A fine mess

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 November, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 November, 2004, 12:00am

Singapore has long had a reputation for being a city of fines, and such a status has probably helped it remain one of the cleanest cities in Asia. Forget to flush your toilet and be ready to pay up; drop litter in the street and you could be charged S$200 ($947) to S$1,000. Jaywalkers can be handed a S$20 on-the-spot fine or face a maximum $100 penalty if convicted in court.

Traffic police do enforce these fines - occasionally. During the first half of this year, 1,470 pedestrians were caught jaywalking, a 124 per cent increase on last year, but a drop in the ocean, really, as most people jaywalk daily.

Tourists who come to the Lion City always seem concerned about these fines, but the reality is that most Singaporeans just go about their life and ignore them.

One only has to stroll down Orchard Road in the early hours of the morning or along the river banks to realise how much littering goes on, and that the multitude of cleaners are really doing a superb job.

In other cities, such fines would raise a popular uproar, but in Singapore, however, that is not the case. Singaporeans can be law abiding to a fault. Letters in local newspapers regularly pop up, complaining that the police are not doing enough against jaywalkers. Some even demand stronger fines for those littering. (It is not a bad idea, if you want my view, but maybe I have already lived here too long).

Indeed, this summer, the police force felt compelled to answer a couple of complaints by saying that it took a 'serious view' of jaywalking and explaining again that pedestrians should never cross when the 'red man' is displayed.

Last week, a clever and original advertising campaign riled many people who thought that bus stops had been vandalised with graffiti - which is still a touchy issue. It is now more than 10 years since American teenager Michael Fay was caned for spray-painting, yet it is still the incident which the foreign press often mentions when talking about Singapore.

Only recently at a press lunch, I was asked: 'Why are people still talking about this?'

This time, human rights advocacy groups can sit down. The culprit is no vandal, but US footwear giant Nike, which 'fly-posted' its advertisements in a graffiti-like fashion over previous advertisements.

It was reported that more than 50 people wrote to the Land Transport Authority and an outdoor bus advertising firm to complain that their bus stop had been defaced.

Of course, the big winner in all this is Nike, which has received acres of coverage in the local media.