In July last year Minister for Social and Family Development, Tan Chuan-Jin, shared several pictures of cardboard collectors on his Facebook with the caption, “Have you ever Spoken to a Cardboard Uncle or Aunty?”.
He met the cardboard collectors with a group of young Singaporeans from Youth Corp on a project they initiated – to get first hand insight into the lives of elderly cardboard collectors.
The Minister shared that he was surprised by the findings of the project, that the normal perception that all cardboard collectors are people who are unable to take care of themselves financially is false.
The Minister said, “there will be some who do this as their main source of income. Some do so to supplement what they have. Some prefer to earn extra monies, treat it as a form of exercise and activity rather than being cooped up at home. They do this to remain independent, so that they can have dignity and not have to ask their families for help.”
Mr Tan’s remarks were severely criticised by Facebook users who commented on his post. They slammed the Minister for being out-of-touch, “delusional”, and some others went as far to say the entire thing was staged for a little public relations boost.
But the Minister may not have been flippant in making the remark that for some older cardboard collectors it was “a form of exercise”.
An elderly cardboard collector, Madam Ching Guan Eng aged 86, was run over by a bus and killed at Marsiling Lane in November 2014. The family of the 86-year-old shared at that time that Madam Ching did not collect cardboard boxes because she was poor, her family “gave her $400 a month and paid for the household expenses”, but that she still went out to collect cardboard boxes and sold it for “$3 or $4” to kill her boredom.
On Friday, a Coroner’s Court inquiry into the death of the old woman heard that Madam Ching collected recyclable items such as cardboard and cans as “a pastime” and “exercise”.
One of Madam Ching’s sons told the Inquiry that the old woman was not facing financial difficulties, was healthy, and took to collecting cardboards as a pastime.
A police investigation officer, Nor Affendy Jaffar, also testified that Madam Ching’s family said that she had been collecting items as “exercise” for about three years.
State Coroner Marvin Bay found Madam Ching’s death to be the result of “a most unfortunate traffic misadventure”.
The driver of the bus which hit Madam Ching has been unemployed since the accident as his driving licence is still with the Traffic Police. He was granted a discharge not amounting to an acquittal last year on the charge of causing death by negligence.
The bus driver’s lawyer said that in light of the coroner’s findings, he would be asking for his client to be acquitted.