Speech By Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Deputy Prime Minister & Minister For Finance, At Launch Of Clean And Green Singapore 201303 Nov 2012
1. I am happy to be here with you this morning for the launch of Clean and Green Singapore 2013.
2. The Clean and Green Singapore campaign is about aspiring and achieving the highest quality environment for Singapore. It has its roots in the Keep Singapore Clean campaign, which was launched back in 1968. That’s how it started. Many of us here would I am sure remember the campaigns in those early years vividly.
3. But how unusual it was, for our founding leaders to have had that insistent vision of a clean and green city, a vision that few people thought possible for a tropical, urban city of the time. We now still proudly own the "Clean and Green" brand that is invariably brought up in any conversation worldwide with anyone who has heard of or visited Singapore. There is also the fond reference to our rules - our strict anti-littering laws, and for industries, our anti-pollutive standards and zoning regulations that have been in place since the beginning.
4. But it has also been possible because of generations of dedicated officers in the environment field - cleaning up the debris-filled rivers and relocating itinerant street hawkers into clean food centres a few decades ago, carrying out unpleasant enforcement tasks against litterers and polluters, planting trees and creating gardens, making functional waterways and reservoirs into places of beauty.
5. We also take pride in the way Singaporeans have believed in and supported this vision since the beginning. We have indeed collectively transformed our environment from that of a typical third world city in the tropics to a world-renowned City in a Garden. Where we are in fact standing now - Gardens by the Bay - is a statement of our how important this vision is to us - a lung of greenery right in the heart of the city, arguably at the expense of what could have been more money-generating uses.
Every Action Counts
6. Having achieved so much, it is time to ask ourselves honestly, what our aspirations moving forward in our Clean and Green journey are. This is part and parcel of our Singapore conversation to create a better Singapore, a "Home with Hope and Heart". We can only succeed when every citizen feels for the common purpose of a clean and green Singapore.
7. There is good reason why this year’s Clean and Green Singapore theme is “Every Action Counts”. We are particularly confronted by a persistent problem of littering - many of us have noticed with dismay how some of our public spaces have become increasingly dirty. About one-third of Singaporeans said in a recent NEA survey that they would litter if they can get away with it.
8. Government Parliamentary Committee Chairman for National Development and the Environment and Water Resources, Er Lee Bee Wah recently raised several good points about the standard of cleanliness in Singapore in Parliament at a Motion of Adjournment. Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, Vivian Balakrishnan wholeheartedly supported the thrust of her speech. Some points are worth reiterating.
9. One of the most basic facts is that litter begets more litter. Would simply spending more to hire more cleaners, or beefing up the regulatory regime of penalties and enforcement - having every area in Singapore patrolled - have to be the ultimate solution to deal with this? This is not only practically and economically unsustainable, I do not think it reflects at all the type of values which we want our children to inculcate and our society to imbibe. If it is intrinsic in us to keep our own homes clean and tidy; shouldn't it be so as well beyond our doorsteps, in our neighbourhood and community areas?
10. Many of you would be aware that Minister Vivian Balakrishnan has announced that he would like to resuscitate the tray-return programme in the hawker centres. We must try and make this succeed, and find ways to make it convenient for patrons. Not just because it can be an economically efficient solution, but because succeeding in this everyday way will inculcate graciousness and consideration among our people, and set a good example for our children.
11. I am happy to note that in September this year, the Public Hygiene Council (PHC) helmed by Mr Liak Teng Lit and other partnering NGOs have rejuvenated the “Keep Singapore Clean” movement to rally Singaporeans to take charge of the cleanliness of communal areas. One of the key initiatives which the PHC has implemented is to turn “hot spots” into “bright spots” – that is to identify problem areas around Singapore and initiate multi-stakeholder partnerships to improve the cleanliness and hygiene conditions to make them model examples. The best practices for "bright spots" are shared and gradually replicated across the island.
12. There have been many ground-up efforts as well. Volunteer groups from communities, schools and even the private sector have adopted common areas such as the parks around them and organised regular clean-up efforts. Through PUB’s outreach programme called Our Waters, organisations and interest groups can adopt a waterway and care for it for a three-year period. There are currently 194 adopters under this programme and they conduct activities such as waterway clean-ups, checks and patrols, recreational activities, as well as learning trails.
13. Many community groups have also spearheaded efforts in recycling. For example, the Central District’s iconic Project E.A.R.T.H (E.A.R.T.H stands for Every Act of Recycling Trash Helps) has reached out to community groups from 23 constituencies and engaged 26 schools and 15 companies. In the past year, 11,000 tonnes of recyclables were collected by Project E.A.R.T.H partners. An impressive effort. The more we recycle, the less we have to burn and bury into the limited landfill at Semakau.
14. I have also heard about youths taking on cleaners' roles for a day at schools and hawker centres, which helps them experience first-hand what it takes to maintain our cleanliness standards. This is all very encouraging, and I echo Minister Vivian Balakrishnan's call, that Singapore needs to turn from a “cleaned city” to a “clean city”, and where every individual here – citizens, transient workers, tourists - understand how seriously we take this and play their part to exercise graciousness and consideration in cleaning up after ourselves while they are here. Every Action Counts.
Honouring Individuals and Communities
15. I am happy today to recognise the extraordinary efforts by both individuals and communities in upholding our Clean and Green vision.
16. One of the national-level award recipients is Choa Chu Kang Division, which is getting the Best Constituency (Ownership) Award. When the Division organised its Recycling Day early this year, they managed to double the tonnage of recyclables collected over the past year, from 5.5 tonnes to 12 tonnes. These achievements are only possible because of passionate environment advocates like Mr Nagappan Garunaharan (Chairperson of Choa Chu Kang Community Sports Club and Zone 3 Resident’s Committee) who not only helps residents to stay healthy, but also gets them to participate in environmental activities. His dedicated recycling efforts over the years have received strong support and involvement from Choa Chu Kang residents.
17. We also honour passionate individuals who are receiving NParks' Community-In-Bloom Awards, who have helped spread the joy of gardening in their neighbourhoods. We have Mr Tan Wai Loon, who overcame his own speech disability to help others enjoy gardening. When Wai Loon was younger, he had difficulty retaining skills. That changed when he picked up gardening in 2006. After graduating from the Association for Persons with Special Needs (APSN), he was hired as a general worker and even used sign language to help instructors conduct gardening courses. Wai Loon is truly a role model of how people with physical challenges can inspire others and contribute to the society.
18. We also have Mr Tony Yau, who organises workshops and thinks of creative ways to inspire students to take up gardening. “Uncle Tony” has also helped at several community gardens in housing estates and schools, including an award-winning garden at Lakeside Primary. I happen to know Tony as he does a lot of this good work in my constituency in Jurong.
19. Indeed, it is the selfless efforts of our Community-in-Bloom Ambassadors that help grow Singapore's gardening movement, and give rise to many mini-gardens all over our little island.
Inspiring Action for the Environment
20. There are of course, many other platforms to volunteer for the environment, and you can find out more about these at the booths here today. In fact I understand that 90 per cent of the people you will meet manning the exhibits and supporting the various activities are volunteers. I would like to thank all of you for participating.
21. Volunteering of course is only an extension of our everyday personal responsibility to upkeep a "Clean and Green Singapore" life – when we tell the supermarket cashier that we do not need more than one plastic bag, or when we segregate our plastic bottles/containers separately for the waste collector.
22. I urge every Singaporean to join in this next lap of our Clean and Green Singapore journey. If you look at the backdrop, our Clean and Green journey is depicted as growing from a seed to a tree. The seeds were planted over 40 years ago. We want the tree to continue to grow and flower for our children and future generations. Only when everyone is on board will we realise the vision of the cleanest, greenest and most beautiful Singapore that we all cherish.