ESM Goh on Singapore becoming a Garbage City

From ‘S’pore may end up as a ‘garbage city”, 29 Jan 2015, article in Today

The Republic may end up as a “garbage city”, said Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong today (Jan 29) following reports of how a part of the Gardens by the Bay was covered with rubbish following a music festival.

His remarks come a day after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong posted a picture on his Facebook page, which showed rubbish strewn on the ground following the 2015 Laneway Festival at the Meadow at Gardens by the Bay. About 13,000 people attended the Saturday event..

…In a Facebook post, Mr Goh wrote: “Our reputation as one of the world’s cleanest cities is going down the rubbish chute. It looks like a case of ‘monkeys see, monkeys do’.” He noted that Tokyo has no rubbish even though the Japanese capital has no rubbish bins in public places.

“The Japanese take their snack wrappers, empty bottles and ponchos home to dispose. That is why Tokyo is a fine city without ‘fine’ signs. That is why it is a clean city with no foreign workers.”

Mr Goh added: “Without foreign workers, Singapore is likely to become a ‘garbage city’. Cleanliness is a character thing. It shows who you really are. “

While our PM Lee was calm in his criticism of the ‘Landway Landfill’, using the more nuanced ‘cleaned city’ to describe our dependence on an army of labourers and shameless sense of entitlement (some Laneway goers interviewed in a ST article assumed that cleaning services were included in the festival ticket), our former PM has no qualms about trash-talking and putting our disgusting habits in the spotlight. Interestingly, he has summoned the analogy of ‘monkey see monkey do’ to describe the contagious mimicry of littering. And what do monkeys eat?

Here’s a clue, courtesy of Mrs Goh Chok Tong herself in reference to a certain NKF chairman’s salary, in full uncensored glory.

For a person who runs a million-dollar charitable organisation, $600,000 is peanuts as it has a few hundred millions in reserves.’

As they say, if you pay peanuts, you get..well – you know.

But back to Garbage by the Bay. The Laneway fallout isn’t new. We have been called ‘Garbage City‘ since 1983. Anyone who has stayed back after the NDP festivities to witness the mess left behind would hang their head in shame at the average 15 TONNES of rubbish per show. We can forgive Laneway hipsters, whose fashion accessories actually aspire towards ‘litter-chic’. We may even put the blame what one would expect to be a large non-Singaporean crowd among the audience. But to desecrate a parade ground after the nation’s birthday and singing along with Kit Chan to ‘Home Truly’ is just unforgivable. It makes a MONKEY out of National Day. It’s like blowing out Singapore’s birthday candles on a giant stadium sized cake, and then pooping all over it before we leave.

Even the phrase ‘cleaned city’ is recycled. Vivian Balakrishnan used it in 2012. Liak Teng Lit says that being called a ‘clean city‘ is a JOKE. But nobody’s laughing. It’s easy to rubbish our selling point to the world as a spick and span little red dot. Changing the mindset of the typical litterbug, however, takes more than a cute frog mascot, a public campaign with Ah Boys to Men singing in it, some ugly bright yellow CWO outfit to show the world you’re an incorrigible, lazy excuse of a human being, or slapping a outrageous fine on someone caught tossing cigarette butts out of his HDB window. A picture of the Laneway aftermath ought to speak a thousand words, yet no one seems to be listening.

So fine. We’re a bunch of spoilt ungracious louts with poor ‘character’. But what’s also annoying, though, is the tiresome comparisons to ‘spotless’ Japan every time some venue transforms into a junkyard after celebrations. ESM Goh says ‘Tokyo has NO rubbish’, which, from personal experience in my travels there, is a cliche and an exaggeration, though it still is generally cleaner than the little red rat-infested dump that we’re living in now. You don’t need a major event to show our true colours. I’ve seen people dumping an old TOILET BOWL in my void deck. Old folks still spit without repercussion. Drains are clogged after void deck events. Trays are not cleared. Don’t get me started on our toilets.

Sadly, the Japanese’s culture of shared responsibility and concept of ‘homeland’ has yet to sink in, and we’re struggling to work through the hypocrisy of celebrating recycling and Earth Hour on one hand, but on the other brushing parking coupon tabs to the ground when no one is looking. Our children are taught phonics before they are trained to throw their crap into dustbins.

We’re still haunted by the proverbial fishball stick. Unless something is done to address the psyche of the littering Singaporean who expects to be picked up after, we’ll get poked by the same issue again and again, relying on some reporting app launched by the MSO to complain about things lying around when it’s faster for us to pick it up and throw it away. While we look to the Land of the Rising Sun for inspiration in vain, this sunny island in the sea is fast becoming the ‘Land of the Rising SLUM’.


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