Mon, Feb 16, 2009
The New Paper
Push for more mediation in neighbourhood disputes

By Andre Yeo

AS the Ministry of Defence sends its soldiers to keep the peace abroad, a different kind of peacekeeper is doing the same in our housing estates.

They are the mediators of the Community Mediation Centre (CMC) under the Ministry of Law.

Every week they have to deal with little conflicts that can turn our estates into 'war zones'.

In Parliament yesterday, MP Ellen Lee (Sembawang GRC) asked how effective the CMCs are.

While CMCs had been useful in settling disputes, more of her residents were complaining that their neighbours had refused to go for mediation.

Common complaints involved noise, dirty laundry, high-rise litter and encroachment of space. At least 55 per cent of such disputes overall involved neighbours in 2008.

She asked if the ministry would consider empowering CMCs to compel attendance in genuine cases. She also wanted to know if they could enforce the settlements and punish those who did not comply.

Senior Minister of State for Law and Home Affairs, Associate Professor Ho Peng Kee, said CMC had handled more than 4,100 disputes since 1998.

Worryingly, the numbers are growing - from 120 disputes in 1998, to 684 last year.

About 73 per cent of disputes were resolved.

Prof Ho said the ministry was looking at amending the Criminal Procedure Code for the police to refer appropriate cases to the CMC.

If any party refuses to go for mediation without good reason, and the case goes to court, this refusal to mediate may be held against them.

There may be consequences to their refusal to mediate, said Prof Ho.

MinLaw hopes this will encourage disputing parties to consider mediation first before going to court.

Mr P Thirunal Karasu, 47, was among the first batch of mediators to sign up in 1998.

The grassroots leader in Ang Mo Kio GRC, who is self-employed, said every case was different.

But the main ingredient missing between disputing parties was communication.

He said some disputes were petty, like the man who got angry with his neighbour for looking into his flat while walking along the common corridor.

Said Mr Thirunal: 'It's a common tendency to do that when you walk past. But the owner was not happy and asked, 'Why are you peeping'?'

This story was first published in The New Paper.

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