Are We Outsourcing Our Social Responsibility?

A couple of weeks back I was invited to speak on a panel discussing a Clean & Green Singapore. I said agreed because I had always wanted to meet Sivasothi, one of Singapore’s leading environmentalists. We’ve known of each other since the term “blog” was invented, but for reasons uninvestigated, we had never actually met.

The discussion panel took its predicted path down governmental measures lane and civic mindedness alley and it was only when Siva spoke about what he did to the students he taught at NUS that I really began listening (sorry NEA, rest of panel – it was one of those days I was triple-booked).

Siva, who later shared my regret that we weren’t as entertaining and fiery as we should have been, has this fabulous requirement of his students. They are required to put their chairs back in place after a lecture has concluded. And – this will blow your socks off if you weren’t wearing slippers like the sloppy Singaporean you are – he makes his students find out the name of the cleaner who cleans the areas in and around the lecture theatres!

Then I started thinking about what had been spoken earlier in the discussion: that Singapore is not a clean city – it is a cleaned city. We don’t see, and neglect to care about the dusk to dawn army of cleaning workers who pick up our garbage in the streets and parks at night.

I’ve mentioned how we delegate our personal responsibilities to so many people that we’ve forgotten we have these responsibilities. Not only do we not know who takes away our trash, we don’t even take out our own trash.

Earlier in the week, I left for work at the same time the guy from the cleaning company was mopping the floor at our lift lobby. I said good morning and he jumped out of his skin. I decided not to startle him further, and will ask for his name next time we meet.

At a meeting a fortnight ago, a bunch of young entrepreneurs was telling us about the disparity between the cleaning company’s contract fee and the actual salary of the person actually doing the job. Yes, there are cleaners who are getting paid $800 a month or less.

It’s a lot more complicated than just saying ‘yes, we need to pay the cleaners more’,  and the tyranny of modern economic conveniences will mean that business owners will still want to engage a cleaning company than to employ a cleaner directly.

It follows that something needs to be done about the people who are directly employing the cleaners. And apparently, something that will pay them more than a mandatory minimum wage, like the progressive wage model I wrote about earlier will come into being next year. Here’s hoping it works out well.

But as I was saying on that panel that evening, if you want a more caring, compassionate society, you have to start thinking of the consequences of every action. There are things within your means you can do to help low wage workers like cleaners.

You want to care about the cleaners who are paid little? Make their job easier. Pick up after yourselves, return your tray, push your chair back after you get up.

I sit on the management council of the condo we live in, and I went on a little power trip at a meeting last week. The security guard company we hire had requested for a fee increase. I voted ok as long as we know that the two guards, who look after our premises and make sure no idiots anyhowly park in our car park, have a commensurate pay increase as well. We even voted on a little thing – making sure there’s enough mosquito repellent in the guard house so they don’t kenah dengue.

I’ve just found out that what we were doing was this thing called “best-sourcing”, which is gahmen-speak for outsourcing in a conscious, conscientious and socially responsible way. And like many things about this fine country, there’s even a monetary incentive to do so.

But as we become increasingly out-sourcery, we must not let ourselves or our corporations outsource our social responsibilities.

I think it’s time I called another council meeting.

Please Take Dengue Seriously

Read this first, then come back to this post.

Yes, you can die from dengue. But mostly, people don’t exhibit serious symptoms, and are often not ill enough to be hospitalized.

It’s been the same with this outbreak, and I’ve found that as a result, people are being a bit blase about the current epidemic despite the media blitz by the NEA.

Some people wait till they get a rash before going to the doctor. Here’s news for you: If you have dengue, and a rash appears, your platelets are likely to be crashing and you might need a blood transfusion.

Our experience with Kai at 8 weeks old shows how you can never be too careful. He didn’t have a fever, didn’t cry more than usual, and the only reason we took him to the pediatrician was because our confinement nanny said she hadn’t seen anything like the freckles he was sporting.

I remember being frustrated at the NEA for not being able to inspect the vacant apartments in our block because the owners had been uncontactable. That is apparently being changed, and officers are now able to break into homes to search for and destroy mosquito breeding grounds.

After Kai had dengue, I had immediately contacted the NEA to ask them to inspect our condo and our neighbours – with one particularly suspicious house turning up empty even though they had a disused swimming pool which was looking all green and slimy.

The officers had responded by inspecting our apartment regularly. I was indignant at first, until I was told that many complainants to the NEA were actually inadvertently breeding mosquitoes themselves – my mother included. She had complained about the excessive numbers of mosquitoes in her garden, and the NEA came and found aedes larvae in her flowerpots.

Even something as innocuous as a plastic tarp covering a motorcycle collects enough rainwater to breed mosquitoes – and a person has in fact been fined for doing so.

There have been over 6,000 cases of people contracting dengue this year so far. If it goes on at this rate, don’t be surprised if there are fatalities. The thing is, we can prevent this from happening by pitching in to get rid of mosquito breeding grounds.

So please, just do the five step mozzie wipeout check in your home. If not daily, then weekly.

Just 5 easy steps could save your life.
Just 5 easy steps could save your life.

Everyone Is Responsible For Fighting Dengue

Not the kind of boom you want

This year’s dengue outbreak is scary. So far this year, there’ve been 4,756 (1 Jan – 19 Apr) cases, and it looks like it might increase some more.

I’ve previously tweeted and posted on Facebook about this, and the reflex response from readers have been the same: “too much construction lah, it’s all in the construction sites”.

The NEA has reported that the majority of sites found to have bred mosquitoes have been homes. Now I’m not saying that the construction sites are not responsible at all, but the fact remains that no matter how much you want to blame someone else or some other site for the spread of this disease, the solution to breaking the vector cycle of is still firmly in your own hands.

Dengue is not an airborne transmitted disease – it is spread by the Aedes mosquito, which gets the virus from an infected person it stings. So the way to stopping the spread of the disease is to eradicate the breeding of the mosquito – which you will probably know, occurs in stagnant water.

The NEA has a dengue website at www.dengue.gov.sg with statistics and information pertaining to the disease. We’ve all seen in the papers news about the huge “cluster” of dengue in the one block in Tampines, and the dengue website has a map of “hotspots” as well.

This is both helpful and unhelpful, because while you are aware enough to avoid going to these hotspots for instance, you might downplay the fact that regardless of hotspots and clusters, people (the other vector) are mobile. They could get bitten, come back home to Toa Payoh, get bitten by another Aedes mosquito, and voila, another cluster and hotspot is created.

This outbreak has been so serious that the NEA has also implemented a Dengue Community Alert System, which displays three colour codes depending on the dengue situation, and the corresponding actions to take.

I hope you get the picture, and I appeal to everyone to “Do The Mozzie Wipeout”, a 5-step exercise to perform every day:

1. Change water in vases (on alternate days, if not daily)

2. Turn over all water storage containers so they don’t collect rainwater

3. Remove water from flower pot plates (on alternate days, if not daily)

4. Clear drainpipe blockages

5. Cover bamboo pole holders

The national anti-dengue campaign will be launched tomorrow (8am, 28 April) at Senja-Cashew Community Club, 101 Bukit Panjang Road. Do come if you can.

The NEA has also launched a new Facebook Page and they encourage people to follow @NEAsg on Twitter for dengue updates.

Again, I appeal to you to take action and not simply blame it on the construction sites. Naomi and I had a very serious close shave with Kai’s bout of dengue – and I will recount that ordeal in another blog post.

We have a serious flu epidemic, and what’s with NEA spot checks that don’t include vacant premises?

I’m wondering a little why there isn’t more alarm over what must be a full blown flu epidemic. I’ll bet more than a million people have the flu, and many of them just haven’t seen a doctor about it yet. It must be really hard not to get the flu if you had to commute daily on an overcrowded bus or train.

So those tens of thousands they’ve counted at just the polyclinics? Tip of the flu iceberg. Naomi and I haven’t been well since mid-December, and Kai’s currently down with a bug as well. Several friends have also reported being sick all January, with the same deal: sore throat, cough, gets better, then nose goes haywire, post nasal drip causes another round of sore throat and cough. It’s never ending, and I swear I’ve been reinfected just waiting my turn in the two clinics I’ve alternated between these two months.

And who are these experts who say that “the flu strain has not become more severe since the pandemic in 2009”? Are they the same people who advocate checking for mosquito breeding by sending NEA agents door to door like they did this morning when Kai was sitting on his potty?

More than half of the units in my apartment block are vacant – deserted. And so when NEA mosquito agents come a-knocking and no one’s in, the empty apartments are automatically given a clean bill of health, I assume. I’ve asked the agents before: No one compels the owners to come and open up their premises for inspection. If you and your domestic helper aren’t home, you’re clear.

A neighbour in a landed property behind our condo has a disused swimming pool which appeared to be a cause for alarm last year when we contacted the NEA, who told us the house “belongs to two doctors, and they rear fish, and there are no mosquito larvae in the pool, we checked”.

I asked this morning’s NEA agent about the neighbour again, because they seemed to have pumped out most of the water from the pool, and from what I can see, there aren’t any fish any more, and all’s left is a stagnant pool of what’s probably rainwater. The NEA agent said, “Yeah, we know, they are two doctors. We checked before”.

So I asked, “Did you check again?”, prompting the answer, “Yeah, we check before”.

I didn’t have time to pursue the matter – Kai was getting antsy on his potty. There wasn’t any stagnant water in there either.

I’m sick of being sick, and it’s about time the authorities stopped saying it’s no big deal and get everyone to be slightly more alarmed about the situation. I have an almost two-year old toddler and we don’t want him to go through what he did with dengue or any other life-threatening communicable infection again.

Sorry mosquito not in

Couple of days ago, an NEA agent rang our doorbell and would’ve asked to enter our apartment if not for the fact I had the dog on the leash and was about to go let him water the plants when I opened the door.

I had read about how some family was robbed by bogus NEA mosquito inspectors but I had met this particular agent before so I assumed he wasn’t up to no good. He simply asked ‘so far no problem’?

I would’ve said, ‘no, my mosquitoes are doing really well, thanks for asking’, if I had thought of it. Sadly, I didn’t, and I doubt if the NEA guy would have appreciated it anyway.