Slap litterbugs with harsher penalties, say HDB residents

But first, do more to nab culprits who are rarely caught and punished now

RESIDENTS of Housing Board estates agree with a minister's assessment that high-rise littering persists because litterbugs are rarely caught and punished.

To do so, there need to be more enforcement officers on the ground and permanently-installed surveillance cameras, residents told The Straits Times.

Heavier penalties such as jail time should also be put in place, but the first step to improving the situation would be to nab more culprits, they added.

Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan told Parliament on Monday that penalties need to be "significantly raised", and there should be a more effective way of identifying the culprits.

First-time offenders can be fined up to $1,000 and be given a Corrective Work Order of up to 12 hours.

Dr Balakrishnan said thousands of complaints of high-rise littering are received every year, but only about 10 cases a year are brought to court.

A spokesman for the National Environment Agency (NEA) said 55 individuals have been caught from 2003 till last month.

This is despite the high number of complaints to the authorities, totalling 8,152 last year, and 5,232 in 2011. In the first three months of this year, 2,018 complaints were received.

The spokesman said the agency works with town councils to send letters where there are complaints urging residents to refrain from high-rise littering. NEA officers also visit households to talk to residents.

If the problem persists, officers conduct stakeouts and deploy cameras opposite the block.

Since last August, surveillance cameras have been placed at more than 300 locations where there were reported high-rise littering incidents. By April, the cameras had been removed in 60 per cent of these locations, as there were no more complaints from residents.

But most of the 90 residents in Toa Payoh, Bukit Batok, Woodlands and Sengkang, whom The Straits Times interviewed yesterday, felt that more can be done, including drastic measures such as repossessing the flats of offenders.

They also suggested forming neighbourhood watch groups, as well as having permanent surveillance cameras, and more checks to be conducted by NEA officers.

Three blocks - Block 52 Toa Payoh Lorong 6, Block 383 Bukit Batok West Avenue 5 and Block 769 Woodlands Drive - were recorded by NEA as having the greatest volume of high-rise litter feedback between the end of August last year and January this year.

National University of Singapore sociologist Paulin Straughan said that harsher penalties are necessary because "littering is poor social behaviour that compromises safety".

She added: "But higher penalties are deterrence that will bite only if you actually catch people. Having the rules is one thing, but policing it is another."

The residents listed laziness, convenience and getting away with it as common reasons for high- rise littering.

Housewife Tiou Cheow Tee, 49, who lives in Toa Payoh, said: "My clothes had holes because of cigarette butts. These litterbugs are really inconsiderate and there should be a heavier fine."

Madam Ramlah Yassin, 45, a chef, another resident in the area, added: "I live on the ground floor and the litter lands right outside my flat. The problem's got worse, and I have to sweep and throw away the rubbish myself. I don't let my grandchildren play outside anymore, as it's dangerous."

Additional reporting by Chan Huan Jun, Farah Mohd Ismail and Natalie Kuan

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