Volunteers to get anti-littering enforcement powers

Changes to the National Environment Agency (NEA) Bill were passed in Parliament on Tuesday (Mar 1), including granting greater enforcement powers to community volunteers.
Loke Kok Fai Channel NewsAsia 1 Mar 16;

SINGAPORE: Changes to the National Environment Agency (NEA) Bill were passed in Parliament on Tuesday (Mar 1), including moves to give individuals such as community volunteers the powers that an NEA officer has in relation to environmental offences.

Under the provisions of the Bill, individuals who are passionate about public cleanliness but are not affiliated with any non-governmental organisation can be a part of the NEA’s expanded Community Volunteer Programme.

The expanded programme allows for volunteers to receive training, similar to that of regular NEA officers. They will be involved in advocacy, outreach and educational activities for issues such as littering, smoking in prohibited places, spitting and urinating in public areas.

NEA's chief executive will also have the power appoint any individual as an auxiliary officer, with the enforcement powers of an officer or employee of the agency. It will be a punishable offence if anyone exhibits abusive or threatening behaviour against these individuals while they execute their duties as public servants.

"The idea of empowering regular civilians to enforce offences is not a foreign concept. This does not only help to save resources and generate more efficiency, but as a ground-up initiative, it will have more social impact. It will foster social norms, and I hope that it will remind would-be litterbugs that there are eyes around them. There are people who care, who love the environment watching them all the time," said Member of Parliament (MP) for Nee Soon GRC Lee Bee Wah.

Responding to Parliamentary questions, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli said the move to empower volunteers was not meant to save resources for the NEA.

“The expanded CV (Community Volunteer) Programme is to allow more members to participate, take great ownership in the care of the environment. It is not (meant) to supplement NEA’s enforcement headcount; it will not help NEA save resources,” he said.

Since its launch in 2013, NEA's Community Volunteer Programme has attracted more than 340 individuals from various non-governmental organisations to engage more than 2,500 litterbugs on public cleanliness and to bin their litter.

CONCERNS RAISED

But some raised concerns over volunteer motivations and possible abuse of powers.

"There had been some concerns over the selection criteria for CVs," said MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC Gan Thiam Poh. "I hope the ministry will ensure a stringent screening process to choose suitable candidates. They must have the right public spirit, good communications skills and care deeply about our environment."

"Prior to joining the CV Programme, we will properly screen and interview each individual to assess his interest and maturity towards environmental activities," replied Mr Masagos. "We will monitor what they do. If they have the propensity to issue summons almost every hour, certainly these are not the right kinds of people we should be deploying. You need to affirm their contributions to the cause, and therefore training, monitoring will all be part of what we do with the volunteers."

Meanwhile, Workers' Party member Associate Professor Daniel Goh questioned the need to give citizens the power to book fellow citizens, calling it a move that will create a “new culture of antagonism between fellow citizens”, and turn “community volunteers into functionaries of the state”.

In response, the minister said that based on the experience of existing volunteers there has been relatively little need for enforcement action on their part, as the majority of litterbugs comply when asked to pick up their trash.

Mr Goh also raised the need to give them power, when only 1 per cent of cases required the power of pseudo police officers.

He said: "When NEA launched the Community Volunteer Programme in 2013, it was envisioned that the programme will involve stakeholder non-governmental organisations to encourage the community to take ownership of the environment and help tackle the littering problem. Volunteers were trained to approach litterbugs and speak to litterbugs as fellow members of a community, as peers, as fellow citizens or residents.

"Conversations between ordinary people, invoking the morality of living in the same community, work 99 per cent of the time. Only in 1 per cent of the time did the volunteers have to act like pseudo police officers. If this trend goes on, we will indeed create a new culture of caring for the environment. Which is why I find it very difficult to understand the necessity of giving the volunteers the full powers of an officer of the state."

The Bill was also amended to grant NEA's officers or employees more powers. For example, this allows them to photograph or take a video of any offence under laws related to the environment.

- CNA/ll/ek


Volunteers to get enforcement powers to deal with ‘green’ offences
TOH EE MING Today Online 1 Mar 16;

SINGAPORE — The amended Bill to provide community volunteers with greater enforcement powers to deal with environmental offences was passed in Parliament on Tuesday (March 1) — but not before almost all six Members of Parliament (MPs) who spoke on the issue voiced their concerns about the implications this might bring.

Their concerns included the possible abuse of power by the volunteers, who will be appointed as the National Environment Agency’s (NEA) auxiliary officers, and how greater policing might create a culture of antagonism among fellow citizens.

During the debate on the Bill, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli noted that the state of public cleanliness in Singapore is a growing concern, and pointed to reports on the large amount of litter that was left behind after the countdown to 2016 at Marina Bay.

“Over the years, Singapore has earned a reputation as a clean city ... However, maintaining a clean Singapore cannot be left to cleaners alone,” said Mr Masagos.

Citing concerns about the need for a stringent selection criteria to choose the volunteers, Mr Gan Thiam Poh (Ang Mo Kio GRC) said he hopes that they will have the “right public spirit, good communications skills and care deeply about our environment”.

The Workers’ Party (WP) Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC) warned against equipping volunteers with “broad and sweeping powers”, such as as forced entry, search-and-seizure and arrest, as this would go against the very concept of volunteerism.

In addition, allowing residents to be able to penalise their fellow constituents for alleged environmental infringements could result in “potential flashpoints” for neighbourly disputes, said WP’s Png Eng Huat (Hougang).

He added: “I am deeply concerned that this Bill has the potential to make such disputes end in violence as the summons, deserving or not, will no longer be seen as coming from a neutral party.”

This Bill would also create “confusion” by adding another layer of enforcement action undertaken by appointed volunteer auxiliary officers, in addition to the duties executed by officers of the NEA and town councils, for instance, Mr Png said.

Non-Constituency MP Dr Daniel Goh, also from the WP, added: “This looks like a slippery slope down the road to a police state, where neighbours prey on each other and erode the mutual trust that we have painstakingly built up over the decades.”

In response, Mr Masagos pointed out that Singapore already has volunteer police with enforcement powers, stressing that volunteers should uphold their duties responsibly.

Proper screening and interviews would be conducted to assess the individual’s maturity and interest towards environmental activities, he added.

All volunteers must be Singapore citizens or permanent residents and at least 18 years old.

After undergoing training, they will be deployed in groups in certain areas, where needed. At the start, the volunteers will be paired with NEA enforcement officers to learn how to carry out their duties properly.

The volunteers will also be protected under the Protection from Harassment Act from any indecent, threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour or words when executing their duties.

Mr Masagos stressed the need for people to cultivate a sense of responsibility towards the environment.

Agreeing, Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) called for more in-depth educational projects, such as small community efforts targeted at hotspots for littering, beyond the usual national clean and green campaigns.

For instance, the NEA could do more research to identify the type of litter and demographic of litterbugs in a particular estate, before implementing the community projects.

Mr Masagos said: “We must ensure that the work (the volunteers) do is not the same work as our enforcement officers do, which is to enforce. They must be able to engage, to communicate and ensure that at the end of the day, they do this together so that everyone will love the environment deeply.”

Last year, the NEA issued more than 25,000 tickets to littering offenders, 32 per cent more than the previous year, and the highest in six years, said Mr Masagos in his speech.



2,800 reports of high-rise litter last year: MEWR
Last year, NEA took more than 800 enforcement actions against high-rise litterbugs, an 80-fold increase compared to 2011, when surveillance cameras had not been introduced yet, said Dr Amy Khor.
Loke Kok Fai Channel NewsAsia 1 Mar 16;

SINGAPORE: The National Environment Agency (NEA) received about 2,800 reports of high-rise litter in 2015, revealed Senior Minister of State for Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor on Tuesday (Mar 1).

While no one was killed by killer litter last year, two people were arrested for causing harm by their actions, she said.

Dr Khor was speaking in response to questions on high-rise littering and whether current measures were sufficient. She said that NEA has "stepped up" the deployment of such measures, including the deployment of surveillance cameras, in cases of persistent high-rise littering.

"NEA has stepped up the deployment of these cameras over the years and has conducted close to 3,000 deployments since August 2012. Last year, NEA took more than 800 enforcement actions against high-rise litterbugs, an 80-fold increase compared to 2011, when the surveillance cameras had not been introduced yet," said Dr Khor, adding that offenders who were prosecuted in court received fines ranging from S$700 to S$5,600.

"NEA will continue to tackle high-rise littering by deploying surveillance cameras and secure the conviction of high-rise litterbugs," she added.

As for whether the ministry will consider tougher action on recalcitrant offenders, Dr Khor said the authorities must be mindful of certain specific factors, such as mental issues.

SUCCESS RATE OF CAMERAS "A THIRD"

The Senior Minister of State was also asked about the deployment of cameras, and whether they were effective in leading to the identification and arrest of perpetrators.

"The success rate based on the number of cameras we deployed is about a third," she said. "The reason is, very often when we install the cameras, it may deter the litterbug from littering if he is aware that there is a camera focused on him or the unit."

Nonetheless, Dr Khor urged members of the public to help reduce killer litter.

"While the effective conviction of high-rise litterbugs will serve as a deterrent to would-be offenders, I would like to urge every member of the public to play his part to cultivate social graciousness, good habits, and a sense of shared responsibility for the cleanliness and safety of our neighbourhoods."

"Deploying more and more cameras really is not sustainable, and it is also not desirable," she added.

- CNA/av


2,800 reports of high-rise littering in 2015
LOUISA TANG Today Online 1 Mar 16;

SINGAPORE — The National Environment Agency (NEA) received about 2,800 reports of high-rise littering last year, about 300 more than the previous year, in spite of more surveillance cameras being installed to combat the scourge.

Senior Minister of State (Environment and Water Resources) Amy Khor gave details of the high-rise littering situation in Parliament on Tuesday (March 1), saying two people were nabbed for throwing “killer litter” that resulted in injuries in 2015.

Dr Khor said the number of surveillance cameras deployed to combat high-rise littering has increased by more than four times over the last three years. Close to 3,000 cameras have been rolled out since 2012, with 1,000 of these being put up last year alone.

Last year, the NEA took more than 800 enforcement actions against high-rise litterbugs, 80 times more than in 2011 before surveillance cameras were introduced. Offenders who were brought to court were fined between S$70 and S$5,600.

Dr Khor said that footage from about one-third of the surveillance cameras lead to the identification of litterbugs.

“Very often when we put the camera, it may deter the litterbug from littering when he’s aware it’s trained on him or the unit. In some instances, it’s also because of the understanding of the ground — the camera may be focused on the wrong unit or floor, and we’ll have to redeploy it,” she said.

Dr Khor pointed out that outreach and education efforts to caution residents against high-rise littering, conducted by the ministry, town councils and grassroots organisations, usually improve the situation, but surveillance cameras serve as an additional deterrent to persistent litterbugs.

Increasingly deploying more cameras, however, is “not sustainable and not desirable” given resource restraints, she added.

“We agree that high-rise littering is an antisocial act and poses a threat to public health and safety. At the end of the day, all of us need to play a part to cultivate social graciousness,” said Dr Khor.


OKAY FOR VOLUNTEERS TO FINE OFFENDERS?
New Paper 2 Mar 16;

YES: Everyone has active part to play

YES, community volunteers should be given enforcement powers.

Everyone needs to play an active role in keeping Singapore clean.

By expanding the Community Volunteer (CV) programme, passionate individuals can take greater ownership of our environment, and better complement the National Environment Agency's (NEA) enforcement efforts, said Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli.

When the CV programme was launched in 2013, volunteers, made up of civic group members, had the power only to ask offenders to pick up and bin their rubbish.

If they refuse, volunteers can only take down their particulars.

Now, a passionate individual who is not from any civic group can join the programme. They can fine litterbugs on the spot. (See report above.)

As someone in a non-governmental organisation for the past 15 years, first-time MP Louis Ng welcomed the move.

"This empowerment of volunteers is something that will be welcome, especially by the animal welfare groups," said Mr Ng, who founded the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society.

"It's also for the community to play a part rather than for the Government to do everything," he added.

NOT NEW CONCEPT

The concept of empowering civilians is not new, said Nee Soon MP Lee Bee Wah as she cited Mumbai and Britain as examples.

As a ground-up initiative, it will help foster social norms, said Ms Lee, who runs a monthly litter-picking programme in her ward.

"I hope it will remind would-be litterbugs that there are eyes around them. There are people who love, who care for the environment watching them all the time," she said.

Ang Mo Kio MP Gan Thiam Poh agreed: "With more eyes and ears on the ground, we are taking a step in the right direction to eradicate littering."

NO: Potential flash points for disputes

NO, leave enforcement powers to the professionals.

Rather than building bridges in the community, we are building walls by endowing community volunteers with enforcement powers, said Hougang MP Png Eng Huat.

Such alleged environmental infringements can also become potential flash points for neighbour disputes, he said.

The Workers' Party MP, who said he does not support the bill, added: "The fundamental questions remain: Is there a shortage of manpower in NEA to warrant such a move to arm volunteers with enforcement powers? Is NEA losing the battle with litterbugs and dengue?"

Mr Masagos later clarified that this move will not help to save resources. Rather, it is to "allow more members of the public to participate and take greater ownership of the environment", he said.

But non-constituency MP Daniel Goh disagreed, saying: "There is a real danger that if full powers are granted, we will indeed create a new culture... not a beneficial culture of community ownership of environmental and public health issues, but a new culture of antagonism between fellow citizens."

Associate Professor Goh also questioned the justification behind giving powers to CVs.

SUCCESSFUL

Citing the success of the CV programme, he pointed out that in less than two years, 259 volunteers engaged 830 litterbugs.

Only 10 uncooperative ones were reported - proof that "conversations between ordinary people invoking the morality of living in the same community work 99 per cent of the time", he said.

He asked for the community volunteers to keep these conversations going.

"Leave the dirty work of punitive summons to the state officers who are best equipped to do the job," he said.

WHAT IS THE COMMUNITY VOLUNTEER PROGRAMME?

The Community Volunteer (CV) programme was introduced in 2013.

Under the scheme, volunteers are trained to educate and encourage litterbugs to pick up their litter. If the offender refuses to do so, the volunteer can take down his particulars and pass it on to the National Environment Agency (NEA) for enforcement purposes.

The volunteers came from non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as the Singapore Kindness Movement, Singapore Environment Council and Cat Welfare Society.

With the NEA (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill, individuals not affiliated with any NGO can be part of the NEA's expanded CV programme.

These individuals under the CV programme will be given powers similar to NEA enforcement officers once authorised by NEA's chief executive. This includes fining litterbugs on the spot.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli assured the House that there will be a stringent screening criteria.


Uptick in high-rise littering cases reported to NEA
Audrey Tan, Straits Times AsiaOne 3 Mar 16;

No one was killed by killer litter last year, although police arrested two high-rise litterbugs who caused injuries.

Some 2,800 cases of high-rise littering were reported to the National Environment Agency (NEA) last year, said Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor yesterday.

This is up from the 2,500 cases reported in 2014, and 1,600 cases in 2013.

No one was killed by killer litter last year, although police arrested two high-rise litterbugs who caused injuries, she said.

Dr Khor was responding to Mr Gan Thiam Poh (Ang Mo Kio GRC), who asked how many cases of high-rise littering had resulted in injuries and deaths.

Several MPs also called for harsher punishment for recalcitrant litterbugs, citing examples of residents who have complained of clothes being burned by cigarette butts, and faeces being thrown from flats.

Dr Khor acknowledged that high-rise litterbugs "are traditionally difficult to apprehend".

To nab the persistent litterbugs, the NEA deploys surveillance cameras at suitable sites, she said.

More than 3,000 cameras have been deployed since August 2012.

Dr Khor said the cameras have led to identification of offenders in one-third of cases. She said this in response to Dr Tan Wu Meng (Jurong GRC), who asked how successful the surveillance cameras have been.

Last year, the NEA took enforcement action in more than 800 cases, an 80-fold increase compared to 2011, before surveillance cameras were introduced, she said.

Those who were prosecuted in court were fined between $700 and $5,600.

When cases are reported, the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources works with town councils and grassroots organisations to caution residents against high-rise littering, said Dr Khor. In most cases, the situation improved after these efforts, she said.

Ms Tin Pei Ling (MacPherson SMC) asked ifthe ministry would consider revealing the identities of litterbugs, and confiscating the flats of recalcitrant offenders who persist despite being fined many times.

Dr Khor said naming and shaming litterbugs is something the ministry will "monitor and consider".

She also urged Singaporeans to play their part to combat high-rise littering, saying: "I would like to urge every member of the public to play his part to cultivate social graciousness, good habits and a sense of shared responsibility for the cleanliness and safety of our neighbourhoods."

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