'Immediate priority' for new environment ministry is a cleaner Singapore amid COVID-19: Grace Fu
SINGAPORE: An "immediate priority" for the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment will be a cleaner Singapore amid the COVID-19 pandemic, said its minister Grace Fu on Friday (Aug 21).
Speaking to reporters at a virtual interview, Ms Fu said that among other things sustainability also involves raising public hygiene standards.
Previously Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, Ms Fu now helms the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment, formerly known as the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources.
"To me, sustainability is about being leaner, is being stronger, is about being kinder, but most importantly, my immediate priority really is to get Singapore cleaner," she told reporters.
"As we're going through COVID, I think it is really a reminder for us that proper hygiene, vector control, clean sanitation, quality water, safer food are all important basic necessities in life that we shouldn't take for granted. And I would like to work on that."
As such, new legislation in this area will be introduced within three to six months, noted Ms Fu, who took over from Mr Masagos Zulkifli, now Minister for Social and Family Affairs.
This includes the amendment of the Environmental Public Health Act, which was announced earlier this year.
"This will allow us to look at the standards of hygiene that we have," said Ms Fu. "We intend to raise (these) standards, particularly in areas where we have more vulnerable users. So we're looking at possibly childcare centres, eldercare facilities … we hope to get something done quite soon."
A result of this amendment could see managers required to carry out thorough periodic cleaning of their premises at prescribed minimum frequencies, the National Environment Agency (NEA) had said in March.
READ: Mandatory cleaning standards to be introduced, starting with childcare centres, schools and hawker centres
"The next three months or six months, it's really about getting Singapore cleaner," said Ms Fu, but added the longer term goal was about "sustainability, about environmental protection".
"RETHINKING" THE ROLE OF A CLEANER
Ms Fu also stressed that there was a need for "collective responsibility", as opposed to a reliance on cleaners.
"It's about raising the level of understanding in (the) childcare sector, in the eldercare sector, in the hawker centre sector, so that it's a more collective responsibility - rather than (just) the cleaners - to keep us clean," she said.
Ms Fu noted that this is not just about cleaning frequency or the number of cleaners available.
Instead, keeping Singapore clean should also be about building "competencies" in the kinds of technology, equipment and resources that can be used.
Singapore had in February launched the SG Clean campaign, which the NEA said was aimed at instilling "a national keep clean culture”.
And while there have been similar campaigns in the past, Ms Fu said there were a "multitude of factors" behind this particular effort.
"There are (a) multitude of factors as to why we need to mount another campaign, because I think we have tried in the past, but there's no reason why we shouldn't try - particularly now we expect, you know, higher standards of cleanliness."
Hygiene standards have been raised as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, said Ms Fu, giving the example of how people now look for washbasins with soap in hawker centres and coffee shops.
"Sometimes operators, if they're too busy, they may overlook simple things like that, or having toilet paper in their toilets," she said.
"So we need to again re-emphasise the importance, and we're looking at how to make that ... legislation change, that can make that a more effective requirement on the facility or the venue owner."
Ms Fu added that Singaporeans should also look after the interests and health of cleaners, as they are on the frontlines of the pandemic.
"We should look after their interests and their health, because for them to come across soiled tissues and used masks at the hawker centre - it's really not fair to them, that's not a job hazard that they have bargained for," said Ms Fu.
"So I think we would like our users to be more considerate, to be kinder to the cleaners and to exercise individual responsibility to keep the place clean."
Singaporeans should also not have the mentality that if they clean up after themselves, cleaners will have no jobs to do, added Ms Fu.
"We shouldn't go with the idea that if we clean up ourselves the cleaner is going to go out of a job, that's not the case," she said. "We have a lot of cleaning work that's needed, and we have problems getting more and more cleaners. Because our cleaners are getting on in their age, and we need to rely less on foreign cleaners."