'Green' scheme no throwaway idea

From getting Philips to sponsor energy-saving light bulbs for rental flats to giving residents grocery vouchers in exchange for their newspapers and old clothes, Dr Amy Khor has built up a reputation for being a "green" mayor and MP over the years.

But a decade ago, even recycling companies were sceptical about whether her ideas could be sustained, the Mayor of South West District recalled in an interview with The Sunday Times.

Her environmental initiatives - such as a weekly "Trash-for-Cash" programme which lets the district's approximately 800,000 residents exchange unwanted items for daily necessities like rice - are still going strong though.

Last year, about 2,350 tonnes of recyclable materials were collected under the district's numerous recycling efforts. Many of these initiatives were started soon after Dr Khor became mayor in 2004.

"It takes considerable community energy to sustain and expand (such programmes), because recycling habits do not come naturally to us. But, we all know cognitively that our environment needs our individual and collective effort," said the 56-year-old, who is also Senior Minister of State for Health.

Her focus, however, will turn to explaining the benefits of the Pioneer Generation Package come May 27, when she will hand over the job of mayor to Parliamentary Secretary (Social and Family Development) Low Yen Ling to focus on additional responsibilities at the Health Ministry.

The change was among the promotions and appointments announced last Tuesday by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

He said that Dr Khor, who co-chairs a Pioneer Generation taskforce, would focus on implementing the package, and helping older Singaporeans understand and benefit from its raft of measures that are meant to help with their medical costs.

Mr Lee said she had done a lot as mayor by expanding community outreach, deepening engagement with residents and partnering grassroots organisations and business corporations.

Apart from environmentally friendly initiatives, Dr Khor, who is also Senior Minister of State for Manpower, has spearheaded social programmes such as Adopt-a-Rental Block. Under this, volunteers from schools, companies and the grassroots visit the elderly and low-income families, and help them with their needs.

The South West Community Development Council (CDC) was also the first to hold training sessions for grassroots volunteers, so that they could assess residents' needs better when giving out social aid.

The CDC started a baby bliss card incentive - giving newborns in the district specially designed cash cards with $38 stored value.

"If I may be allowed to say so, this is the original Jubilee package for the SG50 celebrations," said Dr Khor, referring to the special gift that all Singapore babies born in 2015, Singapore's 50th year of independence, will get.

Those who have worked with Dr Khor said she was good at engaging with different kinds of people, from ordinary residents to corporate chiefs.

Said ITE College West principal Yek Tiew Ming: "She's a really good people person and has this great ability to connect. People really like her. She's also very hands-on. When we're working on a project, you don't just see her at the launch, she follows up afterwards and gets her hands dirty."

This article was published on May 4 in The Straits Times.

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