It's likely news to most citizens that the penalty for littering has been as low as $50. For such citizens, this story was broken last week by Finance Minister Larry Howai as he brought before Parliament Finance Bill 2013.
What is not news is that such regulations as exist against befouling the natural and the built environment are hardly if ever enforced. In today's T&T, a $50 fine for littering serves scant-deterrent purpose. Since such a fine could hardly be taken seriously by violators, would-be law enforcers no doubt equally find such prosecution little worth their trouble.
The more promising relevant take-away from the Mr Howai's Finance Bill is the hopeful suggestion of diminishing legal, and even societal, tolerance of an anything-goes T&T attitude. It's this attitude that underlies the wanton tossing from cars of fast-food boxes and plastic-bottle litter onto highways, streets and public spaces in general.
In this regard, the Carnival season has earned well-deserved notoriety as a time for free-for-all littering. Seeing workers sweeping and bagging throwaways on the Carnival days serves as a reminder that if, for this purpose alone, CEPEP didn't exist, it would have to be invented.
The hopeful conclusion to be drawn from the Howai Finance Bill's stiffening of litter fines is that public indifference to quality of their immediate personal environment is at least fraying at the edges, if not coming to an end.
The Finance Bill also targets a more dangerous consequence of a national slackness. This is familiarly represented in unsecured bits and pieces of material freely falling from trucks and trailers, and even, ironically, from garbage trucks presumably en route to the dump.
Also targeted by the legislation are the vehicle owners who neglect to provide litter receptacles on buses and in taxis. Responsibility for the preservation of a clean scene is finally, and it is to be hoped, firmly identified.
It is now left for these new provisions to be consistently and effectively enforced. Doing so will drive home the message of a newly serious resolve about upholding values that should underlie efforts toward an improvement in the T&T quality of life marked by more wholesomeness in public spaces.
To this end, the Howai legislation is only a start. It is now for ordinary citizens, for educators and, among others, publicity-seeking freelance do-gooders advertised as "fixers" of T&T wrongs, to take up the cause of lessening litter and increasing prideful preservation of an uplifting environment.
Meanwhile, citizens who have long deplored the litter-strewn streets and highways may yet harbour doubts about the efficacy of the new legislation. They must wonder if, in present-day terms, the hike of the penalty to just $500 will ensure enough of a deterrent against infamously don't-care-a-damn T&T behaviour. Still, T&T has to start somewhere.