When the People’s Association (PA) was introduced in the year 1960, it was done for the sole purpose of acting as a bridge between the Government and the people, as well as to promote racial harmony and social cohesion in Singapore.
In order to do so, it embarked on multiple platforms to achieve that dream. According to a study by Walter B.Kimball titled “Singapore’s People’s Association”, it said that the focal point of the Association is its neighbourhood community centre which is equipped with rooms for activities, playgrounds for kids as well as office space. In addition, these centres were also heavily used by residents in the neighbourhood, causing them to be dependent on it on a daily basis.
However, one of the main activities conducted by the centres is to supply and disseminate information to people in the neighbourhood, which is taken advantage by the People’s Action Party (PAP).
“Expect for the party newspaper, considered too partisan even for the People’s Association, political publications soon found their way into every centre,” the study, which was published by Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), noted.
If that is not all, due to the need for sponsorship of political activity in the centres as well as founding father Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s wish of a personal political organisation, there were many political committees began mushrooming in the city in 1964.
Although the members of the committee are appointed by the PAP representative, but “their respectability is undeniably enhanced by close identification with the ‘non-political’ community centres”, the author explained.
“In this they are infinitely more acceptable that the PAP’s local branch offices. Perhaps the one clear point in the confusion is that they are partly responsible to the Prime Minister,” Mr Walter added.
As such, this led to many Singaporeans having the hard time telling if they should thank the ruling party, the Government or the private sector for creating the neighbourhood centres which helped and supported them a lot on a daily basis.
“This ambiguity is precisely what the PAP wants. To enhance the effect, moreover, the party sees to it that all possible services are dispensed by the government on the premises of the centres, so that the identification of the centre with the government as well as party is immeasurably increased,” he study said.
It added, “The reputation for responsive government thus acquired is excellent insurance against an occasional unfortunate policy or unpopular decision”.
In addition, services dispersed through the centres like weekly welfare payment, mobile dental clinics, job application hub and more also made people in the neighbourhood to view the community centre “as the chief point of contact between themselves and the government, and the ruling party reaps the benefit”.
As explained in the study, we can somewhat tell that the ruling party wants the ambiguous nature of PA to exist so they can gain support from the public without being obvious about it. With all the perks thrown to residents in the neighbourhood, it will undoubtedly make them favour PAP more.
In fact, Workers’ Party (WP) chief Pritam Singh took to his Facebook on 26 August (Monday) to highlight how WP volunteers stand behind his party without expecting anything in return.
He noted that these volunteers “are not recognised as grassroots representatives under the People’s Association umbrella of grassroots organisations”. As such, these people will not receive benefits that other PA grassroots leaders obtain like being invited for the President’s National Day reception, given priority allocation of Primary 1 places for their children and many more.
“In view of the benefits PA grassroots representatives receive, many have wondered what motivates my friends to support the work of elected non-government MPs, who – by design – are not recognised by some institutions of the state. My answer is always the same,” Mr Singh wrote.
He added, “The belief in a fairer, more equal and better Singapore. And that requires active, not passive participation. What I admire the most is that they continue to step forward – without expecting any benefits, and without begrudging what PA grassroots representatives receive.”