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Mahathir Ready to End Water Pact (07 Aug 2002)

KUALA LUMPUR - Singapore need not wait until 2011 to terminate one of its two water agreements with Malaysia according to Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

Malaysia did not want to sell water to Singapore, he said, adding that it was a losing proposition for his country.

Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, speaking to Malaysian reporters on Monday, said Singapore Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong told him the Republic planned to allow the agreement ending in 2011 to lapse, as it would have the means to produce sufficient water by then.

The minister, who was on a two-day working visit to Singapore, said the Republic had decided to reduce dependency on imported water to about 20 per cent of its total consumption over a 20- to 30-year period.

Tan Sri Muhyiddin said that Singapore need not ask for a renewal or extension because they are looking at new and alternative sources of water such as Newater and desalinated water.

He quoted Mr Goh as saying that Singapore would be prepared to continue buying water in the long term to maintain good relations with its neighbour but the price must be right.

What constitutes the right price has been debated hotly on both sides of the Causeway.

Singapore Foreign Affairs Minister S. Jayakumar told Parliament last month that the price of any treated water bought from Malaysia after the current agreements expire must be pegged to a percentage of the Newater's cost.

Under two agreements signed in the early 1960s, Singapore pays Malaysia three sen (1.4 Singapore cents) per 1,000 gallons of raw water.

Malaysia has proposed raising the price to 60 sen per thousand gallons between 2002 and 2007. From 2007 to 2011, Malaysia is asking for RM3 per thousand gallons.

Singapore has offered to pay 45 sen per 1,000 gallons when the first agreement expires in 2011 and 60 sen after the second one runs out in 2061, with adjustments every five years.

Dr Mahathir said that it did not make sense 'that the price has remained unchanged for 75 years.

He added that his government preferred to sell its water to other states in the country, saying that Malacca, for instance, was prepared to pay between 30 sen and 40 sen per 1,000 gallons.

In July, officials from both sides met to discuss a new water agreement and other unresolved issues. The talks ended in a stalemate and both sides are to meet again in Singapore next month.

Singapore has said it wants to reduce dependency on water from Malaysia. It plans to do so by increasing its catchment areas, desalination and through Newater, which is produced by passing water flowing from the kitchen and bathroom through a series of membranes with microscopic pores.