The scheme to give volunteers the authority and power to book litterbugs, at first glance, seems like a wonderful display of active citizenry. These citizens assume this responsibility without remuneration, with the noble aim of keeping Singapore spick and span. The National Environment Agency (NEA) has sought to empower individuals in several non-government organisations to curb the number of offences. Potential offenders, now aware of these plain-clothed volunteers on the police prowl, would be less-inclined to commit transgressions.
Yet, this well-intentioned initiative is contrived, has the potential to engender needless distrust, and does not address the root of the problem. Pedantically motivated by the need for results – through the employment of enthusiastic Singaporeans and complementary, punitive measures – the fundamental importance of fostering responsibility has been overshadowed.
One should not litter because of an entrenched concern for the cleanliness and hygiene for public spaces, not out of fear of repercussions.
I detest this need to intensify existing regulatory measures (with the issuance of “warrant cards”, which allow card-carrying volunteers to record the particulars of litterbugs), because the accordance of such power creates additional complications. Conflicts and disputes could become more commonplace. Individuals do not need to be licensed or sanctioned to ask another – politely and respectfully – to pick up his or her litter. Furthermore, even with formal training conducted by the NEA, there is no guarantee that abuses will not happen. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?
Ironically, a ST feature (Nov. 3) noted that “only one of [the volunteers] has actually used his card since the National Environment Agency began issuing them earlier this year”.
So really, what for sia? Observers could be accused of constructing convenient slippery slopes, when they assert that the practice of giving ordinary citizens power and authority against litterbugs could be expanded into more domains (the G may give these volunteers the right to fine litterbugs). Curiously, ST spoke to one of these volunteers, who argued passionately: “Why stop at littering? For senior people with proper training, let’s do away with the silo mentality and give them the right to book other offenders such as those who smoke in non-smoking areas and those who park illegally”.
Striving for a clean and green Singapore is all well and good. But if it is a clean and green Singapore governed by more rules and more enforcers, with reliance upon additional structures of power and authority, then it might not be that worth it after all.