Someone came up with this wisecrack: “Singapore is a fine city”. If you have read or heard the quote, you will know that fine, in the context, means money paid as a punishment. If you litter you will be fined. If you park illegally, you will be fined. If you don’t flush after using a public toilet, you will be fined. And the list goes on.

By all means, fine. I am for it when there are some people who simply refuse to play their part in helping make Singapore a fine – as in beautiful – city for themselves and their fellow countrymen.

For their stubbornness, they have to be hit where it hurts most – their pockets. Fines should also be considered for those who are inconsiderate, unreasonable and unkind – qualities which will not help build a gracious society.

Hold it! Don’t chastise me yet. Let me explain.

I am sure that you will agree with me that we should not do anti-social things. So what is wrong in punishing those who choose to adopt behaviour which is unsuitable for community living?

Would you litter? Would you cause inconvenience to others by parking illegally? Would you dirty the public toilet? You wouldn’t, would you?

So, even if the Government were to impose the most severe punishment for the acts, you would not be affected.

I wonder if fines can also be extended to deter other forms of improper behaviour. The money collected can be used to promote graciousness and pay the salaries of enforcement officers.

On one of my rare visits to the supermarkets, I was amazed to see how fruits were physically abused. They were poked, pressed and squeezed until they were badly bruised. Some unfortunate ones oozed juice. Their ‘assailants’, of course, snubbed them after that. And they got off scot-free.

That was not all.

While waiting for my mum to be served at the delicatessen section, I overheard a lady asking for lean bacon.

Yes, you read it correctly. Lean bacon? It could only come from undernourished pigs that had gone through many hours of rigorous training in the gymnasium.

Well, I thought to myself, that should be what I ought to have. All the while, I had eaten the wrong kind of bacon. No wonder I looked so bloated.

Soon, the lady was handed her order. She opened it, took a peek and lashed out: “You call this lean bacon? I asked for lean bacon. What’s wrong with you? There is too much fat. I don’t want it!”

She dumped the meat on the counter and stormed off as if looking for someone else to make another complaint. I almost fell off my wheelchair.

I believe she deserves to be fined at least $500 for being unreasonable, rude and un-Singaporean.

For the fruit ‘assailants’, a fine of $100 would be fine – as in all right – for being inconsiderate. It is a small price to pay for cruelty to fruits. Moreover, they were all poor role models for innocent children, like me, watching them at their worst behaviour.

Punishments should also await those who derail Singapore’s effort to develop a gracious society.

A $200 fine should be considered for being unkind to pregnant women, the elderly or parents carrying infants on public transport.

It should be enough to make anyone on the bus or in the train to jump off his or her seat on sensing a pregnant lady, a frail old man or a mother cradling her baby in her arms nearby.

For those who are not punctual for a wedding dinner or a concert, a $100 fine might be appropriate. The fine will be doubled if they fail to turn up. That is for being disrespectful.

The idea is to get rid of bad habits when education and encouragement fail to do the job.

Never mind if Singapore is known as a fine city so long as it is fine – beautiful, gracious and refined.

(This article is published in TODAY on 17 February 2005)