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Spit, smoke, litter illegally? Soon, a volunteer might catch you

SINGAPORE — The authorities are looking to form a volunteer corps of individuals who will be empowered to fine offenders who litter, spit, urinate and smoke in prohibited places.

SINGAPORE — The authorities are looking to form a volunteer corps of individuals who will be empowered to fine offenders who litter, spit, urinate and smoke in prohibited places.

Initially envisioned as an anti-litter volunteer corps — trained and given the same warrant cards as enforcement officers from the National Environment Agency (NEA) — by Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan last year, the scheme could now be expanded to include other public health offences.

This comes after the NEA received feedback from volunteers under a programme targeting litter, as well as from other members of the public, that they are keen to do more than just engage litterbugs.

Under the Community Volunteer Programme, the NEA currently trains and issues authority cards to members of civic groups. It empowers the volunteers to ask litterbugs to pick up after themselves, but should they not comply, the volunteers can only take down the offenders’ particulars, to be handed over to the NEA. The NEA will then investigate the cases before prosecuting the offenders.

Responding to TODAY’s queries, the NEA said it is exploring the feasibility of recruiting voluntary enforcement officers, and will announce more details when the scheme is firmed up.

The NEA’s move to encourage a greater ground-up movement against littering comes as the number of tickets issued for littering rose to 9,346 last year, a 14-per cent increase compared to the 8,195 cases in 2012. Since May, the agency has also increased its enforcement hours against littering and smoking from 24,000 to 35,000 man-hours per month.

Since the Community Volunteer Programme was launched in late 2012, 153 volunteers from five non-governmental organisations like the Public Hygiene Council, Waterways Watch Society and Cat Welfare Society have been trained and authorised to take down the particulars of litterbugs.

The NEA said it welcomes more members of the public to come forward as volunteers.

To date, they have engaged more than 500 litterbugs, with the large majority cooperating and binning their litter when approached.

The one exception — a repeat littering offender, according to the NEA — was caught smoking and throwing away his cigarette butt in a non-smoking zone. The litterbug was fined S$500 and made to serve a Corrective Work Order of three hours.

Volunteers TODAY spoke to said that offenders would usually comply with their requests to pick up their litter without the need for them to whip out their authority cards.

The goal is not just to book offenders, but give them a chance to correct their behaviour in the hope they will choose not to litter in future, said Ms Margaret Heng, 52, a volunteer with the Public Hygiene Council.

“The fact that they are willing to pick it up means they know that it’s wrong and they can be changed. And we would like to convert them. If everyone plays their part in keeping the environment clean, then everybody will get to enjoy it more,” she said.

Mr Liak Teng Lit, who heads the Keep Singapore Clean Movement, said he ultimately hopes for a culture in which all Singaporeans — authorised or not — will remind each other not to litter.

He said: “In Japan, for example, if you litter, almost definitely someone next to you is going to tell you off. In Singapore, this is not so common.

“I hope the day will come when, if anybody litters, somebody on the side will just remind them: Please don’t do it.”

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