x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

New secret squad tackles litter problem

Undercover officers will patrol Dubai and issue on-the-spot fines for people who litter and spit.

Evidence of Dubai's litter problem, seen on the roadside in Karama area of Dubai.
Evidence of Dubai's litter problem, seen on the roadside in Karama area of Dubai.

DUBAI // An undercover squad is to patrol the streets of Dubai to issue on-the-spot fines to people who drop litter and spit, it was announced yesterday. Dubai Municipality said it had deployed plain-clothes environment officers with the mandate to issue "a bigger number of fines" with newly created powers. The secret squad's creation comes amid a municipality pledge to get tough on people who dirty the city streets, including those who chew and spit "paan" betel leaves, which stain pavements and walls.

One official last week raised the prospect of deporting those who sell or prepare paan and other chewing products. Municipality rules impose a Dh500 (US$136) penalty on litter louts and fines are also in place for other violations that spoil the environment. However, a more severe system is being planned for the undercover squads to use, officials said. Last year officers issued 4,280 fines for violations in public cleanliness and hygiene.

A system would also ensure officers could register a violation and issue a fine within seconds of it taking place. Hussain Lootah, the acting director general of Dubai Municipality, said undercover officers had been trained with a "guidance manual? qualifying them to carry out the task of issuing a bigger number of fines". In line with their secret nature, no details were issued by about patrol routes, times, or the numbers of inspectors used.

The civic body did, however, say that the squad would be drawn from a pool of 548 officials. Uniformed municipality officers would also issue fines. Family areas such as Deira have recently complained of a surge in rubbish on the streets caused by illegal dumping by shops and restaurants. It is not the first time authorities have used undercover tactics to tackle specific problems. Dubai Police say they regularly deploy a number of plain-patrol cars to catch bad drivers, although no information is available on how effective these are.

The municipality said officers would be equipped with new technology to ensure fines were issued quickly. Instead of wrestling with municipality bureaucracy, officers would be able to phone in to an automated telephone line which would recognise their voice, record the details of the violation and then confirm the fine. "There will be no need to use the telephone's key pad to report offences," Mr Lootah said. "Officers are required to simply speak. The rest is handled automatically by the system.

"The new service is designed to automate and optimise the procedure for reporting environment-related offences in Dubai. It enables enforcement officers to quickly pass on an offender's details, reducing the time between the offence being committed and a fine being issued." He said reporting offences with the new system would take less than a minute. Offenders would immediately receive a text message confirming the amount of their fine.

The system could be extended to other areas, such as traffic penalties, if successful, Mr Lootah added."We will use this system for all services available with the municipality through the new voice portal solution." The National reported yesterday that families in areas such as Deira have health worries because of the amount of rubbish left outside hotels and restaurants. The municipality has launched a campaign in the Naif area, urging residents to stop spitting and littering in public.

The municipality said they started working on the voice portal project a year ago and were the first government department to implement it. pmenon@thenational.ae