Wanbao reported yesterday (4 May) that the Tray Return initiative started by the National Environment Agency (NEA) more than a year ago has not been well received by the public.
The initiative was “as an effort to help keep hawker centres clean and as an act of social graciousness towards cleaners and fellow patrons”.
A pilot scheme to promote automatic tray return was started by NEA in November 2012 at 9 hawker centres which later expanded to include other hawker centres.
Wanbao reported that patrons did not want to return the trays after eating for fear of jeopardizing cleaners’ jobs. The people in charge of the hawker centres in turn complained that more cleaners were actually needed after the launch of NEA’s initiative.
At present, the Tray Return initiative covers some 46 out of 107 hawker centres in Singapore.
A cleaning contractor at the Maxwell Road hawker centre complained that the initiative did not reduce the number of cleaners. In fact, he had to hire more cleaners to man the tray return facilities set up at the hawker centre.
The cleaners also complained that in addition to manning the tray return facilities, they also had to clean the tables as usual and collect the trays and plates.
NEA said that the return rate is about 50% to 70% but food courts have observed that the return rate is actually much lower.
Despite the setback, NEA is determined to extend the initiative to the rest of the hawker centres. It will announce more details later.
With regard to the poor return rate, NEA Deputy Chairman Liak Teng Lit did not hide his disappointment.
He told Wanbao, “It’s an excuse for patrons to say they don’t want to jeopardize cleaners’ jobs. We are dealing with a manpower shortage problem. Nothing to do with jeopardizing cleaners’ jobs.”
In response to some patrons saying they did not want to dirty their hands, Mr Liak said, “If you all eat properly and not eat until a mess, how will you dirty your hands (for returning trays)? It’s problem of upbringing. Everyone should depend on oneself (to return trays). Don’t depend on others. Everyone should really reflect on this.”
This is not the first time Mr Liak is scolding Singaporeans for their poor eating habits.
Last year, in an interview with the Straits Times (ST), he said that diners who rely on cleaners include Singaporean families with domestic help and those who eat out.
“In hawker centres we eat like pigs, with food and tissue all over the tables. It’s a disgrace. We don’t eat like that at home,” he chided.
Mr Liak also frowns on subsidising healthcare. In an interview with ST on 20 July 2012 (‘Why the dung beetle is his hero ‘), it was reported:
He (Liak) frowns upon how subsidies have inflated the demand for health care and led to shortages: ‘The truth is when we go for a buffet, almost all of us eat a little bit more than we normally do. If you subsidise something, at the margin, there will always be more demand.’
Subsidised wards are so cheap, some children may prefer their elderly parents to stay a day or two longer. But if every patient delays discharge by just half a day, Singapore will need to build another Singapore General Hospital that costs $2 billion, and about half a billion a year in subsidies, to run. The demand for subsidies is a ‘bottomless pit’, he warns. ‘If you’re going to subsidise my petrol, I won’t drive the Toyota Prius, I will drive the Lexus 460.
‘Follow the British National Health Service? That may mean that the Government has to increase the goods and services tax to, say, 20 per cent to cover the cost of these additional beds,’ he says, adding that Singapore’s 3M framework – Medisave, MediShield and Medifund – is sound.
As diseases are increasingly diagnosed at the molecular level with more expensive drugs, costs will shoot through the roof. His fear for Singaporeans today is that they clamour for their rights but disown their responsibilities. ‘In cyberspace, there are howling monkeys who scream, shout and demoralise others.
‘My worry is that everybody is screaming about his rights as a citizen to get subsidies, but he doesn’t feel he has a responsibility to contribute or pay his taxes. They have the right to treatment but don’t have a responsibility to take care of their health,’ he says.
In that interview, he also told the ST reporter that his hero is the dung beetle:
He (Liak) says straight-faced that his hero is the dung beetle, which feeds on faeces. ‘They walk the ground, burrow underground, clean up the environment, recycle nutrients and improve soil aeration. Most of all, they solve problems others leave behind.’