Photo of Lee Hsien Loong and Mahathir from Facebook

Many ways to skin a cat indeed. Malaysia Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad is now punishing Singapore by deliberately delaying official notification to Singapore and reigniting negotiations over water prices.

In an interview with Singapore state media CNA, Malaysia Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad revealed that Malaysia is uncomfortable with the current prices their water was sold at to Singapore and slammed the current selling price at 3 sen (S$0.01) per thousand gallons “ridiculous”. The veteran Malaysia leader said he will be making a proposal to raise water prices:

“I think it is manifestly ridiculous that we should sell water at 3 sen per thousand gallons. That was okay way back in the 1990s or 1930s. But now what can you buy with 3 sen? Nothing. We are studying the case properly and we’ll make a presentation.”

The statement by the Malaysia PM drew an immediate response from the Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), warning Malaysia to “comply fully” with the current water prices agreed by former Malaysia Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Also in the interview, Malaysia PM Mahathir said that he has not sent any official notice to Singapore to formally terminate the High Speed Rail:

“Sometimes we make public statements without actually finalising the process. When we want to make a decision we don’t wait until we inform Singapore, we just say something. Of course they would want to know, and we will inform them in time. It’s not so urgent. We have many other problems that we have to focus on.”

Singapore is now incurring potential greater project losses if it continues to build and pour money in the western rural region of Jurong. In recent years, the Singapore government relocated it’s Tanjong Pagar container port terminal to Tuas and paid for 12 hectares of land in Jurong. The development is now currently on hold pending a formal decision from Malaysia. With the delay in notification, Malaysia need only pay the same RM500 million contractual compensation, while the cost incurred by Singapore might shoot to over a billion. There is no backup plan in place as Lee Hsien Loong was confident his corrupted friend Najib Razak would remain in power.

Already facing a RM1 trillion (S$340 million) debt, Malaysia is now in a deeper problem having to pay RM500 million (S$169 million) in compensation for breaking the HSR contract. The Singapore government has not been empathetic to Malaysia’s financial woes, and have been largely uncooperative and disagreeable to any resolution. This includes the shooting down of a proposed alternative of reusing the existing KTM line, which Singapore slammed as “stupid”. Worsening the tension is Singapore Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan, who openly threatened to make Malaysia pay more than the contractual value.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has been largely inactive and slow in his response to Malaysia PM Mahathir Mohamad, who have been taking headlines and praises for internal reforms. The Singapore PM was shown out the door in 30 minutes when he made a personal visit to Mahathir Mohamad’s residence in Putrajaya Malaysia.