New fees to dispose of construction waste may be leading operators to dump the debris illegally. Figures submitted to the Legislative Council yesterday show the number of complaints about illegal dumping has risen 403 per cent since fees were introduced on January 20, suggesting some operators are skirting the charges. The Environmental Protection Department received 508 complaints from January to the end of May, compared with 101 in the same period last year. But despite 1,700 inspections, officers discovered only 69 cases of illegal dumping. Five prosecutions were initiated and four fixed-penalty notices were issued during the period. Of the 508 complaints received, there were 178 cases where the construction waste had been removed before the department staff arrived for inspection. The debris weighed about 3,000 tonnes, compared with the 21,000 tonnes per day handled by the government. No significant increase was found in the number of black spots on rural land. The officers could only prosecute if sufficient evidence was found at the scene; including witnesses and proof the operator disposed of the waste without the owner's authorisation. Secretary for Environment and Transport Sarah Liao Sau-tung admitted the procedures made prosecution difficult. 'We understand it is difficult to catch offenders red-handed. We will step up efforts to monitor illegal dumping, especially at black spots.' But she did not answer legislators' questions on whether the prosecution procedures needed to be changed, saying illegal dumping amounted to only a fraction of the total of construction waste processed by the government. Green Power chief executive Man Chi-sum said prosecutions were possible provided there was a witness to identify the vehicles and offenders. 'The existing maximum penalties of $200,000 and six months of imprisonment are stringent enough, but I don't think this can deter illegal dumping if no prosecution is made,' Mr Man said. 'We won't see any improvement unless the government relaxes the procedures of prosecution.' The department reported earlier that from January 19 to March 31, about 2,000 tonnes less a day of the materials were dumped than in the previous two months. About 6,500 tonnes of the waste goes into landfills daily. The department said that although the figure suggested a positive impact from the charging policy, it was inconclusive as it did not allow for seasonal variations.