How Malaysians Feel About The 3 Sen Water Saga

Nationalist Slant In Forum Letters Shows Malaysians Angry Over Water Issue

“It’s time someone told our southern neighbour to get real.”

This comment in a letter to the New Straits Times sums up perfectly the feelings of many Malaysians over the water saga brewing between Malaysia and Singapore.

Last week, Malaysian PM Mahathir Mohamad expressed his wish to renegotiate the 1962 agreement between the two nations. Under the agreement, PUB can draw 250 million gallons of raw water from the Johor River daily at 3 sen per 1,000 gallons. In return, Johor can receive up to five million gallons of treated water every day, priced at 50 sen per 1,000 gallons.

The ever-outspoken Dr M called this agreement “too costly” and “manifestly ridiculous”. And it appears that many Malaysians agree with him.

Here are the arguments they made:

1. Singapore is not poor

AHM of Ipoh feels that the agreement is not sensible because of Singapore’s wealth.

He wrote,

We are not swimming in money to subsidise Singapore, a sovereign country. It is a different story if Singapore was a poverty-stricken nation that needs the help of its neighbour to see it through another day.

Referring to Singapore as Malaysia’s “advanced neighbour”, he went on to compare the GDPs of both states.

Singapore’s gross domestic product per capita in 2016 was RM212,000 … Malaysia’s GDP per capita, in the same year, was RM38,000.

AHM concluded his letter with a punch:

Three sen didn’t make sense even in 1962, what more in 2018.

Interestingly, Malaysians did have a chance to raise prices. The agreements provide for a price review after 25 years. But Johor’s Barisan Nasional government of the 1980s chose not to revise the prices.

So really, whose fault is it that the rate is still at 3 sen?

2. The deal is “no longer workable”, so re-look lor

It’s not just anonymous readers weighing in on the issue. News editor of The Malaysian Insight Julia Yeow implied that Singapore was “exasperated” that Malaysia wanted to re-look at the water deal.

To her, it made sense that the two countries re-looked at the deal.

She wrote,

If the terms of our water deal are no longer workable in this day and age, then it’s only fair to request, and expect, both parties return to the negotiation table.

3. We “lend” you land what

One university professor pointed out in Utusan Online that Singapore uses over 2,000 acres of Johor land as part of the water agreement.

But what the professor conveniently forgets to mention is that Singapore pays rent for the land, as agreed in 1962.

Singapore also bore – and continues to bear – the construction and maintenance costs of a dam across Sungei Linggiu.

So it’s not as if we’re using the land for free – rental costs at Sungei Linggiu are about RM18,000 ($6,000) per hectare. The dam sits on about 21,600 hectares of land, which means we pay just over RM388 million (S$130 million) in rental every year.

And that’s just at Sungei Linggiu.

Nationalist language not new: Experts

Analysts that TODAY spoke to say that the streak of nationalist language is not new in relations between Singapore and Malaysia.

Dr Mohamed Nawab Mohamed Osman, coordinator of the Malaysia Programme at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said,

Similar to previous clashes between the two sides, the Malaysian media often takes the issue to forth and have at times propounded nationalistic views in support of their nation’s position.

But it appears that our Ministry of Foreign Affairs remains undeterred.

“Both sides must comply fully with all the provisions of these agreements,” it said in a statement last week, referring to Dr Mahathir’s comments.

It’s well-known that Dr Mahathir has begrudged the price of water at which Malaysia sells water to Singapore. But is a grudge good enough reason to ignore a legally-binding agreement?

We’ll leave that for you to decide.

Featured image from PUB and New Straits Times.

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