SINGAPORE’S CRAZY RULES
The bureaucracy in Singapore monitors almost every aspect of its citizens lives from the size of their families to the length of their hair. People are told how much money to save. Parents of overweight students are given suggestions on how to change their children's diet. The rules earned Singapore the title “nanny state” and have created a country that is like a sleepy suburb where self-censorship and mild paranoia locals call “cop-in-the-mind syndrome” rule. The science fiction writer William Gibson called Singapore “Disneyland with the death penalty.”
In Singapore there are heavy fines for jaywalking: $600 fine for not using a cross walk and $285 for jaywalking or walking across a bus parking area. Repeat jaywalkers face a $1,470 fine or six months in jail. There is also a fine of $500 for running out of gas in the causeway between Singapore and Malaysia. This is understandable because it causes a huge traffic jam.
August is the only month in which Singaporeans are is allowed to fly the national flag and then everyone seems to fly it . For a while jukeboxes were banned. In the 1970s, posters read "Males with long hair will be served last," and travelers arriving in Singapore with long hair had their passports confiscated until they got a haircut.
In 2010, Associated Press reported: “Singapore boasts one of the lowest violent crime rates and highest standards of living in the world, but human rights groups often criticize the government for excessive punishments. Singapore recently reiterated a ban on the sale of chewing gum and announced a crackdown on littering. [Source: Associated Press, June 25, 2010]
Belmont Lay wrote in Yahoo News, “In parliament, we have the Nominated Member of Parliament scheme. One of the roles of the NMP is to serve as the token opposition.
But of course, they aren't real opposition like the Chee Soon Juan type of opposition. It is kind of like an endorsed, "lite" version. Next, there is Hong Lim Park, specifically set aside so people can go and demonstrate with picket signs. Away from the streets and roads where other people cannot see them. You see, everything in this country is clearly demarcated. There is barely any dynamism. There is no element of surprise. It is all predictable -- and deathly boring. And that's why a lot of young people are going mad. More than half of the 2,000 people surveyed last year said they want to emigrate. [Source: Belmont Lay, The Flipside, Yahoo News, April 5, 2013]
“Singapore authorities are tentatively trying to shed some of the social restrictions that have given the city-state an international reputation for quirky conservativism. Bans on bar-top dancing, bungee jumping and the sale of women's magazine Cosmopolitan were lifted this year. But Playboy is still outlawed and while chewing gum will soon be on sale here after a long-time ban, it can only be sold strictly on medical prescription.” [Ibid]
See Drugs, Population Growth, Automobiles, Censorship, Character, Entertainment
Littering, Toilet and Cleanliness Rules in Singapore
It is said that the streets in Singapore are so clean you can eat off them. As part of its cleanliness campaign, Singapore banned trees from public parks that drop leaves and posted anti-litter posters that read "Keeping our city clean is a national objective." Police are posted on the rooftops of building looking for people gum chewers and littering.
Litterers are not only fined US$1,000 for their offense, they have been humiliated by having their pictures splashed across the pages of government-owned newspapers and have been required to clean up litter in public places using plastic gloves and wearing a vest that has “Corrective Work Order” printed on the back.” Despite these rules Singapore has its share of litterers. You can see trash lying around housing projects. After outdoor celebrations sometimes there are cans and bottles and litter everywhere.
Elizabeth Weiss Green wrote in U.S. News & World Report, “When Singapore residents call their hometown a "fine city," they're not bragging about their looks. But the fines they mean-big-dollar punishments for "antisocial behavior" like spitting-can make the city look finer, too. Drop trash on the ground in this Southeast Asian city, and you'll pay $1,000. You'll also get a "community work order," forced labor designed to shame people the government deems litterbugs. The result: Trash's life span is short. [Source: Elizabeth Weiss Green, U.S. News & World Report, March 18, 2007 ^~^]
“The country's litter laws go back to 1968, when its authoritarian prime minister tried to force civility on his country en masse with a "Keep Singapore Clean" campaign. Laws got tougher in 1987, with higher minimum fines, and again in 1992, with the work-order program, which has offenders pick up trash for no pay or else face a $5,000 fine. "Work is to be done under the full glare of publicity as otherwise the deterrent effect would be lost," says Maggie Chia, a customer- service worker with the country's National Environment Agency. ^~^
“Taught in schools and promoted in mass public-education programs (antilittering banners are a staple of major public events), Singapore's culture of clean has become ingrained. So ingrained, in fact, that it has spawned hawks who would like the government to go even further. In a recent editorial, one writer, determined to prevent "Fine City" from becoming "Garbage City," stopped short of advocating jail time for perpetrators but did deliver an enthusiastic lecture. "Do you ... surreptitiously sprinkle those tiny parking coupon tabs on the floor?" he asked. "Stop it. Every little act counts." ^~^
Singapore’s Anti-Spitting and Anti-Urinating Rules
There are also heavy fines for spitting in public ($1000), urinating in public ($1000), picking flowers ($500), wasting water $500), feeding birds ($1000), and tossing away cigarette butts $500). Many Singaporean public housing units have elevators are outfit with a “Urine Detection Device,” which atomically notifies police and shuts down the elevator if someone urinate sin it.
Singapore’s anti-spitting laws were enacted in part to help the city-state reduce tuberculosis because it was believed that spitting helped spread disease. Wayne Arnold wrote in the New York Times, “Spitting, believed to aid the spread of tuberculosis, has been outlawed here since British colonialists tried in vain to quell what the port's Chinese immigrants once considered as natural as breathing. Chinese immigrants believed that keeping phlegm in the throat was unhealthy and that spitting could ward off bad luck or ill will. Spittoons were common around Singapore, and in his memoirs Lee Kuan Yew, the former prime minister and statesman, recalled how with difficulty the government tried to eliminate the practice after independence. In 1984, the government began a major effort to eliminate spitting. After warning that it would begin enforcing the anti-spitting laws, the government fined 128 people for spitting that first year and another 139 in 1985, up from just 1 in 1983.[Source: Wayne Arnold, New York Times, June 11, 2003]
A campaign against spitting was resurrected to battle SARS in the early 2000s, which was spread through droplets from the nose and mouth. At that time. Eleven men accused of spitting in public were paraded front of camera and fined $300 each.
Singapore Installs Surveillance Cameras to Curb High-Rise Littering
In 2012, Antara/Xinhua reported: “Singapore's National Environment Agency will install surveillance cameras in places that has a persistent high-rise littering problem, Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Grace Fu said. The move followed statistics showing that the number of high- rise littering cases rose by nearly 700 cases from the previous year to 5,232 in 2011. [Source: Antara/Xinhua, March 07, 2012 *=*]
“The National Environment Agency prosecuted some 40 cases in the last 10 years. Local media said it typically required many hours of stakeouts to catch the offender in action. Those convicted of high-rise littering, or killer litter, can face imprisonment or a fine, or both. The Housing Development Board (HDB), which builds public housing flats for sale, may also compulsorily acquire the HDB flat or terminate the tenancy if the killer litter is thrown from any HDB property. *=*
“Nevertheless, Fu said it does not completely address the challenge by stepping up enforcement alone. "We must build greater individual ownership and community action if we are to raise the standard of cleanliness in all our public spaces," she said in the parliament. Environment authorities are working with the Ministry of Education to integrate environmental responsibility into the ministry's values-driven school curriculum, she said.” *=*
Singapore’s Shame Campaign Against Litterers
In 2010, Singapore began trying a new tactic against the city-state's litterbugs: Embarrassing them in front of their neighbors. Alex Kennedy of Associated Press wrote: :After studying the causes of littering for a year, the government boosted police patrols of "littering hotspots," added more and larger public trash cans and warned that two or more littering violations could lead to sentences of picking up trash in busy public areas while wearing a bright orange vest. "We will continue to take a tough stance toward litterbugs and improve the bin infrastructure," said Andrew Tan, head of the National Environment Agency. "Despite the progress over the years, littering remains a concern." [Source: Alex Kennedy, Associated Press, June 7, 2010 \+/]
“The shame campaign is the latest twist in a yearslong effort to reinforce a squeaky-clean image that helps Singapore regularly top expat quality-of-life polls. Singapore has one of the lowest violent crime rates and highest standards of living in the world. The government hopes public cleaning assignments - community centers, shopping malls and bus stations - will shame Singaporeans into putting garbage where it belongs. Singapore "will be making work orders more visible to the public by conducting more exercises in public areas with heavy human traffic," the environment agency said in a statement. "Many offenders felt that it's very embarrassing." \+/
“Along with stricter enforcement of laws by police - litter offenses rose to 41,392 last year from 3819 in 2005 - the government is recruiting volunteer "Litter-free Ambassadors" to scold neighbors who litter and to "adopt a zero-tolerance attitude towards litterbugs." "It's just like how people who cut queues are now frowned upon because it is socially unacceptable," Tan said. The heart of the anti-litter campaign remains a hefty fine - raised last year to S$300 (US$212) from S$200 (US$141) for first-time offenders - and the environment agency it may raise it still higher. The fine jumps to as high as S$5000 (US$3535) for multiple offenses, reason enough for most Singaporeans to toe the line. But not everyone agrees. "I think shaming someone goes too far," said Diana Johat, a 27-year-old bank worker. "Singaporeans really care about money, so a big fine really hits them where it hurts." "The culture here is to instill the fear that if you don't follow the rules, there will be big consequences." \+/
“An environment agency study, which surveyed 4462 people, found that Singaporeans litter because they can't find a trash can, are too lazy to search one out or out of habit. More than 90 percent of those caught littering during the last five years were smokers flicking cigarette butts to the ground. The environment agency said it would install more ashtrays, but the lack of a trash can was no excuse to litter. "Everyone needs to learn to hold onto their rubbish till they find an empty bin," the agency said. \+/
“Some commentators blame the increase of foreign workers, who account for about a quarter of Singapore's 5 million population, for the litter problem. "The befouling of Singapore's streets and waterways has grown worse in recent years, exacerbated by an influx of foreign residents bringing with them different social norms," the Straits Times daily said Monday. Some foreigners objected to being singled out though they admitted that the litter laws in their home countries aren't enforced as strictly as those in Singapore. "It's not true all foreigners are messy," said Vincent Chin, a 24-year old tax consultant from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. "I'm a very tidy person, even though I come from a place that's pretty dirty." \+/
Singapore’s Fines for Unflushed Toilets
In Singapore, it is a crime to forget to flush a public toilet. People apprehended for failing to flush a public toilet are fined US$107 for their first offense. Repeat offenders are charged US$357. People who are caught failing to flush three or more times are fined $714. Managers of buildings with public toilets are required by law to have them supplied with toilet paper, soap and paper towels. There have been “Clean Toilet” campaigns.
Cris Prystay wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “Gum is just one of many examples of Singapore's preoccupation with public hygiene. People who spit in public face a possible fine of the equivalent of $586 for a first offense, and twice that for a repeat offense. The city also has fines for people who fail to flush toilets. That law hasn't been enforced much since the government passed the law requiring that all public restrooms be outfitted with toilets that flush automatically. [Source: Cris Prystay, Wall Street Journal, June 4, 2004 ^^]
Littering in bathrooms is also taboo. “Small-scale litter, which includes cigarette butts, matchsticks and candy wrappers, yields a fine of up to US$117. Repeat small-scale litterbugs and folks who throw out paper cups or drink cans go to court, where judges might dole out $586 fines and stints of picking up trash. Keeping Singapore clean was an early obsession of founding father Lee Kuan Yew. "We would have been a grosser, ruder, cruder society had we not made these efforts to persuade our people to change their ways," he recounts in his autobiography.” ^^
Singapore’s Ban on Chewing Gum
Chewing gum was banned in Singapore 1992 after Lee Kuan Yew expressed his disgust over gum on the pavement, buildings, buses and subway trains. Street cleaners liked the decision. There was also a fear that gum might jam the doors of subway trains.
In 2004, the ban on chewing gun was lifted. But the move was not as libertarian as you might think. People that wanted to chew gum had to register to do so and then they were only allowed to chew “therapeutic, ” “medicinal” and “dental” gums purchased at pharmacies. Gum chewers are required to submit their names and ID card numbers to the pharmacy where they purchase the gum. Pharmacies that sell gum to unregistered gum chewers face up to two years in prison and fines of $3,000.
After the 2004 rule changes many Singaporeans still find found the rules on gum stupid. One 22-year-old student told AP, “It’s ridiculous that it’s easier for a 16-year-old to visit a prostitute than it is to get chewing gum here...Why should I go through the trouble of getting nicotine gum if I can buy a pack of cigarettes without giving my name?”
The gums that are available are tightly controlled by the government They include Orbit and Orbit White, both sugar -free made by the American company Wrigley. The primary reason for the end of the ban was American companies complained that about being shut out of the Singapore market and made gum sales be included in a free trade agreement between the United States and Singapore.
History of Singapore’s Gum Rule
Cris Prystay wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “Singapore's authorities developed a distaste for gum decades ago. The government first debated a ban in 1983 because of "problems caused by spent chewing gum inserted into keyholes and mailboxes and on elevator buttons," Mr Lee writes. When Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong reproposed the ban on sales of gum to parliament after the incident on the train, "ministers who had studied in America recounted how the underside of lecture theater seats were filthy with chewing gum stuck to them like barnacles," Mr. Lee writes. (It was never illegal to bring some into the country for personal use.) [Source: Cris Prystay, Wall Street Journal, June 4, 2004 ^^]
In 2010, Alex Kennedy of Associated Press wrote: “Singapore said it will maintain a ban on chewing gum sales, a policy that has helped shape the city-state's international image as a tightly controlled, squeaky-clean island. The ban, first imposed in 1992, is necessary to reduce gum-related litter and vandalism, Mohamad Maliki Bin Osman, parliamentary secretary of the national development ministry, told lawmakers Thursday. "We remain concerned that lifting the ban could result in chewing gum litter resurfacing as a problem," Mohamad said. "The government stands by its decision to ban chewing gum as the rationale is based on maintaining a clean and comfortable living environment." [Source: Alex Kennedy, Associated Press, March 4, 2010 ==]
“Singapore has sought in recent years to cultivate a more cosmopolitan, more hip image in a bid to attract foreign investment and tourists. The nation opened its first casino in 2010 and began hosting Formula One races in 2008. But the country maintains strict laws against public demonstrations and speech about religion and race. Punishment for minor crimes such as vandalism can include canings, and drug smugglers are often hanged. ==
“Denise Phua Lay Peng, a member of parliament from the ruling People's Action Party, called on the government to allow citizens more freedom. "Let Singaporeans be accountable for the consequences, and not let our behavior be shaped by so many sticks," Phua said. "If Singaporeans were seeking liberty in so many areas and the government does concede in some of these areas, why not liberalize the chewing gum ban?" Phua also expressed frustration that Singapore is so well-known internationally for banning gum. A clean city is more important than the freedom to chew gum, Mohamad said, adding that before the ban gobs of gum had stopped subway doors from closing, creating delays. "Our efforts at creating a clean, green and safe living environment have garnered much more international acclaim than criticisms of the ban of chewing gum," he said.
Amending Singapore’s Gum Rule
Cris Prystay wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “For years, Hidayat Osman got around this city-state's ban on the sale of chewing gum by picking up an occasional pack in neighboring Malaysia. So it was a pleasant surprise when the 24-year-old saw a few perfectly legal boxes of Wrigley's Orbit chewing gum tucked on a shelf behind a pharmacist's counter here. "After all these years, it'll be nice to get it locally," he said, as he was about to ask for a pack. Not so fast. The clerk pointed to a sign that says the pharmacist -- the only person who can legally dispense gum -- was out to lunch. "Wow. It's like a controlled substance," Mr Osman laughed. [Source: Cris Prystay, Wall Street Journal, June 4, 2004 ^^]
“After a fierce lobbying effort, Chicago's Wm Wrigley Jr Co began selling Orbit in Singapore on May 20, 12 years after this famously fastidious nation of four million outlawed the sale of gum. The ban came after someone stuck a wad in the door of a high-speed commuter train, causing a rare delay in scheduled service. ^^
“Wrigley enlisted the aid of a Washington lobbyist and Illinois Congressman Phil Crane, chairman of the House Ways and Means trade subcommittee, to get chewing gum on the agenda of the US-Singapore Free Trade Agreement three years ago. Singapore parried, at first saying it would only allow sales of medicinal gum prescribed by a doctor. Negotiations dragged on for 2½ years, and eventually the gum ban became the biggest sticking point in the entire trade agreement. ^^
“Singapore finally agreed to over-the-counter sales of gum with proven health benefits. Wrigley successfully argued that its Orbit brand of sugar-free gum (with calcium lactate to strengthen tooth enamel) is indeed a health product. But because Orbit is classified as a medical product, the government tightly controls its distribution and marketing. The bottom line: Gum can only be sold by a dentist or pharmacist, who must take down the names of buyers. "They were tough," Mr Crane said of the talks. As for why so-called therapeutic gum, but not other kinds, made the cut, Mr Crane said: "It seemed very strange to me." ^^
Marketing Gum Under Singapore’s Revised Gum Rule
Cris Prystay wrote in the Wall Street Journal, ““Singapore has licensed gum products made by several companies, including Wrigley, Impress Gum, a subsidiary of Santa Barbara, Calif-based ADB International Inc, and Pfizer Inc, the maker of Nicorette Gum. Singapore has also approved the sale of two prescription-only gum products: Biotene Dry Mouth Gum, made by Rancho Dominguez, Calif.-based Laclede Inc., and Chlorhexidine Chewing Gum, made by Fertin Pharma AS, which is based in Denmark. [Source: Cris Prystay, Wall Street Journal, June 4, 2004 ^^]
At a downtown drugstore recently, a pharmacist held up a small brown notebook in which he had jotted down the names of a half-dozen gum purchasers. "It's crazy; I sell much more serious drugs over the counter but don't have to take down names," said the pharmacist, who didn't want his own name taken down. "They only need to register if they buy drugs with codeine. And gum." Wrigley says Singapore's restrictions are preferable to an outright ban. "It is unusual," says Christopher Perille, Wrigley's senior director of corporate communications. "Singapore is the only place in the world with a ban, and with these kind of restrictions." ^^
“The company says its lobbying campaign in Singapore was worth it, despite the market's tiny size. "There's many examples in our history of things that may have not made short-term financial sense but was the right thing to do in a philosophical or long-term sense," says Mr. Perille. ^^
“It has some work to do rebuilding the market in Singapore. "It's been so long since I chewed it, I don't really have the craving," said Alex Ang, a 28-year-old graphic designer. "Why start now?" Wrigley is planning a print and billboard marketing campaign to reacquaint Singaporeans with gum, and to tell them what they have to do to get it. That involves more negotiations and fancy footwork. All ads for medical products must be approved by the Health Sciences Authority. In-store ads are restricted to the pharmacists' counter, an HSA spokeswoman said.
Many of the ads in Wrigley's current campaign show large graphs that illustrate how chewing more Orbit gum will improve oral health over time. Beyond the calcium lactate -- a substance Wrigley claims can help "remineralize" tooth enamel -- ads for Orbit White, another Wrigley product approved in Singapore, play up how it's chief ingredient, sodium hexametaphosphate, helps whiten teeth. "It's not about the fun, it's not about the flavor. It's going to be more about the benefits," Mr Perille says. ^^
“Wrigley is also making a big marketing push aimed at dentists. In addition to free samples dentists can give to patients, Wrigley also plans to pump up its contributions to the World Dental Federation. The WDF has promised to encourage its Singapore members to sell Orbit in their clinics. "It is very unusual," concedes Choo Teck Chuan, head of the World Dental Federation's Singapore branch and chairman of the association's global education committee. "I don't think dentists in other countries sell gum." ^^
The government also announced new, stiff penalties for gum litter: Even first-time offenders will have to go to court except in the odd instance that police decide to level a $234 fine. ^^
Singapore’s House Plant Rules
Singapore resident Steven Wrage wrote in Atlantic Monthly that police visited his apartment after neighbors turned him in for over watering his houseplant. The police told him, "You are subjecting the neighborhood to the danger od dengue hemorrhagic fever...Standing water is precisely what female mosquitos are searching for."
After he removed the saucers under his plant pots that were collected the incriminating standing water, the police told him, "I'm glad you understand...We all need to work together to do our part to make Singapore safe and secure and healthy for all.’ Heaven forbid if a potted plant falls off a balcony. The Housing Development Board launches a thorough search for the “killer litterbug.”
In 1964, there was a serious dengue fever epidemic .Efforts by the government resulted in there being far fewer victims than there could have bee. Short term efforts included offering assistance to victims and taking measures to prevent the disease. Singapore also embarked on a long-term plan to get rid of dengue-fever- and malaria-carrying mosquitos that included the Destruction of Disease-Bearing Insects Act, which allowed health inspectors to enter a house without a warrant to look for mosquito breeding spots (namely pools of water) and impose stiff fines and prison terms on violators. By the early 1980s, malaria mosquitos had been eradicated enough for the WHO to declare Singapore malaria free.
Problems Created by Too Many Rules in Singapore
Mark Jacobson wrote in National Geographic, “The Singapore government is not unaware of the pitfalls of its highly controlled society. One concern is the "creativity crisis," the fear that an emphasis on rote learning in Singapore's schools is not conducive to producing game-changing ideas. Yet attempts to encourage originality have been tone-deaf. When Scape, a youth outreach group, opened a "graffiti wall," youngsters were instructed to submit graffiti designs for consideration; those chosen would be painted on a designated wall at an assigned time. [Source: Mark Jacobson, National Geographic, January 2010 /+\]
“Similarly, the government has maintained a campaign against the use of "Singlish," the multiculti gumbo of Malay, Hokkien Chinese, Tamil, and English street patois that is Singapore's great linguistic achievement. As you sit in a Starbucks listening to teens saying things like "You blur like sotong, lah!" (roughly, "You're dumber than squid, man!"), Singlish seems a brilliantly subversive attack on the very conformity the government claims it is trying to overcome. Then again, one of Singlish's major conceits is the ironic lionization of the flashy, down-market "Ah Beng" culture of Chinese immigrant thugs and their sunglass-wearing Malay counterparts. You know that won't fly in a world where the MM ("minister de-mentor" in Beng speak) has advocated "assortative mating," the idea that college graduates should marry only other college graduates so as to uplift the national stock. /+\
“Perhaps the most troubling problem facing the nation is a result of its overly successful population control program, which ran in the 1970s with the slogan "Two Is Enough." Today Singaporeans are simply not reproducing, so the country must depend on immigrants to keep the population growing. The government offers baby bonuses and long maternity leaves, but nothing will help unless Singaporeans start having more sex. According to a poll by the Durex condom company, Singaporeans have less intercourse than almost any other country on Earth. "We are shrinking in our population," the MM says. "Our fertility rate is 1.29. It is a worrying factor." This could be the fatal error in the Singapore Model: The eventual extinction of Singaporeans.” /+\
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Singapore Tourism Board, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated June 2015