Parliament tables new legislation to enhance protection and enforcement of state land

/ EdgeProp Singapore |
The provisions in the new bill aim to support SLA to ensure that state land is better protected from damage and improper use. (Picture: A view of Tengah forest, by Samuel Isaac Chua/The Edge Singapore)
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SINGAPORE (EDGEPROP) - The Ministry of Law introduced the State Lands Protection Bill for a first reading in Parliament on Nov 7. If the bill is passed, the new legislation will replace the existing State Lands Encroachments Act (SLEA), which was last reviewed in 1974.
According to a statement by the Singapore Land Authority (SLA), the types of encroachments and misuse of state land has evolved in the intervening years, rendering many of the SLEA’s provisions outdated and ineffective.
SLA is a statutory board with the Ministry of Law. Its purpose is to optimise land resources for Singapore's social and economic development. It manages about 11,000ha of state land and about 2,700 state properties.
The provisions in the new bill aim to support SLA to ensure that state land is better protected from damage and improper use. A key provision of the new bill is updated definitions and encroachment offences.
For example, the bill defines and clarifies that unlawful structures on state land include “anything fixed to the ground, buildings, airspace/building encroachments, and reclamation works”. This includes land reclamation works and external features protruding from buildings, such as awnings.
It will also be an offence to park vehicles on state land without authorisation.

Stronger penalties and enforcement powers

Enhanced penalties are also covered in the bill, raising the penalties of some offences to align with comparable penalties in newer legislation, such as the Parks and Trees Act signed into law in 2005.
For example, the penalty for all unauthorised activities on state land is a fine not exceeding $50,000 and/or imprisonment not exceeding six months. In the case of a continuing offence, the penalty is a fine not exceeding $500 for each day the offence continues after conviction.
Moreover, for a repeat offence of illegal dumping using a vehicle, the penalty is a fine not exceeding $100,000 and/or not exceeding 12 months.
These harsher penalties will be coupled with strengthened enforcement powers. In particular, the bill proposes that officers have the authority to obtain disclosure of identity from suspected offenders, and enter and inspect any land without a warrant if there is reasonable suspicion that the land is used in the commission of an offence.
Additionally, minor offences may be compounded by collecting a composition sum not exceeding $5,000 instead of instituting criminal proceedings.
The bill reiterates that obstructing the performance of duties by authorised officers is an offence, and the penalty is a fine not exceeding $10,000 and/or imprisonment not exceeding 12 months.
State Land Protection Bill - EDGEPROP SINGAPORE

Streamlined proceedings and state compensation

The State Lands Protection Bill also includes legislation that will enable enforcement officers to directly issue encroachment notices that require offenders to stop unlawful activity, such as to leave the state land or demolish or remove unlawful structures on the state land.
Previously, officers had to apply to the court to issue these encroachment notices.
The bill also provides interim injunctions from the court against a person before conviction to prevent, alleviate or minimise irreparable damage to state land. In particular, the bill cites instances where it poses a danger to the public.
When offenders fail to comply with encroachment notices and do not give an objection, SLA will be empowered to carry out the works to abate the encroachment and recover the expenses incurred.
On the other hand, if an objection to the encroachment notice is received, the authorised officer may then make a complaint to the Magistrate’s Court.
Additionally, the court would have more scope to order convicted offenders to pay SLA, as the agent of the government, monetary compensation for loss or damage due to the offence. This could cover the value of substances removed from state lands, such as timber, sand or minerals.
Convicted offenders may also be liable to pay the costs and expenses incurred by SLA in abating the encroachment, such as clearance, reinstatement or remediation works, and survey costs. Plus, compensation for any loss or damage suffered by the government due to the offence, such as the loss of Temporary Occupation Licence fees.

Other provisions

The new bill features other provisions to enable SLA to manage other plots of land, such as abandoned land. Under the SLEA, land abandoned for three years or more is forfeited to the state if no claim is established within six months from the date of a gazette and notice.
The new bill will reduce the claim period to three months to "expedite the process", says SLA, which adds that it will still publish the notice to secure adequate publicity.
Other provisions include appointing officers of other public sector agencies or auxiliary police officers to act as enforcement officers to assist in administering the legislation. Furthermore, the new bill reiterates a similar provision in the SLEA that state land cannot be acquired by adverse possession or unlawful occupation.
The State Lands Protection Bill will be read for a second time at the next available parliamentary sitting on or after Nov 28.

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