. If Singapore refuses to negotiate about the water deal, Malaysia will bring it to international arbitration, he added.

“And when we reach such a level, I hope the lawmakers here will give us the support to do so.”

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