No oasis for Malaysia-Singapore row

By SONIA KOLESNIKOV, UPI Business Correspondent  |  Oct. 16, 2002 at 2:50 AM
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SINGAPORE, Oct. 16 (UPI) -- Officials from Singapore and Malaysia appeared farther apart than ever Wednesday over the thorny issue of a water deal as they began two days of negotiations on unresolved bilateral issues.

Issues on the agenda include Malaysian railway land in Singapore; the Malaysian Customs, Immigration and Quarantine facilities in Singapore; the Malaysian airspace use by Singapore; the Singaporean Central Provident Fund savings of West Malaysians and a water supply agreement between the two countries.

Up to now, both sides had agreed to treat the issues as a package, with obviously some trade-off included. But the Malaysians this week indicated they would only negotiate the water issue as a separate topic.

Singapore obtains half of its water needs from Malaysia under long-term agreements running until 2011 and 2061. The Malaysian state of Johor provides 350 million gallons of water a day to Singapore at $0.008 per 1,000 gallons, while Singapore has to resell a minimum 17 million gallons per day of treated water to Johor at $0.13 per 1,000 gallons.

While the basis of the talks started over a year ago related to the negotiation of a new water deal after the expiry of the 2061 one, Malaysia has since then asked for an increase in the current price.

"Singapore has shown flexibility in wanting to resolve the revision of price of existing water. We are prepared to

discuss this issue even though we have informed the Malaysian side on many occasions that Malaysia has lost its right of review," a spokesman at the Singapore Foreign Affairs Ministry said. Under the current agreement, Malaysia had the right to review the price after 25 years, but let it lapse, and Singapore argues it has now lost this right.

Meanwhile, Singapore has also told the Malaysians since it is working on new water sources, including producing recycled waste water called "Newater" and a desalination plant to be completed by 2005, it is prepared to let the agreement which expires in 2061 lapse.

Both sides are blaming each other for the lack of progress. Earlier this week, Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar said Singapore had not been earnest and Malaysia would give its neighbor "one more chance" before seeking third-party arbitration in an international court. A Singapore Foreign Ministry spokesman said last night "Malaysia has made all manner of public statements. And Malaysia has repeatedly kept changing its position on the water issue and other issues in the package."

The official pointed out that when Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong met Prime Minister Mahathir in Putrajaya on Oct. 8, bilateral issues were briefly discussed. Mahathir indicated he would like the water issue to be decoupled from the other issues in the package, while Goh reiterated that all issues were tied up.

"But on October 20, two days after Goh returned to Singapore, we received a letter from Mahathir dated October 7 stating that Malaysia had decided to discontinue the package approach," the spokesman said.

"Singapore will deal with water and the other issues individually and separately, on their stand-alone merits, no longer as a package," he said.

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