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Image: sghardtruth/thestar

If the old ladies and old men do not clean the tables, who are going to clean the tables?

The question was posed by Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong at the same forum where he talked about Ministers’ pay.

The uproar over Ministers’ pay has sucked up all the oxygen and there has been no discussion over who would take on the job of cleaning tables at hawker centres for $1,000 a month, other than the elderly.

Actually, the two-storey Berseh Food Centre along Jalan Besar Road seems to be have struck on a formula which works just fine.

There are three groups of cleaners who do the job there – the first group comprises the usual elderly folk in their 60s and 70s, the second group comprises a few younger female cleaners from Sabah/Sarawak, and the third group is a sprinkling of younger men who are physically fit but intellectually challenged.

Together, they appear to do a good enough job and the hawkers are not paying any more in cleaning fees than those at other food centres.

So if it works for Berseh Food Centre, why not elsewhere?

The men who are intellectually challenged get on with their work briskly – the only difference is that they do not make eye contact with people and they do not respond even when spoken to.

Could it be a pilot project? Whatever it is, kudos to whoever came up with the idea.

If an educated guess can be made, it might even be the brainchild of Denise Phua, Mayor of the Central Singapore District, where the precinct of Jalan Besar comes under.

Denise is known as a disability advocate. She has spoken out in Parliament about the need to do more for those with disabilities and special needs. She herself has an autistic son.

So the answer to ESM Goh’s question has to be: Yes, apart from the elderly, there are others who can do the job of cleaning tables at food centres.

It just takes an open mindset and a willingness to try out new ideas and to embrace those with special needs.