Penalties for high-rise littering need to be significantly raised: Vivian Balakrishnan

Saifulbahri Ismail Channel NewsAsia 13 May 13;

SINGAPORE: Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan has said the penalties for high-rise littering will need to be significantly raised.

Speaking in Parliament on Monday, Dr Balakrishnan said there also needs to be a more effective way of identifying the culprits.

Close-circuit cameras started to be installed in HDB blocks in 2011 to address the problem of high-rise littering.

Giving an update, Dr Balakrishnan said the surveillance cameras have identified 12 suspects engaged in high-rise littering, and so far, five of them have been prosecuted.

The courts have imposed fines ranging from S$800 to S$1,500. But this may not be enough.

Dr Balakrishnan said more than 8,000 complaints of high-rise littering are received every year. But only 10 to 12 cases have been brought to court a year.

Dr Balakrishnan is less than satisfied with the numbers because the cameras have been installed to increase the probability of culprits being caught.

He acknowledged that it is not practical to have cameras in every HDB block, and it should only be used as a last resort.

His ministry will encourage the adoption of personal responsibility and cultivation of proper social norms within neighbourhoods.

In addition, Dr Balakrishnan said he will be reviewing the process of camera installation for greater deterrent effect.

He elaborated: "Because right now, I sometimes receive irate e-mails from complainants (saying), 'This is ridiculous. You put up a camera, you tell everybody exactly where and when you are putting it up. So, the person just naturally makes sure he does not litter at that point, and then he resumes after that.'

"So, yes, we will make some changes, but I still want to emphasise this cat-and-mouse game cannot be the real solution, and we need more effective assumption of personal responsibility, and we need local action on the ground by people who are actually living there and who know who the culprits are."

- CNA/ms

High-rise litterbugs may face tougher penalties
Ministry to review procedure for deployment of security cameras to catch offenders
Woo Sian Boon Today Online 14 My 13;

SINGAPORE — The penalties for high-rise littering “need to be significantly raised”, said Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan yesterday, adding that the standard operating procedure for the deployment of surveillance cameras to catch offenders is being reviewed.

Speaking in Parliament, Dr Balakrishan said since 2011, 12 suspects have been caught on camera, while five have been prosecuted in court after the National Environment Agency (NEA) piloted the installation of closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras at hot spots to deter high-rise littering.

In response to Nee Soon Group Representation Constituency (GRC) Member of Parliament (MP) Lim Wee Kiak’s questions, Dr Balakrishnan said that he was “not satisfied” with the situation.

The minister pointed out that while more than 8,000 complaints of high-rise littering are reported each year, only about 10 to 12 are taken to court.

Dr Balakrishnan added: “Given the fact that (culprits in) most recent cases were only fined between S$800 and S$1,500 ... we probably need to review the penalties ... I think the penalties need to be significantly raised.”

He said “a spectrum of penalties which makes it easier or less restrictive when agencies need to take action” against high-rise littering is necessary but did not say when the review of the penalties will be completed.

Currently, those convicted of high-rise littering for the first time can be fined up to S$1,000 and ordered to perform the Corrective Work Order (CWO) for up to 12 hours.

Second-time offenders can be fined up to S$2,000, while third and subsequent offenders can be fined a maximum of S$5,000.

They can also be ordered to perform the CWO for up to 12 hours.

As for high-rise surveillance using CCTV cameras, Dr Balakrishnan said his ministry is reviewing the standard operating procedure for “second and third deployments” of cameras so that residents will not be informed of when they will be installed for a “greater deterrent effect”.

He noted that the NEA currently sends letters to residents to inform them of when and where a camera will be installed.

This, however, has led to a “ridiculous” situation where littering is minimised when the camera is in operation, but the social nuisance rears its head when the camera is removed.

The NEA had previously said that more than 300 locations where residents have reported high-rise littering incidents have been placed under camera surveillance as of the end of February.

When asked by Nee Soon GRC MP Lee Bee Wah if other technology, such as DNA testing on sanitary pads, can be used to nab high-rise litterbugs, Dr Balakrishnan said this would “take intrusive surveillance to new heights” as a DNA database would need to be set up.

He also emphasised that the “more effective assumption of personal responsibility” should be the real solution to deter littering, instead of a “cat-and-mouse game” of trying to catch offenders in the act.

“Our primary line of defence must remain the adoption of personal responsibility and cultivation of appropriate social norms within our neighbourhoods,” said Dr Balakrishnan.

Slap litterbugs with harsher penalties, say HDB residents
But first, do more to nab culprits who are rarely caught and punished now
Lim Yi Han Straits Times 17 May 13;

RESIDENTS of Housing Board estates agree with a minister's assessment that high-rise littering persists because litterbugs are rarely caught and punished.

To do so, there need to be more enforcement officers on the ground and permanently-installed surveillance cameras, residents told The Straits Times.

Heavier penalties such as jail time should also be put in place, but the first step to improving the situation would be to nab more culprits, they added.

Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan told Parliament on Monday that penalties need to be "significantly raised", and there should be a more effective way of identifying the culprits.

First-time offenders can be fined up to $1,000 and be given a Corrective Work Order of up to 12 hours.

Dr Balakrishnan said thousands of complaints of high-rise littering are received every year, but only about 10 cases a year are brought to court.

A spokesman for the National Environment Agency (NEA) said 55 individuals have been caught from 2003 till last month.

This is despite the high number of complaints to the authorities, totalling 8,152 last year, and 5,232 in 2011. In the first three months of this year, 2,018 complaints were received.

The spokesman said the agency works with town councils to send letters where there are complaints urging residents to refrain from high-rise littering. NEA officers also visit households to talk to residents.

If the problem persists, officers conduct stakeouts and deploy cameras opposite the block.

Since last August, surveillance cameras have been placed at more than 300 locations where there were reported high-rise littering incidents. By April, the cameras had been removed in 60 per cent of these locations, as there were no more complaints from residents.

But most of the 90 residents in Toa Payoh, Bukit Batok, Woodlands and Sengkang, whom The Straits Times interviewed yesterday, felt that more can be done, including drastic measures such as repossessing the flats of offenders.

They also suggested forming neighbourhood watch groups, as well as having permanent surveillance cameras, and more checks to be conducted by NEA officers.

Three blocks - Block 52 Toa Payoh Lorong 6, Block 383 Bukit Batok West Avenue 5 and Block 769 Woodlands Drive - were recorded by NEA as having the greatest volume of high-rise litter feedback between the end of August last year and January this year.

National University of Singapore sociologist Paulin Straughan said that harsher penalties are necessary because "littering is poor social behaviour that compromises safety".

She added: "But higher penalties are deterrence that will bite only if you actually catch people. Having the rules is one thing, but policing it is another."

The residents listed laziness, convenience and getting away with it as common reasons for high- rise littering.

Housewife Tiou Cheow Tee, 49, who lives in Toa Payoh, said: "My clothes had holes because of cigarette butts. These litterbugs are really inconsiderate and there should be a heavier fine."

Madam Ramlah Yassin, 45, a chef, another resident in the area, added: "I live on the ground floor and the litter lands right outside my flat. The problem's got worse, and I have to sweep and throw away the rubbish myself. I don't let my grandchildren play outside anymore, as it's dangerous."

Additional reporting by Chan Huan Jun, Farah Mohd Ismail and Natalie Kuan