SINGAPORE: Community Development Councils (CDC) often keep a low profile but their contributions are vital during times of crisis, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Wednesday (Sep 23).
“CDCs often take a low profile, working quietly but steadily to fulfil their mission,” he said during a swearing-in ceremony for mayors of the five districts. “But in times of crisis, their contributions are vital, and become more apparent.”
Ms Low Yen Ling, Ms Denise Phua and Mr Desmond Choo have been reappointed mayors of South West CDC, Central CDC and North East CDC respectively.
Mr Alex Yam is mayor of North West CDC, taking over from Dr Teo Ho Pin who is Singapore's longest-serving mayor, having held the position for 19 years.
Newly elected Member of Parliament Fahmi Aliman has been appointed mayor of South East CDC, replacing Dr Maliki Osman who was promoted to Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office and Second Minister for the ministries of education and foreign affairs.
The mayors oversee the individual CDCs, which aim to help the needy through local assistance schemes, promote community bonds as well as connect community and corporate partners to better serve residents.
Residents who are in need and do not know where to get help can turn to the CDC, Mr Lee said.
"The CDC can then assist them or redirect them, and lift some of the burden of navigating the bureaucracy off them," he added.
Mr Lee said the Government fully supports the CDC’s mission, pointing out that it had as part of Budget 2020 provided a further S$75 million grant for the CDC’s efforts.
The CDCs rolled out more than 70 initiatives between February and June in response to COVID-19, he said, highlighting the CDC Vouchers Scheme as an example.
Mr Lee said S$20 million worth of vouchers were distributed to help 400,000 households with the cost of living, including many middle-income families who have come under pressure because of the pandemic.
READ: 'We want them to know they're not alone': New scheme to distribute food vouchers to more than 12,000 disadvantaged students
In addition, Mr Lee said the mayors have introduced schemes to support children from needy homes in continuing with their education, and help residents become more employable to succeed in the future economy.
“To fulfil their duties well, CDCs must be led by strong, passionate leaders, who are familiar with the local community, and can mobilise and motivate their councillors, volunteers and partners,” he said.
Mr Lee said Dr Teo and Dr Maliki will be succeeded by two “equally passionate” people in Mr Yam and Mr Fahmi.
Mr Yam, as an MP in his third term, is quite seasoned, the Prime Minister said, adding that Mr Yam is concerned for those who are “down and out” and has spoken up in Parliament on issues ranging from human trafficking to animal welfare.
“Even before he became an MP, he had served in the grassroots for many years, and was also a District Councillor of North West CDC,” Mr Lee said. “So this is like a homecoming for him.”
Mr Yam said he will focus on providing “timely support” to vulnerable residents during this difficult period, strengthening community bonds by reviving the “kampung spirit”, upskilling residents in the digital age, as well as introducing sustainability into programme planning.
“While most of the CDC's activities have gone online during this period, I look forward to resuming some of our face-to-face engagements with residents, when it is safe to do so,” he added.
READ: Budget 2020: Free meals for vulnerable families islandwide as MPs urge more help for those in need
While Mr Fahmi is a first-time MP, he has been in public service all his life, Mr Lee said.
Mr Fahmi was a Singapore Armed Forces colonel before joining the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore last year to work on social and educational programmes for the Malay-Muslim community. Now he is with the National Trades Union Congress focusing on low-wage workers.
“Everyone who knows him describes him as a gentle soul with a big heart,” Mr Lee said. “These are precisely the kind of qualities that all our mayors need, who are charged with overseeing our CDCs.”
Mr Fahmi said he is “thrilled” about his new role, adding that it will allow him to help residents as much as he can, including looking at employment and upskilling.
His areas of concern include interfaith and inter-ethnicity harmony, as well as youth mental health, he said, noting that it is important for society to be open, connected and to find safe spaces for exchanges to happen.
“Youth will also require a platform to talk about or better understand issues which are not commonly talked about,” he added.
“Moving forward, we will continue to tap on schools and partners to best reach out to youth, and explore other channels of communication and support for mental wellness.”
Mr Lee said he is happy that a “strong group” of mayors has been identified for the next term, with Ms Low as chairman of the Mayors’ Committee.
“I am confident they will build on the work of their predecessors, and their own work in previous terms, and add to the precious social capital that we have today,” he added.
“The Government will continue to be their steadfast partners, as we work together to secure the future of Singaporeans and of Singapore.”