NGOs roped in to combat litter menace

SINGAPORE: Senior members of non-government organisations such as the Waterways Watch Society (WWS) and the Singapore Environment Council (SEC) have been roped in to undergo training to combat the litter menace.

Last month, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan wrote on his blog that, under the National Environment Agency's (NEA) new empowerment scheme, it will start conducting a "special training course" in January for senior members of environmental NGOs. For a start, more than 20 members from the WWS and SEC could be involved, TODAY understands.

The NEA's new scheme comes as the WWS - which is currently active at Kallang Riverside Park - hopes to set up another office at the Punggol housing estate, to help keep the precinct's award-winning waterway project free from litter.

After completing training, these volunteers will be issued authority cards which will enable them to "identify and take enforcement action against recalcitrant persons who insist on littering", as Dr Balakrishnan had put it.

In response to TODAY's queries, the NEA said the volunteers' training will be similar to that of its officers.

"The training will cover the respective legislation, the rules of engagement and enforcement procedures. The training will include both theory and practical sessions to equip the volunteers with the skills and knowledge to undertake their duties," an NEA spokesperson said.

She added that the NEA is "finalising the details of the recruitment" for the volunteers. The empowerment scheme will be rolled out in tandem with enhanced fines for littering. From March, the fines for first-time offenders will increase from S$300 to S$500.

WWS founder Eugene Heng, 63, said his NGO will recommend "less than 10 per cent" of its 260 members for the scheme. Mr Heng said that he understands that the prospective volunteers will first be interviewed by the NEA, before they undergo training.

He said: "We should not make the training so complex, as these are all volunteers here. Apart from equipping them with an understanding of the rules, more importantly we have to teach them how to approach people. We have to make them understand how not to abuse this enforcement privilege. We don't want to create a whole new force of vigilantes."

Mr Heng, who also sits on the Public Hygiene Council, said the council may also get involved with the NEA's new scheme in some form.

"We are targeting council members to help monitor and enforce. Whenever possible, we will get the members to share and speak out against littering. Aggressive enforcement is a last resort," he said.

"Ultimately, we should have a network of different representatives from all strata of society to combat this, instead of just relying on NGOs, and I have also shared this with the NEA."

SEC Executive Director Jose Raymond said the NEA had approached his organisation to assist in the empowerment scheme. For now, three of the SEC's staff members will be trained under the scheme.

"But this can increase depending on our workload for the year and our other projects," he said.

Mr Raymond reiterated that it is essential that the volunteers are trained "on how to approach members of the public when they spot the offender and ... how to manage difficult members of the public who may turn nasty or abusive".

He added: "Public cleanliness remains an issue which needs to be dealt with, and through various possible options ... We hope that with more hands on deck, and from ground up, we will be able to help bring about a cleaner Singapore."

Meanwhile, Mr Heng said his NGO plans to set up its second office at Punggol estate in "two to three months".

Currently, the WWS has an office under Merdeka Bridge and helps to watch over the Kallang Riverside Park. Thirty of its members were issued volunteer cards by the National Parks Board (NParks) and national water agency PUB, to enable them to approach members of the public to advise them not to litter, among other things.

Said NParks' Parks Director Chia Seng Jiang: "The WWS encourages park users to dispose of rubbish into bins and report instances of illegal entry into parks by motorised vehicles and damage to park property. The WWS also organises park clean-up activities at Kallang Riverside Park, and we have since noticed less litter there."

Mr Heng said that as more people move into Punggol, there is a risk that its waterway could be polluted.

"Punggol leads to two major reservoirs, Punggol Reservoir and Serangoon Reservoir ... So if we don't do well (to keep the waters clean), it's a lose-lose situation," he said.


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