By Philip Ang
Mr Lee Hsien Loong
Chairman, People’s Association
Dear Mr Lee
More than a decade ago, I was a Residents’ Committee (RC) ‘Observer’ for a few months. It was a very disappointing experience because real concerns were hardly highlighted during meetings.
The fact remains till today – our politicised RCs are more like event organising committees for the government. Few even know who RC members are and we could hardly be bothered anyway.
The sole reason for most joining an RC – carrots dangled by the government. Believing that RC members cling on to their membership, some for more than a decade, solely to help residents is a delusion.
As in every organisation, there are exceptions.
One unforgettable experience was my meeting with a prominent RC member till around midnight. He had argued against the removal of potential killer litter objects in 2000. By 2004, I was still providing tonnes of feedback to the relevant authorities on killer litter. My numerous recent feedback on the same issue go to show that RCs were indifferent then, they remain so today. This is one of many issues.
Today as I was in another part of the estate.
Why must residents repeatedly highlight the same issue that is conveniently ignored by all RC members and the Town Council?
I strongly feel that the government is playing a numbers game with the number of volunteers. It exhorts ordinary citizens to take pride in our environment but how is this expected to be accomplished when grassroots members themselves could not be persuaded.
The four functions of an RC as listed on People’s Association (PA)’s website:
- Promote neighbourliness, harmony and cohesiveness amongst residents;
- Liaise with and make recommendations to government authorities on the needs and aspirations of residents;
- Disseminate information and gather feedback on government policies and actions from residents; and
- Promote good citizenship amongst residents
How are all the above achieved when residents hardly know who the RC members are?
The hundreds of feedback received by my Town Council and statutory boards mostly reflected brazen acts of irresponsibility. This is also due to our grassroots members having little/no initiatives as each have their personal agendas.
The 569 RCs are again a numbers game. Even if there were 5690, it would have made no difference because no one will be conveying any message from the ground to the government anyway.
RCs have become so ‘bochap’ and they have been generally accepted by the public.
According to my observations, there appears to be no grassroots members physically present in my estate, perhaps only on PA’s organisational chart.
One of many RC banners. Does this not say much of its attitude or is it another trivial attitude? When something so simple cannot be gotten right, is it logical to expect otherwise for more complicated stuff?
Notice boards are funded mainly by residents with some government grants. But clearly (in many other cases as well) nobody seems to be in charge nor will anyone be held accountable.
A sense of pride and responsibility in RC members cannot be taught if that is what the government is thinking.
The current recruitment approach attracts a lot of the undesirable types and if the government wants improvement, there must be fundamental changes.
Singaporeans who consider themselves to have done well and are willing to give back to society do not need enticements. The measure of how effective RCs are is not by the numbers who are rewarded but by withdrawing all the carrots
RCs are rightly shunned by most who would want to contribute if not for the sheer weight of hypocrisy. RCs should voice the concerns and views of residents but are clearly unable to do so as most members have their personal agendas.
- Go for quality, not numbers.
- Remove all incentives for becoming members.
- RCs must not be event organisers for any political parties, which is really free labour.
- The government must not dictate to RCs what is best for their residents, but MPs could be consulted.
- RCs organise whatever events/activities/interest groups which suit their residents.
- The government holds a consultative role only but funds some of the activities as this involves public housing.
- The government should discontinue using RCs to disseminate/push through government thinking. There MUST be prior consultation.
- Limit the tenure of membership to 4 years at most. Ex members could always be consulted without the need to hold any official position.
- Do not create new official positions pandering to the ego. Unless it is true that most Singaporeans are mostly credit seeking and incentive driven.
- The government should cease giving out national awards/limit them as they are a waste of time and money.
- All RC members must declare direct/indirect business interests related to government projects.
Of course the above seems impossible because we started off on the wrong foot and, for too long, but still everyone within the system appears to be a ‘winner’. Nobody wants to rock the.
But while the leaks are still not irreparable, wouldn’t it be better to rock the boat now?
Politicians are elected to serve the people but Singapore got it upside down for decades. By removing such a top down approach, the government will then be able to really listen to us.
The PAP should not worry about losing power because power will be returned via the ballot box if its policies are beneficial to Singaporeans.
eg. Instead of organising an increasing number of tuition classes for our stressed out children, RCs should have highlighted the costs and shortcomings of our education system.
As many RC members live among heartlanders, they should have been aware of a host of other work bread and butter issues, transportation, etc. RCs cannot afford to play along with the government.
Is the PA even aware of what’s been happening?
Just some food for thought.
Please don’t trivialise individual issues as collectively they do add up quite a bit.
RCs have never been the voice of heartlanders. To really serve residents, RCs must be depoliticised with all incentives removed to avoid attracting more self-serving residents.
RCs must be able to articulate the views and concerns of residents to the government.
If the Chairman of PR-PTC really wants to do something meaningful, take an objective look around the estate instead of taking action only on the above examples.