Heavier fine frightens off litterbugs but spitters are unfazed

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 March, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 March, 2004, 12:00am

The number of people caught littering in Hong Kong has fallen by more than 50 per cent since fines for the offence were raised from $600 to $1,500 last June in the wake of the Sars outbreak.

But the publicity drive to discourage people from spitting appears to have had little effect, with the number of fixed penalties for spitting remaining steady in the past six months.

About 4,000 officers from the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department, along with a team of undercover officers, have the power to issue fixed-penalty notices to offenders. Six other government departments, including the police, can also hand out fines.

In the first month of the crackdown, 2,200 people were fined for littering and the number of fines issued fell steadily to 1,200 in January.

Although the campaign against spitting seemed to work initially, the number of offenders has not dropped since September. Three-hundred people were fined in that month, compared with 400 in July and August.

The number of people fined for letting their dogs foul the pavement is minimal, with only 30 people receiving penalty notices since the heftier fines were launched. This compares with 12,000 for littering and 2,300 for spitting.

A total of 15,000 fines have been issued since the penalty was increased, generating revenue of $225 million, $135 million more than the former $600 fine would have garnered.

At the same time, there has been a fall in the number of officers assaulted while issuing fines for spitting and littering. Less than 10 assaults were recorded from June to January, significantly less than the number of attacks when the $600 fine was introduced in 2002.

A spokeswoman for the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department said: 'We believe there has been an increase in the general awareness of cleanliness in the community and the increase in the fixed penalty has resulted in a greater deterrent effect.'

However, she said it was too early to draw conclusions from the figures, saying: 'We may need to observe the trend for a longer period of time.'

The department still had 40 plain-clothes officers on patrol to issue fixed-penalty tickets - the same number it deployed last June - and had not reduced its manpower in enforcing the new penalties, she said.