Tuesday 13 November 2012

Social Pressure to Keep Cleanliness Standards

PM: Pitch in to keep up cleanliness levels in S'pore
Standards slipping; penalties may be raised; social pressure is best answer
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 12 Nov 2012

PRIME Minister Lee Hsien Loong has thrown his support behind the move to raise standards of cleanliness in the country, urging Singaporeans to play their part in keeping it tidy.

He noted yesterday that standards of cleanliness had slipped as people were getting blase about littering.

But PM Lee stopped short of backing some of the tough proposals that have been put forward, saying he thought the best approach was one of social pressure.

The penalties for littering may have to be adjusted, he said. "But I don't think it's the correct solution that if we catch you once in a while, then we send you to jail. It has to be proportionate to the offence."

The problem is best addressed by Singaporeans themselves frowning on those who litter, and doing their part to keep the city clean, green and special, he said.

Mr Lee's hope is that, when someone litters, it will not be left to the authorities to go after the person "but everybody else who is there, members of the public, will look at you and you will know that you have done something which is no good".

Such social pressure is felt in Japan and South Korea, where cities are clean despite fewer cleaners, he said.

Mr Lee was speaking to reporters at the launch of Ang Mo Kio GRC and Sengkang West's two-year Our Clean And Green Home campaign.

Keep Singapore Clean Movement head Liak Teng Lit said he "fully agreed" with Mr Lee.

"Unless there is social disapproval, no amount of enforcement, no amount of nagging will work," he told The Straits Times yesterday.

Mr Liak has also called for tough new measures on litterbugs who are impervious to social pressure, including giving thousands of citizens the power to issue summonses to offenders.

Enforcement is still important for the small minority who disregard social norms, he added. He thinks falling cleanliness standards are due in part to a lack of enforcement, observing that "no one fears being caught now".

Another factor is the frequency of cleaning. Some estates are now cleaned two or three times a day, so residents do not feel that littering is a problem, he said.

The campaign by Ang Mo Kio Town Council and the community centres' youth executive committees, addresses issues such as cleanliness at common areas, high-rise littering, responsible pet ownership, the feeding of strays, and saving energy.

Yesterday's launch included an exhibition of photographs showing the contrast before and after cleaners had made their rounds of the precincts.

Three town council cleaners received $200 NTUC FairPrice vouchers and plaques from Mr Lee for winning the National Environment Agency's Best Cleaner awards. One of them, Ms Sharifah Nooraidah, 41, took the job five years ago to support her wheelchair-bound parents and younger brother.

Mr Lee's remarks on keeping Singapore clean came on a day when Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong pitched in with others to pick up litter.

At the MacPherson constituency yesterday, 30 cleaners were given the day off as a reward for their efforts at keeping the estate clean. In their place, doing the usual job of picking up litter and sweeping void decks were PCF kindergarten pupils, grassroots volunteers and Marine Parade GRC MPs.

The other MPs there besides Mr Goh were Mr Seah Kian Peng and Ms Tin Pei Ling, and Mr Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten).

Holding a black trash bag and metal tongs, ESM Goh walked around the common areas picking up litter with kindergarten pupils at the Balam Road estate. Ms Tin said the event aims to promote the idea that keeping the estate clean is a shared responsibility.

Yesterday was also the day that new tray return points were introduced at West Coast Hawker Centre. The popular eatery is the first to be outfitted with the new racks, which allow for trays containing larger crockery items.

Such tray return points will be rolled out in all 107 hawker centres under the National Environment Agency, which is leading the campaign to get consumers to return their plates and utensils.

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