Refine fining of mosquito breeders

I have some reservations about the potential efficacy of imposing a fine on home owners found to harbour mosquito breeding sites ("$200 fine for anyone caught breeding mozzies"; Monday).

In the absence of further information, one can only assume that spot checks carried out by National Environment Agency (NEA) officers and community volunteers, or third-party reports, remain critical to detecting these lapses.

Will NEA officers be able to exercise discretion in issuing fines? Will fines be issued immediately or will there be warnings first?

Allowing the officers to exercise discretion is essential because we cannot assume that all offending home owners failed to exercise due diligence.

There may be legitimate mitigating factors that prevent home owners from eliminating all risk factors.

For instance, do we expect elderly folk who live alone to hunker down and inspect every nook and cranny?

The $200 fine is also a huge amount that the impoverished can scarcely afford.

Therefore, the fine should apply only to recalcitrant home owners who can afford it and were clearly negligent.

An adequate substitute for a fine has to be found for other cases.

I suggest that we leverage technology to create alternative enforcement methods and reduce the need for repeated checks.

For instance, first-time offenders, after receiving a warning, can take a picture and send it by e-mail to the NEA to prove that the breeding site has been removed.

Fining is a very blunt instrument of enforcement. If fines are issued without further engagement, individuals may be inured to the threat of mosquitoes to public health and trivialise it, which is a counterproductive result.

Tay Hong Yi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 02, 2016, with the headline 'Refine fining of mosquito breeders'. Print Edition | Subscribe