Why fear if you are not a litterbug, says MP Lee Bee Wah
MP Lee Bee Wah defends idea of giving monetary rewards to those who report litterbugs in action
Why fear if you are not a litterbug?
That is what Ms Lee Bee Wah had to say to criticism of her suggestion to offer monetary rewards to those who catch litterbugs in action.
On the sidelines of a litter-picking event over the weekend, the Nee Soon GRC Member of Parliament talked about hoping to pilot the programme in her constituency.
But some saw Ms Lee's proposal as encouraging people to "bao toh" (Singlish for tattletale) on each other. (See story below.)
When approached by The New Paper on Tuesday, Ms Lee stood by the idea. "I don't think it will have a major impact on feelings between neighbours. After all, people who don't litter have nothing to fear," she said.
The idea is based on a Taiwanese legislation: those who submit evidence of litterbugs in action may be rewarded with a portion of the fines imposed. (See below.)
A resident brought it up to Ms Lee, who found the system to be an effective deterrent for habitual litterbugs.
She then suggested it to the National Environment Agency (NEA), hoping to pilot it in her ward.
"I looked at the system in Taipei. It is certainly effective - their Department of Environmental Protection feels that it is the main factor for improving the cleanliness of their city," she said.
She hopes the system, if piloted here, will give residents a sense of participation.
"Also, if the common areas are clean all the time and not just after cleaners clean up, everyone will feel more comfortable using them," she said.
Even if few people go around catching litterbugs, the mere existence of such a system will deter the litterbugs, she added.
While the general idea is to follow the Taiwanese report-and-reward system, Ms Lee said the exact model should be examined by NEA.
"I think the monetary value should not be large, but just a small sum to incentivise people to report litterbugs," she said.
Will the reward system work?
NEA chairman Liak Teng Lit said: "In my personal opinion, it's not so straightforward. It doesn't mean that if you give money, people will definitely report on litterbugs more."
But Mr Liak thinks this system will serve as a check on recalcitrants.
With social media, people are now worried about being flamed online, he said.
"We are not talking about ordinary people who accidentally drop something. We are talking about recalcitrants - those who throw diaper, food and other horrible things," he said.
Mr Ken Kee, a victim of high-rise littering, agreed.
He had to deal with neighbours who kept throwing porridge and other food out of their window last year.
Frustrated, Mr Kee, 43, resorted to camping opposite the block to film his neighbours in action.
The case remains unresolved as the alleged culprits have moved out, he said.
"Littering is a problem that has been going on for some time... If you throw a banana skin on the floor, it's totally unacceptable. These are things we should actually voice out against," he said.
But Singapore Kindness Movement's secretary-general, Dr William Wan, has "mixed feelings" about putting a price tag on actions that should be altruistic.
"By incentivising this act of public service with money, we may solve one problem and create another - which is just as bad, as we might end up becoming a society that acts only when incentivised," he said.
"I do think that we need to step up enforcement and the best people are the authorised enforcement officers, including the trained community volunteers, who are empowered by law to do this."
MIXED RESPONSE TO IDEA
Ms Lee Bee Wah's suggestion that people who inform on litterbugs be given a monetary incentive has met with mixed reactions online.
Those who agreed with her felt the system will make litterbugs think twice, as more eyes will be watching them.
"I think it is a brilliant idea. They should extend it to catching errant smokers too," one said.
Some, however, were concerned with the idea of rewarding good behaviour with money as this might encourage Singaporeans to do certain things only for monetary gains.
Said one netizen: "I am not against the move to improve cleanliness, but we should be very mindful of the message being sent...are we encouraging extrinsic rewards? Why must monetary rewards be included? I think many Singaporeans will report such cases if it's more accessible and efforts are taken to protect their identity."
Another netizen, who felt the system would breed distrust among neighbours, said: "This is going to be abused and encouraging (sic) more 'fights' amongst the residents. No proper thought process."
Taiwan's law against litterbugs
In Taiwan, people who inform on litterbugs receive a portion of the fines that are imposed.
Under Taiwan's Waste Disposal Act, those caught littering can be fined between NT1,200 (S$52) and NT6,000.
Included in the same offence are other irresponsible acts of waste disposal, such as not cleaning up your pet's poop, spitting and graffiti, which can be reported to the relevant authorities.
Each municipality, county or city will decide on the percentage of the fine that goes to the informant.
In 2011, two Taiwanese men reportedly each earned NT110,000 monthly on average from collecting rewards from the authorities.