Rationalise the law to stop illegal dumping

PUBLISHED : Friday, 31 July, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 31 July, 2009, 12:00am

If contractors dumped construction waste around urban apartment blocks, the authorities would take quick action to clean it up and put a stop to it. An outraged public would not stand for inaction over legal technicalities and divided government responsibilities. Unfortunately that is not the case in rural areas of the New Territories, where wanton destruction of the remaining natural environment continues largely unabated.

In the latest instance, trucks dumped waste on farm plots at Ho Sheung Heung village near the Long Valley wetland. Several landowners said they had not given their consent. For two weeks the affair followed a familiar pattern, involving four government departments with legitimate interests, but not many questions being answered. It is not uncommon for such cases to involve up to half a dozen departments and the police.

As we report today, the Environmental Protection Department has now found there is a prima facie case that a government contractor did not follow a trip-ticket system that ensures that waste from public works sites is dumped legally. As a result, it will tighten its monitoring activities. Nonetheless, this case is an example of how fragmented responsibility, confusing laws and lax enforcement contribute to a failure to stop dumping on private land. If the landowner consents to the dumping, he may be committing no offence under the Waste Disposal Ordinance. But he could still be breaking town planning regulations. While complaints about illegal dumping have soared, prosecutions remain relatively rare, which helps explain why parts of the New Territories are eyesores.

To its credit, the EPD has tried to co-ordinate faster, more effective action against illegal dumping. The development of a database that includes black spots to be patrolled by the departments is a step forward. It would be better still if the government adopted the EPD's suggestion to amend the ordinance so that it is responsible for authorising all waste dumping. Backed by stiff penalties for non-compliance, this would empower the environmental watchdog to do the job the public expects of it.