PUB staff can now take action faster

Officers authorised to enter premises without notice for specified cases
Feng Zengkun Straits Times 24 Apr 12;

STAFF from national water agency PUB can now spring more quickly into action to repair faulty equipment or nab water polluters.

Under a new law introduced earlier this month, its officers can enter homes and other buildings without notice, even if the occupants are not around.

Previously, the agency had to give advance notice of at least six hours, which could be a handicap when it came to gathering evidence of wrongdoing.

It can now react faster to search premises and collect evidence such as documents and water samples, and also compel the relevant parties to help out with investigations.

The PUB can also authorise officers from other statutory boards to carry out these duties. All these changes will allow it to do its work more efficiently, a spokesman said.

Its duties include keeping an eye on the Republic's catchment areas and discharge into the drainage system, investigating and penalising water-related offenders, and protecting water-related installations in the country.

But others have raised concerns over the new law's reach. In a speech in Parliament earlier this month, MP for Aljunied GRC Sylvia Lim noted that the PUB's expanded powers come with 'a lot of grey areas'.

'Tasks such as forced entry into premises, conducting searches and doing investigation work are confrontational by nature, and have a lot of grey areas and decision points where discretion needs to be exercised in a lawful manner,' she said.

She also raised concerns over the PUB's new ability to appoint other statutory board officers to do its work.

'What assurances will the public have that they are properly trained and accountable for the exercise of such powers?' she said.

The new law spells out specific circumstances in which the PUB or its appointed officers can enter buildings without notice.

These include incidents of emergency, fire or drought; cases where the water quality fails to meet standards; and the need to repair, replace or maintain any water installation.

Entry into buildings could also be necessary to stop any disruption of water supply to consumers or to conserve the supply.

But a more general clause also allows entry 'in the interests of public safety'. Some incidents, such as possible large-scale water contamination, have to be addressed with more urgency, said the spokesman.

The new law will also deal a heavier blow to water polluters, she said. In 2010, for example, the PUB received reports of a solvent smell in the air in the Jurong industrial area.

It found an unusual discharge in the public sewers there and traced it to a nearby factory, but was unable to gather samples due to delayed access to the premises.

The spokesman added that the agency's regulatory role will remain critical as the Republic expands its catchment areas and increases the reclamation of used water.

Assuring members of the public that PUB staff will be professional in their work, the spokesman said they can be identified through their staff passes. Contractors should have an authorisation pass from the agency.

The public can also verify the officers' identities through the agency's 24-hour hotline on 1800-2846600. If anything is missing after a visit, the occupant should file a police report and inform the agency by calling the hotline.