Protecting Wild Marine Animals and Central Catchment Nature Reserve

Parliamentary Speech, Wild Animals and Birds (Amendment) Bill, 25 March 2020

Introduction

Mr Speaker, I stand in support of the Bill. The amendments to the Wild Animals and Birds Act have been a long time coming for more stringent measures needed to give more protection to wildlife beyond nature parks and reserves, and for more severe enforcement to deter offenders of abuse, exploitation and killing of wildlife.

Urban wildlife continue to face challenges with unabated development in Singapore but I am heartened that we have become more considered in promoting nature-based solutions and increasing ecological connectivity within urban spaces in recent years. The recent Budget announcement by Minister Desmond Lee that Singapore will evolve from a ‘City in a Garden’ to a ‘City in Nature’ with another 200ha of nature parks added to act as complementary habitats and to buffer nature reserves from urbanisation to be rejoiced. This Bill is therefore timely and welcomed in backboning this City in Nature vision with appropriate legislative interventions.

I would like to seek clarifications in 3 areas:

Defining ‘wildlife’ with regards to marine species

The first relates to the definition of ‘wildlife’ in relation to marine species.

I note Clause 4 of the Bill amends the definition of “wildlife” in Section 2 of the principal Act which also “includes any mammal, bird, reptile, amphibian, fish or invertebrate, whether of wild nature or otherwise”. Can the Member confirm that the definition of “wildlife’ does indeed extend to all wild marine animals?

I understand that wild marine animals are traded and exchanged freely by SEA Aquarium Singapore. The re-enacted Sections 8 and 9 of the Bill prohibits the sale (including offer for sale) or export of any living or dead wildlife or import of any living wildlife respectively without the Director-General’s written approval.

Can the Minister clarify if Sections 8 and 9 will be imposed on the trading of wild marine animals by commercial aquariums when enacted? Under what circumstances will the Director-General give approval for importation and trade, and will this approval come only after a board is consulted or will it come about through absolute veto power?

Whilst we are on the prohibition on trading of marine wildlife, dead or alive, Mr. Speaker, I would also like to take this opportunity to raise the issue of importation of shark species. Our existing Harmonised System or HS classification of goods does not include enough differentiation on shark species being imported. A 2017 report on sharks and ray trade in Singapore by Traffic, a leading NGO working globally on trade in wild animals and plants in the context of both biodiversity conservation and sustainable development, found that the shark commodity categories that are reported to the Food & Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations or FAO do not completely match with the Singapore Trade Classification, Customs and Excise Duties (STCCED) codes for shark products. In the spirit of our progressive stance on wildlife protection, will the Ministry align with relevant ministries to ensure collection and reporting of accurate sharks and ray trade information by Singapore as a key importer/exporter be made transparent and traceable, and will the Ministry recommend a review of the existing HS codes to MEWR?

Gaining clarity on the extent of citizen empowerment

Mr Speaker, my second point relates to greater clarity on the extent of citizen empowerment which I believe is also the intent of the Bill and is captured in the re-enacted Section 10 which empowers the Director-General to direct a person known as ‘the authorised officer’ to implement wildlife-related measures to manage or mitigate the impact of the person’s developments or works in relation to wildlife.

For avoidance of doubt, can the Member confirm that the ‘authorised officer’ referred to in Section 10A could also include any ordinary citizen so authorised and given power to remove and dismantle traps that they find in keeping with the spirit of citizen empowerment?

In addition, it is not clear if offenders will be subsequently prosecuted if they are confronted at the scene by the authorised officer. Can the Member and Minister please clarify?

Alignment of WABA with the Parks and Trees Act

Last but not least, Mr. Speaker, my third point relates to the alignment of this Bill with the Parks and Trees Act.

Section 10(1) of the Bill states that the Director-General may direct a person to take wildlife-related measures to safeguard the health and safety of any wildlife, public health or safety in relation to wildlife or the health of the ecosystem.

Given the proposed provisions, in the event that a nature reserve is de-gazetted in order for the land to be used for development, can the Minister clarify if Section 10(1) will come into effect to halt the development?

In a 2019 study on the protection of nature reserves under the Parks and Trees Act, the question on the depth to which nature reserves are protected was raised. Given that the building of the Cross Island Line runs 70 metres deep under the Central Catchment Nature Reserve or CCNR, would Section 10(1) be able to safeguard the CCNR and other nature reserves should the interpretation of the Parks and Trees Act come into contention?

Conclusion

Mr. Speaker, I think there has never been a better opportunity than with this Bill to remind this House of the alarming report released by the United Nations just last year of the rapidly declining wildlife and plant populations around the world. The report said, I quote, “Humans are transforming Earth’s natural landscapes so dramatically that as many as one million plant and animal species are now at risk of extinction.“

This Bill is a great green leap forward in the right direction for wildlife protection and legislation in Singapore. Wildlife belongs to no one, any exploitation and abuse by anyone should not be tolerated.

For the last few weeks, a mummy yellow vented bulbul built her nest on my tall cordy plant in the little garden outside my HDB flat — laid two eggs which I hope have birthed into two healthy little hatchlings. I have left them alone and have in fact tiptoed around them so they feel safe! This might be a glimpse of living in our City in Nature that Minister Desmond Lee envisioned.

Mr. Speaker, we have a diverse trove of wildlife species that are so precious to our biodiversity, one that we must safeguard with as much zeal and commitment as our human diversity. Because the wildlife and its habitat cannot speak, so we must.

I look forward to the clarifications from the Member and the Minister. Once again, I support the Bill. Thank you.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Anthea Ong is a Nominated Member of Parliament. (A Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) is a Member of the Parliament of Singapore who is appointed by the President. They are not affiliated to any political party and do not represent any constituency. There are currently nine NMPs in Parliament.)

The multi-sector perspective that comes from her ground immersion of 12 years in different capacities helps her translate single-sector issues and ideas across boundaries without alienating any particular community/group. As an entrepreneur and with many years in business leadership, it is innate in her to discuss social issues with the intent of finding solutions, or at least of exploring possibilities. She champions mental health, diversity and inclusion — and climate change in Parliament.

She is also an impact entrepreneur/investor and a passionate mental health advocate, especially in workplace wellbeing. She started WorkWell Leaders Workgroup in May 2018 to bring together top leaders (CXOs, Heads of HR/CSR/D&I) of top employers in Singapore (both public and private) to share, discuss and co-create inclusive practices to promote workplace wellbeing. Anthea is also the founder of Hush TeaBar, Singapore’s 1st silent teabar and a social movement that aims to bring silence, self care and social inclusion into every workplace, every community — with a cup of tea. The Hush Experience is completely led by lovingly-trained Deaf facilitators, supported by a team of Persons with Mental Health Issues (PMHIs).

Follow Anthea Ong on her public page at www.facebook.com/antheaonglaytheng