Singapore not clean, but 'cleaned'

Singapore not clean, but 'cleaned'

Whacked left, right and centre.

That is how Nee Soon GRC MP Lee Bee Wah described her experience over the past week.

The politician has received flak for her controversial proposal to give monetary incentives to Singaporeans who inform on litterbugs.

Many netizens felt this would promote a tell-tale culture - especially with the country's youth.

One person who held such doubts was Mark van Cuylenburg - aka The Flying Dutchman - one of the hosts of the ONE FM #1 Breakfast Show.

Yesterday morning, Ms Lee went on air with van Cuylenburg and his co-hosts Glenn Ong and Andre Hoeden to further explain her plan.

It was Ong who broached the question about Singaporeans' anger towards the proposal and brought up the country's reputation for being "a clean and green country".

Ms Lee countered: "You think this is a clean and green city? Not at all!

"It is a cleaned city thanks to an army of cleaners. For five million people in Singapore, we have 70,000 cleaners. In Taipei, there are three million people and 5,000 cleaners."

Talking about the visit to Taiwan that helped her formulate the proposal, Ms Lee said their change in mindset only came about in the last 10 years. "If Taiwan can do it, why not Singapore?" she asked.

To illustrate how much litter Singapore can produce, she recalled Nee Soon South's inaugural No Cleaners Day in 2012.

The scheme - now an annual affair - sees no cleaners deployed for one day and volunteers helping to clear the aftermath the day after.

"The first time, we picked up 1,340kg of litter in a day," she told the visibly surprised radio team.

Ms Lee then "challenged" the DJs and listeners to see their estates before the cleaners arrive around 5am.

"You may be horrified," she said.

Van Cuylenburg said: "I leave the house at 4.30am and you can see the litter."

While Ong joked that maybe this only applies to Choa Chu Kang, where his co-host stays, Ms Lee emphasised that almost every housing estate looks different before the cleaners do their job.


Talking to The New Paper (TNP) before her interview, Ms Lee described the most disgusting sights she has seen during her monthly litter-picking sessions that have led her to believe Singapore has been "nannied" thanks to the number of cleaners.

"I have seen soiled sanitary pads on the roof of covered walkways and on the floor," she said.

"People just throw them from their units. It's just disgusting."

Ms Lee also cited a National Environment Agency report that said a third of litterbugs committed the offence because they thought no one was watching.

Taiwan, meanwhile, did not remedy the situation purely by informing on litterbugs.

"This proposal needs to be part of a multi-pronged approach," said Ms Lee. "I strongly believe that we have to start from school."

In Taiwan, schools were not given a budget for cleaners, she recounted.

"So students take turns to clean the classrooms and toilets... They are trained from young."

Children there are also taught to recycle. Van Cuylenburg, taking a moment to mull over the concept, called it "a brilliant idea."

Ms Lee told TNP: "We want Singaporeans to play a part in the whole process to make Singapore a truly clean city. So they can play the part of an enforcement officer."

As for Van Cuylenburg's concern that Ms Lee's proposal would introduce a "reporting culture", he said after the interview that he is "more relaxed" about the idea.

This article was first published on October 21, 2015.
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