Volunteers to get enforcement powers to deal with ‘green’ offences
SINGAPORE — The amended Bill to provide community volunteers with greater enforcement powers to deal with environmental offences was passed in Parliament on Tuesday (March 1) — but not before almost all six Members of Parliament (MPs) who spoke on the issue voiced their concerns about the implications this might bring.
Their concerns included the possible abuse of power by the volunteers, who will be appointed as the National Environment Agency’s (NEA) auxiliary officers, and how greater policing might create a culture of antagonism among fellow citizens.
During the debate on the Bill, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli noted that the state of public cleanliness in Singapore is a growing concern, and pointed to reports on the large amount of litter that was left behind after the countdown to 2016 at Marina Bay.
“Over the years, Singapore has earned a reputation as a clean city ... However, maintaining a clean Singapore cannot be left to cleaners alone,” said Mr Masagos.
Citing concerns about the need for a stringent selection criteria to choose the volunteers, Mr Gan Thiam Poh (Ang Mo Kio GRC) said he hopes that they will have the “right public spirit, good communications skills and care deeply about our environment”.
The Workers’ Party (WP) Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC) warned against equipping volunteers with “broad and sweeping powers”, such as as forced entry, search-and-seizure and arrest, as this would go against the very concept of volunteerism.
In addition, allowing residents to be able to penalise their fellow constituents for alleged environmental infringements could result in “potential flashpoints” for neighbourly disputes, said WP’s Png Eng Huat (Hougang).
He added: “I am deeply concerned that this Bill has the 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.”
This Bill would also create “confusion” by adding another layer of enforcement action undertaken by appointed volunteer auxiliary officers, in addition to the duties executed by officers of the NEA and town councils, for instance, Mr Png said.
Non-Constituency MP Dr Daniel Goh, also from the WP, added: “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.”