A tale of two borders in Singapore and UK

by Tan Wah Piow

This is a tale of two borders, one in Singapore, the other in the UK.

The first picture depicts a fence on the property of Singapore opposition politician and thorn in the People’s Action Party’s neck, blogger Leong Sze Hian.

The border fence was established over 64 years ago. Yet the Singapore Land Authorities are now taking issue over an alleged encroachment of state land by a margin of just a few centimetres.

And if you think that such intervention is only a mundane administrative matter, the language used by the civil servants in their exchanges may suggest something else. The Singapore Land Authority letter accused Leong of resorting to “deliberate untruths and half truths” in his posting on the subject. In my many years of exchanges with officialdom on behalf of my clients in the United Kingdom, I have yet to come across such intemperate expressions by civil servants.

Contrast this with the second photo. I have had the fortune to acquire this modest commercial property many years ago in the UK.

After the purchase, I realised that the iron gate was enclosing state land, an area big enough to park a Luton Van.

Happily, I was able to establish that the encroachment had exceeded 12 years. I wrote to the authority, claiming adverse possession. As there is law, if not equity, and common sense, that public land became mine to keep. It’s certainly more than Leong’s few centimetres.

In Leong’s case, I wonder why it is in the public interests for the SLA to pick a quarrel, and harass the owner of private property over such a trivial encroachment which if true, might fall within an acceptable margin of error. Even if the law of ‘adverse possession’ does not apply in Singapore, common sense and equity should prevail. It’s is disproportionate to expect the property owner to spend a fortune to remove and rebuild a border fence over a few centimetres of error.