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photo: facebook.com/SingaporeAdvocacyAwards/photos

The SAA 2016 Annual Awards Ceremony : Civil society to take more action

The Singapore Advocacy Awards (SAA) held its 3rd annual awards ceremony on Saturday 20 August.

The Awards were presented to three individuals and two organisations that have been exemplary in their advocacy work in Singapore:

  • Dr Ho Hua Chew – Outstanding Advocate of Our Time
  • Kirsten Han - Advocate of the Year
  • June Chua - Promising Advocate of the Year
  • Drama Box - Advocate Organisation of the Year
  • HOME – Advocate Organisation of the Year

Mrs Constance Singam, who chairs TWC3, said in her speech at the ceremony at the Singapore Management University that it has received 15 nominations for four awards this year, five more than the previous years: 7 for advocate of the year; 2 for promising advocate and 6 for organization of the year.

She stressed that at the award moment, every year, “We celebrate civil society activism, civil society activists, the friendship and support we give each other.”

“We celebrate civil society advocacy and its achievements in Singapore, and to affirm the role of civil society activists in the shaping of our society, especially in advancing democratic values.“

“For this to happen there must be space for varying visions of the future, for vigorous debate of these different approaches and for continued discussion after a decision has been made and public policies put in place. This participation by citizens is a crucial element of democracy.”

She also said her admirations for the positive attempts to mobilise members of civil society to come together for a common cause, such as the Arts Collective, Apa Itu Civil society, Community Action Network.

“The individuals who initiate and lead these groups suspend their own parochial interests and areas of their work for the greater good of civil society.”

“Those who pioneered this kind of mobilisation for the common good in the earlier years - for example. TWC1, the first civil society conference in 1999, TWC2 - are still working, sacrificing their time and resources to the cause of a more active civil society and People like William Lim, Tay Keng Soon, Ho Hua Chew are the veterans of more than 40 years of civil society activism and they have not stopped..”

She then urged the civil society in Singapore to take more action.

You, young people, are the next generation. What will your story be?

“The last few weeks of discussion and debate about the Administration of Justice (Protection) Bill illustrated a civil society engaged and united in active and rigorous advocacy work, both outside and inside parliament.”

She continued, that is a very encouraging sign, the fact that it had little impact on persuading the government to take into account civil society concerns just means that:

  1. Civil society have to keep supporting those in parliament who are trying their best to speak for the people
  2. Civil society has to empower, celebrate and acknowledge the works of those who are in the forefront of advocacy work under very difficult and trying conditions
  3. There are different paths to take in achieving civil society aims
  4. Civil society has to keep empowering, keep educating, keep raising awareness of and its understanding of existing legislation and legal process that impinge on the people's civil liberties.

She stated that she was disappointed, although she knew for certain that the reality is that power rests with government and this is not ‘a government that takes into account people’s concerns’. She can also understand the circumstances that led to the vote and the position the three NMPs took. She acknowledges that they put up a good fight.

And she continued, “But I do have one reservation about our dependence on promises and assurance of one minister. Ministers change. Circumstances change but the legislation remains in the books. It is a draconian law and it always was. So as Kirsten pointed out – when we had known that .. why didn't we do something about that. Why are we always reactive and not proactive. And this is the question that all those who are criticising the NMPs after the fact should be asking---why didn't you do something?”

“I am irritated, with all those people who are constantly finding fault and criticising, you have fine intellect, you are articulate, you can be analytical, why are you wasting your energy being negative.“

“Kirsten, I congratulate you on that excellent article Power and Civil Society in Singapore, it is thoughtful, well analysed and raises many issues and questions. Thank you for that. Kokila Annamalai, thank you for the FB posting. You are two amazing young women and I am proud to know you both.”

“I repeat what I said last year : part of how we are going to thrive in this imperfect moment, in this imperfect country is through esprit de corps, fierce hope and generous hearts. I hope some day the state will also embrace this spirit of civil society, - the spirit that have been so enriching for me personally, the spirit of respect for each other, the suspension of differences and the willingness to listen and believe that it is possible to work together for a better Singapore.”

 She finished her grieving with, “Somebody referred to us as elitist – not bad. Actually I welcome that – we have been here a long time and tested severely.”

Kirsten Han, the honored Advocate of the Year, also wrote her thoughts, “We often talk about the need for unity and solidarity in organising and activism, because we’re stronger together than we are in isolation. Framed in this way, coming together becomes a matter of strategy; a smart move for groups with less power in a system built on imbalance.”