PA must refresh itself, reach out to wider group of Singaporeans and stay connected to youths: Lawrence Wong
SINGAPORE: As part of efforts to refresh itself, the People’s Association (PA) can do more to draw in the wider group of Singaporeans who are keen to pitch in and do something for the community, said Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong on Saturday (Oct 29).
To cultivate in them a habit of getting involved, PA can offer platforms which go beyond the current grassroots structures and offer opportunities that are less structured and more flexible, he added.
Speaking at the PA's Community Seminar 2022 at Our Tampines Hub, Mr Wong said that PA is an integral part of the "Forward Singapore" exercise – to engage Singaporeans on how they can refresh and update the social compact, and ensure Singapore remains a high-trust society.
“Over the past few months, we’ve heard from many Singaporeans about how we can continue to progress along our nation-building journey, what changes we have to take. And the Government will take these views on board, and we will consider carefully how our policies should be adjusted,” he added.
In line with this, it is important to think about how the PA must refresh itself, said Mr Wong.
While it has become synonymous with the community activities and events in Singapore’s housing estates, the PA's task is not to be an event organiser, he pointed out. Instead, events are a means towards the more important objective of building cohesive communities, Mr Wong said.
COMMUNITY VOLUNTEER SCHEME
One way is for the PA to work more closely with the Housing and Development Board (HDB) to create opportunities for residents to play an active role in livening up the shared spaces in their neighbourhoods, he explained.
“PA can help to convene and bring together groups of like-minded Singaporeans to undertake projects in issues and causes that they are passionate about,” he added.
Mr Wong pointed out that the association is well placed to do this, given it knows the needs on the ground and have networks to bring in other stakeholders and partners where necessary.
To support more residents with diverse interests to be involved in the community, the PA will introduce the Community Volunteer scheme, which will offer them more flexibility in choosing the causes they wish to contribute towards and determining their level of commitment, it said in a factsheet on Saturday.
PA will match these volunteers with available opportunities or work with them to identify needs in the community and facilitate ground-up projects. It will also link volunteers to networks and resources and work with partners and other agencies to share volunteering opportunities.
From next year, PA will progressively roll out the initiative and offer an enabling grant of up to S$1,000 per project to further support volunteers' efforts.
Interested individuals or groups who wish to find out more about the Community Volunteer scheme can approach any community centre or community club.
"We must always match our population's aspirations, grow with them. And also important to look at how we can relate to them better, especially in a post-pandemic environment," PA deputy chairman and Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong told reporters on the sidelines of the Community Seminar.
"So these are some of the measures that we're taking, particularly in working with different community volunteers, supporting the causes that they are interested in, to build a relationship with them and also to see how we can do better in terms of supporting this organically created and initiated activities."
Another way for the PA to refresh itself is to stay connected and relevant to Singapore’s youths, said Mr Wong.
“We have many senior and veteran grassroots leaders amongst us. And we value all of your contributions over the many decades and will continue to tap on your wealth of experience and expertise. At the same time, we do have to give space for the next generation to step up and to contribute,” he said.
It is important for PA to embrace Singapore’s youths as “partners of change”, Mr Wong added.
And this means not just engaging them, but also showing that they are trusted so that they are empowered to take charge. They can then lead projects on their own, and eventually take on bigger leadership positions in the community.
It is also important that the PA strives to build consensus amid diversity, he noted.
“Increasingly, we will have to find ways to get Singaporeans to engage one another, and listen to the views of our neighbours and fellow citizens. We must recognise that there are often diverse perspectives on issues, and learn how to seek compromise and reach common ground,” said Mr Wong.
A VITAL LINK
In addition to being the “social glue” for Singapore’s neighbourhoods, the PA serves as a vital link between the Government and the people, said Mr Wong.
“Grassroots leaders and advisors continue to hear and convey residents’ feedback to the Government, ensuring that our policies remain relevant,” he said.
“And you help to explain the reason for policies, and the trade-offs necessary to balance the needs and wants of different groups, helping everyone understand the common goals we are working towards.”
As such, there should be no doubt that PA’s mission remains relevant and essential to Singapore’s continued unity and progress, he added.
Mr Wong shared that he too had been a beneficiary of the PA network and grassroots movement.
Growing up in an HDB flat in Marine Parade in the early 70s, he explained how the grassroots leaders there helped to build up the "kampong spirit" despite it being a new estate.
“I was just a small boy, but still have fond memories of the pot-lucks and the gatherings that were conducted at the void deck – as kids, we especially enjoyed the magic shows, performances, and games,” said Mr Wong.
He recalled how grassroots leaders banded together to help when his family was locked out of the flat due to his father misplacing the key to the padlock.
Some years later, Mr Wong's family were the victims of a burglary.
"My brother and I were going back with the boys ... Thieves followed us and rushed into the unit before we could even close the door, tied us up, ransacked the whole place and then stole everything they find," he recalled.
"Again, the grassroots sprang into action ... They decided to engage the residents in the block because people were worried. They managed to pull some funding from the residents and amazingly, they hired someone to be a security guard. Block 3 Marine Terrace must have been the first HDB block in the estate with a security counter at the void deck."
Eventually, Mr Wong said that his father was so inspired that he joined the Residents' Committee and became an active grassroots leader himself.
There is “every reason” to stand tall and be proud of the PA and grassroots movement, he concluded.
Mr Wong added: “Your contributions are not found in buildings, or hardware or infrastructure. But they are in something intangible and far more important - and that's the building of our national character, identity and values."
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story quoted DPM Lawrence Wong as saying that Block 3 Marine Terrace "must hold the record for being the first and only HDB block in Singapore with a security counter at the void deck". MOF has since clarified that it should be the first HDB block in the estate.