More power to tackle nuisances

SINGAPORE - The police may soon get more teeth to deal with rowdy residents or those who burn joss paper indiscriminately.

The Government is looking at changes to legislation, such as the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act, to deal with such public nuisances, Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong said in Parliament yesterday.

He was responding to Mr Vikram Nair (Sembawang GRC), who had asked if the authorities were considering changing the legal framework to deal with residents who, for instance, make excessive noise at void decks.

Mr Wong said: "Our key thrust is on public education and mediation, but we recognise that there are cases which do require rules and penalties."

Mr Nair had pointed out that the authorities are now unable to do much about inconsiderate residents, as there are no clear rules on what are acceptable levels for various public nuisances, and what penalties may be meted out.

Every year, government agencies receive more than 70,000 complaints about noise - residents' top peeve. Other common grouses include verbal abuse and how common corridors are used.

Mr Nair, a lawyer, said the rules could be developed as part of the public consultation exercise on a new community dispute resolution framework.

This framework could see the setting up of a new tribunal in the second half of the year. Under the tribunal, a judge will hear the cases and have the power to issue orders. Those who refuse to abide by the orders may be prosecuted.

The move, announced by Mr Wong last Saturday, will give bite to the current dispute resolution system, which is voluntary.

Currently, those who cannot resolve disputes on their own or with the help of grassroots leaders can take matters to the Community Mediation Centre. But in 60 per cent of its 1,500 applications a year, one party refuses to turn up.

While the grouses often appear to be minor at first, it would usually be "too late" and some residents would refuse mediation by the time the disputes are taken to grassroots leaders, said Ms Irene Ng (Tampines GRC).

"For many, their relationship with their neighbours have become so toxic, having festered for so long, that they just want their neighbours to suffer," she said.

But the tribunal should be the last resort for handling difficult cases, Mr Wong stressed, supported by Ms Ng and Mr Alex Yam (Chua Chu Kang GRC). Mr Wong added: "We want to promote community ownership and collective responsibility, and mediation should remain the first priority."

On bringing disputes to the tribunal, Ms Ng said: "While it would restore a semblance of peace in the neighbourhood, it would probably destroy the possibility of neighbours having any kind of relationship after that."

The public consultation paper can be viewed at www.mccy.gov.sg/communitydispute.

 

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