Water price hike ‘absolutely necessary’ but should been explained better: PM Lee

Today Online 25 Mar 17;

SINGAPORE — Before announcing the water tariff hike last month, the Government perhaps should have spent more time explaining the rationale and what it would be doing to help households cope, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong acknowledged on Saturday (March 25).

By doing so, people “would not have been so surprised”, he said. However, he stressed that raising the price of water was “absolutely necessary”.

“We cannot avoid it. Otherwise, we wouldn’t do it,” said PM Lee, who was speaking at a ceremony to mark the completion of the makeover of the Pang Sua Pond in Bukit Panjang.

In his speech, PM Lee also explained that even if the price of water was not raised, Singapore would still have to pay for the “expensive investments” which national water agency PUB has been ploughing in reservoirs, desalination factories, sewage treatment plants, pipelines and pumping stations, among other things.

“It’s better to pay for (them) through the water tariff – those who use the water, pay for the water, rather than from general taxes,” said PM Lee, citing taxes on income, cars, and goods and services as examples.

He reiterated that water is a strategic issue and a matter of national security – right from the beginning when the nation came into existence, and even until today.

“It’s one of the things which (Singapore’s founding Prime Minister) Mr Lee Kuan Yew used to be obsessed with right from the beginning and right to the end of his life,” said PM Lee. “And as a nation, we have to maintain his attitude towards water - the attitude that has brought us here. We got water security now because of our obsession. And by keeping this focus, we can stay secure into the future.”

Even though Singapore has developed the four “national taps” - local water catchments, water from Johor Baru, NEWater and desalinated water – Singapore “will never have ‘more than enough’ water”, Mr Lee stressed.

“(Water is) crucial to Singapore’s safety (and) existence. It’s fundamental to our survival,” he said.

PM Lee added: “We will never have the luxury of not having to save water, not having to make every drop count. Every national serviceman understands what this means. And every Singaporean, boy or girl, man or woman, also needs to remember this.”

He pointed out that Singapore’s demand for water will go up as its economy grows. At the same time, climate change and Johor’s own growing population and water needs would affect the Republic’s supply of water.

Last month, the Government announced a 30-per-cent increase in the water price – to be phased in over two years. This was the first time in 17 years that water tariffs were raised.

PM Lee noted that the announcement “provoked a strong reaction from Singaporeans”. There was also a vigorous debate in Parliament, where several Ministers spoke about the issue.

“After the discussion, people now understand it better,” he said. PM Lee noted that the hike was “not the only thing we are doing”. The Government is educating households on water conservation, encouraging industries to recycle more water, and supporting research into new techniques and materials that would produce NEWater more cheaply.

“But we also have to price water properly because it’s scarce. It’s not cheap to produce and consumers need to know how precious it is everytime you turn on the tap,” said PM Lee. “And we need to discourage ourselves from using more water than we absolutely need to all of the time.”

PM Lee stressed that if water ever becomes a vulnerability for Singapore, “we will all be in very serious trouble”.

Referring to PUB’s Active, Beautiful, Clean Waters programme, PM Lee urged Singaporeans to remember the serious purpose behind “all these beautiful things” they see.

Calling on Singaporeans to “take nothing for granted” in the country, he added: “We don’t believe that we have to keep people away from water to protect (it). We would like people to get close to the water, enjoy it, take care of it, so that we can value and conserve it for ourselves and for our children.”

Hike in water price 'absolutely necessary': PM Lee
Liyana Othman Channel NewsAsia 25 Mar 17;

SINGAPORE: The 30 per cent increase in the price of water is "absolutely necessary", as it is a "scarce" resource and "not cheap to produce", said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Saturday (Mar 25).

Mr Lee noted that the announcement, made by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat in his Budget statement "provoked a strong reaction from Singaporeans".

"In retrospect, perhaps we should have spent more time explaining this before announcing the increase, then people wouldn't have been so surprised," he said.

But the increase is "absolutely necessary", he added, underlining just how precious water is as a resource. National water agency PUB is also investing in various infrastructure like NEWater and desalination plants, pipelines and sewage treatment plants.

"If the water tariffs are not enough to pay for these, PUB would still have to build all this, and we would still have to pay for this. But instead of paying for it through the water tariff, we would have to pay for it through our taxes and I think it's fairer to pay for it through the water tariff. Those who use the water pay for the water, rather than from general taxes and we use the GST or your income taxes, or your car taxes to pay for water."

As the economy grows, the country will need more water, said Mr Lee, adding that climate change will also cause the supply of water to be less predictable.

And as the population in the Malaysian state of Johor continues to grow, this means that the resource will come under pressure due to a corresponding growth in demand, he said.

Singapore draws more than half of its water supply from Linggiu Reservoir. Water levels there hit record lows in recent months.

"We've got to treat water very, very seriously. It's one of the things which Mr Lee Kuan Yew used to be obsessed with. Right from the beginning and right to the end of his life, and as a nation we have to maintain this attitude towards water", said Mr Lee.

"We've got water security now because of our obsession. And by keeping this focus, we can stay secure into the future. If we ever let water become a vulnerability for Singapore, I think we will all be in very serious trouble", Mr Lee cautioned.

Mr Lee was speaking at the official opening of the revamped Pang Sua Pond in Bukit Panjang. S$6.8 million was pumped into transforming the pond under PUB's Active, Beautiful, Clean Waters programme.

Some 3,000 residents gathered to mark the revamp, which took more than two years to complete.

MPs for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC Vivian Balakrishnan, Christopher de Souza and Liang Eng Hwa were at the opening, as well as MP for Bukit Panjang SMC Teo Ho Pin.

- CNA/dt

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