Providers, users both responsible for toilet cleanliness

I was intrigued to read that the Marsiling-Yew Tee Town Council has created the position of "toilet caretaker", ostensibly as a form of assistance to needy senior residents ("Why is there an entry charge at certain hawker centre toilets?"; ST Online, May 11).

Given the likely financial standing that would compel them to participate in such a scheme, it is puzzling that these elderly citizens were not granted unconditional support.

Indeed, this system could easily be construed as an opportunistic utilisation of workers who have neither bargaining power nor high expectations, so as to fill a position of menial labour at low cost.

Instead of having full-time attendants and caretakers, the cleanliness of public toilets can be maintained using a variety of other strategies.

For instance, many shopping centres employ chemical treatment of urinals and automated flush cycles as non-labour-intensive solutions.

While the initial cost of these fixtures might certainly be an issue, a timely investment in upgrading public toilets would, no doubt, be appreciated by the public, and would also prevent facilities from seeming overly worn.

Let us also not forget that the responsibility for maintaining toilet cleanliness is a two-way affair. Members of the public must also do their part.

On the one hand, the building management has a duty to keep the toilets clean. If toilets are already dirty before use, we cannot reasonably expect the public to contribute.

On the other hand, toilet etiquette has arguably been on the decline in Singapore. This is perhaps attributable to people taking toilet cleaning for granted.

Deliberate steps should thus be taken to restore a sense of civic-mindedness. The current approach - posters and slogans - is decidedly inadequate, suggesting that a change of tact is needed.

It is also rather questionable for the operation of public toilets to be delegated to the various town councils, while the task of ensuring that hygiene standards are upheld falls to the National Environment Agency.

Since operational practices and levels of hygiene are two highly interdependent factors, it would surely be more expedient and sensible to have these functions come under one body.

Paul Chan Poh Hoi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 30, 2016, with the headline 'Providers, users both responsible for toilet cleanliness'. Print Edition | Subscribe