Water price hike hot topic on Day 1 of Budget debate

Water price hike hot topic on Day 1 of Budget debate
The water price hike was vigorously debated by Members of Parliament (MPs) yesterday, a little over a week after Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat had made the announcement in his Budget speech.
PHOTO: The Business Times

The water price hike was vigorously debated by Members of Parliament (MPs) yesterday, a little over a week after Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat had made the announcement in his Budget speech.

Mr Heng had announced that the price of water will go up by 30 per cent in two phases, starting from July 1, to pay for more costly methods of obtaining fresh water from sea water and to get people to save water.

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This is the first time in 17 years that water tariffs will go up and on the first day of the Budget debate yesterday, Non-Constituency MP Dennis Tan said the increase has left many Singaporeans and businesses extremely nervous.

Calling it "a dramatic rise", Mr Tan said the ones most affected will be industries that use a lot of water, such as the food and beverage sector.

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He felt the sharp increase in water tariffs could have an adverse chain reaction - as a rise in such costs could lead to an increase in prices that would be passed on to consumers.

But Mr Henry Kwek (Nee Soon GRC) said that the U-Save rebates will lessen the impact of the water hike.

Those living in one- or two-room HDB flats, for example, will end up spending a dollar less on their monthly water bills on average after the rebates are applied.

Those in four-room flats will see their bills rise by about $5 from the current average of $42 after rebates.

Mr Kwek said that hawker stalls he visited will see about a $30 increase in costs a month - an amount that was unlikely to translate to an increase in living costs.

Aljunied GRC MP Pritam Singh called for the Government to clarify how the Public Utilities Board (PUB) prices water to help the public better understand the hike.

He suggested the Government look at alternative policies, such as the tightening of regulations on sanitary appliances such as mixers and shower heads that use excessive water, to promote the use of water-saving appliances.

Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) suggested industry players get together and work with PUB and A*Star (Agency for Science, Technology and Research) and come up with long-term solutions.

Mountbatten MP Lim Biow Chuan backed the hike, agreeing with Mr Heng that water is critical to Singapore's survival, adding that there is never a good time to raise prices.

He felt the 30 per cent water hike may have distracted many from the main focus of this year's Budget - which is to plan for the country's future.

Mr Heng will respond tomorrow, after which Parliament will form the Committee of Supply to debate the budgets of the respective ministries.

rloh@sph.com.sg

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Posted by Channel NewsAsia on Monday, 20 February 2017

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This article was first published on March 1, 2017.
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