Water price hike displeases Singaporeans, but the fallout could have been handled better
After it was announced that water prices were set to increase by 30% in two phases in the Budget 2017 speech, Singaporeans were up in arms and shared a collective view on the matter.
A 30% increase is a substantial one, and patronising one-liners like the raise was to “increase awareness about the importance of water” did nothing to help.
Though it appears their attempts to solve the issue and answer to the public have been proven feeble.
It’s clear that Singaporeans are still unhappy with the way the announcement was made, including how it’s dealt with weeks after Budget 2017.
While we all accept that water is precious and should only be used wisely, surely our policy-makers could have helped make the price hike more palatable to the average Singaporean. Here are some ways to the reveal could have been more tactful.
1. Give us more facts and figures
In a Today article, Mr Pritam Singh from the Workers’ Party questioned the price hike:
I believe a deeper explanation from the government about how it prices water and its long-run cost imperatives would enable the public to better understand and rationalise this water price hike, in addition to improving public understanding of this issue.
Mr Singh couldn’t have said it better.
In the 2017 Budget speech, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said water prices were revised almost 20 years ago, in year 2000, and there was a need to update water prices, in order to reflect the latest costs of water supply.
He highlighted that the cost of processing water is increasing.
What are the actual costs? — We don’t know, because the numbers weren’t revealed.
Additionally, Mr Heng said that Singapore had invested in Newater plants and desalination which are “costly but necessary” investments for the country — again, no numbers were revealed.
A recent article by The Straits Times revealed that PM Lee Hsien Loong said the water price hike could’ve been better explained, though it is necessary.
“In hindsight, more time could have been spent explaining the water price hike before it was announced, then people would not have been so surprised” said the PM.
You don’t say.
2. Don’t talk to us like children
You sometimes just have to bite the bullet and say, this is a critical resource, you’ve got to ensure future supply, so the time to do it is now.
said Minister of State for Finance, Indranee Rajah who was speaking on a radio call-in show.
Ms Rajah’s response to questions as to whether the price hike could have been held off till the economy improves makes us shake our heads in disbelief.
The increase of the water price, is just to bring up the awareness of the importance of water.
said Member of Parliament, Dr Lee Bee Wah.
Many of us already know the importance of water, Dr Lee.
Most recently, PM Lee said:
We will never have the luxury of not having to save water, or to make every drop count. Every Singaporean must remain conscious of this.
I guess raising water prices by 30% is the only way us kids will learn to appreciate a depleting resource.
3. Tiered raises
This is comparable to the Goods and Service Tax (GST) raise.
GST was introduced on Apr 1, 1994 and was raised to 7% over a period of time.
On Jan 1, 2003 it was raised to 4%, on Jan 1, 2004 it was 5% and July 1, 2007 it was 7%.
If water prices were raised in a slow and steady pace, like GST, people might be more receptive.
They won’t be happy about the increase at all, but it beats implementing a whopping 30% in two phases — Jul 1, this year, and Jul 1, 2018.
This brings us to the next point, why is the hike taking place only now?
4. Maybe not raise prices while the economy is doing badly
In an Opinion article on The Straits Times, Managing Editor Fiona Chan questioned the timeliness of the increase, which falls in the middle of a slow economy.
Members of the Workers’ Party share the same sentiments.
According to Ms Chan, MP Leon Perera has made suggestions, claiming that the increase was motivated by political means, not an economical one.
MP Sylvia Lim sang the same tune in parliament:
For the last 17 years, that the water price was unchanged, did it not cross the government’s mind before this year, that they would want to raise the price of water?
Here’s a video of her speech:
Ways To Cope
If the numbers of the various increases been released to the public and the hike been introduced over a number of years, perhaps Singaporeans would be able more accepting of the surge.
But for now, the tremendous lack of justification remains.
Featured image from Channel NewsAsia