The Singapore Environment Ministry is mulling proposals to give the owners of 1,400 coffee shops island-wide one-time financial incentives to upgrade their toilets.
 
Speaking at the opening of the inaugural World Toilet Summit 2001 at Singapore Expo yesterday [Monday], acting environment minister Lim Swee Say explained the rationale behind the proposals: "When people use upgraded toilets, they take better care, making sure they do not litter the place and aim properly.

"But many public toilets, particularly in coffee shops, have been around for 10, 20 or 30 years and are not well-designed, not well-maintained and not well-kept. As a result, some users tend to be more careless."

In the face of the current recession, toilets may not be uppermost on the minds of many coffee shop proprietors, but the government hopes that by offer some sort of matched funding incentive, they will be encouraged to increase the standard of public toilets. Lim explained: "We're looking at the funding, for example, for every S$2, the government co-funds $1, if need be, we're prepared to stretch it to dollar-for-dollar.

"It depends on interest, and the level of commitment from all parties involved."

Lim highlighted the improvements made as part of an ongoing hawker-centre toilet upgrading. At the Newton Hawker Centre for example, the minister highlighted the landscaped, open concept of the newly-revamped toilets.

Annual surveys conducted since 1996 show users' behaviour has improved over the years, but there is still much that can be done.

The Straits Times interviewed one coffee shop owner who wished to remain anonymous. He said that education was the key to proper toilet use: "It doesn't matter what the toilet looks like. Once the door is shut, they do anything and we are expected to clean up after them.

"Women are just as bad as men."

Lim stressed that the ministry would consult with coffee shop associations and the Restroom Association of Singapore (RAS) before introducing the scheme early next year. Jack Sim, president of RAS, commented that problems were often caused by poor design. For example, he told the Straits Times: "If urinals are too high, kids end up peeing on the floor. When the next user sees a puddle on the floor, he thinks it was an adult who missed."