Why It Matters

Tackling littering from ground up

Ordinary Singaporeans will soon be given the power to issue warnings and summonses to litterbugs.

The idea of giving enforcement powers to community volunteers was first mooted in 2013 and the passing of the National Environment Agency (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill by Parliament on Tuesday has made it official.

Previously, volunteers could only ask for the particulars of uncooperative offenders, to hand over to NEA officers for further investigation.

The move comes as the number of littering fines hit a six-year high of more than 26,000 last year.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong drew attention to the problem last year when The Meadow at Gardens by the Bay was covered with litter after the 2015 Laneway Music Festival.

Keeping Singapore clean requires everyone to play an active role, said Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli in Parliament.

MPs like Ms Lee Bee Wah and Mr Gan Thiam Poh said that the Government is taking a step in the right direction to eradicate littering by having more eyes and ears on the ground.

With empowered volunteers, litterbugs would have fewer places to hide.

Knowing that the chances of getting caught are higher could make them think twice before they flick their cigarette butts onto the ground, or leave their plastic cups at bus stops.

But there are also valid concerns about possible abuse.

Non-Constituency MP Daniel Goh feared the expanded powers would lead to a toxic environment of neighbours policing each other, and could erode mutual trust.

To the man in the street, it could appear like the Government is stepping up its policing of people.

For sure, if the goal is for Singaporeans to refrain from littering because of social responsibility - and not from a fear of being fined - then perhaps education and a mindset change would be more effective in the long term.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 04, 2016, with the headline 'Tackling littering from ground up'. Print Edition | Subscribe