SINGAPORE: Education Minister Ong Ye Kung announced on Sunday (Nov 18) that ministers will be intensifying the frequency of their community visits, from monthly to weekly.
The Government aims to cover all constituencies by mid-2020.
Speaking on the sidelines of a Housing and Development Board roadshow, Mr Ong said: “Given the current momentum, that we are doing almost every week now, in one to one-and-a-half years’ time, we aim to complete all constituencies.
“The thinking is really this - that as Political Office Holders (POHs) we spend a lot of time in our constituencies but as younger ministers and POHs, actually there is a need for us to step out of our constituencies and meet residents outside our constituency.
“Only then can we have a greater understanding of how the rest of Singapore feels.”
Singapore Management University law professor Eugene Tan said the ramping up of visits is “not surprising” and shows the People’s Action Party (PAP) is shifting gears and moving into election mode.
He sees the visits as the fourth-generation leaders' way of increasing engagement with residents.
During PAP’s Central Executive Committee election last Sunday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the PAP has only two years left to prepare for the next General Election (GE) and suggested that it could even be brought forward.
Responding to criticism that these community visits could be “for show”, Mr Ong said scepticism is part and parcel of politics and “cannot be helped”.
“Just keep on walking, keep on talking to residents, keep on letting residents feedback to you,” he said. “Try to act on it, solve the problems, keep on doing it, regardless of the criticism.”
He also said the visits have progressively become more informal and organic, instead of being staged and planned.
“Sometimes residents even have a shock, 'how come three of you (ministers) are here?' But that way I think you have a much more authentic interaction, it’s a lot more natural and what you hear is probably a more accurate reflection of how the ground works.”
In 2016, Mr Ong was appointed Chairman of People’s Association Advisory Panel for ministerial community visits. He had also proposed a new format where ministers and POHs will work in teams across constituencies.
Residents that Channel NewsAsia spoke with had mixed reactions.
Some welcomed the move and saw the increased interaction as beneficial to residents.
Sembawang resident Kelvin Lee, 30, said: “Most importantly, we will have more one-to-one sessions with the ministers and be able to give feedback on how they can improve our area.”
Woodlands resident Joseph Foo, 47, said: “At least they can represent us to make decisions in future developments. By interacting with the residents, from the horses’ mouth, they will know what’s going on.”
But others have questioned the effectiveness of weekly visits and whether they can solve their problems.
Sembawang resident Xavier Ang, 30, said: “Maybe some of the smaller issues can be solved, but what’s the point of more visits if the bigger problems like transport connectivity won’t be solved.”
Chong Pang resident, 32-year-old Lee Zhen Lin, agreed: “Intensifying the visits may not make any difference especially in such a short period of time. It will probably take a minimum of two years to see the results.“
He added: “On the ground, it shows that you’re listening to us. But to see changes, it won’t be that fast.”