The lament by Public Hygiene Council chairman Liak Teng Lit, that it will take some time to persuade “spoilt” Singaporeans to clean up after themselves, could be solved if more daring rules were implemented and enforced (“Pick up after yourself, create more bright spots”; Sunday).

Town councils, foodcourt owners and petrol station operators have been using the provision of unnecessary services as a selling point, to get support from pampered, maid-raised Singaporeans.

Politicians say their opponents lack the skills to keep constituencies clean. Foodcourt operators, when criticised about the slow clearing of tables, promise to hire more cleaners. And the drive to encourage motorists to serve themselves went into reverse gear when oil companies discovered that stations with pump attendants sold more petrol than those without, despite charging slightly higher prices.

Dining in public fast-food restaurants and the factory canteens of my business suppliers in Japan, South Korea and Italy, I saw that everybody, from top managers to low-level technicians, cleared their tables and returned their trays.

Driving the length and breadth of the United States, Australia and New Zealand, I noted that people in these countries returned their trays at foodcourts and motorists pumped their own petrol.

What happened to the rugged society of my youth? Have Singaporeans grown so soft that they need everything done for them?

Today, no town council, foodcourt operator or oil company would take the lead in withdrawing services, because the first to do so would be the first to go out of business.

The playing field can be levelled only by those at the top. The Government has to take the initiative to discourage the offering of unnecessary services as a selling point.

Town councils should clean estates at most once a week. At foodcourts, cleaners should clear only major spills. And the only employee necessary at petrol station forecourts should be the one trained in fire safety, required by law, and who is currently pressed into service as a pump attendant.

By mandating the reduction of such services, the public would be forced to take personal responsibility for cleanliness. And we would also hear fewer complaints about there being too many foreign workers here.

Lee Chiu San

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