Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) Anthea Ong sought clarifications on the amendment bill of Wild Animals and Birds Act (WABA) about the definition of “wildlife”, extent of citizen empowerment and alignment of WABA with the Parks and Trees Act while expressing her support to the WABA amendments.
Aiming to maintain a healthy ecosystem and safeguard public safety and health, a proposed amendment to WABA has been introduced by MP Nee Soon Louis Ng in Parliament on 6 March as an effort to strengthen the protection, preservation and management of wildlife.
Under this amended bill, those feeding, releasing or trapping and killing wildlife without approval will face heavy penalties or jail sentences.
The enhanced fines and jail sentences will also be imposed on the setting of spring guns, and offering for sale, selling, exporting or importing of wildlife without approval.
Following this, Ms Ong said in parliament on 25 March that she supports the bill as the “stringent measures” proposed in the amendment is necessary for the protection of wildlife beyond nature parks and reserves, and for stricter enforcement to stop offenders from abusing, exploiting and killing wildlife.
Clarification on the definition of “wildlife” whether include wild marine animals
While welcoming the Bill, Ms Ong also questioned the amended’s definition of “wildlife” whether it “indeed extends to all wild marine animals”.
She noted that the Bill amends the definition of “wildlife” in the principal Act which also “includes any mammal, bird, reptile, amphibian, fish or invertebrate”.
Besides that, she also questioned whether the trading of wild marine animals by commercial aquarium will be covered under the amended Bill on prohibiting of 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 (DG) written approval.
She asked, “Under what circumstances will the DG 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?”
Concerning over the issue of shark’s importation in Singapore, Ms Ong suggested the Ministry of National Development to “align with relevant ministries” in ensuring a “transparent and traceable” of accurate sharks and ray trade information being collected and reported.
She also asked the Ministry to review the existing Harmonised System (HS) codes to Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (MEWR), as the current HS classifications of goods “does not include enough differentiation on shark species being imported.”
The role of “authorised officer” in relation to wildlife management and protection as well as nature reserves
The amended Bill empowers the DG to direct a person—which was identified as ‘the authorised officer’ by Ms Ong—to implement wildlife-related measures to manage or mitigate the impact of the person’s developments or works relating to wildlife as well as safeguarding the public health or safety of wildlife or the ecosystem.
Therefore, Ms Ong raised concerns to clarify the ‘authorised officer’ whether it “includes any ordinary citizen so authorised and given power to remove and dismantle traps that they find in keeping with the spirit of citizen empowerment”.
On top of this, she further requested clarification if offenders will be subsequently prosecuted if they are confronted at the scene by the authorised officer.
Ms Ong also doubted whether the person directed by DG will “come into effect to halt the development” if a nature reserve is “de-gazetted” for development.
Noting the construction of the Cross Island Line that runs 70 metres deep under the Central Catchment Nature Reserve (CCNR), Ms Ong probed further on whether the amended bill will be able to safeguard the CCNR or other nature reserves “if the interpretation of the Parks and Trees Act come into contention”.
CCNR is the largest nature reserves that located in the centre of Singapore, which serve as a large green lung of the country. It occupies over 2,000 hectares of forest cover and houses some of the richest forests in terms of biodiversity.
To her stance on the amended bill, Ms Ong agreed that the Bill is a “better opportunity” to remind the parliament of alarming reports on the deterioration for global wildlife and plant populations issued by United Nations.
In her conclusion, she said, “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.”