Mr Leon Perera asked the Minister for Culture, Community and Youth (a) what types of activities are undertaken by the grassroots advisors (GRAs) to explain Government policies to the people; (b) what is the legislative provision that mandates the role for the People’s Association (PA) to explain Government policies; and (c) what proportion of the PA’s overall budget is devoted to this function.
47 Ms He Ting Ru asked the Minister for Culture, Community and Youth what are the impediments to having civil servants from the People’s Association, as well as other agencies, communicate and explain Government policy, as compared with having a grassroots adviser to do so.
48 Ms He Ting Ru asked the Minister for Culture, Community and Youth (a) what are the standards applied to decide whether an activity held in People’s Association (PA) controlled events or venues are being used for partisan purposes by any political party; and (b) what are the channels for recourse should any member of the public be concerned about PA events or venues being misused for partisan purposes.
Mr Edwin Tong Chun Fai: The People’s Association (PA) was established on 1 July 1960 pursuant to the People’s Association Act 1960, a year after Singapore attained self-government. Those were turbulent and uncertain times, and PA was set up to strengthen the link between the Government and the people and to build strong and cohesive communities across Singapore. Sixty-three years later, PA’s mission remains the same: connect Government to people; people to people; and bring all Singaporeans together, regardless of race, language, religion.
The PA’s role, then and now, remains: to foster racial harmony and strengthen social cohesion, to promote active citizenry and civic responsibility, and to serve as the bridge between the people and the Government. This means that as a Government Statutory Board, PA would communicate and explain Government policies to residents, help them understand and navigate the various policy details and processes and, at the same time, relay public feedback and sentiments to the Government so that Government policies can continue to be refined to better address the needs of Singaporeans.
Another way to describe PA’s role is in terms of a concept in sociology – “social capital”. It refers to the network of relations in a community and the set of values animating that community, which allows all the individuals in that community to work together effectively to achieve a common purpose. From its conception in 1960, our founding fathers saw PA as at once the catalyst to deepen our social capital and the glue that strengthens the network of relations that makes us “one people”.
How do we know the PA has succeeded in its mission? An organisation with such a far-reaching and far-ranging mission is always a work-in-progress. But I think it has succeeded in its mission substantially – and there is no better proof of that than in how Singaporeans came together during the COVID-19 pandemic. PA was not the only agency which contributed to strengthening and deepening our social capital – the Singapore Armed Forces and the Housing and Development Board, to mention just a couple, were also crucial – but it is its raison d’etre.
Ms He Ting Ru asked if there are any impediments to having civil servants from PA or other agencies communicate and explain Government policy, compared to a grassroots adviser doing so. Government agencies do communicate their respective policies to the public and engage key stakeholders to explain the policy considerations. The PA officers are themselves civil servants. But they, like other civil servants, also rely on PA’s grassroots networks for last-mile delivery and communications – this could be through informal chats with citizens at house visits or community activities, or structured dialogues on Government policies.
Over the years, PA has built an extensive grassroots movement, its staff and volunteers interacting with residents through community activities, celebrating key milestones in their lives, such as parenthood and significant national events, such as SG50. Some of the grassroots leaders have served since PA’s early founding years and have established a deep familiarity and rapport with the residents that cannot be replicated by civil servants in other Government agencies. An agency, one of whose roles is to establish people-to-people links, cannot be relying solely on civil servants to nurture these networks of relations that so enrich our communities.
Grassroots Advisers (GRAs) augment PA with their extensive networks and grassroots experience. They guide the PA Grassroots Organisations (GROs) in their engagement and outreach efforts by walking the ground with grassroots leaders and volunteers to understand citizens’ concerns and gather feedback, explaining Government programmes and initiatives, and overseeing the last-mile delivery of the Government’s programmes. Therefore, the GRAs must be able to share the Government’s vision and objectives, explain policies from conceptualisation to implementation, and are familiar with the concerns of the community.
I hope the Workers’ Party joins me in recognising the value PA brings to our community and the good PA staff and volunteers do, in tirelessly serving all residents, regardless of whether the constituency is Opposition or ruling party.
I have seen first-hand how professional and dedicated PA staff and volunteers are in serving their community. This was especially pronounced during the pandemic, when PA staff and volunteers gave their all to aid, comfort and serve our fellow Singaporeans, especially seniors and the vulnerable among us. It would do them a great disservice to suggest that they do this for partisan purposes.
If I could just give an example: Members from both sides of the House have highlighted how the digitalisation of Government services may end up excluding the less tech-savvy segments of our population. The Government recognised this and tapped on PA’s wide network to reach out to every last resident in the constituencies. Take the Community Development Council (CDC) vouchers, for instance. Those without smartphones or who needed a bit more help could simply drop by a Community Centre, be it Joo Chiat or Hougang, to get assistance from PA staff. During the Committee of Supply debates this year, Member of Parliament Gerald Giam even asked for more ServiceSG centres to be set up – in every neighbourhood – to assist seniors with Government digital services. Such ServiceSG centres are, in fact, being set up, in collaboration with PA.
Mr Leon Perera asked about the proportion of PA’s budget used for activities undertaken by GRAs to explain Government policies to the people. To put matters in context, PA’s resources are used to provide programmes for all residents, ranging from recreational, educational to social purposes. These include community events to bring residents of different backgrounds together; outreach efforts to communicate, explain and get feedback on Government policies; and last-mile delivery of Government programmes and policies. For example, during the COVID-19 period, PA worked with the Ministry of Health to raise awareness, explain and assist in the implementation of the vaccination programme. For Budget, dialogues are organised to explain the various policies and schemes. A more recent exercise would be the ongoing Forward Singapore conversations, where PA, with the strong support of the GRAs, grassroots leaders and staff, organised multiple engagements reaching out to Singaporeans to review and refresh our social compact.
The overall budget allocated to PA supports GROs in reaching out to the community and deepening resident engagement; all the above that have been mentioned; as well as to construct and operate PA facilities, including community clubs. There is no specific proportion of budget allocated for activities related to explaining Government policies, as the overall PA’s budget is to achieve the objectives of PA.
Finally, I would like to emphasise again that PA does not conduct any activity with any political party. It serves the Government of the day, as with any Government agency. PA does not allow its events or venues to be used for partisan purposes by any political party and serves all Singaporeans, regardless of their political leanings.
Like all other Government agencies, members of the public can send in their feedback and enquiries on any matters related to PA, such as service quality or facilities, through its public feedback channels by phone or online feedback form. The feedback channels can be found on PA’s corporate website (www.pa.gov.sg).
Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth
8 May 2023