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By Jolie Fong
‘‘Singapore is a fine city.’’ Among us citizens, this has become a nationwide mantra of sorts. Singapore could very well be a fine city. Compared to other first-world countries, we still stand above as one of the cleanest, most orderly countries with well-behaved citizens. Litter is hard to spot. Public transport is as comfortable as private vehicles. Drivers on the road are typically law-abiding. Street crime is virtually non-existent, and general crime rates are so low that they put our international competitors to shame.
Perhaps it is because of our small population, that the government feels they can keep us in check. How do they do so? Slapping hefty penalties onto rule-breakers has shown to be quite effective in cultivating the orderly society we are today.
Here are some things you can be fined for in Singapore:
- Spitting Gum [Technically illegal to sell]: $1000
The ban was decided on in 1992. Vandals disposed of chewed gum in public housing estates, on the roads and on public transport. This caused serious maintenance issues and increased the cost of cleaning. When the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system opened in 1987, vandals stuck gum on the door sensors of trains, thus disrupting train services. To ensure that everything ran smoothly, then newly appointed Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong enforced the ban.
- Eating and drinking on public transport: up to $500
This fine was introduced in early 2009. This was because eating attracted unwanted pests, and spillage of drinks could cause accidents. Most were careful not to dirty the train and ate only small snacks (sweets) or drunk water. Granted that there were selfish commuters who blatantly flouted the rules, but they were made up of a small minority. Both parties receiving equal backlash could be quite unfair.
- Littering: Starts from $300, community service
At the 2013 “Clean and Green Campaign”, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong mentioned that citizens must keep the country clean because it reflects our values- “proud, considerate and environmentally conscious”. He also added that “fines and regulations were not the best way to keep the country clean, but to exert social pressure on those who do not respect the environment”.
- Graffiti: Fine and/or jail term
This was introduced in 1966. Graffiti was deemed as vandalism instead of artistic expressions.
- Urinating in elevators: $75 SGD
Not much to be said. Some elevators have Urine Detection Devices which detect urine odour in elevators, which cause the elevator doors to remain close until the police arrive. Frankly, no one wants to be in an elevator that reeks of urine, but being trapped in an elevator with your own urine is much worse.
- Smoking in certain areas: $300 SGD
The ban started in 1970, and extended to other areas over the years. The Smoking Prohibition Act was to keep a clean and healthy environment, and protect the public from harmful effects of smoking. The long-term goal is to prohibit smoking in all public areas except for designated smoking points. There is even a plan to gradually remove tobacco from our lives by limiting supply of tobacco to those born after year 2000.
Sounds rather excessive, doesn’t it? Realistically speaking, not the entire population moves like robots in lock step with the law. Life is still relaxed here. Every once in a while, you see people jaywalking, tossing their cigarette butts on the roads, and behaving in all kinds of ‘fine’ manner. Citizens are perfectly content with the way things are. The populous treat the fine-happy nature of the law quite satirically, mostly as a slightly annoyance and with a light heart.
In conclusion, Singapore cannot be kept in such a clean and orderly state without more than a slight judicial probe. Though you could be fined for nearly anything and everything, the impact on our little country isn’t as big as expected. We Singaporeans should take this “Fine City” nickname of ours in our stride, and show its light-hearted side.