Tissue paper sellers paying a $120 licence fee

From ‘Tissue paper peddlers are unlicensed hawkers, says NEA’, 17 April 2014, article in CNA

Mobile peddlers selling packets of tissue paper on the streets are unlicensed hawkers, said the National Environment Agency (NEA) in response to a letter posted on a website that these peddlers are charged a S$120 licence fee. “Although technically in breach of the laws against itinerant hawking, those peddlers who are needy are referred to the relevant agencies by the NEA for appropriate assistance,” the agency said on its Facebook page on Tuesday.

In a letter posted on the socio-political website The Real Singapore, the writer had questioned the need for street hawkers to pay S$120 to get a licence following his encounter with a visually-impaired man who sells tissue paper for extra income.

The NEA said that, at present, only 11 street hawkers under its Street Hawking Scheme are licensed to sell tissue paper in town council areas. Under the scheme, which started in 2000, those who meet the eligibility criteria pay a nominal fee of S$120 a year, or S$10 a month, to peddle their wares at fixed locations without having to pay rent.

In response to TODAY’s queries, the NEA said unlicensed peddlers selling tissue paper at coffee shops and hawker centres will be warned to stop selling their wares….”If they ignore the warning, the NEA will take enforcement action against them, just as it does for other illegal hawkers,” it added.

‘Enforcement action’ against what the law describes as ‘itinerant hawkers’ entails a fine not exceeding $5000, or up to $10,000/imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 months for repeat offenders. On surface, this appears to be a major ‘compassion deficit‘ on the part of NEA to anyone who’s ever encountered a blind tissue peddler led by a relative walking around hawker centres, or the lady in a wheelchair who sings ‘Tissue paper One Dollar’ around MRT stations. I wonder if she’s also required to apply for an Public Entertainment licence.

Tissue paper ‘hawker’ Edwin Koh, 43, makes about $30 to $40 over the weekend, charging $1 for 3 packets. Rejected by his family, he sleeps in the playground after getting thrown out of a shelter for smoking. 75 year old Chia Chong Hock is reported to be the ONLY licensed tissue vendor in Singapore, earning his keep at Tiong Bahru MRT wearing a Santa hat, his makeshift ‘stall’ decorated with cherry blossoms and a Singapore flag. Even with all the props and decor, he still makes $20 to $30 a day. A Madam Rani who used to hang around the junction at Orchard Road facing Heeren (and someone I personally encountered) was reported to earn only $14 a day even for a busy district. Most of us spend that same amount in a single meal without even thinking about poverty lines. There are exceptions of course, foul-tempered peddlers who curse at you for rejecting their sale, or pushy ones who stuff tissue packs in your face as you’re eating bak chor mee.

While the cost of everything else seems to be going up these days, it’s a sobering thought that these Singaporeans are still keeping their tissue prices at 3 for $1,  especially since there is a constant demand for the goods, being used to reserve tables and all. Without the milk of kindness by strangers giving beyond the selling price of tissue paper, I wonder how these folks even survive. Some ugly Singaporean customers however, have even been known to compare prices (5 for $1 vs 4 for $1) between peddlers and haggle. If you take a closer look at some of the brands of tissue hawked, you’ll find a popular one called ‘Beautex’, with a tagline that reads, rather ironically, CHOICES FOR BETTER LIVES.

To be fair, the government hasn’t completely turned a blind eye to their plight. Amy Khor calls tissue peddling a ‘ very uncertain livelihood’ and that such elderly folks should be referred to the MCYS and CDCs for financial assistance. Then again, there are ministers like Wong Kan Seng who in 1987 slammed a group of blind tissue sellers for ‘acting like beggars’, his Ministry even accusing members of the ‘Progressive Society of the Blind‘ of duping the public with claims that proceeds were going into building a music school. It would be temporary blindness of the officers under his charge that led to the escape of a very famous fugitive 10 years later.

Still, I question how the statutes define ‘itinerant hawker’ (any person who, with or without a vehicle, goes from place to place or from house to house carrying for sale or exposing for SALE OF FOODS OR GOODS of any kind) and why selling tissue paper is subject to NEA’s regulations. If the NEA clamps down on people selling curry puffs or otak-otak, I doubt anyone would complain, since you could get sick from consuming their wares without proper sanitary controls. How does the need to control something as benign as tissue paper fall under the Environmental Public Health Act? Does tissue paper give you lip salmonella? Has anyone been hospitalised from severe allergic reactions after wiping their faces with tissue paper? If you use tissue to chope tables at food centres, do they leak toxic fumes all over the place? Does tissue paper turn your pimples into 3rd degree burns?

Since the rise of tissue peddling in the early 2000′s, NEA have not relented on their stand against illegal hawking, with a spokesperson in 2004 deriding the hardship as ‘disguised begging’. Tell that to the Santa Claus uncle, NEA.


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Entering or remaining in the MRT when it is full

From ‘Puzzled by MRT rules’, 28 Jan 2014, ST Forum

(Adam Tan): BEFORE reviewing the penalties for flouting MRT rules, the authorities and train operators should do more to educate the public on the regulations (“Penalties for flouting MRT rules under review”; last Saturday).

For instance, not many know that it is an offence to pass items between the paid and unpaid areas without going through the fare gates. I often see people doing just that. It makes no sense for someone to enter the paid area for just a few seconds to pass an item to another person. If security is an issue, items passed into paid areas can be screened by the security staff.

Then, there is the offence of “entering or remaining in a train when it is full”, which carries a maximum penalty of $500.

How does one define a “full” train? If the train is full and no one gets off, is that an offence? And if someone manages to squeeze in, will he also be fined? Don’t the operators want their trains to be running at full capacity? Indeed, it is timely for a review of MRT rules.

Screen Shot 2014-01-29 at 10.57.52 PM

‘Penalties for flouting MRT rules under review’, 25 Jan 2014, ST

Last August, a student was fined $400 for unauthorised use of a station socket to charge her mobile phone. She was guilty of ‘improper use of electrical equipment upon the railway premises’, which carries a maximum fine of up to $5000. In 1988, SMRT imposed a ban on DURIANS and a penalty of $500 if you decide to sneak some onto the train. This is in accordance to rule 7 which states:

7.(1)  No person shall bring into or upon any part of the railway premises —

(a) any luggage, article or thing which —
(i) exceeds the dimensions or weight restrictions specified on notices posted by the Authority or its licensee in the railway premises;
(ii) cannot be carried or otherwise accommodated on the railway without risk of damage to railway property; or
(iii) causes a nuisance or inconvenience to other persons using the railway premises.
We are also probably the only metro system in the world that has a sign barring a specific FRUIT. A true icon of Singapore indeed.

Singaporeans getting prickly over MRT rules

Interestingly enough, durians were deemed a nuisance a year before another notorious item was recognised as a threat to MRT systems: Chewing gum, which you now can’t ‘consume’ or even ‘attempt’ to consume. I have to confess I’ve gotten away with this a few times, but thank God no one has ever confronted me to inspect my mouth for evidence to charge me with.

What constitutes a ‘nuisance’ or ‘inconvenience’ is relative. I’m impartial to durians, but there are worse smells on the train, like the body odour of a sweaty kid after PE. Nobody’s going to yank him and his stinky towel out of the train and fine him for causing olfactory distress to passengers. Some people think big prams are a nuisance, but no one would ever fine parents for boarding trains with them. As for the no passing of stuff across gantries rule for security reasons, it only makes sense if EVERYONE is screened. If I wanted to blow up a train today, I could hide bombs in a pram with a baby inside and get through the fare gates without a hitch, with or without accomplices sneaking explosives to me over the barriers. The SMRT staff wouldn’t even check if I had a real baby inside at all.

Then there’s the awkward rule of ‘entering or remaining in a train when it is full’. According to Regulation 12:

No entry into train when it is full

12.  Without prejudice to regulation 11, where any authorised person determines that a train is full, no person shall enter or remain in the train if directed not to do so by him.

Though it’s reasonable to bar people from squeezing into a packed train, does this rule also mean that this ‘authorised person’ has the right to force people ‘remaining’ in a too crowded train to get out of it? As for ‘full’ trains, previous SMRT CEO Saw Phaik Hwa has even denied that the trains were ever crowded at all, saying that ‘people can board the train, it is whether they choose to’. If rule 12 is actively enforced, it’s not that we don’t ‘choose’ to squeeze in, it’s that we don’t want to be fined $500 doing it in case this ‘authorised person’ decides that the train is ‘full’, wherever, or whoever, he or she is. In fact, it’s more rational to fine people from ‘entering or remaining’ on a crowded PLATFORM instead. Just look at this disaster waiting to happen. Look at it.

If you think that entering or remaining rule is silly, in 1991 SMRT banned SITTING on parapets along both sides of the escalator landing of City Hall MRT station (Sitting on MRT parapets banned, 2 April 1991), which they scrapped a few months later. Thankfully they did not heed the pleas of a certain Today writer, who in 2009 demanded that ‘hugging and kissing‘ be banned too. Seems like to some people, public displays of affection are more toxic than the foul stench of durians.

Postscript: SMRT replied on the first day of CNY (MRT rules must be read in context, 31 Jan 2014, ST Forum), with the intent of making us feel bad that they had to work on the response over Reunion Dinner.

(Helen Lim, Director, Media Relations):…The provisions of the Rapid Transit Systems Regulations should be read in context to understand their intent. For example, the regulation on “no entry into a train when it is full” provides for an authorised person to direct passengers not to board a train if he determines that it is not safe for it to carry more people, and penalises non-compliance.

In this context, the regulation empowers the staff of public transport operators to regulate passenger activities, and ensure that the MRT continues to operate in a safe and efficient manner for the commuting public. This is used only when the situation warrants it, and no commuter has been fined for entering a crowded train.

So much for ‘entering’, where’s the part on ‘remaining’ on a train when it’s full? Note that the penalty reads ‘entering OR remaining’, not ‘entering AND remaining’. SMRT never gave an example of when a ‘situation warrants it’. Maybe if the passenger was wearing something like this?

Similarly, the regulation stating that items should not be passed between the paid and unpaid areas is intended to prevent the MRT from being used for trade or business purposes.

As the primary purpose of the MRT is that of a people mover, it is important to minimise the use of the system for the delivery of goods, which would impede commuter movement and add to crowding.

OK so it’s not for security reasons, and I’m glad SMRT remembers that it’s supposed to move people, though sometimes we’ve had to move ourselves after detraining during a breakdown. Next time if you want to return something to a friend on the way to work, it’s best doing it before 730 am at City Hall station so you won’t get charged for stepping in and out of the ‘unpaid’ zone.  Otherwise it’s a $2000 fine for ‘impeding commuter movement’, or just being a decent friend who returns stuff to people.

Passenger boarding SMRT bus 190 only after 13 tries

From ‘Video of commuters who boarded SMRT after 13 tries goes viral’, 19 Oct 2013, article by Lee Jian Xuan, ST

A video filmed by a frustrated passenger who claimed she was unable to board SMRT bus service 190 after 13 tries has gone viral online. The edited eight-minute footage has drawn more than 16,000 views in four days. Most of the buses were packed, while some did not stop. The video showed commuters trying to board via the back entrance as the front was too crowded.

YouTube user Galaxnite, who uploaded the video, said that she and other passengers had tried to board at Thong Teck Building near Scotts Road, on the evening of Oct 4. She told The Straits Times that she takes bus service 190 regularly to get from her home in Choa Chu Kang to her workplace in town.

“The incident tired me out physically and mentally,” said the commuter, who identified herself as a 29-year-old graphic designer.

…SMRT said on its Facebook page last night that it had been alerted to the overcrowding on bus service 190. The transport operator noted that its buses were crowded, especially on Friday evenings, and said that it would continue to monitor the situation closely.

Last year, SMRT were penalised for allowing bus 925 to exceed the ceiling capacity of 95% during peak hours. Like 190, it also served Choa Chu Kang residents. The excuse given by SMRT then was that they had faced a shortage of drivers during the December period. The fine? $100. Just for comparison, SMRT declared in a recent report that fare revenue rose by 2% to $213.15 million for Q1 this year. Which brings me to question the effectiveness of punitive fines since SMRT directly profits from trains and buses being packed to the brim and can afford the occasional pittance because commuters have NO other choice. Someone needs to highlight that overcrowded transport isn’t as trivial as the fines make it out to be. In the video, the bus nearly drives off with someone’s arm caught between the backdoors. The articulated bus design is supposed to cater to the disabled, and not disable people.

Loading of buses falls under the category of ‘Operating Performance Standards‘ according to the Public Transport Council (PTC) website. I’m not sure how one determines if a bus is 95% full, but it’s unlikely to be the case for some of the 13 buses since some passengers in the back refused to budge. A bus could be HALF full and you would still be unable to board because of these people, the bus driver not doing his job, or on rare occasion if there’s a bloody python in the back of the vehicle.

PTC and SMRT could blame their customers, the driver or the Singapore Kindness Movement for the dead space, but such responses wouldn’t be so outright ridiculous if LTA hadn’t run a survey recently that tells the world how delightfully gracious passengers we are. For example, 96% of us say we would move in for others to board. The key word here, of course, is ‘SAY’, like how the authorities SAY they will monitor the situation CLOSELY, only for fares to rise again despite our complaints of poor service. More money for the swear-jar budget then. A more meaningful survey should have investigators stationed at busy bus stops and OBSERVING, not polling people just to get the answer they are SUPPOSED to give anyway.


Under the PTC’s category of Safety, one finds ‘Accident rate’ (less than 0.75 per 100,000 bus km per month), and it’s puzzling why a bus exceeding 95% of its capacity i.e overloaded isn’t also classified as a safety hazard here. Why is ‘loading’ a separate ‘deliverable’ from ‘safety’, and if a bus that exceeds its specifications for safe carriage compromises passenger lives, how do we explain the measly $100 fine? If bus 190 didn’t exceed the 95%, arrived at the right intervals, but didn’t do enough to pack the sardines in, would SMRT even be punished in this case?

Kudos to Galaxnite for sacrificing 2 hours of her time to capture a disappointing snapshot of the state of public transport and commuter behaviour today. Whatever the intentions of her filming consecutive buses, you can’t deny its impact. I probably would have given up after missing the fourth bus, but I’d also have to weigh the tricky odds of not being able to catch a cab (all pre-booked!), taking the MRT (only for it to suffer a train delay due to a track fault!) or switching to bicycle (get knocked down by heavy vehicle!). Considering all the above, a good bet to getting home in one piece and before daybreak would be to trek 14.2 km for 3 hours from Scotts Road to Choa Chu Kang via Bukit Timah Road. If you’re a brisk walker you could probably reach home by the time the 15th bus comes around.

Peggy Heng parking at a handicapped lot

From ‘Confessions:Celeb blogger parked at handicap lot deliberately’, 23 March 2013, article in asiaone.com

In a Facebook confession reported by Stomp recently, local blogger and model Peggy Heng talks about parking at a handicapped lot because the rest of the lots had been taken up by illegally parked cars. In an earlier report, the blogger had drawn criticism when she produced a video to promote a dating event. She then gained attention again after undergoing plastic surgery to further her career.

A Stomp reader Kelly saw Peggy’s facebook posting and said:

“Blogger Peggy Heng proudly declared parking at a handicapped lot.”

Here is the full post on Peggy’s facebook page:

“Parking at the handicapped lot at my house carpark now because of too many cars parking illegally here (even when only season parking is allowed for overnight). “I’ve been too kind… As much as I can, I try to refrain from calling the authorities to do something about it. “But these inconsiderate people just gotta go all out and leave me with not even ONE lot around the blocks. “Good luck and happy summon day :)”

Peggy later published a furious ‘clarification’ to explain how she had sought permission by the HDB to park in that ‘stupid handicapped lot’ and that she was entitled to a parking space being a season parking holder. Having returned home at 3 am I’d suppose if you’re desperate for a bath and sleep, an empty slot usually reserved for the disabled is as tantalising as a warm bed. But probably not as irresistible as posting about it on Facebook.

Most people wouldn’t brag about how they scored a handicapped lot. For one, it makes you look like an uncaring swine. Second, even if forced by circumstance to park in a disabled lot (if you see smoke coming out of your house), at the risk of being fined $50 for it, you should have the decency to repark your car the very next morning and keep your fingers crossed that nobody noticed for that short few hours. It’s possible that not a single disabled person in your neighbourhood drives, though you’d still need a mandatory space to allow for that occasional one popping by for a visit.

According to the Code on Accessibility, that’s about 1 disabled spot for every 50 lots. For some, a fine isn’t a sufficient deterrent because rich Mercedes motorists can easily afford it. Some are also known to reuse handicapped labels once they’ve recovered mobility, or create their own fake labels altogether. It may not even be inconsiderate or imposter drivers; you could have rubbish bins or panel railings blocking the area, defeating the purpose of disabled lots in the first place.  It would also be awkward if you’re forced to park your wedding limo in a disabled lot while picking up your bride, only to come back to the sight of someone threatening to smash your windows with crutches. You also wouldn’t want to run into trouble with THIS guy below. Yes, the one with arm tattoos.

How Audi-cious!

Illegal parking aside, the other bane of civility is the abuse of disabled toilets. Statistically speaking, the chance of a disabled person using a toilet is higher than one parking a car. The intrusion into one’s intimate right to relieve oneself is as mean as taking his rightful parking space or priority seat. It’s probably OK to use handicapped loos if you’re about to shit your pants or you need to get changed quickly and the rest of the cubicles are either occupied or choked with stinky floaters. But more often than not disabled, spacious toilets are used more for a different sort of relief (the sexual kind) than that which they’re intended for, yet people get fined for stealing parking spaces, but get off scot-free for doing their dirty business on toilet seats and grab bars other than taking a dump. You may not get fined for sleeping on priority seats, but your reputation may be ruined forever.

Some people, never having to hobble around on one leg in their entire lives, question why the disabled should be given so much love and attention when it comes to toilets. It’s an unsympathetic, economical question to ask, none delivered with more fine cussing than another celebrity blogger, Xiaxue. In a controversial 2005 post about her brother getting blasted by someone in the disabled loo, she asked:

So tell me … our government spent millions of taxpayers’ money to build so many facilities for the physically disabled, and only they are allowed to use it?

Exclusive use would be possible if we didn’t have so many damn people around. We tend to forget that these disabled may not be permanently so; anyone of us would rue the day we hogged such spaces for our own selfish ends when we fracture a femur or suffer blisters on all our toes. Enforcement can only do so much to create the inclusive society that we are so fond of promoting. In a ‘me-first’, overcrowded Singapore that is hooked on automobiles despite an extensive network of public transport, we still have plenty to catch up in terms of graciousness. I believe the disabled and the able-bodied can get along and share public spaces with a little give and take; If I’m wheelchair bound I wouldn’t mow down kids playing on the MRT ramp when they should jolly well use the steps. Likewise, if I’m an able person and someone with their entire head in a cast asks if he could cut my taxi queue, I would gladly oblige. Let’s not argue about entitlements to the point that our infirmed start rigging their wheelchairs with battering rams and flamethrowers shall we.

Nicoll Highway speed camera not transparent to motorists

From ‘Wrong to hide speed cameras from motorists’, 20 Dec 2012, ST Forum

(Emmanuel David): I RECENTLY received a notice from the Traffic Police informing me that my car was caught by a speed camera near lamp post 107 along Nicoll Highway in the direction of Guillemard Road. After revisiting the site several times, I discovered no notices along that stretch of Nicoll Highway notifying motorists of the presence of a speed camera.

There appeared to be a platform for a speed camera near lamp post 107, but no camera was mounted, and the platform was hidden from the view of motorists. I understand that Britain, Australia and many American states, as well as neighbouring Malaysia, have strict laws specifying that the use of speed cameras must be transparent to motorists.

…At a time when there are visibly fewer Traffic Police officers patrolling our roads, and an increasing dependence on speed cameras, it is important that the use of such third-party devices is governed by legislation. Almost all other speed cameras in Singapore would adhere to such a law if it was promulgated, but the one along Nicoll Highway did not when I was driving past it.

Everyone speeds at some point behind the wheel and most get away with it. When we do get caught it’s only natural to be defensive, denying that we exceeded the speed limit or hope that the camera snapped the wrong car or malfunctioned. Those of us who could afford it and know that we broke the law pay other people to take the rap. The rest of us, like the writer here, blame traffic legislation, display some futile worldliness about other nations’ laws and even conduct our own field sleuthing in an attempt to save face, without admitting whether we had in fact been speeding or not. It’s like you got fined for littering and complained to the officer about the lack of warning signs in the vicinity, or better still, for ambushing you from behind a pillar and violating your right to litter freely and not get caught.

Some would argue that instead of reducing accidents, making speed cameras VISIBLE and bright orange would actually wreck havoc on the roads when motorists jam brakes after spotting the box at the last minute. The same could happen to oblivious drivers who fail to pay attention to road signs telling you there’s a speed trap ahead. Yet, all the speed cameras, bush-raiders and signs in the world won’t help if you don’t even know what the speed limit is (up to 70% of road users). Maybe if a certain Ferrari driver had been snooped by hidden speed cameras and deprived of his licence earlier, a horrible accident could have been prevented.

In the 60′s we had human speed detectors in the form of the traffic police instead of ‘third-party devices’, who were believed to be constantly lurking behind trees or bushes stalking their prey, their motorbike wheel or side of helmet sticking our ridiculously behind a trunk. But it’s not just victims behind the wheel getting ‘punked’. You could be caught unawares jaywalking, smoking in a non-smoking area, or jerking off alone in a cinema. And it doesn’t matter if the one exposing you is a mysterious overhanging box, a squealer, someone with an invisible cloak or an undercover cop dressed as the usher. You lucked out, that is all.

Drivers will generally agree that there should be deterrents to road hazards; it’s only when they get their demerit points when they decide to blame the police for sneaky tactics and lament the lack of ‘transparency’. I mean, why not just do away with ‘undercover’ jobs altogether and put CCTV signs EVERYWHERE so that we’ll rid this country of all forms of shady dealings and misdemeanours altogether? Anyone who speeds and risks hurting another being deserves the full penalty of the law, whether you felt that the snare was unfair to you or not. Anyone who complains to the public about traffic injustice without addressing road safety or personal responsibility ALL the more deserves a ticket too.

Singaporeans suffering from litter campaign fatigue

From ‘Add garbage bins, chuck banners’, 30 Oct 2011, article by Grace Chua, Sunday Times

…The ‘dustbin test’ carried out at four town centres was part of a sociological study conducted by the National Environment Agency, with experts from the National University of Singapore led by sociologist Paulin Straughan.

…Its key findings: 62.6 per cent of the 4,500 people surveyed say they never litter; 1.2 per cent are hardcore litterbugs who admit to dropping their trash most of the time; and 36.2 per cent do it out of convenience.

Smokers insisted that it was culturally acceptable to flick their cigarette butts away after smoking, and students and young people were more likely to litter. To cut down littering, the researchers tested four different litter-control methods at four town centres: more bins; banners encouraging binning; having more uniformed NEA officers around; and stationing volunteers to spread environmental messages.

They found that having more bins cut littering most at Tampines while using volunteers cut littering in Bedok by about 30 per cent. Banners, generally, failed to have an effect. ‘Singaporeans may be suffering from campaign fatigue, being tired of being told what they should do as good citizens,’ the study suggested.

Paradoxically, having enforcement officers around reinforced the idea that littering was okay. Singaporeans do tend to litter and the presence of enforcement officers only serves to remind them that this is the fact, the study suggested.

According to the report, the researchers used a ‘drop-off pick-up methodology for data collection’ to ‘alleviate the effects of social desirability’. Even if this meant that the subjects were anonymous, I have my doubts about the high rate of ‘obedient’ results i.e I NEVER Litter because i) it’s socially unacceptable to litter and subjects may be pressured into lying ii) The results do not reflect the state of cleanliness today (otherwise there’s no need for this survey in the first place), and iii) Nobody wants to admit that they are ‘hardcore litterbugs’ (aside from the 1.2%). It’s like asking people if they watch bestiality porn on the Internet. A similar question was posed to subjects in a Kindness survey some months back, whereby 88% self-proclaimed graciousness. It would be interesting to combine these indicators to see how many ‘kind’ people actually litter.

But what’s troubling is the list of lazy excuses people cite for littering, which include ‘lack of litter bins’, ‘acceptable to litter in places that are already dirty’ and the absurdly ironic ‘lack of REMINDERS’, especially since results show that campaigning had absolutely no impact on cleanliness. Everybody KNOWS it’s wrong to litter, and the campaigns, no matter how creatively one pitches the disincentives for littering (CWO, fines etc),  somehow lack the necessary nudge to get our act together. Having more bins and volunteers improving the state of litter, i.e SPOILING Singaporeans, also doesn’t do anything about improving our ‘civic consciousness’. It’s the same rate of people throwing stuff away, just an increased rate of ‘clearance’ (and more work for cleaners) giving the illusion that there’s ‘less littering”.

Maybe the problem lies in the ‘everyone is doing it and they don’t get caught’ mentality, exemplified by the statistic that ’52.1%’ of subjects felt that ‘leaving an empty Coke bottle by the side of a full bin‘ is NOT considered littering.  It exposes our ‘maid mentality’ and over-reliance on not just bins, but people to pick up after us. Singaporeans also don’t have a ‘bring your trash home’ mentality, which could be the result of a certain expectation of dustbins being available wherever we go, which, ironically is a product of our ‘clean and green’ campaigning being ‘too successful’; a case of the law of unintended consequences at work. One should also look at how much FOOD we allow to go to waste (or what I would term ‘preventable’ trash), a symptom of ‘affluenza’ and over-consumption which is much harder to treat or enforce.

Somehow the oft-used analogy of treating our public spaces as we would our ‘homes’ doesn’t work, simply because everyone else doesn’t feel the same way and we see other people’s trash as ‘their problem’.  Which is perfectly normal; there’s simply no pay-off for a thankless sacrifice which few would care to emulate. It’s easy to put this to the test:  Plant a relatively sterile piece of litter, a flyer perhaps, on the floor of a busy MRT station. See how long it takes before someone picks it up. Chances are that person is a SMRT staff. If we suffer from the ‘bystander effect’ every time a human being lays sprawled motionless on the floor, what more a piece of paper?

We could say the social cost of littering is insufficient to overcome the ‘convenience’ of littering. People make quick risk  calculations everytime they decide to drop a load, especially for ‘less obvious’ forms of litter like dog pee or faeces, pocket lint, dried mucus, pastry crumbs, parking coupon debris etc, and we give ourselves excuses for our act (It will fertilise the plants, it will decompose, the birds will eat it etc). A certain degree of inconsideration has somehow become a norm, and probability theory tells us that the more people subscribing to a ‘norm’, the less likely you’ll get penalised for it. You can teach a Singaporean how to step on a foot lever to dump his trash, but you can never change his habits or teach EMPATHY, which to me, is what’s really missing here. Littering wouldn’t happen if people simply CARED enough. Increasing the number of bins is simplistic, and we would do well to study relatively ‘bin-less’ societies like Japan before implementing this ‘solution’ lock, stock and barrel.

If campaigns, enforcement, habitual changes and population control  are useless and placing bins all over the place is impractical (maybe even counter-productive), what then can we do to curb littering? I would propose for the sake of argument , ignoring all the ethical difficulties involved,  a combination of public shaming and ‘mercenary’ active citizenry as a drastic measure, which is like plainclothes officers and CCTVs except cheaper and with greater reach. Which means dumping the various ‘soft approaches’, and acknowledging that a filthy Singapore is a serious problem that justifies a slight breach of human rights.  Catch someone in the act via photo or video, post it uncensored online anonymously and get paid for it (In case you’re thinking we already have ‘citizen journalism’, most littering isn’t sensational enough to warrant a Stomp publication). It’s like the reward in a Wanted poster, graded according to the heinousness of the crime . Such clandestine ‘hired spying’ would serve as a much better deterrent to the litterbug (knowing there are greedy eyes out there watching him), while serving as a incentive to those desperate for a quick buck. Think of it as a contest with a draconian twist. So instead of installing dustbins for lazy people every 50 metres and paying cleaners for overtime, which merely treats the SYMPTOM of littering, put a price on the litterbug’s head instead and play with simple incentives  (avoidance of humiliation, greed, ‘busybody-ness’) which any Singaporean would respond to. Only then will the 62% of civic-minded citizens be taken seriously.

Women pee too

From Inappropriate poster 5 May 1989 ST  Forum

The poster (No urinating in lift) seems to suggest that only men have been caught and fined for urinating in lifts.

But from a cutting from a Chinese newspaper…a woman has also been caught and fined for the offence. Thus I feel that the poster in inappropriate.

Notice how strategically the red cross-line is placed over the peeing male.


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