Police get more powers to flush out suspected litterbugs

IN A move to curb killer litter, the police have been given powers to compel flat dwellers to reveal the names of suspected litter-bugs.

Even those who throw litter out of vehicles are not spared, under changes to the Environmental Public Health Act.

Car owners have to provide details of drivers or passengers suspected of littering when asked to by the authorities.

Those who refuse may be punished, unless they have reasonable excuses.

These moves are necessary to nab those who dirty public places and pose danger to others by tossing killer litter, said Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan on Monday.

"We must not tolerate such irresponsible acts and we must not allow the inconsiderate minority to threaten (the) well-being of the majority," he said.

The maximum penalties for littering have also been doubled. A first, second and third-time offender can now be fined up to $2,000, $4,000 and $10,000, respectively.

The penalties for first and second-time offenders have not been revised since 1987 and have lost their sting, said Dr Balakrishnan.

He conceded that high-rise litterbugs are difficult to nab - only 19 offenders out of more than 1,300 complaints were prosecuted last year.

But the authorities will step up surveillance, using closed-circuit television cameras, the minister said.

"The idea is not to catch more people or to collect more fines... (but) making it clear to everyone that if you are irresponsible and you litter, the probability of you being identified and prosecuted is higher."

Elaborating on what constituted a reasonable excuse not to give details of littering suspects to the police, Dr Balakrishnan whipped out his smartphone to read a message from the Attorney-General's Chambers.

"If you, the owner, were to say you were overseas, the flat is unoccupied, the flat was burgled at the time... That's an example," he said.

The four MPs who joined the debate on littering supported the tougher measures, including Hougang MP Png Eng Huat.

"Littering from a residential flat is beyond just an anti-social behaviour. It poses a danger to lives and properties as well," said Mr Png as he recounted how a resident's flat nearly caught fire from a cigarette butt thrown by a neighbour.

The House also passed changes which allow the authorities to compel malls and hotels to recycle, as well as to impose heavier penalties on illegal hawkers.

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