This Bill seeks to amend the National Environment Agency Act (NEAA), the Environmental Public Health Act (EPHA), the Environmental Protection and Management Act (EPMA) and the Control of Vectors and Pesticides Act (CVPA) to enable us to better address our goal for a clean and liveable environment. Allow me to explain the main amendments and new provisions of this Bill.
First, expanding the Community Volunteer programme. One growing area of concern of my Ministry is with the state of public cleanliness in Singapore. Over the years, Singapore has earned a reputation as a clean city - this is something that many Singaporeans are proud of and many of us view a clean environment as an important part of the Singapore identity, as reflected in some of the polls that have been conducted.
However, maintaining a clean Singapore cannot be left to cleaners alone. Members would have read in the news of how festival-goers of Laneway Music Festival in 2015 and 2016 left the venue littered with trash despite the fervent efforts of volunteers from the Traceless Movement who went around the event venue to pick up trash strewn on the floor. Just a few weeks ago, members would have read in the news about the large amount of litter that was left behind after the countdown to 2016 at Marina Bay. The organiser subsequently mobilised 300 cleaners to ensure that 30,000 kg worth of trash was cleared up. Many concerned members of public have also provided feedback on how to improve the situation. During a recent radio discussion, some callers pressed for harsher penalties while many more said that there should be a focus of creating a culture of community ownership.
Over the years, the Government has stepped up enforcement against littering. Last year, NEA issued more than 26,000 tickets to littering offenders, 32% more than previous years and the highest in six years. We have also taken a tougher stance towards littering by imposing stiffer penalties for recalcitrant offenders In addition, we are expending significant resources to keep public areas clean - as much as $120 million each year is spent on cleaning public areas with some hotspots cleaned every two hours.
Ultimately, public cleanliness should be the outcome of the intrinsic values and habits of our people, and not just the result of cleaning services and enforcing rules. Indeed, it is not even related to the number of waste bins we provide for the convenience of the public. Members who have been to Japan would agree that the level of public cleanliness there is much higher than Singapore. The public areas in Japan are cleaner not because there is a large army of cleaners, but because of the Japanese people’s habits and social norms. Indeed, in many public places, bins are scarce in Japan. This is something that we can strive to emulate by creating a culture of community ownership so that everyone takes responsibility in maintaining high standards of public cleanliness and hygiene and treat public places like their own homes.
We have started this journey with a good number of volunteers who are passionate about the cleanliness of our public spaces and are active in helping us keep them clean. As part of the Keep Singapore Clean movement, the Public Hygiene Council partnered residents, schools, businesses and community groups to turn our community spaces into "Bright Spots" – these are essentially shared spaces adopted by stakeholders who take ownership of the area’s cleanliness and hygiene conditions and lead by example to promote good social norms. Since the launch of NEA’s Community Volunteer (CV) programme in 2013, NEA’s CV programme has been successful in attracting more than 340 passionate individuals from various non-Government organisations to step forward as Community Volunteers (CVs) to help us educate others about public cleanliness and nudge those observed littering to bin their litter instead. To date, our CVs have collectively engaged more than 2,500 litterbugs.
I understand that the public has shown an interest in playing a more active role in keeping our environment clean. Last year, my Ministry announced during the Committee of Supply debate that we will expand the CV programme so as to allow members of the public to take greater ownership of the environment. Specifically, we will allow individuals to join the expanded CV programme without having to be affiliated to a recognised environmental group and empower them to engage offenders for a wider range of offences beyond littering. This will broaden the pool who can be tapped on to join the programme. In addition, we will allow CVs to have the option of participating in advocacy, outreach and educational activities. Through the expanded CV programme, we hope to see more CVs taking ownership of the cleanliness and hygiene conditions of existing Bright Spots numbering more than 520 and lead by example to promote good social norms.
To this end, clause 5(c) of the Bill inserts a new section 16A into the NEA Act to allow any individual, including volunteers, to be appointed as an auxiliary officer to assist NEA in performing its functions. Clause 5(h) inserts a new section 42A into the NEA Act to specifically empower the Chief Executive of NEA to authorise, in writing, an auxiliary officer to exercise all or any of the powers of enforcement conferred on an officer or employee of NEA by the NEA Act or any environmental written law, in relation to an offence under the NEA Act or that environmental written law. Clause 5(b) defines "environmental written law" to mean any written law administered by NEA, the Director-General of Environmental Protection or the Director-General of Public Health. Clauses 2, 3 and 4 make consequential amendments to the CVPA, EPMA and EPHA in order to allow an auxiliary officer to be appointed as an "authorised officer" for those Acts, and thereby exercise the powers of enforcement conferred on authorised officers under those Acts.
As auxiliary officers may obtain sensitive information in the course of their duties, Clause 5(i) amends section 47(1)(a) of the NEA Act to prohibit an auxiliary officer from disclosing certain information obtained in the course of his or her duties, except in certain circumstances such as when he or she is lawfully required to do so. I would like to inform Members of the House that as an auxiliary officer is deemed, under the new section 42A(5) of the NEA Act, to be a public servant for the purposes of the Penal Code when exercising a power of enforcement, the auxiliary officer will be protected under section 6 of the Protection from Harassment Act from any indecent, threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour or words towards the auxiliary officer in relation to the execution of the auxiliary officer’s duty.
Under the Police Force Act, an auxiliary police officers (APO) can assist a Government department or statutory body with the enforcement of certain offences. NEA currently engages APOs appointed under the Police Force Act to enforce certain environmental offences such as spitting and littering. Clauses 2(b) and 4(b) will amend the EPHA and CVPA to enable these APOs to be appointed as "authorised officers" for the administration of the EPHA and CVPA. This aligns the position under the EPHA and CVPA, on the appointment of APOs as authorised officers, with the corresponding positions under certain other Acts administered by NEA, such as the EPMA and the Energy Conservation Act.
Mdm Speaker, NEA has been progressively equipping officers with body-worn cameras since 2015. These cameras help to deter abusive behaviour by offenders towards NEA officers, protect them against allegations of unprofessional conduct, as well as remind them to abide by the relevant operational protocol in the execution of their duties.
Clause 5(d) to 5(g) amends section 42 of the NEA Act mainly to make it clear that an NEA officer can photograph or record the scene of an offence under the NEA Act or any environmental written laws administered by NEA. I would like to assure members of the House that NEA will address privacy concerns by ensuring that the photographs and recordings can be accessed only by authorised personnel for authorised purposes, such as when investigating allegations against our enforcement officers.
Madam, we all want Singapore to be a clean and liveable society, where the people have a stronger sense of community ownership of our environment. NEA will take action against irresponsible environmental offenders and ensure high cleaning standards but keeping Singapore clean requires everyone to play an active role. This Bill will allow passionate individuals to take greater community ownership of our environment and better complement NEA’s enforcement efforts. Mdm Speaker, I beg to move.
Er Dr Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon): Mdm Speaker, volunteers have always been valuable resources to any community. Whether it is to help out in a civil disaster, provide companionship at a nursing home or even a neighbourhood clean-up programme. Undoubtedly, without volunteers, many projects and plans would not be able to achieve the desired results. The volunteers are a unique group of people who are always on the ground, doing their part for the community without much fanfare. Most importantly, they are a positive influence on the people around them to volunteer for the good of the community.
I am delighted to note that the amendment to the existing NEA Act is looking towards expanding the Community Volunteer scheme. This has been a good scheme to encourage responsibility and ownership for the environment. However, under the existing scheme, only members of selected environmental-related societies or councils could be appointed as Community Volunteers (CVs). To my understanding, the number of these groups currently stands at four. In Singapore, we have at least 44 registered environmental-related NGOs. Singaporeans are a more civic-minded lot and I believe there is a lot of potential in the CV scheme. Certainly, I pledge my full support to expand the CV scheme so that individuals too can be appointed as CVs.
Personally, I am a great believer of community volunteerism. To address the littering problem, my grassroots team and I have been organising monthly litter-picking exercises. These involve residents and students in our neighbourhood estates.
When I mooted this monthly litter-picking in 2012, there was a lot of initial scepticism. I was asked, "Bee Wah, are you sure or not? What if you go and pick litter, no one follow you?" I am glad that every month there are about 100 to 200 residents – students, nurses from Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, Lions members – as well as residents beyond Nee Soon South, those who care about environment, come and join us. I deeply appreciate their contributions and I am sure some of these residents will be keen to volunteer under the CV scheme.
Litter has been a constant thorn faced by many developed countries and densely populated cities. A great number of annual anti-litter picking campaigns are held worldwide: "Clean Up the World, Don’t Mess with Texas, Keep Britain Tidy, Keep Australia Beautiful, Hong Kong is The Face of Litter". These are just a few memorable ones out of the many national and localised campaigns held in countries across the global map. In Singapore, we have our very own "Keep Singapore Clean" campaign. And in Nee Soon South we have our own "HABIT". There are numerous NGOs world-wide supporting community clean-up efforts. These campaigns certainly bear some weight in keeping the littering problem at bay.
However, we will have to look further for more comprehensive solutions. Education, coupled with efficient and effective enforcement, is the way forward. That is why I am very happy to hear the Minister for Ministry of Education announce last week that school students will do the daily cleaning and it will be implemented in all schools by the end of 2016. Certainly, this is a very good start. I hope that, eventually, it will be progressed, like what is happening in Japan and Taiwan, where every student not just clean their own classroom, they clean the school compound, they wash toilets and they sort out the litter and they do not have cleaners in the schools.
Mdm Speaker, the idea of empowering regular civilians to enforce offences is, in fact, not a foreign concept. This not only helps to save resources and generate more efficiency, but as a ground-up initiative, it will have more social impact. It will foster social norm and I hope that it will remind would-be litterbugs that there are eyes around them; there are people who care and love the environment watching them all the time.
Since 2002, the UK has roped in volunteers to become Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs), who help support front line officers by dealing with minor offences and anti-social behaviour, including littering. They play a crucial role in neighbourhood and police work, freeing up time and resources for the police to focus on other more crucial crimes. They are paid a token salary; however, there are now plans to engage unpaid volunteers.
In Mumbai, volunteers could fine litterbugs, a move welcomed by the volunteers who bemoaned apathetic litterbugs that refused to heed warnings. These volunteers are armed with ID cards and arm bands as identification proof.
But as with all "super volunteers", the greatest challenge remains in finding volunteers with the relevant skills, commitment and integrity to carry out their duties. Passion is important, but it does not necessarily equate suitability. Adequate training and resources will have to be invested in this programme. I believe there would be stringent screening of those who want to volunteer under this scheme so that what attracts them is their passion to serve and not the appetite for authority or power.
Next, we have to think of how to protect these volunteers. I fully support the use of body worn cameras and, besides that, tough punishment have to be meted out for those who abused the law enforcement officers.
Mdm Speaker, despite the possible challenges of engaging and empowering volunteers, it is undeniable that we need to integrate volunteerism into our community. But like any work, be it full-time or voluntary, people must be properly motivated and managed. Early this year, there have been some opinion pieces in the TODAY newspaper discussing the act of incentivising volunteers. I think volunteer management is something we need to consider very carefully in our long-term plan to recruit and empower more volunteers.
How do we maintain the motivation in our volunteers? How do we keep that flame alive year after year? Job satisfaction, the feeling of being wanted, the thought of having made a difference, their love for environment are powerful emotions that spur the volunteers. Volunteers need to feel appreciated to continue their work or they will move on to other causes. One thing can be for sure, we should never reduce volunteerism to just a dollar value. However, I certainly believe that more can be done to raise the social profile of volunteers.
When we hear someone say they are volunteering for the United Nations, or the SPCA, or a nursing home or orphanage, our first reaction is often to express admiration for the person. Why? Because we feel that he or she is directly contributing to the cause of improving and helping the less fortunate.
But for littering and smoking causes, often people cannot visualise the impact they are contributing to the environment. Many think that this is not their job. And some even labelled their friends or volunteers, "They are kaypoh." The inclination is to shower less admiration for their work done. Perhaps, employers should pay more attention to job applicants who are volunteering for good causes. Bosses, top management, CEOs and community leaders should lead by example.
Generating more public awareness will not only help to promote the importance of environmental volunteerism, but also give them the recognition they truly deserve. The eventual goal of expanding the Community Volunteer scheme should lead to long-term plans to further this to the masses. Ultimately, this scheme will, hopefully, pave the path to two goals – a society that supports volunteering and civic engagement, and a nation where the general public feels motivated to fight for their rights to a healthy, clean and green living environment and not depend on large army of cleaners.
When I mentioned "large army of cleaners", in Taipei, there are three million people and they have 5,000 cleaners. In Singapore, we have five million people. You know how many cleaners we have? By proportion, it is many, many times. We have 70,000 cleaners. Three million in Taipei, 5,000 cleaners. We have five million people in Singapore; we have 70,000 cleaners. I hope to see this number reduced in due course. Mdm Speaker, please allow me to give a brief summary in Chinese.
(In Mandarin): [Please refer to Vernacular Speeches.] The Ministry of Environment and Water Resources proposed that we should train more volunteers so that they can enforce the law to deal with the litterbugs. I strongly support this. However, I feel that to maintain the passion of these volunteers is not easy. Contributions from Community Volunteers are not as noticeable as volunteers who help the vulnerable. The authority should explore how to increase the environment awareness of the society and encourage the community to express gratitude towards these volunteers. I hope the employers, bosses, CEOs and community leaders can set an example and encourage their subordinates to care for the environment. Ultimately, I hope that everyone in our society can do his or her part for the environment and reduce our reliance on cleaners. I support this motion.
The Workers' Party supports the principle that underpins this Bill, which is to rope community volunteers, preserve and upkeep the environment and the cleanliness of our home. This is the philosophy that appears to underpin the NEA's Community Volunteers scheme introduced a mere three years ago.
Under this scheme, volunteers replaced the presence of NEA officers on the ground and promote a more educative approach with lawbreakers while, nonetheless, retaining the authority to take down an individual's details before forwarding them to NEA for further review and investigation. These volunteers act to supplement NEA officers who cannot be everywhere all the time.
Clause 5 of the amendment allows for the appointment of Auxiliary Officers who may be volunteers with potentially wide-ranging powers to enforce the Act. However, this Bill extends the powers of volunteers to include powers of arrest including search and seizure as determined by the Chief Executive of NEA. This represents a manifest escalation of the concept of not just the current community volunteer scheme, but crucially the very concept of volunteerism as well. In fact, certain extreme powers such as forced entry, search and seizure and arrest should not be given to volunteers under any circumstances at all but only to NEA officers and auxiliary officers who are subject to the organisational discipline and whose careers are tied to the adherence of these norms.
Mdm Speaker, the Workers' Party is of the view that the extent of such extraordinary enforcement powers and the degree to which they are limited should be rightfully determined by Parliament and not the Chief Executive of the NEA. Otherwise Parliament's role is relegated to that of a mere rubber stamp. I have five queries on the potential appointment of volunteers as auxiliary officers for the Minister.
In 2012, the NEA launched a volunteer programme which I mentioned earlier, and trained a group of volunteers from various NGOs namely the Public Hygiene Council, Waterways Watch Society, Singapore Kindness Movement, Singapore Environmental Council and the Cat Welfare Society. I understand from Minister's Second Reading speech that new organisations will now be included in this pool. Can I confirm what criteria must a new organisation fulfil to be considered?
Second, will volunteers be paid? The Pioneer Generation Package allows for every Pioneer Generation ambassador to receive a $10-allowance when they visit each pioneer. This can come up to be a significant sum for a volunteer and I understand that some volunteers have earned a few hundred dollars a month visiting Pioneers – a sum that goes well beyond defraying the cost of food and transport. Will our volunteers under these amendments be paid? How much will a volunteer receive for each assignment? Is the payout determined by the number of volunteer hours or the number of summons issued or some other determinant?
Third, volunteers with enforcement powers: will it upset our multi-racial community? Apart from the uncomfortable nexus between volunteerism and paid work, has the NEA considered the behavioural aspects of volunteer enforcers on the wider community?
With volunteers' extended enforcement powers, neighbours can potentially sign up as innocuous and well-meaning volunteers but who will then have to exercise their enforcement powers to summon some friends and neighbours in some cases while issuing a warning in other cases and then exercising compassion in yet another series of cases depending on each situation.
The flexibility which enforcement officers are endowed with has a real risk of inadvertently promoting a toxic environment in our communities. It can be construed by non-volunteer neighbours as blatant favouritism or worse, as an attempt by some volunteers to create a power or patronage networks that cannot be effectively policed.
If Parliament is not apprised of how these enforcement powers under this Bill are scoped, there is a real risk that this Bill will become a victim of unintended consequences; consequences that can irreparably harm a harmonious multi-racial society.
Fourth, volunteer numbers and deployment. How many auxiliary officers and volunteers does the Ministry have in mind to assist NEA for the tasks at hand? Does NEA plan to deploy these volunteers and will they be evenly spread out across Singapore or concentrated in areas which attract a large number of volunteers? Can the Minister assure this House that there would be an even deployment of volunteers with the greatly scoped powers across the country to ensure that no areas are left out by a shortage of volunteers?
In the alternative if there are not enough volunteers in one particular area, will there be a corresponding increase in the number of NEA or auxiliary officers deployed to areas where the volunteer pool is small? If this is not done, in all likelihood, there may be pockets of areas in Singapore that remain problematic hotspots. To this end, the Minister should consider a global approach to deployment of NEA officers, auxiliary officers and volunteers with properly scoped powers.
Fifth, NEA volunteers at Opposition Town Councils. Does the NEA intend to require volunteers to work with Town Councils to jointly identify problematic areas? If volunteers are drawn from the People's Association's Grassroots Organisations, how are they envisaged to work with Opposition Town Councils? Would there be regular meetings chaired by the NEA for the Town Council to share information on problem spots as it would have a better feel of the more commonly frequently littered areas and common areas which are potential dengue hotspots?
This is relevant as there are currently no institutional forums like the monthly Citizens' Consultative Committee (CCC) meetings for the PA Grassroots Organisations and Town Council representatives to meet in an Opposition Town Council, a state of affairs that is compounded by the fact that PA GROs like the RCs are averse to proactively partnering Opposition Town Councils to deliver outcomes to the community at large.
In conclusion, Mdm Speaker, while the Workers' Party supports the principle of engaging the community to keep our neighbourhoods clean, and the Community Volunteers scheme, we cannot support the Parliament extending broad and sweeping powers to volunteers without a clear scoping of these powers. Therefore, the Workers' Party recommends that this Bill be committed to a Select Committee for review. Otherwise, we will not be able to support the Bill in its current form.
Last year alone, the number of littering fines hit a six-year high of over 26,000. This was a huge 32% increase over 2014. The number of corrective work orders for littering had more than doubled from 688 in 2014 to 1,300 last year. Seven in 10 of these litterbugs, in fact, were Singapore residents. This is consistent with a survey by NEA in 2010 which found that one third of Singaporeans would litter, if they thought they could get away with it.
I find it very disappointing, frustrating and puzzling that a nation which has made so much progress and has such a well-educated population should have so many citizens with such a disregard for their surroundings. It is time for stronger measures to be implemented to drive home the message that littering will not be tolerated.
We must have a sense of urgency to combating littering due to the surge in the number of dengue cases and the emergence of the Zika virus, both of which are transmitted by the Aedes mosquito. Litter, especially plastics and cans, act as receptacles for water from our frequent rains and breed mosquitoes.
Presently, only members of environmental-related societies or a council gazetted under the EPHA can apply to become CVs. In addition, the amendment to explicitly appoint Auxiliary Police Officers as authorised officers will be useful. With more eyes and ears on the ground, we are taking a step in the right direction to eradicate littering.
Just as our police and traffic police are equipped with cameras and recorders to support their enforcement work, all environmental officers and Community Volunteers should all also be similarly equipped. This will prevent abuse by offenders and reduce disputes.
There had been some concerns over the selection criteria for CVs. 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. Adequate training and periodic re-training should also be provided to keep our CVs updated. This together with the technology used, I believe, would address the concern raised by another Member of Parliament just now.
I would like to make a suggestion regarding offenders who have to perform corrective work orders. They should be made to perform their work orders both at the place of the original offence and in the estates where they live.
The sense of responsibility towards one’s environment must also be nurtured from young. Everyone must feel the sense of community ownership and the need to protect one’s surroundings, and to keep it clean and liveable.
Hence, I welcome the announcement by the Ministry of Education to involve our students in the daily cleaning of our schools; it is being done in Japan and Taiwan. Not only will we inculcate the right attitude towards the environment in our young, they will also pick up real life skills. Of course, the tasks must be age-appropriate. Our students will also realise how difficult a cleaner’s work can be and refrain from irresponsible behaviour such as littering. They will also learn to respect the work and learn the value of work, regardless of whether they are white or blue collared. Mdm Speaker, in Mandarin.
(In Mandarin): [Please refer to Vernacular Speeches.] Mdm Speaker, I would like to know how the authorities deal with those high-rise littering units when we cannot ascertain who in the family did the act. Another problem we all encounter frequently is that some HDB residents would leave rubbish in the public space around the rubbish chute, instead of disposing it properly or bringing it to the rubbish collection centre downstairs. I think NEA and the relevant agencies should explore how to solve this problem.
I agree we should give the volunteers enforcement powers. I also feel NEA should make efforts to use technology to improve their enforcement efficiency, and avoid human errors as well as unnecessary disputes. At the same time, the enforcement officers could perhaps conduct their duties in plain clothes to achieve better outcomes and efficiency.
Mdm Speaker, recently a foreign friend of mine told me that it is easy to tell whether someone is a Singaporean overseas. One telling sign is that, if you hear someone asking, "Where is the rubbish bin?", then surely this person is a Singaporean! This remark proves that Singaporeans do have very good habit of not littering. They usually would look for a rubbish bin. Ultimately, what we want is that even when there are no rubbish bins around, we can still keep our environment clean and hygienic, just like the Japanese and the Taiwanese.
(In English): We are capable of creating a new improved social norm where every Singaporean will take an active part to maintain an enjoyable common living space through the amendments of this Bill. I support the Bill.
Mr Png Eng Huat (Hougang): Mdm Speaker, keeping Singapore clean, green and safe from mosquito-borne diseases is everybody's responsibility. In a densely populated city like ours, community living is all about respecting shared spaces and taking shared responsibility for the environment we live in.
In the area of shared responsibilities, resident can do their part to influence and encourage one another to keep their estate clean, green and safe. The authorities on the other hand, must do their part to educate the community and enforce the laws when necessary to bring home the message that this Government will spare no effort to make our living environment pleasant for all. Residents are already being roped in as volunteers to help educate the community on environmental issues. However, this Bill has the power to expand the roles of these volunteers to include enforcement powers, which in my opinion should remain the sole responsibility of NEA officers for good reason.
Good neighbourliness is built upon soft skills, communication and care for the common spaces. Allowing a resident to be able to penalise his or her fellow constituents now for alleged environmental infringements goes against what community living is all about.
Madam, some of these alleged environmental infringements are also potential flashpoints for neighbour disputes. I am sure we have seen a fair share of neighbour disputes in our own constituencies involving alleged mosquito breeding, water plants, cooking small and cat feeding, and so on. Are we going to allow either party to escalate such disputes to a level where a warrant person can take matters into his or her own hand by issuing summons to his neighbours or charging his neighbour for not providing proper identification on demand?
I am deeply concerned that this Bill has a 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. The potential for such community conflicts to escalate beyond control in this instance cannot be ruled out. This Bill will create confusion by adding another layer of enforcement action undertaken by appointed volunteer auxiliary officers who are not deemed as agents of the agency in addition to the mandated duties executed by officers of NEA, Town Council and so on. Madam, we are embarking on a slippery road to building more walls instead of bridges in our community if we allow NEA to appoint any volunteer to be an auxiliary officer to assist the agency in the performance of its enforcement functions.
But the fundamental question remains: is there a shortage of manpower at NEA to warrant such a move to arm volunteers with enforcement powers? Is NEA losing the battle with litterbugs and dengue? If it is about manpower, will the agency consider hiring retirees and part-timers on contract basis to assist? I do understand that for some policies to be effective, education and enforcement must go hand in hand. However, using volunteers to educate fellow constituents through enforcement is certainly not the way to go because when the enforcement stops, the mosquitoes will return and so will the littering.
Madam, educating our society to care for the environment as a way of life is vital to winning the war on litterbugs and dengue and other environmental problems we are facing now. I urge NEA to tap on the volunteers to do more in the area of educating the public on environmental issues rather than to do more in the area of enforcement as appointed officers.
While we need effective enforcement efforts, we also need soft skills to make the message stick in the mind of the people. This I believe is more effective to combat environmental issues in the long run. I support the Community Volunteer initiative by NEA to keep Singapore clean, green and safe, but we should leave the enforcement to the professionals.
Finally, this Bill will incur extra financial expenditure. I wish to seek clarifications from the Minister on the nature of this expenditure. Will these appointed volunteer officers be paid any honorarium, stipend or payment in kind since they are being called upon to do more now? Madam, I echo the call by my Party Member to send the Bill to a Select Committee for review. In its original form, I do not support the Bill.
Assoc Prof Daniel Goh Pei Siong (Non-Constituency Member): Mdm Speaker, this Bill seeks to appoint individuals, including community volunteers as auxiliary officers of the National Environmental Agency to police and enforce the law on public health offences.
The Workers' Party cannot support the Bill in this form. Without expressed limits to the powers and without a specific regime, this Bill allows the Chief Executive of NEA to turn Community Volunteers into functionaries of the State.
I find this objectionable as it goes against the very spirit of involving community volunteers in public health and in environmental protection. Its effectiveness in resolving public health and environmental issues is highly doubtful. On the contrary, I would argue, it would undermine community ownership for these important issues in the long run.
When NEA launched the Community Volunteer programme in 2013, it was envisioned that the programme will involve stakeholders, 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.
Though issued with NEA authority cards, the volunteers could only demand the particulars of uncooperative offenders to hand over the details to NEA officers who will then investigate the cases before prosecution. I believe the limitation of authority was not just meant to safeguard the public interest but prevents any abuse of power or conflicts between citizens. It was also the best way to secure community ownership through the powers of peer persuasion rather than the power to warn and punish.
As a leader of one of the stakeholder NGO said, "The end game is not about us becoming pseudo police officers. The point is, we are trying to get more people to take more ownership of the environment so that when they see ordinary people asking others not to litter, when we start these conversations, eventually we can create a culture that is opposite of being indifferent." The key words here are "not pseudo polices officers", "ordinary people", "conversations" and "create a new culture".
By all accounts, the Community Volunteer programme has been successful. In less than two years, 259 volunteers engaged 830 litterbugs and only needed to report 10 uncooperative litterbugs. It goes to show that conversations between ordinary people evoking the morality of living in the same community work 99% of the time. Only in 1% of the time did the volunteers have to act like pseudo police officers. If this trend goes on, we would 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.
What exactly is the Government's justification, given the encouraging success of the Community Volunteer programme in the first two years? Is it not an overkill to grant excessive powers to citizens to fine fellow citizens on the spot just because of 10 uncooperative litterbugs in the past two years? Should not the Government allow the programme to run for a longer period before making any assessment of the necessity of appointing volunteers as auxiliary officers?
There is a real danger that if the full powers are granted, that we will indeed create a new culture, but not a beneficial new culture of community ownership of the environmental issues and public health issues, but a new culture of antagonism between fellow citizens. NEA said it would provide the volunteers with the same training that regular NEA officers undergo but we need to understand that volunteers, as much as we should value them, come with a different set of motivation. NEA officers by virtue of their appointment and employment as an officer governed by clear organisational rules and culture will naturally be more circumspect in the use of their powers than enthusiastic volunteers.
Already, a couple of the leaders of the stakeholder NGOs have made public statements that suggest that the new powers could be taken too far. One said that he was keen to see the powers extended to booking those who smoke in non-smoking areas and those who puff illegally. Another said that he would like to see volunteers appointed as Block Ambassadors to police their own blocks of flats. Where and when will volunteer auxiliary officers stop their policing of the community? Today is littering in the neighbourhood; tomorrow is proper recycling in the blue bins downstairs; the day after tomorrow is kids playing football in the void deck; and the next day, what neighbours do in their corridors, even inside their own homes, in the name of dengue eradication. 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.
Mdm Speaker, the Government has been moving away from a system dependent on punitive fines and corrective work orders to one that combines the fines with nudges of community education. It has worked well. There is no evidence that we are experiencing a littering or spitting or illegal smoking emergency. In a 2009 Sociological Study on littering, commissioned by the NEA, which I participated as one of the three sociologists overseeing the study, the study shows only 1.2% of people surveyed admitted to littering most of the time; 62.6% reported that they never littered and the rest said they littered sometimes and know that it is wrong to do so. The overwhelming majority of litterers just need reminding on the social norms. The study recommended outreach and communication strategies aimed at reminding people of the norms and getting specific groups, especially students and youths, to internalise the norms.
The problem with depending heavily on enforcement and the threat of summonses is that people will litter if they do not see officers or other people around. We want them to internalise the norms and not litter even if they are alone. The only way to do this is community education.
We are only second to Japan in keeping our streets clean and sanitary. If we want emulate Japan's culture of deep social consciousness and strong community spirit, then we need to invest in building that culture over the long term. The Japanese had a 100 years' head-start over us since modernisation began with the Meiji Restoration. We do not want to undermine the development by fostering authoritarian culture of volunteers exercising powers over other citizens in the name of the State. We need to promote an environment of trust between neighbours, reminding each other to do the right thing, not instil fear and suspicion of each other if your neighbour is going to whip up his summons book because you were not mindful of the norms for one second.
Let us continue to enlist community volunteers to keep the conversations going, build up a cooperative culture of community ownership of the environment and leave the dirty work of punitive summons to the State officers who are best equipped to do the job.
Mr Louis Ng Kok Kwang (Nee Soon): Madam, this Bill will allow NEA to appoint auxiliary officers who may include volunteers and give them certain enforcement powers. This will partially help tackle the littering problem in Singapore and is undoubtedly a positive step forward. This, however, cannot be the only focus or the main focus of our efforts towards a clean Singapore. Increased enforcement is important but perhaps, what is more important is a mindset change. What we need to focus on more is ownership of our living space and how everyone has an important part to play.
In January this year, I gained experience as a Town Council cleaner. I worked with Hanif, one of our Nee Soon Town Council's cleaner and through this first-hand experience, it is clear to me that we are a cleaned city rather than a clean city. I picked up so much litter that day – cigarette butts, cotton buds, tissue, condoms, nappies – the list goes on. After spending the morning cleaning an area, it was alarming to go back to the same area a few hours later to find it covered in litter again. The cleaners face an uphill task and almost an impossible task at times.
The increased enforcement action by NEA is resulting in an increasing number of summons issued against litterbugs, up from 19,000 in 2014 to 26,000 last year. These figures I believe are the tip of the iceberg and there are clearly more people who have littered but did not get caught. Again, increased enforcement might help in nabbing more offenders but we need to fundamentally understand why they are littering and make sure we address the root of the problem. We need to remember, as reported by Channel NewsAsia recently, that the survey by NEA in 2010 showed that a third of Singaporeans would litter if they think they can get away with it. I hope this does not just become a cat-and-mouse game with the litterbugs. We need a mindset change, and this mindset change is important for our society.
We are often known as a fine society, as in a pay money fine city and I hope that fines are not the only way forward in shaping behaviours. I hope people are not avoiding littering only because they fear the fines or the corrective work order but rather because they know it harms the environment, because they know someone else has to pick up their litter, and because it is morally wrong to litter. I appreciate that this sounds idealistic, but it is possible.
The fundamental issue here is that residents do not feel that they are a part of the community. There is no ownership of common areas. Would you litter in your own house? If you see a piece of tissue paper in your own house, would you ignore it and walk by? The answer is clearly no, and that is because you want to make your own house clean and tidy. So, why do we not translate this behaviour to our common areas?
Research by the Duke University in the City of Durham in the USA showed that littering of cigarette butts was common at bus-stops. So, the researchers decided to focus their efforts on reducing this problem. They realised that large scale events on anti-littering are not as effective as small community efforts targeted at hotspots of littering. The population at those large scale events might not necessarily include that target group of people utilising the bus-stops. The engendering message is better received by paying more effort on-site. By using attention-grabbing posters, they were able to counter people's lack of sensitivity to the generic "do not litter" signs. They also passed out portable ash-trays to commuters to remind them not to litter.
This is not to say that we should use the same exact methodology to apply to Singapore as our patterns of littering might be different. What I am advocating is we need to go beyond the clichÃ© environmental messaging and get creative.
Another example of successful anti-littering campaign that Er Dr Lee Bee Wah mentioned earlier is the "Don’t Mess with Taxes – Real Texas Don't Litter" campaign in the USA. In 1987, $2 million in tax revenue went to litter-picking and that cost was escalating 15-20% every year. After performing extensive research, they identified who the heavy litterers were. They are a pick-up driver, male, between 18 and 34 years old, who likes sports and country music, has an anti-authority disposition and is not motivated by appeals to civic duty. They were indifferent to the typical messaging about the environment and the cost of cleaning. So, Texas decided to focus on these heavy litterers by appealing to their macho-ness. They realised they could succeed by associating littering with as being unmanly. Resources were pumped into getting popular country singers and athletes to do TV, radio advertisements and highway billboards to influence these litterers. As a result, Texas was able to cut their litter on their highway by 72% in the first six years of their campaign. In terms of spending, they saved a total of US$4.13 million by 1997.
The above is a good example of institutions thinking out of the box. They knew their main culprits of littering would not care about civil duties and were anti-authority by nature. This goes to show that there must be creative campaigns we can do to reduce the rate of littering.
Lastly, as mentioned earlier, research is also important. Quoting the "Don't Mess with Texas" campaign again, "Litter in Texas is a big problem and we have been hard at work researching the cause of litter in Texas, using everything from behaviour and attitude studies to visible litter studies. We have been collecting data and litter to best assess how to approach the problem head-on and determine the most effective method to end litter in Texas forever."
NEA has done research but I hope we can do more. Research should be undertaken to identify timing, frequency, hotspots, type of litter and demographic of litterbugs in a particular estate. Once there are valid statistics on the above, NEA can start to formulate detailed plans on effective smaller scale community projects to tackle the litter problem.
Madam, I strongly believe that our vision of a clean city is possible but we need to focus not just on enforcement but do extensive research and run creative projects at the community level to ensure that people play an active role in this vision and people have a sense of ownership of our living space.
Madam, let me also add that, as someone who has worked in the NGO sector for the past 15 years, this empowerment of volunteers is something that would be welcomed, especially by the animal welfare groups. In fact, it is something that they are calling for and have called for the past few years. This call is also for the community to play a part rather than the Government do everything. This Bill is a positive step forward and, Madam, I support the Bill.
Mr Masagos Zulkifli B M M: Mdm Speaker, first of all, I would like to thank the Members for their interest in the Bill. Some are in total support of the Bill. Some are not in total support of the Bill. Allow me to respond to the points raised by them and for those that I cannot, I will do it during the clarification time.
I would like to thank Mr Gan and Mr Png for asking whether this Community Volunteer (CV) programme is meant to save NEA’s resources. It is not. The expanded CV programme is to allow more members of the public to participate and take greater ownership in the care of the environment. It is not to supplement NEA’s enforcement headcount. It would not help NEA save resources.
As I have mentioned just now, the primary role of the CV is to educate environmental offenders so that they are responsible for binning their trash. That would be our primary goal where littering is concerned. We want to help them perform this role effectively and therefore we need to train our CVs; we need to give them certain powers so that they can perform their duties as volunteers as effectively as possible. Today, CVs do have to provide NEA with the details of offenders for enforcement.
The experience of our volunteers under the existing CV programme found that the majority of litterbugs will comply when approached to pick up their litter without any need for further enforcement action. So, it is already working. Indeed, when we need to enforce, the numbers are very small. Such engagement and education have been effective so far and we will carry on this mode of deployment.
The amended Bill will allow the CV programme to be expanded to allow individuals to join the programme – not just organisations. For a start, what we want to do is to scope it to make sure that when we get newly recruited CVs, we will get them to adopt Bright Spots and then work with the local community to adopt and clean and improve the cleanliness and hygiene of the area through advocacy, outreach and educational activities. That is how they would start; it is not about teaching them to enforce, getting them to enforce, getting them to issue summons and so forth.
As the CVs mature in their volunteering journey, the more experienced ones may even organise their own environmental activities and include enforcement patrols beyond Bright Spots, but this will take time.
Er Dr Lee Bee Wah also mentioned the idea of empowering civilians with enforcement powers. This is certainly not unique to Singapore; it has been done in many countries. Indeed, in Singapore, Mr Pritam would also know that we have volunteer Police with enforcement powers. So far, they have carried out their duties very well; they are as good as our policemen; they are dressed like our policemen; they carry out police duties; they do not abuse their powers. Why is that so?
Because, to the volunteers, it is important for them to uphold their duties, also as Singaporeans, in the intent of the act of the law. But, unlike the Police Community Support Officers in the UK cited by Er Dr Lee, our CVs are not paid. I know the new version of Police Community Support Officers will also not be paid and that is a great change in the way they are doing things. Our CVs so far, are those who are passionate about the environment and are willing to step forward to take ownership of the environment. So, volunteering must come from the heart.
I agree though with the Members that good volunteers do not come on their own; we need to manage them; we need to affirm their contribution to the cause. And therefore training and monitoring will all be part of what we do with the volunteers. It is not just giving them a badge, giving them the powers to do whatever they want and then they start issuing tickets to their neighbours and friends. That is just an imagination of what could go wrong, but I do not believe Singaporeans would do that kind of thing.
We will make a lot of efforts to recognise our CVs. We will show them up in our media, feature them, the good things that they have been doing, For example, in the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint 2015, we have been highlighting the contributions of our CVs. But we must explore more ways to make sure that their work is affirmed, valued and recognised by our community.
Er Dr Lee and Mr Gan also mentioned that there should be stringent screening criteria. Indeed, we will do that. We must ensure that we choose suitable individuals who have the right public spirit, good communication skills, as Assoc Prof Daniel Goh has mentioned, to ensure that the work they do is not the same work that our enforcement officers do – just to enforce. They must be able to engage, to communicate and ensure that at the end of the day, they do this because together they can ensure everyone love the environment deeply.
Prior to joining the CV programme, we will properly screen and interview each individual to assess his interest and maturity toward environmental activities. We will monitor what they do; if they have the propensity to issue summons almost every hour, certainly this is not the right kind of persons that we should be deploying. In addition, all CVs must be Singapore Citizens or Permanent Residents and at least 18 years old.
Er Dr Lee and Mr Gan have also mentioned about equipping body-worn cameras to protect our CVs. NEA has been progressively equipping our officers with body-worn cameras since 2015. These have helped to prevent abuse by offenders, protect our officers from allegations of unprofessional conduct, as well as remind our officers to abide by our operational protocol.
Let me mention again that the main role of the CV is to educate offenders, and the feedback received from our current CVs reflect that majority of the offenders are indeed cooperative; they are our fellow Singaporeans and not criminals. They may have done something wrong, maybe in a momentary lapse of judgement, they may have littered. When someone, a fellow citizen, comes and tells them, "please bin the litter", majority of them will pick it up and do exactly what they have been told.
Notwithstanding this, our CVs will be considered as public servants for the purposes of the Penal Code and exercising the power of enforcement and will be protected under the Protection from Harassment Act from any indecent, threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour or words when they are executing their duties, as I mentioned just now.
Er Dr Lee, Mr Gan, Mr Louis, Assoc Prof Daniel, Mr Pritam Singh and Mr Png all mentioned about cultivating a sense of responsibility for the environment. I agree that the cleaning profession is tough and our cleaners face an uphill task in cleaning after us every day. We must have that respect for our cleaners and inculcate a sense of responsibility towards the environment and we, indeed, must begin this from young.
We have been working with the Ministry of Education to inculcate in our young, a sense of responsibility and good habits. We are working with MOE to ensure that by end-2016, daily cleaning by students would be introduced in all our schools, from primary schools to junior colleges. This is one of the things that we are doing in addition to enlarging the space for people to volunteer and encourage people to keep the environment clean because it is their environment and it is their space.
Mdm Speaker, Mr Pritam has asked some questions which I will try to respond to now. What criteria will new organisations need to fulfil? This Act is not about organisations anymore; it is about individuals. We will enroll individuals who want to participate in this scheme. We will interview and screen them and deploy them in groups at Bright Spots so that they can own the space and it may not be where they live. If there are places where we do not have enough volunteers, we will deploy them there, initially paired together with NEA officers to teach them the ropes and over time make their presence felt by the public, so that they too, are a familiar face amongst the community living there and not just a mere face of enforcement out there to make good or issue tickets to people who have committed offences.
Indeed, volunteers, if not managed, may abuse their powers, if not trained, if not supervised, may commit such offences. Therefore, it is important for us to embrace them to make sure they are part of a strong team that can do this work well, and pursue their interests in becoming environmental champions.
Can these powers be conferred to the CEO of NEA? I say yes. Because, ultimately, if we have done it wrong, we have to be accountable to Parliament. You can ask parliamentary questions; you can file a cut; you can move a motion. Then, we will divulge every incident that may be in question and be accountable for the act that we have done.
Members have asked how many volunteers we have mind. We want as many as possible. We want them everywhere, particularly in areas where we want to convert to Bright Spots places where people usually litter or commit environmental offences. We want to put CVs there and make them a common presence for people to be noticed.
When we deploy these volunteers, we will not just be working with organisations. We will be deploying them as individuals who want to work together and be managed by NEA. NEA officers will be around to make sure that initially they are guided, they know their duties, they learn how to be deployed properly and, over time, with experience, we can leave them on their own.
Mr Pritam Singh: Thank you, Mdm Speaker. I thank the Minister for his clarifications. If I heard him correctly, the Minister was suggesting that the scheme is really an expansion of the existing volunteer scheme and, therefore, the volunteers that come on-board will essentially be pursuing the same approach which they have done for the past three years, which is educative and to compel people to essentially stop doing what they are doing, and in the vast majority of cases, they will not be summoning. If that is the case, is it necessary to have the Act allow volunteers to be extended enforcement powers?
Mr Masagos Zulkifli B M M: We have been consulting our volunteers on the ground. They tell us that, apart from just being volunteers being deployed, being good citizens, it will be useful, in fact, it would be effective, if they do have those powers. But we are concerned too that they may abuse their powers and, therefore, the synergy between the NEA enforcement officers and these volunteers are going to be key.
As what we are doing today, we have to train them, we have to monitor them, we have to supervise them, to make sure that they are reporting properly, filling up forms as officers should be doing, to ensure that at the end of the day, these powers are there for them to be able to use but not for them to abuse.
Mr Pritam Singh: Just to follow up with the Minister. So, in the case of summoning, for example, potential law breakers, would there be an NEA officer accompanying the volunteer? And if so, should it not be appropriate that in the current circumstances to just allow the NEA officer to be the one issuing the summons and the volunteer just observing what is happening and assessing what the approach is?
Mr Masagos Zulkifli B M M: I thank Mr Pritam for the question. That, indeed, will be how we will do it initially. When we deploy the volunteers, especially when they are new, we will deploy them in groups, in bright spots, not everywhere, not anywhere, not anytime, to make sure they are focusing on a particular area that they are trying to own and be part of it. Over time, after being observed and observing the NEA officers, on assessment of the supervisors, people who are experienced, who assess that, yes, this group of people can be left on their own, over time, we will let them do it on their own.
Assoc Prof Daniel Goh Pei Siong: It is said in the Bill that the Chief Executive will have to do it in writing when giving the authorisation of the enforcement powers to the volunteers, and would do it for every individual volunteer. This particular flexibility in which any or all of the powers can be given to any individual volunteer means that there is incredible flexibility on the part of the Chief Executive without clear criteria, without a clear regime, on what kind of powers can be accorded to an individual and on what circumstances? Is there going to be a time-bound timing? Is there going to be a place, and so forth?
Mr Masagos Zulkifli B M M: Certainly, we expect our Chief Executive of NEA to be a responsible officer, not to just do whatever he thinks he can do because the Act empowers him. There will be processes and procedures that he has to comply with and be answerable to the Minister. Let me give you an example of what kind of process he has to go through to ensure that he can empower this person. The volunteer must first be appointed by NEA under section 16A as an auxiliary officer. Once appointed, the officer would then need to be authorised by the CEO to exercise the specific enforcement powers under the EPHA, and that would depend on what the Ministry wants to enforce or deploy the volunteers for.
Lastly, the Director-General needs to appoint the individuals as authorised officers under the EPHA before the individuals can exercise the powers granted. So, there are at least two levels – the CEO and the Director-General, and then later on, deployment with the NEA officers to ensure that after they are trained and they are deployed properly.
The CEO does not give a blanket power to every auxiliary officer to perform the duties that they want. He will be ascribed to particular areas that we want them to be effective in, in protecting our environment.
Mr Pritam Singh: Yes, I will, Mdm Speaker. Just a final question for the Minister. Can I suggest that the Minister allow the process of volunteers following NEA officers to run its course before we consider giving volunteers enforcement powers? Because the fact of the matter is it seems that, as most Members have suggested, the educative approach is really the way forward, and the Minister himself agrees. So, perhaps, we can continue on that line and then re-assess whether powers need to be given to volunteers.
Mr Masagos Zulkifli B M M: After running this programme for two to three years, and looking at and assessing outcomes, we are now doing a little bit more than what we have done in the past which was to merely educate, confine it to just some organisations and not expand it to everybody. The process of allowing volunteers to follow NEA officers has already taken place and that is why we are implementing what we are implementing today.
[Hon Members Mr Low Thia Khiang, Ms Sylvia Lim, Mr Png Eng Huat, Mr Pritam Singh, Mr Muhamad Faisal Bin Abdul Manap, Mr Chen Show Mao, Mr Leon Perera, Mr Dennis Tan Lip Fong and Assoc Prof Daniel Goh Pei Siong raised their hands to indicate their objection.]