Second Reading Speech by Senior Parl Sec, Mdm Rahayu Mahzam, on State Lands Protection Bill
30 Nov 2022 Posted in Parliamentary speeches and responses
- On behalf of the Minister for Law, I beg to move, “That the Bill be now read a Second time”.
- Sir, State land is currently put to various uses for the benefit of Singaporeans. These include residential, commercial, institutional, and utility uses, amongst others.
- It is important that State land is protected from unauthorised use and damage, as such acts can impede Singapore’s development, create public safety issues, and affect public enjoyment of our scarce resources.
However, there have been individuals in the past who encroached significantly on State land, and refused to remove their encroachments, even after the impact of their actions were explained to them:
a. One such case, which was reported in the news some time back, involves private landowners who extended their property on to adjoining State land, by building structures on it. This act disrupted and delayed the Public Utilities Board’s (“PUB”) drainage improvement works in the area.
b. The landowners refused to remove the encroachments, despite extensive engagement and multiple deadline extensions granted by the authorities.
c. The Singapore Land Authority (“SLA”) eventually filed charges against the landowners for trespassing on State land under the State Lands Encroachment Act 1883 (“SLEA”).
d. However, in the intervening period, PUB incurred additional costs coming up with temporary flooding measures, as the encroachments impeded its drainage improvement works.
- Sir, this example illustrates that the improper use of State land can have very serious environmental and economic consequences.
- This Bill, if passed, will put in place an up-to-date and comprehensive enforcement framework, to better support SLA in protecting State land from misuse and damage. The SLEA, which contains the current enforcement framework, will be repealed.
- Outdated provisions such as the appointment of forest rangers and penghulus to carry out duties, which are no longer relevant to modern Singapore, will also be removed.
- I will now take the House through the key features of this Bill.
II. Updated Definitions
- Part 1 of the Bill introduces the fundamental concepts used in the Bill.
The Bill defines “State land” to include lands that are unalienated, vested, surrendered, or acquired by the Government. The Bill does not deal exhaustively with all State land. Excluded are unalienated lands managed by the PUB, National Parks Board (“NParks”), and Land Transport Authority (“LTA”) under their respective legislation.
a. This is to avoid the overlapping of laws and criminalising of activities on State lands that are already under the management of these public sector agencies.
The Bill also includes updated definitions to better reflect and capture present-day activities which constitute unauthorised use of State land:
a. The Bill clarifies the definition of a “structure” which, when erected on, under or over State land, may constitute an encroachment. This includes land reclamation works and external features which protrude outwards from buildings.
III. Penalties for Improper Use of State Land
- Sir, Part 2 of the Bill sets out the offences and makes important updates to the penalties for unauthorised use of State land. Part 2 also sets out the proceedings in court that may be taken to recover State land from improper use and unauthorised activities on State land.
A non-exhaustive list of unauthorised activities deemed to be offences under the Bill includes:
a. Unauthorised clearance and digging of State land;
b. Unauthorised enclosure of State land;
c. Unauthorised dumping and leaving of waste on State land; and
d. Unauthorised works for the reclamation of land.
Under the new Bill, the penalties have been raised to align with penalties for comparable offences in newer legislation such as the Parks and Trees Act and the Environmental Public Health Act. These present penalties in section 7 of the SLEA are no longer deterrent vis-à-vis a fine not exceeding $5,000, or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months, or both.
a. The Bill raises the fine. Clause 5 prescribes a penalty comprising a fine of up to $50,000 or imprisonment for a term of up to 6 months, or both, for the offence of carrying out unauthorised activities on or damaging State land.
b. In the case of a continuing offence, a further fine of up to $500 will be imposed for each day during which the offence continues after conviction.
c. Higher penalties may be imposed for a repeat offence of disposing rubbish or waste on State land using a vehicle.
The Bill also provides that the court may order a convicted offender to pay monetary compensation to the Government, on top of any fine imposed, for:
a. Any loss or damage suffered by the Government due to the offence, such as de-contaminating polluted soil;
b. The value of any forest products or other substances removed from State land; and
c. The costs and expenses incurred by the SLA in abating the encroachment.
- In addition, a new provision in the Bill now provides that the court may order a convicted offender to compensate the Government for the costs and expenses incurred by an electricity or gas licensee or the PUB in complying with a court order to discontinue the supply of electricity, gas, or water.
- The Bill thus provides for a wider scope of compensation than what is available under the current SLEA.
- Where there is imminent harm or danger that is unlikely to be effectively addressed by the issuance of an encroachment notice, the Bill empowers the Commissioner of Lands to apply to a court for an interim injunction against a person suspected of an offence under the Bill, before the person is convicted. .
- This includes situations where there is irreparable damage or harm caused to State land, or where State land may collapse, or cause the collapse of adjacent land, or pose danger to the public.
IV. Proceedings to Stop Encroachment
- Sir, Part 3 of the Bill sets out the powers that may be exercised by SLA to stop improper use of or unauthorised activities on State land.
Today, under current law:
a. SLA must serve a notice giving 28 days for the unlawful occupants to vacate the State land and remove their movable property.
b. If they do not vacate and remove their movable property by the notice timeframe, SLA must obtain a warrant for dispossession from the Court to remove unlawful occupants on State land, and seize and forfeit any movable property.
c. SLA must also obtain a court order for the demolition of unlawful buildings and structures.
- Under the existing process, the time taken for the removal of encroachments can be lengthy, during which the offender can continue his/her offence on the State land. In addition, the existing process does not allow for much flexibility to adopt a differentiated approach taking into consideration the complexity and seriousness of each case.
- The Bill will introduce a streamlined process to enable SLA to deal with encroachments more expediently, especially those that may pose a public safety concern or delay redevelopment works on State land.
- Specifically, the Bill enables an authorised officer to serve an encroachment notice to any person whom the officer has reasonable cause to believe is engaged in the improper use of State land.
The encroachment notice will require the person to abate the encroachment by a specified date. It will also include an objection period, during which the person can give an objection if he or she does not wish to comply with the notice.
a. If there is non-compliance with the notice and no objection is received, the authorised officer can proceed to seize and remove any movable property involved.
b. If an objection is received, the authorised officer may then file a complaint to the Magistrate’s Court on the unauthorised activity committed on the State land.
V. Resumption of Land
- Part 4 of the Bill sets out the circumstances under which abandoned private land may be resumed to become State land.
- Sir, this is not new. The current SLEA already sets out the mechanism by which alienated land, which has been abandoned for three years or more, may be forfeited to the State.
The Bill retains this three-year threshold, but makes some changes to update the resumption process.
a. The process begins when the Minister for Law grants approval for a particular piece of land to be declared liable for forfeiture to the State.
b. Following this, a notice of the declaration must be made in the Government Gazette. This is similar to the current process under the SLEA.
c. However, under the Bill, there will no longer be a requirement for a physical notice of the declaration to be posted on the land in the English, Malay, Chinese, and Tamil languages. Instead, SLA will publish the notice in the four official languages, in the major local newspapers. This ensures that there will still be adequate publicity of the fact.
d. Claimants will also now have three months after the notice is published to make a claim to the land in question, instead of the six months under the SLEA. Otherwise, the land will be deemed forfeited to the State.
- Sir, this will expedite the process and aligns the claim period to comparable legislation in other countries.
- Part 5 of the Bill provides for the various powers of enforcement that can be exercised in the administration of the Bill, provided that the relevant statutory thresholds are met.
To aid investigation, the Bill empowers authorised officers to:
a. Enter either State land, or any other land in or from which the officer has reasonable grounds to suspect an offence under the Bill may be committed, and inspect, make documentation of, and take extracts from the land or anything on that land;
b. Request documents and information from any person reasonably believed to be acquainted with the circumstances relevant to the suspected commission of an offence under the Bill; and
c. Request an individual found in, on or near any State land to disclose his or her identity and place of residence, if the officer has reasonable grounds to suspect that the individual has committed, or is attempting to commit, an offence under this Bill in relation to that State land.
- As in many other laws, the obstruction of an authorised officer in the discharge of his or her duties under this Bill, as well as the intentional tampering with any encroachment notice or summons, will be offences under the Bill.
- Authorised officers can also compound minor offences by collecting a sum not exceeding the lower of $5,000, or half the maximum fine prescribed for the offence.
- Sir, on the whole, these new powers will allow SLA to carry out its duties more expediently and effectively.
- Part 6 of the Bill provides for the appointment of officers for the administration of the Bill.
- In particular, SLA may appoint enforcement officers from among public officers, employees of any public authority except a Town Council, and any auxiliary police officer appointed under the Police Force Act.
- The enforcement officer’s role is to assist the SLA in the administration of the Bill in any particular area in Singapore.
VIII. Amendments to other Legislation
Finally, Sir, the Bill also includes consequential amendments to:
a. The Parks and Trees Act under NParks;
b. The Sewerage and Drainage Act under PUB; and
c. The Street Works Act under LTA.
- As I mentioned earlier, the Bill defines “State land” in a way that avoids the overlapping of jurisdiction between the public sector agencies.
- These amendments will ensure that PUB, NParks, and LTA will have sufficient powers to take enforcement action on State land under their respective legislation, as SLA does under this Bill.
- Sir, to conclude, the new Bill replaces the State Lands Encroachments Act 1883 with an up-to-date and comprehensive enforcement framework that will better protect State land against improper use and damage, so as to enable public use and enjoyment of appropriate State land and facilitate multiple uses of State land where practicable. This is necessary as land is one of our most valuable resources for the future.
- These changes will allow SLA and agencies overseeing the management of State land to take effective measures to protect our State land from damage and misuse.
- With that, Mr Deputy Speaker – on behalf of the Minister for Law, I beg to move.
Last updated on 30 November 2022