Must do more to catch high-rise litterbugs: MPs
While surveillance cameras have helped identify offenders, the main priority is to encourage civic-mindedness, says Amy Khor
Soiled sanitary pads and cigarette butts were the subject of a heated discussion in Parliament yesterday.
It was all about high-rise littering, as Members of Parliament questioned whether enough was being done to nab recalcitrant litterbugs.
High-rise litter was of particular concern, given the case of killer litter last month. A 73-year-old man died after he was struck on the head by a wine bottle, allegedly thrown from a seventh-storey lift landing at the Spottiswoode 18 condominium.
The frustration was palpable as backbenchers asked for stiffer penalties, swifter action and more proactive and diligent enforcement.
Ms Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC) even suggested using DNA tests to catch those throwing soiled sanitary pads out of the window. To laughter, Ms Lee said: "If you have an ambition to catch the culprit, I'm sure you will be able to catch (her). Otherwise, it looks like this problem will only disappear when the litterbug (has) menopause."
In a testy exchange with Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor, Ms Lee said she did not remember any stakeouts by the National Environment Agency (NEA) as having any success.
And despite the deployment of surveillance cameras, the littering problem in her constituency persists.
Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) asked if NEA could get smaller, improved cameras, relating his experience with a neighbour who stopped throwing cigarette butts when he saw NEA's cameras.
But he resumed littering the minute they were removed.
Dr Khor acknowledged that surveillance cameras had limits.
She said the deployment of the cameras since August 2012 had significantly improved the effectiveness of NEA's enforcement efforts.
She said NEA gets about 2,300 to 2,800 reports of high-rise littering complaints each year and this figure has remained stable.
From August 2012 to December 2018, more than 2,200 offenders were caught and 52 were repeat offenders.
NEA took more than 1,200 successful enforcement actions against high-rise litterbugs last year, compared with about 10 in 2011 before cameras were used. But Dr Khor emphasised this is not the solution to the littering problem.
She said: "We want to encourage considerate, socially responsible behaviour and civic-mindedness. That should be the priority, not to catch as many people as possible."
Dr Khor said that in most cases, the situation improved following outreach efforts by NEA, town councils and grassroots organisations.
She raised the example of a pilot project at two blocks of flats in Ang Mo Kio with persistent high-rise littering and pigeon-feeding issues. A community watch group engaged every resident in the two blocks, and the Municipal Services Office came up with new publicity materials to raise awareness about the issue.
Coupled with active enforcement, Dr Khor said, it brought the number of high-rise littering cases down to nine from 21 in the previous six months. It will now be rolled out to other constituencies.
Mr Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten) asked if NEA would work with the Housing Board to repossess the flats of recalcitrant offenders.
Dr Khor said there are already stiff penalties for high-rise littering.
First-time offenders can be fined up to $2,000, and repeat offenders can be fined up to $10,000 for the third and subsequent offences. Corrective work orders can also be issued. Killer litter comes under the Penal Code, and will involve the police and even harsher penalties.
Dr Khor said enforcement action is taken when there is substantiated evidence and the process can take between 10 weeks and six months.
She added: "I would like to urge members of the public, if you do have evidence or information regarding specific littering incidents, please provide that to us because that will facilitate and shorten our investigation process."
Surge in borrowing by foreign maids ‘a combination of needs, wants’
While some foreign domestic workers (FDWs) here take loans for genuine needs, increased financial hardship did not appear to be a reason behind the recent surge in borrowing.
Instead, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Manpower Low Yen Ling told Parliament yesterday that studies by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and the Ministry of Law (MinLaw) found three main reasons for the spike:
- Licensed moneylenders targeting FDWs with shopfront advertisements and readily extending loans to them;
- FDWs recommending loans to fellow FDWs by word of mouth, or through WhatsApp and Facebook;
- And more FDWs acting as guarantors to help fellow FDWs obtain loans.
Ms Low was responding to a question by Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC), who had asked if factors like family emergencies were driving the demand for loans.
She revealed that in the first half of this year alone, 39,000 FDWs had borrowed from licensed moneylenders, according to data from the Moneylenders Credit Bureau. This number jumped 28-fold between 2016 and 2018 - from 1,500 to 42,000.
Loan records also showed that FDW borrowers work here for some time before they take out their first loan.
The median number of years between their first arrival in Singapore and their first loan was eight years in 2016, seven in 2017 and six in 2018.
Ms Low said that while there are FDWs who might need to send money back home for their children's education or urgent medical bills, a survey conducted among FDWs queueing to borrow money found that some did so to buy clothes, mobile phones and bags.
"It is a combination of needs and wants," she added.
Ms Low said MOM and MinLaw introduced two rounds of measures to curb the rise in borrowing and will continue to monitor the situation.
Last October, they introduced aggregate loan caps, a self-exclusion framework, and administrative penalties on work pass holders who borrow from unlicensed moneylenders.
In July, the aggregate loan cap for foreigners earning less than $10,000 a year was reduced, and limits were placed on the number of loans that can be granted to foreigners. Licensed moneylenders were also prohibited from displaying ads targeted at FDWs and from accepting foreigners as loan guarantors.
Ms Low said: "We encourage our FDWs to maintain open communications with their employers to talk about their financial needs and also to plan their finances for rainy days...
"We want to make sure that for those who have genuine needs, they can still (borrow money)."