Singapore gets tough with wielders of `killer litter'. Trash thrown from high-rises poses danger to passers-by

A flower pot precariously balanced on a windowsill, a frying pan hurled during a domestic quarrel. In Singapore, either of these could cost you your home. Normally innocent objects, they have a potential to become what the Singapore government calls ``killer litter.'' And it is determined to bring the full force of the law to bear on offenders.

In a major rehousing program, the island's 2.5 million population has been or is being moved to sprawling estates of high-rise, low-cost apartments built by the government's Housing Development Board. One can always tell an HDB estate by the just-washed clothes hung on long poles out of the windows on every floor.

With so many people living cheek-by-jowl, rules of behavior have always been relatively strict to keep the peace. But legislation is now before Parliament to give the HDB even more legal muscle in dealing with residents who step out of line.

The main target is killer litter.

It first hit the headlines two years ago, when several passers-by in HDB estates were hit by objects thrown from flats and one person died after being hit by a broken bicycle thrown from the sixth floor.

Rarely are the objects thrown with a deliberate attempt to injure. Judging from the regular court cases reported locally, the most common reasons are domestic quarrels or the getting rid of unwanted bulky objects like broken television sets via the shortest possible route.

Until now, only fines have been imposed. But at the height of the problem, National Development Minister Teh Cheong Wan warned offenders that stronger deterrent measures were being considered.

The legislation now pending will be made retroactive to March 1, 1984. It will cover not only the owner of an HDB flat but his spouse and any occupant above the age of 14 who is convicted under the penal code of ``throwing any matter or thing from any property belonging to, sold by, or leased from the [Housing Development] Board.''

The HDB will be able legally to acquire the flats of offenders.

The board is also seeking the power to cancel the applications of people who committed an offense while on the waiting list for a flat.

It's not hard to break the rules on HDB estates, as an opposition member of Parliament recently discovered. He celebrated the opening of a constituency office on one estate with a tree-planting ceremony -- only to be told to remove it, because it wasn't a type of tree permitted in the regulations.

An HDB spokesman said it was all to do with whether the roots or branches would eventually become a potential nuisance for a tenant. Tree-planting is acceptable if it comes within the HDB master plan for nature.

The action on killer litter follows a trend in recent years in which the Singapore government has sought to legislate social behavior -- with varying degrees of success.

Exhortation backed by strict fines have largely eliminated littering and spitting in public to widespread satisfaction. But not everyone is happy that, in the interests of clean and healthy living, for example, food stalls have been driven off the streets and relocated in tightly-regulated, antiseptic ``food centers.''

The least successful of the government's social engineering was an attempt to restructure Singapore's birth rates in favor of the educational elite. Incentives such as guaranteed placement of offspring in top schools were offered to ``graduate mums'' -- college graduates willing to have children. The incentives have been quietly dropped.

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