Building a Caring, Cohesive and Confident Society Through the Charities and Sports Sector

08 Mar 2021

Building a Caring, Cohesive and Confident Society Through the Charities and Sports Sector

Extracted from: Speech by Mr Eric Chua, Parliamentary Secretary for Culture, Community and Youth & Social and Family Development at the Committee of Supply Debate 2021.

Role of People's Association

As a statutory board, PA’s mission is to build up the cohesiveness of our population – a reserve of social capital and goodwill that is built on trust between people and the Government. This is accumulated during peacetime so we are in a good position when crises, such as the one we are going through now, hit us.

We didn’t know when the pandemic will strike. But when it did, PA swung into action: Four nationwide mask distribution exercises to date; hand sanitiser distribution; food delivery services for the vulnerable, especially during the Circuit Breaker period; TraceTogether token distribution; and most recently, CCs operating as Community Vaccination Centres, reaching out to seniors and others to be vaccinated.

A year ago, I am not sure any of us had “pandemic response” written in our workplans. But the networks, trust and bonds painstakingly built by PA and its volunteers over the years has allowed us to respond cohesively, quickly and as one community, during the pandemic. This is the critical difference between our response here in Singapore and the responses we see elsewhere in the world.

To achieve PA’s mission, the PA needs to be properly resourced. Its $796M budget comprises: $207M development budget mainly to build and upgrade community clubs. The remaining $589M is for operating expenditure. It is however, not very meaningful, as member suggests to compare operating budget to headcount, as the $589M includes both manpower as well as other operating expenditure. And much unlike other agencies like IRAS or GovTech, PA manages a whole host of community facilities all across Singapore, fully manned by fulltime staff. And this includes 108 CCs, and 665 RC centres, which needs regular maintenance as well as other operating costs.

PA’s budget allows it to carry on with its peacetime mission of providing our people – in their thousands, every day – with activities that enrich them and which they enjoy. It also enables the building of the networks and communities – the relationships of trust.

As a former grassroots leader myself – for 15 years, in fact – I am very proud of the work done by PA and its grassroots. As answered before in this chamber, the political affiliations of volunteers are not relevant to our consideration in the volunteers’ participation in PA, because the PA’s missions is fundamentally focused on community building. So the social capital we have built up over time, the harmony we enjoy within our society, taking care of our residents, including our seniors and the vulnerable ones amongst us – the value of all these, I would say to this house, are not easily quantifiable.

PA’s role in peacetime and in crisis are inseparable. In many countries, people are divorced from the political and administrative machinery. They have difficulties knowing, much less understanding what goes on. Government is a distant, sometimes even alien, entity. In Singapore, we want to explain our policies and provide channels for communication between Government and the people, because we believe the Government must be connected to the people.

But why? Because we believe nothing can be achieved if we don’t get buy-in from our people. Singapore works only when Government and people, businesses, unions, and communities, all come together. PA exists to provide the social glue, without which Singapore would have gotten nowhere.

The networks and bonds of trust that enable the PA to perform its role in peacetime are also what enable the PA to play a vital role in a crisis.

When a major Government policy is announced, PA, together with grassroots Advisors, goes to the ground and explains the policy. This includes conveying unpopular policies, hearing directly from residents about their concerns, so we can allow them to voice their concerns, allowing Government to tweak and adapt policies, if needed. These relationships of trust and comradeship that we have built – bit by bit, through good times and bad – are what enabled us to respond as one Singapore during the pandemic. This is what the late Mr S Rajaratnam meant by a “democracy of deeds”.

The Member can rest assured that PA’s budget we have set aside has been put to good use. The proof of the pudding is in the eating and there is no doubt that the PA has proven its worth in the past year.

Click here to read the full speech.

Page updated 22 Apr 2021