The government has set up a new department at the Office of Public Prosecution to deal specifically with environmental and municipal violations. The office will cover a variety of laws, including those governing public hygiene, food safety, smoking bans, animal welfare and water and energy conservation.
Public Prosecution were not immediately available to comment to Doha News on the development. But the delegation of these violations to a separate office comes at a time when Qatar’s court system is increasingly backlogged with cases.
The new decision by the Attorney General Dr. Ali Bin Fetais Al Marri also appears to signal that Qatar has decided to get tough with violators of these laws, which some say have been under-enforced in the past.
Among the mandates covered by the new office are cases of animal neglect, an area that has become a growing area of concern in Qatar in recent years. For example, lawyers have called for stricter application of current laws that ban animal abuse or the killing of domestic animals, which carry heavy penalties, but are rarely enforced in practice.
Meanwhile, the poor treatment of animals for sale at Souq Waqif remains a sore subject, with tourists and residents alike calling for the reform of conditions there.
The new office will also tackle cases related to stray animals, which have become a significant problem on Doha’s streets. Last year, the Ministry of Environment (MOE) requested that a temporary, government-run animal shelter be built to accommodate strays which it had caught, but could not neuter and release.
Another area the new prosecutor and his team will focus on is targeting violators of the country’s conservation laws.
Earlier this year, government energy firm Kahramaa acknowledged that efforts to enforce a ban on excessive use of water and electricity were being hampered by restrictions, noting that its inspectors lacked the legal powers they needed.
Speaking to Central Municipal Council (CMC) members, Fahad bin Saud Al Hanzab, head of monitoring for Tarsheed, Kahramaa’s conservation program, said:
“We are doing all we can to help check the waste of the precious utilities, but our inspectors are constrained by the fact that they need a court order to enter a home to check the waste.”
The team will also deal with violators of the country’s anti-smoking laws. It’s illegal in Qatar to smoke in unzoned closed spaces, and the fine for doing so ranges from QR200 to QR500. However, enforcement of the law has been lax, and residents have long complained about people flouting the rules.
In 2012, for example, fewer people were fined for lighting up in public places across Qatar than in the previous year. The number of raids conducted in 2012 was also down: 1,330 inspections were conducted between January and mid-November of this year, compared to 2,362 raids in 2010, when the SCH first kicked off its campaign.
It is unclear whether the number of people fined has decreased because there are fewer inspections, or because fewer people are flouting the rules.
Finally, the office will handle companies and individuals that break the country’s food hygiene and public health laws, which have recently been tightened.
Last month, the Emir ratified amendments to Qatar’s food law, approving harsher punishments for restaurants and food outlets caught breaching safety regulations, including an initial 60-day closure for violations – twice the previous limit of 30 days for a first offense.
Other areas which the new office will target include: laws concerning street vendors; the so-called “bachelor ban” barring laborers from living in family residential areas; and advertising laws.