Malaysians Speak Out On Water Prices: “Increase Only La, They So Rich!”
It’s been just over a week since newly re-appointed Malaysian PM Tun Dr Mahathir said it was “manifestly ridiculous” to continue selling raw water to Singapore at the low price of 3 cents per 1000 gallons, and that he’s looking to review the 1962 bilateral agreement.

Now, following yesterday’s report that the Johor Chief Minister suggested raising the price of water by as much as 16 times, there’s been an uproar in the Singaporean community calling for blood (or water).

Tun Dr Mahathir in an exclusive interview with ChannelNewsAsia stating that it’s “manifestly ridiculous” to sell water at 3 cents per thousand gallons. Basically when it all started.
On this side of the causeway (I’m based in KL), I only came to know about this issue through the Singaporean media. Literally no one around me was talking about the it.

Are Malaysians just politically ignorant? Are we so caught up in the recent election victory that nothing else matters in our eyes?

This was what I thought at first, and so I began questioning those around me.

19-year old Jerusa asserted that the price should in fact be increased because Malaysia as a nation simply can’t afford to sell it at that price anymore.

“We’re too deep in debt right now,” he said.

And he’s right. At around RM1 trillion in debt, we’re balls deep in a rabbit hole spiralling out of control. The last thing on the minds of us Malaysians is keeping to our word, much less anything close to displaying generosity.

This was when Leong, a student of the same age, said something that nearly made me fall over in my chair.

“Do you think Mahathir is right in wanting to increase the price?” I had asked.

“Increase only la, since they so rich!” he retorted.

I couldn’t help bursting out in laughter and disbelief. Needless to say, I was amazed at his transparent audacity.

Yet Leong’s comment is not without truth.

Singapore IS rich. An economic marvel, she rose from humble beginnings and boasts astounding achievements which demand respect. Like it or not, this is the image many Malaysians have of Singapore. It’s ingrained into us.

Okay, I get it. This doesn’t give Malaysia leeway to breach a contract now, does it? Especially when the matter at hand is that of an entire country’s source of water.

Then again, perhaps Singaporeans need to take a step back and look at the situation from a different perspective as well. Perhaps a more considerate perspective that includes both sides of the Causeway.

What Leong mentioned is something most people have failed to take into account in this whole water issue.

In comparison to Malaysia, Singapore is generally much more politically stable and well off in terms of her economy and standard of living. While it’s only normal to want to act in accordance to one’s own interests, 3 cents per 1000 gallons of water is objectively cheap.

And can Singapore afford it?

Hell yeah.

But from the Singaporean point of view, all this means is that following 2017’s budget announcement that water prices would increase by 30%, they are now set to increase even more.

One day, after work, I hopped into a Grab and was greeted with cheerful pleasantries by Hari, an ex-business lecturer. Instead of wasting effort to make small talk, I ask if he knows about the whole water fiasco. He hesitated for a brief second before exclaiming, “AH yes yes.”

Hari shares the same opinion as Jerusa, in that Malaysia simply can’t afford selling 1000 gallons of water at 3 cents anymore. Along with the scrapping of the Singapore-Kuala-Lumpur High Speed Rail Project, Mahathir is trying to reduce the debt of the country as much as possible.

This reaffirms the fact that the country’s economy is in dire straits, and fixing this is the topmost priority of its citizens.

“I want to turn around the economy to grow once again, to achieve developed country status within the shortest possible time. Whether people appreciate me or not is not relevant. Once I’m dead, they will say nasty things anyway,” Mahathir had told Bloomberg Television.

But Hari also shares that a formal agreement shouldn’t be changed just like that without the approval of both parties.

“We just have to negotiate this nicely with Singapore. As neighboring countries, surely there’s a way to resolve this,” he said.

This statement reminded me just how much both countries rely on each other. I felt that with the amount of unhappy Singaporeans ridiculing Mahathir and calling for his head, tensions have been at an all time high not just between both PMs, but online as well.

Most recently, the Johor Chief Minister suggested raising price of water sold to S’pore as much as 16-fold.
Eventually, I spoke to 30-year old insurance agent Ming, who didn’t even have a clue about the existence of this water issue. It wasn’t that she’s politically ignorant or that she doesn’t keep up with the news. Simply put, the issue isn’t on everyone’s minds.

In fact, most Malaysians I asked simply aren’t aware of the entire case at hand.

It’s not that we’re ignorant. Rather, we have bigger things to worry about. Furthermore, seeing as how we’re not on the disadvantageous side of the issue, why would we feel so passionately about it?

I can completely understand the viewpoint of Singaporeans. But let’s be frank, if both nations were to switch places, Singaporeans would react similarly.

Perhaps, at this point, it doesn’t come down to, “You lose, your problem,” but more, “How can we continue helping each other?”

In short: Dear Singaporeans, please get off Mahathir’s tail.

You cannot keep talking about how cheap and amazing our food is because of the exchange rate, and expect that it will stay like this forever. That’s effectively saying that Malaysia’s economy should not be allowed to recover!

It’s not wrong to react so strongly due to the nature of the issue. But blaming it in its entirety on a 92-year old PM doesn’t seem logical. As humans, it’s only normal to have to take certain drastic actions in order to protect one’s own interests.

And again, can Singapore not afford it?

It can, and whether those costs end up being passed on to Singapore’s citizens is truly not Malaysia’s problem. It’s for the Singapore government to figure out.

In the meantime, it’s timely to remember that there are two sides of the Causeway, and no side is more important than the other.

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