(Corrects to remove erroneous byline and reporting line.)
By Fathin Ungku
SINGAPORE, March 11 More than 100 people
gathered in Singapore's Speakers' Corner on Saturday for a rare
protest against a government plan to hike water prices that has
stirred discontent over sluggish economic growth and rising
unemployment in the city-state.
Singapore's government enjoys strong popular support but is
also known for having little tolerance for dissent. Residents
are only allowed to air their grievances in a small downtown
park if they comply with defamation laws and avoid fanning
ethnic and religious tensions.
Although laying out a much more generous budget than
expected, the government last month announced a two-step, 30
percent increase in water prices, sweetening it with tax rebates
to help lower-income households pay their bills.
It will be the first increase in water prices for nearly two
decades, but some Singaporeans say rebates proposed by the
government will not be enough.
"If they give us more rebate but increase the prices, it's
still the same. For a big family, you need to use a lot of
water," said Afad, 28, a delivery worker with three children. He
said he earned less than S$2,000 (about $1,415) per month and
was expecting another child.
The resource-scarce city-state gets up to 60 percent of its
water supplies from Malaysia as part of an agreement that
expires in 2061.
Singapore also recycles used water with advanced membrane
technologies and ultra-violet disinfection and has invested
heavily in sea water desalination as it seeks to reduce its
reliance on imports.
"Every additional drop of water has to come from these two
sources," Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat told parliament last
He said the price rises were due to the higher costs of
water purifying technologies as both imports and local catchment
"depend heavily on weather conditions".
But protesters call the move "unjustified", saying living
costs are already too high in Singapore, which has been rated
the world's most expensive city for three consecutive years,
according to the Economist Intelligence Unit.
The city-state's economy, which has grown at a break-neck
pace since independence, is locked in a protracted period of
slow growth and unemployment has hit a six-year high.
The organisers of Saturday's protest said more people would
have turned up if they had not feared a police crackdown.
In 2014, six people were charged with creating a public
nuisance while protesting against a compulsory tax savings
($1 = 1.4194 Singapore dollars)
(Reporting by Fathin Ungku; Editing by Helen Popper)