NEA volunteers may be empowered to issue summonses to litterbugs

Those Channel NewsAsia spoke to say that is one initiative that may result from proposed changes to the National Environment Agency Miscellaneous Amendments Bill.
Imelda Saad, Channel NewsAsia 4 Feb 16;

SINGAPORE: New legislation may soon empower volunteers to issue summonses to litterbugs. Those Channel NewsAsia spoke to said that is one initiative that may result from proposed changes to the National Environment Agency Miscellaneous Amendments Bill.

Currently, a scheme trains National Environment Agency (NEA) Community Volunteers to be the eyes and ears on the ground to spot litterbugs. They are allowed to take down the particulars of offenders and then pass them to the authorities for enforcement. Only individuals affiliated with Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) are eligible for the programme.

There are about 250 or so volunteers under this scheme and grassroots leader Ng Hak Hai is one of them.

When Mr Ng spots a litterbug, he will approach the offender and tell him to bin it. "We tell them that we are an NEA Community Volunteer and then we tell them, 'Maybe you have forgotten, you have left something (behind), so please pick it up - the rubbish bin is there',” said Mr Ng, who is also a member of the Singapore Kindness Movement.

Proposed changes to the law will allow NEA to appoint volunteers as auxiliary officers, tasked to carry out enforcement actions.

“In order to carry out enforcement, they must be given certain authority, certain power, such as if they were to catch the litterbug on the spot, then they will be able to take action and issue summons,” said Ms Lee Bee Wah, chairperson of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Environment and Water Resources.

Some volunteers said empowering them to carry out enforcement action makes sense because NEA officers cannot be everywhere. But they said volunteers must be adequately trained to carry out such a role.

"If these volunteers are properly trained, they know how to approach these residents, then I think that will reduce any conflict. Things will happen only if you approach them with the wrong attitude. Then they will find that you are trying to be funny, then things get into a different mode - they will get very defensive,” said Mr Ng.

"On-the-job training with the actual NEA officers would be great. Perhaps it could be the other way round as well, where the enforcement officer sees how a volunteer performs on the job and assesses whether he or she is suitable for the role,” said NEA Community Volunteer Sharmine Tan.


Enhanced enforcement has seen the number of summonses issued to litterbugs increasing over the years - from 19,000 in 2014, to more than 26,000 last year. Most were caught discarding items like cigarette butts, tissue paper and plastic cups inappropriately.

A survey by NEA in 2010 also showed that a third of Singaporeans would litter, if they think they can get away with it. But many said there would be no need for enforcement if Singaporeans take ownership of their environment.

At last year's Committee of Supply Debate, then Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said the idea is to accord these volunteers similar status and authority as an NEA officer. They will undergo the same training as a card-carrying NEA officer and be allowed to gather evidence and carry out enforcement actions, if necessary.

Details on the amendments to the legislation are expected to be unveiled at the next Parliament sitting.

According to those Channel NewsAsia spoke to, other changes to the Bill could include allowing individuals not affiliated with NGOs to sign up as volunteers and expanding the work of volunteers to also cover anti-smoking operations.

- CNA/dl

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