Singapore is one of the world’s most centrally organized nations whose legal system imposes fines in the thousands of dollars, jail time, plus canings in an effort to keep streets clean of trash and crime. There are at least 5 laws travelers to Singapore should be aware of that might have you thinking the city-state has achieved sanitized harmony.
Cracks In Perfection
Singapore has certainly attained what many countries around the world can only dream about – the third lowest homicide rate in the world. To put serious crimes rates in perspective, Sweden, Scandinavia’s safest country, has 56 times the number of assaults per capita. Many locals attribute the absence of killings to Singapore’s liberal use of the death penalty. There may be something to that (Saudi Arabia has a low number of murders per capita as well) but the correlation doesn’t extend much beyond serious crime.
Charts for low population density combined with economic development tend to line up closely with those for violent crime. In other words, rich countries like Singapore who have low relative populations (around 5.1 million) usually don’t have high rates of serious crime – irrespective of how liberal their governments are.
It’s Only Fined If You Get Caught
People in Singapore, where the average annual household income is about $100,000, are willing to take bigger chances with their wallets. The country has had some struggle with curbing litter, despite imposing fines starting at $300. Particularly around outdoor markets like Newton Food Centre you’ll notice litter around trash cans. Closer to Newton metro stop the green lawns (you shouldn’t be walking on either) occasionally have wrappers and napkins gentle floating along warm breezes, lazily noticed by people snacking in the park, another no-no.
Locals seem to know when they can get away with rule-breaking, such as tossing cigarette butts out highrise windows and why you’ll never see anyone eating on a subway train – there are cameras everywhere. Given the effectiveness of video surveillance, Singapore is looking to extend closed-circuit television (CCTV) coverage to all public spaces.
Death Or Drugs
Using a number of recreational drugs has severe penalties in Singapore and being caught with amounts above certain limits automatically subjects you to the death penalty as a trafficker. Not surprisingly, Singapore officially has some of the lowest levels of drug use in the world. (Although it’s legal, they don’t booze much either. That award goes to Moldova.)
Before one is walked to the gallows (literally) the country has made several attempts of prevention, beginning with public awareness campaign in Singapore’s school system, the third best in the world. Two chances for rehabilitation are also given, although it’s recorded by the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) – a permanent mark on one’s background.
Despite all of this, there are alleys near industrial centers where one can find discarded needles used for heroin. Considering the penalties and island geography of Singapore, one is shocked at the amount of drugs there, let alone that they’re being used. If you’re not in jail though, according to government statistics, you’re not a drug user. Rates are low for sure, but it’s a regional phenomena – on the whole southeast Asians don’t roll joints, pop pills, or shoot up.
The Invisible Trade
Comparatively, Japan has similarly low crime rates but with much less severe punishments for serious offenses. Drug rates are higher across Europe than Singapore, but there aren’t many people getting high on drugs not called weed overall. Singapore does pensively rank high in another category – it’s one of the least happy countries in the world.
Singapore is a clean country, but Luxembourg and Australia rank higher with lower fines for littering. You can chew gum in Switzerland yet the trains still run on time. The laws in all of these countries outline similar rules – with vastly differing punishments. Stability, safety, and sanitation doesn’t have to come at the expense of liberty and when it doesn’t, the citizens of those nations top out global lists for happiness.
A number of studies from the University of Connecticut and Oxford on criminal behavior show that the threat of getting caught is a bigger deterrent than the severity of punishment. Once the decision has been made to break a rule – you’re not worried about the consequences while in the act – but not having to face them at all. So, the next time you see someone jaywalk in Singapore or discard a plastic fork it’s not because they don’t fear being fined, it’s because they don’t think they will.
Being educated by the third best school system in the world, I wanted to write a thorough review of your post to add some local context to each of your points.
Instead, I’m just admiring your photos of Newton MRT and Bugis Plus. Really nice shots.
Hope you enjoy(ed) Singapore, and hope you aren’t/weren’t too bothered by the haze or the laws.
I appreciate your comments very much. I did enjoy Singapore for many reasons (several of which are the food!) The haze wasn’t terrible and the crime punishments weren’t at all noticeable and think for most visitors it’s a non-issue. Who would litter in a foreign country they are visiting? That’s just rude for starters 😉
I think it is a really interesting issue and one that is much more about the people and not just the laws. I notice in other countries when it is really clean as where I am from in the UK can be quite untidy, people just don’t have respect, but also no one ever gets punished for dropping litter! But then I go to somewhere like Germany, who I don’t believe have laws much worse than ours but yet it is so clean, people have respect! I think it is hard to stop people from doing many of these things via laws and punishment, sure have some deterrent, but bringing people up with respect and understanding is much more useful!
It would be an interesting analysis to conduct, say, comparing England and Germany. Whatever the differences, trying to deduce the causes could reveal some interesting results and perhaps lessons for many nations.
I actually saw mountains of trash in Geylang and one person spitting in Mountbatten.
A trickster didn’t give me the right amount of money when I exchanged foreign currency.
So, there are “gaps”, imperfections…
…usually where there are no police or cameras around 😉
Well, Singapore is not a perfect country. No country is. There are still black horses around. But overall, Singapore is still considered a great place to stay in 🙂
Certainly no country is perfect and there are as many variations on how to achieve harmony as there are countries 😉