Prepare yourself, gentle reader, for a once in a lifetime experience: an official joke from Singapore. I must admit that I had long supposed that there was no such thing. Life in the island paradise is a serious matter. Official policy sometimes takes forms possible only in a society where everyone gets a lot of practice in keeping a straight face. Still, there it was in the paper on Wednesday, a good giggle from Singapore. The story goes like this. The latest campaign conducted for the edification of Singapore citizens has focused on the cleanliness of public toilets. This apparently followed a speech from Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong last year in which he identified the two hallmarks of social grace in a society: the existence of clean public toilets and numerous school choirs. Knowing Singapore as we do, we need not doubt that this speech also produced a campaign to provide at least one choir in every school. Indeed, so strongly does the tide of sycophancy run in the Lion City that I imagine they barely escaped a campaign to have a choir and a clean school in every public toilet. But I digress. The clean loo campaign took the form of a hotline on which citizens were invited to praise paragons of public sanitation. The winner, and the subject of most of the 2,000 calls received, was the international airport. Indeed, as I can vouch from personal experience, its facilities are exceptionally clean and luxurious. They are also patrolled by an elderly gentleman who appears to have nothing to do but to observe users' compliance with another famous Singapore law, about flushing after use. Is this functionary, I wonder, officially described as a 'stool pigeon'? We are wandering again. Runners-up in the competition were the zoo, a railway station, a food market and shopping centre. Also lucky were 10 of the hot-line callers. Picked at random from the stream of cleanliness connoisseurs, they were rewarded with prizes worth about $40,000 and air tickets. This is where we get to the funny bit. The air ticket entitles each of them to a return trip to Hong Kong. This seems such a strange thing to give to somebody who likes clean public toilets that I waited - in vain - for the further revelation that runners-up got a consolation prize of $20,000 and two trips to the SAR. Don't get me wrong. I like Hong Kong. I would rather live here than in Singapore any day. But this city is not a paradise of lavatorial luxury. We would not send winners of gum-chewing competitions to Singapore. Why on earth should they be sending fanatics about clean public porcelain here? It may be, of course, that some subtle propaganda ploy is in progress here. The lucky winners will be interviewed on their return to Changi from a week or so in Hong Kong. Their description of our public toilets will be hair-raising. These are, after all, people who really care about toilets. And our toilets are pretty awful. The citizens of Singapore will conclude that in at least one respect Hong Kong falls well short of the standards of civilisation set by their prime minister, an honourable and admirable gentleman known for his writ . . . I mean wit. How are we doing, I wonder, on the school choir front? Still, let us not give up completely. There are points which can be made in defence of Hong Kong: we are a crowded city and some of our public facilities are extremely busy. Privately owned installations like those in shopping centres are often pretty good. Visitors from Singapore should, like we do, ignore the notices often found in them purporting to indicate that some particular item is reserved for patrons of a nearby restaurant. The Urban Council has made valiant efforts. The Regional lot, on the other hand, are the China Motor Bus of the loo business. For real officially sanctioned squalor, though, you cannot beat the upper tier of Government. I presume that Immigration Tower, home of the Immigration Department, was designed expressly for its present purpose and is run by the Government itself. It is odd, then, that the public parts of it have only one small toilet for the use of male visitors. Not surprisingly the condition of this place is execrable. The walls are disintegrating. It stinks. It is not the sort of place to which you would wish to take a school choir, or a visitor from Singapore. The facilities for staff are much better, judging by the number of users they were getting. One gentleman, in particular, seemed on my last visit to be suffering from some awful disease requiring frequent relief. But perhaps he was just a heavy smoker.