Malaysia, Singapore open to arbitration on water issue

By Riyaz ul Khaliq <br>

ANKARA (AA) – Malaysia and Singapore expressed openness Tuesday to seeking third-party intervention in a longstanding water price dispute between the two countries.

Addressing a press conference in Putrajaya, Kuala Lumpur, the prime ministers of the two countries said in a joint statement that they may consider arbitration to resolve the issue.

According to Malaysian daily The Star, the two leaders — Malaysia's Mahathir Mohamad and Singapore’s Lee Hsien Loong — noted the “differing positions of both sides on the right to review the price of water under the 1962 agreement.”

The Johor River Water Agreement — signed on Sept. 29, 1962 between the city council of the state of Singapore and the government of the state of Johor and valid for 99 years until 2061 — says Singapore has the right to draw 250 million gallons of water per day (1.14 million cubic meters) from the Johor River.

Singapore pays for the fresh water, for which Kuala Lumpur is seeking a review of the price.

“Both leaders agreed for the attorneys-general of both sides to discuss these differing positions,” the report said.

The statement was issued following the annual Malaysia-Singapore Leaders’ Retreat, held Tuesday at the Prime Minister's Office in Malaysia.

According to the joint statement published online by the Malay paper, “both sides will seek amicable solutions, including the possibility of dispute resolution through arbitration on a mutually agreed basis”.

“So we have, as T.S. Eliot says, come back to our starting place, and we are recognizing it for the first time,” the South China Morning Post quoted Lee as saying following the meeting in Malaysia’s administrative capital of Putrajaya.

The two leaders expressed their interest in identifying appropriate and timely measures, including schemes to increase the yield of the Johor River and to safeguard its environmental position and water quality.

Mahathir said he hoped the two countries would continue “the momentum of positive engagements.”

For decades the water price dispute has been a top diplomatic sticking point between Malaysia and Singapore.