Some time ago I shared my experience going through a government-led renovation programme focusing mainly on the sanitary facilities in residential apartments. The programme lasted ten days for my apartment, but spanned over a few months for my apartment block and the neighbouring ones.
Anyone who has gone through home renovation works would know the challenges in managing the work, including the pre and post phases. All of us prefer to live in clean homes with proper functioning facilities, but not many of us fancy taking the challenge of maintaining our homes to be in tip top condition all the time. Maintaining sanitation facilities is the same. They wear off after a couple of years. Imagine living with sanitation facilities that are over 20 years old or more!
That is why the government embarked on this programme for all apartment blocks older built in 1986 or earlier. Look from the national perspective, it is a way to manage the national sewage and sanitation facilities to prevent health issues from cropping up. Look from the individual perspective it is a way to help home owners upkeep their homes and prevent them from deteriorating.
I gained much more than just two new toilets from this programme. Here I write about what I gained as a result.
1. Never underestimate the power of convenience services. I am not just looking at the convenience services provided during the renovation period, such as the temporary toilets at the ground floor of the apartment block, or the portable toilet installed in the homes if possible. Neither am I looking at the daily cleaning services provided by the workers, or the 24 hour on-call service for sanitary and electrical needs.
What I am looking at is the emergence of shops providing convenience services. Convenience stores like 7-Eleven provide round the clock essentials. Small laundromats where you have DIY services are a very big welcome!
2. Going through a common experience can strengthen bonds and relationships. I am not the only one to go through the renovation programme. Many residents in my block and neighbouring ones go through it at the same time. And this has led to some interesting encounters.
For instance, I never knew there were many older folks in my block. During those few weeks, a number of them, especially men, would gather downstairs to chat and pass around information about the upgrading project. I learnt firsthand from the uncles about the overall status of the projects, and what the contractors are facing at the moment.
My family knew our neighbours better because of the upgrading programme. The neighbour opposite me even brought out drinks for the workers to drink when they were renovating for two apartments on my level. And the tips shared by neighbours on what to look out for while the work was ongoing, where to get sanitary facilities at good rates. These are priceless moments you will not get on any other day.
Within the family too, relationships are strengthened. This was probably the first time I hear my children say they appreciate their mother’s cooking (after all the eating out over two weeks), how they appreciate having a tidy house (they were very helpful in cleaning up after the upgrading is completed). The oldest looked after the youngest more during this period of time too!
3. There are always useful practical skills to learn in life. While we will not install wash basins and toilet bowls daily, I find it fascinating watching the plumber do these works. There are so many things to look into when installing them, from measuring the exact location, to ensuring that joints and connections are water-tight, to making sure they do not become water traps for mosquitoes.
There are two skills I observed and learnt though: first, how to clean your hands off silicon sealant if you ever get them; second, how to apply silicon sealant to cover gaps and cracks in frequently wet surfaces. I learnt these skills from the workers who put in the final touches for the upgrading works.
The second skill is probably more of knowing how to control your gross and fine motor skills. Plus practice. The first is something I would not have picked up from books. The health and safety officer who oversaw the works on my apartment told me that instead of using turpentine to clean my hands off silicon sealant, to rub cooking oil on my hands and use a cloth to wipe the sealant off. And it works!
Learning is not confined to school, books or from colleagues. You can also learn from other areas too.
4. Appreciate the government subsidies you get. I mentioned before that this upgrading programme is a government scheme with a specific set of eligibility criteria. The government had announced that apartments can go through a second round of improvement going forward. As a government scheme you will naturally receive grants to offset the actual costs involved. In exchange for some inconvenience you get two new toilets and other facilities at reduced prices, why not?
The larger point though, is this: the subsidies don’t come from nowhere. What government funds comes largely from taxes and other income it generates, including investments. Just like a person who needs to work in order to draw an income for sustenance, governments also need to draw income streams to fund their expenses. My government could choose not to have such upgrading programmes, or to subsidize such expenses for citizens. But it does.
So I appreciate this programme because it is not something that comes as expected. In fact, I don’t know what a citizen of a country should expect from his government. Is it just the essential basics like the right to live safely and peacefully in the country, the right to education and work, and the right to have a say to the country’s development? Or something more?
The effect of public governance affects each of us differently. Some of us will benefit more than others, not because governance is uneven across the population, but because governance is a means to helping different people gain access to resourcing differently. Arguably governance differs across countries, not least because of the difference in philosophy held and implemented within the government ranks.
Yet the effect of governance can affect us in different ways, and in various spheres of life. The way governance is applied in a society can lead to different economic opportunities as well.
On this particular programme, I must say I benefitted much from it, as with other government programmes and policies for the populace. I am glad to live in Singapore. Even as I know I am a net beneficiary of the system, I also know that I ought to look out and help those who are more in need.
How is public governance like in your country, and how have you benefitted from it? What can we do better in public governance, and educate the population on the virtues and pitfalls of public governance?