Many of our void decks have facilities for the convenience of residents. These serve as open communal spaces for fellowship and bonding activities. Unfortunately, this scene is all too common.
A local resident emailed me – and the issues he brought up are pertinent. It illustrates the real problems we have on the ground – and the difficult choices we have to make. I have extracted our anonymised email exchange below and would be grateful for your suggestions:
Dear Dr Balakrishnan
Thank you for your very prompt reply.
I do agree with you that we should not sacrifice convenience for majority just because of a few black sheep.
It will be great if the Resident Committee can survey the concerns of the residents and from there make an informed decision regarding the best course of action.
Yes PLEASE upload the photograph and our correspondence in your facebook. It will be most ideal should those culprits see the effects of their inconsiderate actions.
Thank you for your time and your efforts.
Message Classification: Restricted
Dear Mr Z
Thank you for your email. The litter left behind by theinconsiderate users of the void deck furniture is deplorable.Unfortunately, this is the type of situation that our cleaners face on many mornings when they commence their rounds.
Your observation that public hygiene in Japan is better than ours is, unfortunately, quite accurate. Public areas in Japan and Korea are cleaner, not because they have more cleaners or cameras or fines- but because of self discipline and peer pressure.
The question is whether we should aim higher, and how to do so.
I believe we must try harder. Public education, peer pressure,enforcement and cleaning must go hand-in-hand. And we are trying tostep up our efforts on all these fronts.
Specifically on the problem of void deck litter, two upcoming developments are worth highlighting. The Ministry of Home Affairs has announced that more video cameras will be installed in void decks, car-parks and public areas. In addition, I have just announced an increase in the composition fine for littering to $500 for the first offence.
The related question is what to do about our current public areasand facilities. Void deck furniture is a case in point. Installing and maintaining this furniture is not a trivial exercise. The TownCouncil will not do so unless residents specifically ask for these facilities. On the other hand, we also have to deal with inconsiderate behaviour of the small minority of anti-social users.
Should we remove this convenience for the majority because of theactions of a minority?
There are no easy answers – and I think this question is best answered by the resident themselves. I will request the ResidentsCommittee to seek the residents views, and then advise the Town Council to take the appropriate action.
As the issue which you have raised is not unique to this block only, I would also like to seek your permission to upload this photograph and our correspondence to my Facebook page. I will delete your name and phone number.
Please let me know if this is OK with you.
Sent: Wednesday, 21 November, 2012 10:19 AM
To: Vivian BALAKRISHNAN (MEWR)
Subject: Re: Resident Matters
Dear Dr Balakrishnan
I wrote to you on a few occasion regarding the benches and table atthe void deck of Block Z zzz Road. I voiced my concerns aboutthe potential litter problem with the building of the benches and tables. The last incident I wrote to you was about a group of youngsters playing with fire and candles on the table itself.
This time, I am writing to you again about the unacceptable state ofcleanliness and litter caused by inconsiderate users. I am not sureif the litter is caused by the residents but ever since the tableand benches were built, it has attracted a lot of outsiders bringingfood there and leaving their litter behind.
I am a resident of this block and I have to face this sorry state of affairs on a daily basis. It is easy to view educating the public about cleanliness as a front line approach but sadly Singapore has along way to go in terms of social graciousness and civic mindedness.I went to Japan last month and their state of cleanliness is highly commendable. We are probably decades behind them.
So when do we draw the line between education and enforcement? At this point, i would say that enforcement is the way to go. I voiced my concerns last year about the potential problem and it was self-fulfilled. Litter became a problem and so was vandalism.
Please take a look at the photo which i took at 635am this morning. Is this acceptable? I am merely reflecting my views about having a clean and green environment but sadly with the table and benches, i am deprived of this very basic right to a clean area.
It is easy for outsiders to take things for granted and this problemis exacerbated by the coffee shop which is just next to the block.ANd there were occasions where groups of people congregated with beer cans and drinking bouts were conducted there. As a resident, I dont feel comfortable nor safe.
I requested for the table and benches to be removed in the previous emails. One set of table and benches were removed. What about this current set? Why remove one and keep the other and thus perpetuated the problem?
Cleaning daily and having more cleaners did not change the mindsetof these inconsiderate users.
I seek a solution to this problem as I view it as a long term issue. May I have a response please?
Thank you for bringing this matter up again. We will have torepair
the vandalism, try to identify the culprits and review theoriginal
proposal again. We will re-consult the residents of the block on
whether they still want these amenities.
Please stay in touch.
On Sep 11, 2011, at 3:08 PM, Z wrote:
Dear Dr Balakrishnan
Just one more photos.
Dear Dr Balakrishnan
I refer to your email response dated 14 July 2011. I had written
in on the 13 July voicing out my concerns regarding erecting the
tables and benches on the void deck of Block Z zzz Road. Please
find your email appended below.
I am writing to you once again regarding this issue because
I witnessed a very dismal and ugly incident yesterday 10
September Saturday. I was on my way home and I saw a group of very
young children playing with fire on the ground near to the grass patch.
AsI walked into the void deck, I realised that the table had
been vandalised. Since I did not see them set fire to the table, I
have no evidence to accuse them. Based on consequential events and
since they were playing with fire nearby, I infer that they were the
ones who set fire to the table. (Please see the photos attached).
In your email, you said that residents requested for thetables.
I do see a few residents using them for chit chat sessions but
mostly,the tables were used by NON-RESIDENTS. They brought their food
and dirtied the surroundings as they failed to clean up
after themselves. This was my initial apprehension about suchtables.
They attract the wrong crowd! And my initial apprehension has
become reality! There was once I saw a group of teenagers who brought
cupnoodles from the nearby plaza just to be eaten at the void deck
of block 165. Its fine to be eating there but they failed to clean
up thereafter. The half filled cups were spilled all over and
dirtied the surrounding.
You also mentioned that in some estates, residents are mindful
and it is a win win situation. However I cannot say the same for
my block. Its definitely not a win win situation. In fact,
the vandalised table is an EYE SORE.
This is exactly what I was apprehensive about when I wrote to
youback in July. I knew that such things would happen and when they
do,they leave behind very unpleasant sentiments. Kindly refer to
the pictures attached. The pictures speak for themselves and it
is evident that my initial apprehension is not based on
unfounded personal feelings. I had experienced this before in my
previous estate and now I am reliving it once again. It is notnice.
Perhaps you can understand my initial concerns and how
frustratingit is to me now that this ugly incident had indeed verified
I look forward to your reply and what would be the actions that
the relevant authorities would do to eradicate such
— “Vivian BALAKRISHNAN (MEWR)”
Message Classification: Unclassified
Dear Mr Z,
Thank you very much for taking the trouble to email me.
in the void deck are being built in response to appeals from
residents for their use. I am aware that there are potential
problems with such installations – hence we do not install
all void decks. The key issue is whether our own
it, and take responsibility for keeping the area clean and
many areas, this has been achieved, and it is a
In others, we have had to make adjustments.
We should not have strangers hanging out in void deckscreating
nuisance. We will work with the Neighbourhood Police and
Citizens-on-Patrol to help ensure this.
You have also quite rightly brought up the issue of
are right that having more cleaners is not the answer. We need
elevate our sense of public responsibility. Fines is part ofthe
solution, but hopefully not the first and only resort.
I am sharing your email with the residents’ committee for their
Please stay in touch with us.
Sent: Wednesday, 13 July, 2011 4:10 PM
To: Vivian BALAKRISHNAN (MEWR)
Subject: Resident Matters
Dear Dr Balakrishnan
I am writing with regards to a matter which I hope you can help
I am a resident of Block 165 Gangsa Road. Today when I
work, I realised that a set of table and benches was erected
void deck of Block Z zzz Road. I also noticed that
have similar structures being erected.
While it is commendable for the town council to provide such
amenities for the residents, I fear that these tables and
will add to an already existing problem.
The problem affecting residents of Block Z zzz Road
There is this perennial problem of flyers and
being distributed INTO our letter boxes. My letterbox is always
locked from the inside, ie, by locking the flap, I basically
the message to these people that I do not want the
I realised that the flyers are given to the postal people to
distribute for they possess the keys to open the boxes for
distribution of letters.
May I implore you to disallow such practices for the
the block is compromised with all these flyers thrown onto the
floor? It takes one to realise that littering is a problem,
in Block Z zzz Road but also nationwide by taking a
especially in the wee hours of the morning before the arrival
Now regarding the issue of the benches and tables. I
staying in Block Z zzz Road and ever since the setting up
mini mart in the void deck, the cleanliness of the block was
compromised. This is due to inconsiderate citizens who
their cup noodles or snacks blatantly threw their waste ontothe
floor. And benches were erected for these people to sit on
etc. The benches basically encouraged such activities. I am not
against social gathering. I AM AGAINST inconsiderate acts which
affect my surroundings and cleanliness of the estate is of
importance to me. I am sure I speak for the other residents.
Hence, having benches and tables at my void deck means inviting
people to buy food from the coffee shop next door and
meals there and then add to the problem of littering.
my block is very near to Z Secondary School and the boys at
times do come up the block and kick on the doors of
There is nothing to stop these boys from littering the place
the existence of such benches and tables. Unless I can be
the town council that there will be security cameras and law
enforcement officers who will see to the cleanliness of the
am convinced that the block will just get dirtier. And it is
Only this morning, at about 550am when I was leaving for work,
a group of men drinking beer at the void deck of Block Y
were certainly talking loudly. Is this behaviour acceptable to
residents of the lower floors?
Can you please advise? And may I know what follow-up actions
taken to ensure the place is kept neat and clean? I do
that having cleaners will resolve the problem for the root
littering is inherent in us. And I was told before by my
that education is important but somehow education does not
recalcitrant offenders. So I guess the Legalist way of law and
punishment would suffice in this issue.
Would appreciate a reply from you.