Nail-bit­ing wait as gi­ants meet

Wa­ter pact ex­pected to be on Dr M’s agenda in Sin­ga­pore

The Star Malaysia - - Nation - MERGAWATI ZULFAKAR in Sin­ga­pore merga@thes­tar.com.my

PRIME Min­is­ter Lee Hsien Loong will re­ceive a very im­por­tant vis­i­tor from Malaysia at his of­fice, the Is­tana, to­mor­row.

And he knows he won’t have it easy.

This is un­like any other VIP that he has hosted. Lee is wel­com­ing Tun Dr Ma­hathir Mo­hamad who will be mak­ing an official visit to Sin­ga­pore.

It is no se­cret that un­der Dr Ma­hathir, strained ties be­tween Malaysia and Sin­ga­pore were leg­endary when he was in power be­tween 1981 and 2003.

One is­sue that con­trib­uted to the bi­lat­eral ties be­ing prickly was raw wa­ter be­ing sold to Sin­ga­pore.

The is­sue “al­most” died down af­ter Dr Ma­hathir left of­fice with his pre­de­ces­sors Tun Ab­dul­lah Ahmad Badawi and Datuk Seri Na­jib Tun Razak switch­ing gears on bi­lat­eral re­la­tions by set­ting a friend­lier tone.

Af­ter Dr Ma­hathir be­came Prime Min­is­ter again in May, Lee quickly made a trip to Putrajaya and de­clared that he was look­ing for­ward to work­ing with Dr Ma­hathir’s Pakatan Hara­pan govern­ment for the mu­tual ben­e­fit of their peo­ples.

So much has passed un­der the bridge since that May meet­ing.

In June, Dr Ma­hathir de­clared Malaysia will rene­go­ti­ate the wa­ter sup­ply agree­ment with Sin­ga­pore, telling Bloomberg in an in­ter­view that the price of wa­ter sold is ridicu­lous and it will be among is­sues with Sin­ga­pore that Malaysia needed to set­tle.

Malaysia has al­ways felt that the 1962 wa­ter agree­ment was lopsided. An­other agree­ment signed in 1961 had al­ready lapsed in 2011.

The 1962 deal, which ex­pires in 2061, gives Sin­ga­pore 250 mil­lion gal­lons of raw wa­ter daily at three sen per 1,000 gal­lons. Malaysia buys back a por­tion of that, treated, at 50 sen per 1,000 gal­lons.

Sin­ga­pore al­ways main­tained that Malaysia has lost its right to re­view the price of raw wa­ter sold un­der the 1962 agree­ment in 1987.

How­ever, Malaysian of­fi­cials in­sist Sin­ga­pore has al­ways ar­gued on le­gal­is­tic in­ter­pre­ta­tions when deal­ing with their neigh­bour across the Cause­way.

“Sin­ga­pore takes strict in­ter­pre­ta­tion on this that on the 25th year, the price of wa­ter must be re­viewed and since Malaysia did not ask for the re­view that year, we have lost our right.

“Our con­tention is the agree­ment doesn’t stip­u­late the ex­act time or year for a re­vi­sion. It can mean af­ter five years or 20 years. That is purely le­gal in­ter­pre­ta­tion.”

An official said he would not be sur­prised if Sin­ga­pore would go to a third party or ar­bi­tra­tion to re­solve this as it had done in the past.

He cited an ex­am­ple of how Sin­ga­pore claimed de­vel­op­ment charges on three parcels of for­mer KTM Bhd land on the is­land which was sup­posed to be de­vel­oped by a Malaysia-Sin­ga­pore joint venture com­pany, M+S Pte Ltd.

The three parcels, un­der the Point of Agree­ment land in Tan­jung Pa­gar, Kranji, and Wood­lands, were sup­posed to be de­vel­oped with the agree­ment of Sin­ga­pore and Malaysian lead­ers in 2010.

The mat­ter could not be re­solved and it was re­ferred to an in­ter­na­tional ar­bi­tral tri­bunal which then de­cided the M+S Pte Ltd didn’t have to pay the de­vel­op­ment charges.

“Sin­ga­pore de­cided to im­pose the de­vel­op­ment charges when we had agreed to de­velop the parcels of land. They took us for ar­bi­tra­tion, we took them on and we won.

“No­body learnt any lessons from deal­ing with Sin­ga­pore ex­cept for Dr Ma­hathir,” said an official.

An­other pos­si­ble is­sue that may be raised is Malaysia’s de­ci­sion to dis­con­tinue the pro­ceed­ing it has ap­plied to re­vise the In­ter­na­tional Court of Jus­tice’s rul­ing that gave Pu­lau Batu Puteh (Pe­dra Branca) to Sin­ga­pore in 2008.

When the rul­ing was made, the two gov­ern­ments set up a sub-com­mit­tee to draw up mar­itime bound­aries around the dis­puted ar­eas of Pe­dra Branca, Mid­dle Rocks and South Ledge in 2013.

Sev­eral rounds of meet­ings were held but reached an im­passe af­ter Malaysia de­cided to chal­lenge the ICJ’s rul­ing.

In the 2008 rul­ing, ICJ had awarded Mid­dle Rocks to Malaysia and South Ledge be­longed to the state in whose ter­ri­to­rial wa­ters it is lo­cated.

It will be an in­ter­est­ing meet­ing taking place at the Is­tana to­mor­row.

Lee in a Face­book post­ing in Au­gust, af­ter talk of a wa­ter price re­view emerged, in­sisted on the need to work to­gether to tackle com­mon chal­lenges.

“And when our in­ter­ests di­verge, we must find con­struc­tive ways to re­solve our dif­fer­ences.”

The point is no­body knows what Dr Ma­hathir has in mind when he sits down with Lee.

No­body learnt any lessons from deal­ing with Sin­ga­pore ex­cept for Dr Ma­hathir. Malaysian official

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