Government considering volunteer corps with power to fine litterbugs

Clearing of litter left behind by party-goers at the Marina Bay Singapore Countdown 2012 event. Ordinary Singaporeans may be given the power to issue a fine to anyone they catch dropping rubbish, under a plan to get the community more involved in the
Clearing of litter left behind by party-goers at the Marina Bay Singapore Countdown 2012 event. Ordinary Singaporeans may be given the power to issue a fine to anyone they catch dropping rubbish, under a plan to get the community more involved in the nation's fight against littering. -- ST PHOTO: NURIA LING

Ordinary Singaporeans may be given the power to issue a fine to anyone they catch dropping rubbish, under a plan to get the community more involved in the nation's fight against littering.

The Government is looking at creating an anti-litter volunteer corps from as early as next year.

Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said his department could enlist and train members of the public and give them the same warrant cards as enforcement officers from the National Environment Agency.

This means they would have the power to issue fines to offenders on the spot.

The present Community Volunteer Programme involves 100 people from civic groups such as the Singapore Environment Council and Cat Welfare Society who have the power only to ask offenders to pick up and bin their rubbish.

If they refuse, volunteers can only take down their particulars.

The current composition fine for littering is up to $300. Recalcitrants can be fined up to $1,000 for the first conviction and up to $5,000 for repeat convictions. They can also be ordered to pick up litter in public for up to 12 hours.

Dr Balakrishnan said the proposal aims to remind everyone to take ownership of the environment. "The real objective of raising a call for volunteers is this sense of empowerment and sense of stakeholding. It's not just about having more people to issue more tickets. That's an almost trivial exercise."

The proposed volunteer corps will be "in terms of hundreds or more", he added at a community event yesterday.

The ministry will spend the next three to six months canvassing public feedback on the proposal.

Incidents of high-rise littering - when residents of tall buildings throw their trash to the ground - have been on the rise. Last year, the authorities received 8,152 complaints, up from 5,232 in 2011.

The move is also part of a review of the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint, which outlines strategies to achieve economic growth and a good living environment.

Last Saturday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the review will look at imposing stiffer penalties for litterbugs.

Dr Balakrishnan said stepping up enforcement and fines will "increase the probability" of catching those who behave in an anti-social way.

The review will also examine carbon emission reduction targets and the building of more environmentally-friendly hawker centres. The Government is planning to build at least 10 new hawker centres and renovate 15 existing ones.

Yesterday, Dr Balakrishnan said this will "give us a chance to uplift the environmental ambience" and improve the dining experience.

jermync@sph.com.sg