SINGAPORE: There were more than 7,700 reports of high-rise littering offences made between 2016 and 2018, and these figures have remained “relatively stable”, according to Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor.
Speaking in Parliament on Tuesday (Sep 3), Dr Khor said the number of such reports have hovered between 2,300 and 2,800 each year, and in most cases the situation improved after efforts to caution residents against committing these acts.
There are some who still persist with such inconsiderate acts despite education efforts however, which is why the National Environment Agency (NEA) deployed surveillance cameras with video analytics to catch these offenders in the act in 2012, she said, adding these have “contributed significantly” to improving enforcement efforts.
For instance, between August 2012 and December 2018, more than 2,200 offenders were caught for high-rise littering by these cameras, of whom 52 were repeat offenders, Dr Khor said.
She pointed out that there are stiff penalties in place to deter high-rise littering, with first-time offenders facing up to S$2,000 fine for each offence, while repeat offenders face fines of up to S$10,000 or Corrective Work Order (CWO), or both, if convicted.
There were 2,600 CWOs issued last year, added the Senior Minister of State.
The issue of high-rise littering returned to the spotlight recently after 47-year-old Australian Andrew Gosling was charged last month for causing the death of 73-year-old Nasiari Sunee. The elderly man was hit on the head by a bottle allegedly thrown by Gosling from the seventh-floor lift landing of a condominium in Tanjong Pagar.
As for the wider issue of littering, Dr Khor said the NEA received about 26,000 reports of littering and 2,700 reports of indiscriminate disposal of bulky items in public places respectively in 2018.
It also took about 39,000 enforcement actions against littering in public places and another 30 for unlawful disposal of bulky items in public places, she added.
Enforcement action is taken when there is substantiated evidence. Depending on the complexity of the case and response time of the person providing the feedback and suspected offender, the enforcement process generally takes between 10 weeks to 6 months for most cases, Dr Khor said in response to a question by Nee Soon GRC MP Lee Bee Wah.
Littering offences have been on the rise in recent years, with the 2018 figure of 39,000 enforcement actions a 21.9 per cent increase over the more than 32,000 in the previous year, NEA figures showed.
“While we have laws to deter littering and other environmental offences, it is more important that we foster collective responsibility for our environment and cultivate positive social norms,” Dr Khor urged.
“The Government will continue with our efforts to develop greater environmental stewardship, but we cannot do it alone. Every one of us must do our part to keep Singapore a clean, green and sustainable home for our future generations,” she added.
HARSHER PUNISHMENT, NEA'S EFFICIENCY DEBATED
In a follow-up question, MP Lim Biow Chuan asked if NEA would be open to working with the Housing and Development Board (HDB) to repossess the flats of recalcitrant high-rise litterers, saying that the recent case mentioned above was a "cause of concern" for people walking at the ground floor of high-rise buildings wondering if they would get hit by a "missile" from above.
"(These offenders) pose a danger to the rest of the residents who are just there waiting to be hurt," Mr Lim said.
Dr Khor said in reply that there already are provisions under HDB legislation, but these are "extreme measures" and all factors need to be considered before the relevant authority can make such decisions.
"I wouldn't say that definitely this is an avenue that we'd take, but it is an option available depending on the factors of the case," she said.
"If it is killer litter, it is in the Penal Code, the police will investigate and it's even harsher penalties."
Dr Khor also had an exchange with Ms Lee on the efficacy of NEA's surveillance and enforcement efforts in her constituency, citing the example of those who throw sanitary pads from their high-rise flats.
Ms Lee said the problem was because NEA only deploys its surveillance cameras for a few days, and the problem persists after. She believed that if there was a will to catch the culprit, the person would be caught.
"Otherwise, it looks like this problem will only disappear when the litterbug (enters) menopause," Ms Lee said.
Dr Khor defended NEA's enforcement efforts however, saying that the number of successful enforcement actions from surveillance cameras have jumped 120 times - from 10 in 2011 to more than 1,200 in 2018.
She also pointed out that effectiveness is also impacted by the quality of information given to NEA, citing the example of the sanitary pad littering case as one where only the picture of the pad was given with no information on where it was likely to have come from.
The agency deployed the cameras several times, most recently last August, but with no results, she added.
To this, Ms Lee asked if CCTVs could be more efficiently deployed.
Dr Khor said in reply: "If you deploy a camera for certain period of time and you cannot catch (the culprit), then obviously you have to review whether it's the positioning or it's the right stack or right floor level and so on before you re-deploy again."
She also responded to Ms Lee's suggestion of using DNA tests to identify the culprit, saying this had been discussed in Parliament before.
"When the litter (falls) to the ground, it is likely that it's not the DNA of the culprit alone that will be on it. So it will be very difficult," Dr Khor said based on the knowledge the ministry has today. This was not specific to sanitary pads, but litter in general, she added.