By Claire Huang, Channel NewsAsia, 15 Sep 2012
Minister for Environment and Water Resources, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan posed this question to Singaporeans.
Speaking at the National Environment Agency's (NEA) 10th anniversary exhibition, Dr Balakrishnan said public cleanliness remains a persistent issue here, despite the many campaigns, heavy fines, stepped-up enforcement and employment of an army of cleaners.
While progress has been made over the years, he urged Singaporeans to initiate a ground-up movement to keep the country litter-free.
The government is hoping to establish a new social norm through the launch of an invigorated "Keep Singapore Clean Movement": cleaning up after oneself instead of relying on others.
Dr Vivian Balakrishnan said Singapore needs to reclaim community ownership and community action to keep the country clean.
"You'll notice that this year, the leadership of the campaign is actually the people sector, so it's with the Public Hygiene Council," he said.
"We're working with many of the NGOs (non-governmental organisations) to run the education programmes, to run the activities on the ground."
"A key reason of course, is the wrong attitude that cleaners are there to pick up after us, and the misplaced notion that this is appropriate behaviour because cleaners are paid to do so," he continued.
"One alarming statistic from NEA's recent surveys is that 36 per cent of Singaporeans would only bin their litter if it is convenient to do so. The solution, my friends, cannot be to employ more and more cleaners."
The Public Hygiene Council and the Singapore Council have come to together to take the lead in changing the mindset of the community.
Dr Vivian Balakrishnan also suggested that it is perhaps timely for the public to discuss how to keep Singapore clean, as part of the responses to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's call to Singaporeans to discuss the nation's future.
Dr Vivian Balakrishnan floated the idea of allowing community partners like NGOs to issue littering summonses.
"Should enforcement be confined to uniformed officers of the NEA, or in fact, (the) community partners out there who've demonstrated commitment over many, many years, going around tirelessly, at nights, weekends, picking up litter, trying to spread the message?" he asked.
"Some of these community partners are people whom I think we can rely on and that's why I've asked NEA to study whether we can confer enforcement authority to these members of the public."
He added this move would mean there will be many more eyes and hands available to deter littering.
However, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan admitted that it could bring controversy, so NEA will work on the plan one step at a time.
In response to the minister's suggestion, Chairman of Waterways Watch Society, Eugene Heng welcomed the idea.
While he said the idea gives recognition to committed and passionate members of the public, Mr Heng pointed out that this "is a step into uncharted waters".
"There are 250 volunteers in Waterways Watch Society but not everyone should be given the enforcement authority," said Mr Heng. "I think only the core group of 20 to 30 volunteers should do so."
Mr Heng said it is also important for those given the authority to be trained in engaging with the public so as not to create a whiplash.
Dr Vivian Balakrishnan also said NEA has worked with mobile applications developer BuUuk to develop a new app named "Clean Lah".
The app's function is to crowd-source for feedback on cleanliness.
"Wherever you are, if you spot a cleaning problem, you can take a picture of it and submit it with an accompanying message via the app, and it will go to NEA for follow-up," he explained.
"As the feedback is geo-tagged, NEA will know if others have already reported from the same location and this would also help to signal the urgency or magnitude of the problem," he continued.
"Those who have submitted feedback will even be able to get a status update on the issue once it is resolved."