SINGAPORE: The Housing and Development Board (HDB) received more reports about "social disamenities" during the COVID-19 “circuit breaker” period, said Senior Minister of State for National Development Sim Ann in Parliament on Wednesday (Nov 4).
From January to March, HDB received about 600 cases of feedback on social disamenities per month. This increased to 2,100 cases per month between April and July, said Ms Sim.
This is due to more people working and studying from home because of the circuit breaker measures, she added.
“From August 2020 onwards, likely due to the return of children to school and more employees to workplaces, the number of feedback per month has fallen to about 1,500,” she said.
Ms Sim was responding to questions by People’s Action Party (PAP) Member of Parliament Melvin Yong on the number of neighbour dispute cases received by HDB in the past five years, and whether there has been an increase in such cases due to telecommuting arrangements.
The Senior Minister of State noted that authorities do not track the number of disputes between neighbours in HDB flats.
Figures on social disamenities are the “closest proxy” the Government has to the number of neighbourly disputes, Ms Sim said, adding that it is a “reasonable inference” that the changes to the way Singaporeans live and work would affect the number of such cases.
Ms Sim added that between 2015 and 2019, the Government received about 3,400 reports on social disamenities per year.
Responding to Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh’s question on what constitutes a social disamenity, Ms Sim said that this includes cigarette smoke, noises issues and foul smells.
“The reason why they are a bit different than neighbourly disputes is because sometimes complaints are raised, but the complainant may not be able to identify which unit originated these issues and therefore, it wouldn’t quite be a case where we can identify specific neighbours and it may not then be a neighbour dispute case per se,” she said.
Going forward, the Government will track neighbour disputes more closely, Ms Sim said, as authorities “do recognise that we now have developed an ecology of different methods in which to promote harmonious living and to also strengthen our community norms”.
This includes what HDB branches are doing, and partnerships with grassroots volunteers, the Singapore Kindness Movements, the Community Mediation Centre and the Community Disputes Resolution Tribunal.
COMMUNITY DISPUTE RESOLUTION TRIBUNAL
On the number of cases that progress to mediation and the Community Disputes Resolution Tribunal, which hears claims between neighbours, Ms Sim said that it is “not an exact tracking” of neighbour dispute cases.
Nevertheless, there were 380 applications to the tribunal from 2015 to 2019, and two-thirds of these applications were “resolved amicably”, she said.
In response to Mr Yong’s supplementary question on whether HDB is looking into fostering better relationships among neighbours, Ms Sim said that the Housing Board has issued a series of advisories for residents to be more considerate of each other.
REVIEW OF THE COMMUNITY DISPUTE MANAGEMENT FRAMEWORK
In a question to Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong, PAP MP Yip Hon Weng asked about when a timeline on the review of the Community Dispute Management Framework will be available.
Mr Tong said that an interagency committee regularly reviews the framework.
“Our guiding principles continue to be, A - to strengthen the neighbourliness to minimise disputes upstream as far as possible. B - to encourage mediation between neighbours to mend relations as far as possible, and finally, as a measure of last resort, legal recourse for cases which may be intransigent,” he said.
The Government said in April that it will consider a protracted case of neighbourly dispute in Bukit Panjang, which resulted in the tribunal issuing an Exclusion Order for the first time, when it reviews measures to tackle neighbour conflicts.
As far as possible, the Government tries to bring the process “upstream”, said Mr Tong.
For instance, community mediation centres work with the Singapore Police Force, HDB, town councils, the National Environment Agency (NEA), the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) and the Municipal Services Office (MSO) to equip frontline officers with mediation skills.
In the past four years, the centres trained more than 1,500 grassroots leaders on basic mediation as well, he added.
The centres also, on occasion, visit residents who decline mediation, he said, to try to persuade them to go for mediation.