Singapore needs to shift its mindset with regards to how it sees non-governmental organisations (NGOs), said Progress Singapore Party (PSP) candidate Wendy Low on Thursday (25 June) during a virtual press conference.
Ms Low, who has extensive experience in working with various NGOs both abroad and local including AWARE in Singapore, said, “I think that the Government needs to see NGOs more as part of the solution on a very long term to drive conversations about progressive solutions and not just on a reactive basis.”
Drawing on her previous experience of working with an NGO in Hong Kong that managed to help legal sex workers who were facing abuse at the hands of clients, she described the relationship between these women and the police as “shockingly” discriminatory.
However, the NGO stepped in to help buy and install CCTVs for these women, which enabled them to systematically document any abuse that would happen. This became concrete evidence that they could then take to the police. As a result, crime rates dropped, which subsequently led the law enforcers to be more amenable to working with the NGO further.
“Once both sides saw there was a possibly for a win-win, then there was a lot more conversations,” said Ms Low, adding, “Therefore over time, there was a real learning both from the authorities as well as the issues that were happening on the ground through the conduit of the NGOs.”
On how this could be translated to Singapore, she noted that there needs to be a change in the mindset of seeing NGOs as “part of the problem” or that they are not “cost effective or expedient” to work with.
Instead, Ms Low asserted that NGOs are trying to bring about long term positive changes both for the people who are being impacted, as well as for the Government in making better policies and reducing bad statistics like homelessness and poverty.
Adding to this, Michael Chua – another PSP candidate that was introduced during the press conference – stressed the importance for governments to work with and listen to NGOs who are trying to address issues in society.
Using the example of the massive COVID-19 outbreak at migrant worker dormitories in Singapore, Mr Chua stated that NGOs had already given early warnings that this might happen but it was largely ignored.
“And when we ignore warnings by NGOs who are familiar with what’s happening in the migrant worker dormitories and think that they are a nuisance or their voices are not valid, we suffer the consequences,” he said.
“When the Government is not prepared to hear the voices on the ground, whether it’s NGOs or even alternative party politicians, we are suffering as a country. We need diversity in views, we need to be open to hearing voices that is not coming from the Government or the ruling party,” added Mr Chua.