Free desserts for returning trays

From ‘Give dessert voucher, free meal to encourage tray return’, 3 Feb 2018, ST Forum

(Dr Thomas Lee Hock Seng): The perennial problem of not cleaning after oneself in self-service hawker centres has stumped most civic-minded people.

So charging for trays is one example of a desperate hope to change the diehard habit of not bothering to clear one’s table after eating (Charging for trays can help change attitudes, by Miss Tan Lin Neo; Feb 1).

Singaporeans are familiar with the use of fines as disincentives to punish undesirable social habits.

We have earned our reputation as a “fine” city since the introduction of such measures a long time ago.

But we have failed most miserably with such measures.

Yet, there are still advocates who insist on using money as a disincentive to effect behavioural change.

I would suggest we reverse the equation: Use money as a reward or incentive for good social habits.

Instead of charging for the non-return of trays, give a voucher for a free meal or item, such as a dessert of one’s choice, for tray return. I suspect this would have more success.

Yes, it will be a success and there will be a surge of people returning trays. Just that these will be people who didn’t order a single thing from the hawker stalls because free ice kacang. Free diabetes too.

When it comes to rewards, some assholes will always try to take advantage of our intentions to make the world a better place. Take the Skillfutures fiasco for example.

So if you can’t beat Singaporeans into being kind and considerate, nor should one use shaming methods to ruin people’s lives, what made this writer reach the conclusion that giving rewards could make us better people? Do we want to issue National Day awards to Top Tray Returners as well?

We’ve been conditioned by enticements and penalties like lab rats since we were born. Don’t flush a toilet and you get slapped with a fine. Vote for the ruling party and you get GST vouchers. None of this made society any better for it. Courtesy is for free? Courtesy is for puiiii!

Here’s a better idea. Put sorry abandoned cat faces on trays. This is will make us return trays out of pure guilt.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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’.

Authorities not claiming responsibility over a fishball stick

From ‘New Municipal Services Office announced’, 17 Aug 2014, article by Monica Kotwani and Eileen Poh, CNA

There will be a new authority set up to coordinate the work of various Government agencies in order to better serve the public when it comes to municipal issues. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced this on Sunday (Aug 17) during his National Day Rally. The Municipal Services Office (MSO) will coordinate the work of agencies such as the Land Transport Authority (LTA), NParks, the Housing and Development Board and Police. The aim is to improve service delivery to residents.

PM Lee highlighted an example cited by Mayor for South West District, Low Yen Ling. “Yen Ling’s residents had complained that the walkway to the Bukit Gombak MRT Station was often dirty,” Mr Lee related. “One resident told her he saw a fishball stick there on the walkway. The next day he came back and looked, the same fishball stick was still in the same place. Her residents have very sharp eyes. So Yen Ling called up the agencies to find out why the area was not being cleared regularly. And she had to make multiple calls to several agencies, held several meetings. She finally managed to establish what happened. “

Ms Low found that a slope on the left of the walkway is overseen by the National Environment Agency (NEA). In the middle, which is a park connector under NParks, while the pavement close to the road is under LTA. Mr Lee said the cleaners of these areas had different cleaning schedules, and the area on the right where the fishball stick lay was cleaned every two days.

Stick it to the Man

Stick it to the Man

Ironically, in the same article, PM was waxing lyrical about Singapore becoming a SMART NATION, and here you have a mayor having to arrange MEETINGS with agencies to decide what to do with a dumped fishball stick. I wonder who would take responsibility if the fishball stick happens to lie exactly midway between NPARKS and NEA’s turf. Maybe the cleaners under the respective payrolls would have to play scissors-paper-stone in order to come to a decision.

Like an unexpected pregnancy after a drunken mass orgy, the Bukit Gombak fishball stick anecdote has become an awkward metaphor of our neurotic, self-serving, ‘not my problem’ bureaucracy. Creating another liaison office to coordinate a response isn’t going to solve the actual problem here which PM Lee did not address in his rally: LITTERING. In full parental mode, our government have spawned yet another nanny to pick up after us because we don’t know how to make people responsible for their own environment. It’s like how setting up child welfare isn’t going to stop people from having irresponsible sex. In fact it takes some of the guilt and regret off your shoulders because you know someone ‘s taking care of your damn baby, rather than leaving him abandoned and straddling the imaginary boundary between two agencies who want nothing to do with him.

The formation of an MSO is a typical approach to how we deal with such issues: Create another layer of bureaucracy to address it, confuse everyone with yet another acronym, and hope for the best. This is just sweeping the littering scourge under the carpet. And then putting another carpet on top of the first one for good measure.

‘Municipal’ is a word that is as old as there have been only gas lamps on the streets, as seen in this 1849 article below.

Screen Shot 2014-08-18 at 10.24.50 PM

It’s also an old-timey word you wouldn’t expect Singaporeans to even pronounce properly, with the MSO appearing to be an organisation whose responsibilities we’ll inevitably mix up with those of the ‘Town councils’.  MSO also stands for ‘Medisave-cum Subsidised Outpatient‘ scheme, or the fancy rank of some random customer service officer in the civil service. Maybe we need another agency to regulate how agencies are named, one that could launch an ‘Acronym Streamlining Scheme’. Or ASS.

There are other ‘grey areas’ around which our ‘relevant authorities’ don’t want to touch with a ten foot fishball stick. Nobody wants to claim responsibility over pesky mynahs, for example.  Then there’s killer treesleaves in drains, or even stray pythons, which depending on where the creatures are found may have to involve ACRES, PUB or even the Police Force. Some of these, like venomous reptiles, obviously need more urgent attention than something out of an Old Chang Kee deep fryer, and I’m not sure if the MSO can get the agencies’ act together in double-quick time before someone gets killed. We need an Inter-Agency Dengue Task Force equivalent to deal with such things. A ‘task force’ implies active hands-on, while an ‘office’ brings to mind meeting minutes, roundabout e-mails and endless hole-punching. If I need someone to get rid of a snake in the toilet bowl and I don’t know who to call, I instinctively would choose the people who call themselves a task force rather than an office, though there jolly well could be no difference between them at all.

Good luck to us if we were ever invaded by a swarm of radioactive, mutant, giant mosquitoes aggregating and breeding over a drain by the road in a HDB estate. By the time you get around calling NEA, AVA, HDB, PUB, LTA, the Town Council, or the whole damn ARMY, we’d all get hemorrhagic, radioactive dengue and die a horrific death before the first minutes of meeting have even been tabled.

Authorities in a muddle over leaves in drain

From ‘Who should clear leaves in drain?’ 21 March 2014, ST Forum

(Arthur Lim): THE ineffective clearing of fallen leaves is not just evident along major roads and expressways (“Act promptly to clear fallen leaves” by Dr V. Subramaniam; Tuesday), but also in housing estates. In my estate, the leaves seem to be frequently cleared from areas visible to the eye, but those that are “hidden” under the covered portions of drains are not. This may cause pooling of water and mosquito breeding.

I have raised this issue with the officers who check for mosquito breeding in my estate, but they said their department was not in charge of this. They were not sure if it should come under the National Environment Agency or the PUB.

I hope the relevant authorities will step in to address this issue.

This confusion over who’s in charge of dengue-breeding ‘longkangs’ has existed for at least a decade. In 2005, if the affected drain is in a Housing Board precinct, the town council is responsible. If it’s by the road in a residential estate, either the NEA or PUB is in charge. If it’s in a public park, then NParks needs to pick up the trash.  Filthy drains are like the NEA/AVA tussling over mynahs; nobody wants to claim them, like separated parents each refusing custody over an obnoxious child. Even the source of the leaves, the very trees that line our roads, have different agencies looking after them, NParks or the SLA. Good luck blaming either for negligence when a loose branch falls and knocks you into a month-long coma, which is probably the duration of time needed for someone to finally admit that he’s responsible.

NEA, being the national dengue-buster, received a complaint in 2007 by a member of public about a choked drain along Jalan Loyang Besar, whereby nothing was done for 3 days after reporting the hazard. A second NEA officer then proceeded to refer the caller to the PUB instead. NEA later apologised and announced that the officer who did not abide by this ‘No Wrong Door’ policy was reprimanded for his incompetence. Another resident noticed workers from NEA actually sweeping dried litter and leaves INTO drains. Instead of a joint effort to curb the mosquito nuisance, what happened here was literally one agency pushing the problem to another, or rather, sweeping the problem under the other’s DOOR instead.

The writer of this latest complaint did not mention if the officers he approached were from the NEA or not, and it’s possible that from the time agencies begin their bureaucratic shrugging, finger-pointing and someone finally getting a contractor down, a handful of residents would have been hit by the dengue scourge already.  Since 2008, NEA has led an ‘inter-agency’ dengue taskforce, including the PUB, to keep our drains from turning into festering dengue hotspots. It remains to be seen if officers from the agencies involved even know what the heck is going on, or this collaboration and showcase ‘synergy’ efforts have, well, all gone down the drain. It sounds nice on paper, but it’s beginning to look like a football team where players don’t have a damned clue what their field positions are, and run away when they see a ball coming instead of passing it towards goal.

Perhaps it’s time the Ministry of Environment set up a DRAin Maintenance Authority. Or DRAMA.

NDP funpack is sleek, modern and elegant

From ‘Simple, elegant NDP fun pack to keep and re-use’, 4 July 2013, article by David Ee, ST

WITH an outline of red trimming, the predominantly white goodie bag for this year’s National Day Parade is a departure from previous years’ more vivid colours and patterns. Last year, the fun pack was a bold red, while in 2011 it depicted watercolour scenes.

Designed by Nanyang Polytechnic industrial design students, the latest pack is largely bare apart from the familiar lion head representing Singapore….The bag is “sleek and modern” and “elegant”, said the organisers, who hope that spectators will re-use it rather than toss it away after Aug 9.

Said Lieutenant-Colonel Chang Pin Chuan, who chairs the NDP’s logistics and finance committee: “The NDP fun pack is an enduring feature, we give them out every year. We want to make sure it is being re-used by people.”

It can double as a sling bag. Some netizens, however, gave the pack the thumbs down.

Posting on The Straits Times’ Facebook page, user Azriel Azman said: “I can’t remember the last time I saw a Singaporean teenager using a NDP bag as an accessory when they go out.”

Packed. With fun.

Somewhere in some parade regular’s home lies a dusty collection of souvenir flags, knapsacks, party packs and sling bags which haven’t been used since they were distributed at NDP parades but being hoarded till they die because throwing away an ugly bag that says ‘Majulah’ on it is unpatriotic. If the funpack is touted as ‘reusable’, why do we keep creating NEW ones to replace the old ones? Because that’s exactly when it’s likely to be used again, ONE YEAR later at the same parade.

We have recovered from the embarrassment that is the ‘Fun Pack Song’ in 2011 and moved on with a concept that passes off ‘plain’ for ‘elegant’ and ‘stylish’. Nothing wrong with simple designs, of course. Except that the 2013 edition fun pack looks like it was inspired by a sexy nurse uniform.

Sleek lines

But let’s forget about what’s fashionable on the outside and look at what’s INSIDE the fun pack. This year’s noise-maker is inspired by the angklung, a three tone bamboo flute that looks like what centaurs hoot with as part of mating rituals. There’s a ‘clap banner’ that resembles a paper accordion, and the standard food and beverage kit that Mindef refers to as ‘sustenance’ items. The weapon of choice this year is an extendable light-stick that is looks like a discarded prototype prop out of a Star Wars knock-off. What’s missing, however, is a red and white special edition N-95 mask, which the organisers probably thought would be a bad idea in case someone decides to sell it online for a ridiculous profit when the haze comes around next year.

Here’s a list of other wacky, fun-filled items that have been dished out to NDP attendees over the years:

2012: Bandana with snap band. You can wear this during Zumba class.

2011: Mr Bean maracas. So you can shake your groove thang to the Fun Pack Song.

2007: Animal hats.  Because there is a bit of Madagascar in every Singaporean.

2002: Heart-shaped drum. So you can ‘make some noise’ when Gurmit Singh tells you to.

2001: Nescafe instant coffee powder. Because there are some people who boil water on the go.

And there’s the stuff for vintage collectors or curators of a museum:

1995: Limited edition phonecards

1993: Pocket radio.

Not sure if there’s too much stuff for a few hours of revelry here. Most people go to 3 hour outdoor concerts with nothing more than a lighter or their handphones passing off as torches, not a picnic basket. There’s also more calories in a NDP funpack than in the goodie bag you get after running a full marathon. You may even survive a day or two lost in desert with the damn thing, fending off sandstorms with the poncho and skewering scorpions as nourishment with the extendable light sabre. If your parade programme is captivating enough, you don’t need to equip your audience with toys to keep them entertained. For the price of fun, you’re also keeping hundreds of cleaners occupied till the wee hours AFTER the merry-making and light-stick waving.

If they don’t end up shelved in the closet, funpack goodies may get strewn across parade grounds as litter, be it deflated clappers, plastic bottles, tissue or biscuit wrappers, whether or not the pack itself is recyclable high-fashion. Unless someone creates a more environmentally friendly, low-carbon footprint party kit, like say, a flute made entirely out of Khong Guan cracker which you can consume after tooting it, it’s not so much a funpack as it is, ultimately, a JUNKpack.

CCTVs catching cigarette-butt tossing litterbugs

From ‘Anti-littering surveillance cameras to be set up at 100 locations’, 30 Aug 2012, Today online

Surveillance cameras will be set up at 100 locations in the next three months to catch culprits who throw items from high-rise housing blocks. The National Environment Agency (NEA) said it is first targeting at the housing estates in Bukit Panjang, Pasir Ris, West Coast, Hong Kah and Sembawang.

These housing estates have more serious littering issues, involving faeces, urine or food waste, and have also registered a high number of feedback cases from residents. NEA said those caught littering on camera will be charged in court and have their cases publicised.

NEA said the surveillance cameras, together with video analytic software, have proven effective in trials conducted to nab high-rise litterbugs. The equipment can pick up items as small as cigarette butts being thrown from windows, even in low light conditions at night.

NEA cited an earlier pilot run in Bukit Batok where two offenders were caught on camera throwing cigarette butts out from their windows at night. They were charged in court and fined S$800 and S$1,000. Under the law, such offenders are liable to be fined a maximum of S$1,000 and/or be given a Corrective Work Order (CWO) not exceeding 12 hours.

It’s surprising that Punggol was not included in the list to be spied on, considering that it was home to a serial shit-thrower as reported in May this year, which spurred the authorities into launching an ambush via CCTV. Though such ‘faeces-bombing’ culprits may be mentally unstable to begin with, other weird, disgusting, lethal objects being tossed out of windows in recent history include:

A dropped cigarette butt, unless you’ve used too much hair oil, is rather harmless compared to the kinds of weapons and projectiles being hurled from litterbugs. Since nobody trusts STOMP to take litterbugs to task anymore since the MRT door fiasco, CCTV installation is a last resort deterrent to murderously inconsiderate behaviour, and a loss of privacy is perhaps a small price to pay just to make sure you can walk below your flat in peace without being impaled by blades, drenched in menses discharge, have a HIV-tainted needle puncture your head, or crushed by some gym-rat’s toy. Catching litterbugs on film, though, is an idea that’s almost 30 years old. In 1984, a concerned resident was willing to donate 100 rolls of film, calling upon residents to catch litterbugs in the act themselves. We had so much more time on our hands then.

(Warning: graphic death scene below)

The CCTV is the classic icon of ‘Big Brother’ oppression and you could argue all day about what having the authorities scrutinising your every move says about a paranoid nanny state with a fixation on security infringing our much precious ‘rights to privacy’. Initially employed in HDB lifts in a bid to ward off vandalism, robbery and sexual assault in 1978, it’s not just our busybody authorities who’re interested in these toys anymore. Employers install CCTVs in homes to check on their MAIDs or straying husbands. You could blackmail your colleague by catching him having sex with an employee in your clinic. If you’re harrassed by loan sharks you could install one outside your house, though your town council may ask you to remove it because you’re ‘intruding on others’ privacy’. In an instance of ‘CCTV-ception’, some schools install CCTVs outside toilets to catch perverts installing their own mini CCTVs INSIDE toilets. That’s like filming a ‘Making Of’ of a porno film.

Any form of public misdemeanor, not necessarily illegal but ugly enough to be interesting, has been leaked in some form regardless of CCTVs through social media channels, where bystanders and social media vigilantes are more likely to be camera-phone-ready. No one stands by their house window ready to capture images of people throwing stuff out of their windows unless you’re a cripple with a pair of binoculars and have an unhealthy fascination with your neighbours. So you hire some NEA stiffs on shift duty to zoom in on litter from flying cigarette butts right down to the finest forensic details of nose hair, dandruff and boogers. I suppose having voyeuristic tendencies is an advantage in the job considering the depressing monotony of void deck, window ledge and corridor surveillance, with the occasional perk of a nude flasher or people making out on the staircase. But hell, you could even be a life-saver if you prevent maids from falling to their deaths cleaning windows.

Talk about double standards; those who cry foul over privacy infringement when NEA spies through their windows lap up STOMP photos with relish, stalk their maids, peep at their frollicking neighbours, download celebrity sex videos, or watch reality-TV shows literally titled ‘BIG BROTHER’. Those with the power and authority to monitor suspicious activity tell residents to take them down for the sake of others’ ‘privacy’. Why are we so hung up on something that we’ve long lost, not realising how naturally curious and voyeuristic we already are as human beings? Facebook, Google, e-mail, bank accounts, credit cards, IP addresses, and smartphones have barricaded us in barcode and made us so easy to tag and uncover and we hardly complain, only because we enjoy these things in spite of voluntarily bugging ourselves. We don’t see the presumed benefit of a reduced crime-rate when the personal cost of being caught with your finger up your nose outweighs everything else. ANYONE can peek into your inner sanctum whether you like it or not, if you allow them to. Just keep the shades down and the pants up. I want the needle-tossing addict brought to justice. That is all.

If our PM Lee refers to Singaporeans as ‘one-eyed dragons’, then well, you guys up there, watching us like characters in the Truman show, are the 4-eyed owls.