New brooms sweeping clean

New brooms sweeping clean
Singaporeans in action during a Keep Singapore Clean campaign (above). In November 1964, Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew took civil servants to task for a general drop in the standard of cleanliness, noting that the city was looking more slovenly, with more stray dogs, flies and mosquitoes.

Then, as now, cleanliness was a big concern of the Singapore Government. In February 1965, it was finalising a big sweep-up to make the city Asia's cleanest.

While cleanliness campaigns would go on to focus on bad habits by individuals, the initial target was the city's cleaners, who were said to work slowly in order to claim overtime pay.

A government source told The Straits Times it was "taking a tough line against a known ring of racketeers", citing cases where daily rated labourers made an average $5 a day in earnings but as much as $400 a month from "contrived overtime".

A case cited involved six workers and a driver who sabotaged their own van so that they could not work but could still claim wages. The authorities also planned to get more cleaning vehicles.

"The Government is determined to make Singapore the cleanest city in Asia. There will be lots of modern equipment to implement the programme but no contrived overtime," said the source.

Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew had zoomed in on the problem three months earlier when he took civil servants to task for a drop in the city's cleanliness.

In a speech to civil servants at Victoria Theatre in November 1964, he said that since the two race riots that year, the city was looking more slovenly, with more cows ponderously meandering around and more stray dogs, flies and mosquitoes.

While he noted this slackening could have been a result of the trauma of the riots, he also blamed the unions' tendency to get more pay for less work.

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