Precious Water

Precious Water
Water, essence of life

Saturday 1 December 2012

I dropped that tissue, so what!

Thanks to an educated driver, it gave me an opportunity to pen this piece. Usually at year’s end, I like to summarise the happy occasions, count our blessings in the year and to share the good stuff. This year, I am doing the opposite, share the ‘ugly’ and count on the silent majority to help turn things around to make for a happy year. The important work of moving the world forward does not wait to be done by perfect men (George Eliot).

Some weeks back late in the night, I was behind a car at traffic junction waiting for light to change in my favour. A hand popped out, low behold a piece of tissue gently sailed onto the road. Instinctively, I honked a few times. The Wife rolled her eyes, quite used to my upping the ante.

The car in front turned, and then stopped. I pulled alongside. The driver rolled down his side window and shouted: “what you want!” I took a breath then said calmly: “I saw you throw a piece of tissue paper back there”. This cool dude replied: “I did not throw. I dropped that piece of tissue” and then inch forward, scoot off. My wind screen almost misted instantly from that nonchalant respond. I revved up, kept my line of sight shouting to my navigator to“take it down, take it down”! I meant the car number.

So it is that this episode became the 9th incident for the year 2012 in which I reported to the National Environment Agency on littering by motorists. We pride ourselves as a First World Country. Unfortunately, we are still governed by Third World social behaviours. I take no pleasure in reporting such cases and I am no hammer looking for nails to pound!

I do not know about you but I am simply fed up with litter bugs, and as the new Chairman of Keep Singapore Clean Version 2, Liak (Group CEO for Alexandra Health System) puts it aptly: “We are not a clean city but rather a cleaned city because of an army of cleaners”.  Why can’t we take a little effort and responsibility to do what’s right by keeping clean in the first place? For years, we had this keep Singapore Clean and Green campaign. While we manage to be more green than clean, even frequented green places are usually not so clean; try East Coast park after a week-end. 

Recently, we revisited the issue of returning our utensils after a meal, starting at hawker centres. This is in line with keeping Singapore clean and cultivating a good habit in the interest of public health. Why is it so difficult to get people these days to return their utensils after a meal so it makes for a more pleasant eating experience? 

Even Cecilia reminded us in ST Forum of the good old days at Hewlett-Packard cafeteria. We were all required to return our utensils, meal trays after each meal onto a moving conveyor belt into the kitchen. It helps keep the place clean with minimal manpower. Likewise, all National Service blokes did the same years ago. You ate off a metal tray, then walk towards a collection point and deposit the empty tray on a tiered trolley. So why is it so difficult to return our trays after a meal?  

According to Keep Singapore Clean Movement V2,
Reality today is:
·         Singapore is a cleaned city, not a clean city
·         1st world infrastructure, 3rd world behaviour
·         Litters at HDB lift landings, neighbours quarrel over dirty corridors, dirty town centres
·         Beautiful parks, litters everywhere, piles of rubbish
·         Public toilets that we hesitate to use
·         Dirty tables in coffee shop, hawker centres, we share food with birds!
·         HFMD, dengue, food poisoning, SARS, Pandemic?
·         Army of 70,000 cleaners
·         2-3 rounds of cleaning a day

And the population can be classified into the good, the bad and the ugly:
The good (6 out of 10)
·         The majority
·         60% plus. Over 3 million
·         Considerate people. Never litter.
The bad (3-4 out of 10)
·         The minority 30% plus, nearly 2 million inconsiderate, poorly brought up.
·         Litter when convenient.  "Accidentally" drop litters
The ugly (3-4 out of 100), our nightmare
·         Tiny minority.
·         Litter wilfully. Create mess everywhere

And the solution should be:
·         Concerted effort by the good majority
·         People, private, public partnership
·         Make littering, dirty habits, as unacceptable as queue jumping.
·         The good to act, the bad to behave and the ugly to be punished.

In any good public policy, the following three pillars must work in tandem for it to be effective.
  • Education (an ongoing process)
  • Infrastructure (are there adequate rubbish bins)
  • Legislation (as last resort to bring offender to task)
As part of enforcement to address our pathetic situation, various penalties were changed recently by NEA. As an example, first time litter bug is fine $500 instead of $300.

Strangely, that prompted a Mr Chua to write in with the title: “Tougher laws work only if they are enforceable realistically” to ST Forum on 22Nov12. He questioned whether a foreign worker from a Third World country is familiar with our culture and whether he can afford to pay revised penalty of $500. He further questioned why the punitive fines instead of trying to craft more creative ways to promote clean public spaces and discourage bad health habits. Why should we mollycoddle litter bugs, especially recalcitrant ones, in the first place?

The bad will be addressed by ongoing education hopefully to modify behaviour. And as for the miniscule ugly, I am glad for more bites than barks (including compulsory work order and community service) because their uncouth behaviours are to the detriment of the silent majority.

Was it not Edmund Burke 1929-1797 (statesman, author, orator, political theorist and philosopher) who said: “All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” So please help do the right thing when you see something amiss; act with a smile to make a difference.   

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