Why is there a need for such an “expensive administration structure” in the People’s Association (PA) when most of its work is carried out by grassroots volunteers and volunteer worker organisations, asked Progress Singapore Party (PSP) Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) Leong Mun Wai 梁文辉 in Parliament on Monday (8 March).
Speaking on the role of the PA during the committee of supply debate on Monday, Mr Leong questioned the large budget allocated to it, noting how the PA’s cost per staff appears to be higher than that of GovTech or the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS), both of which have a high proportion of professional staff.
“To put things in perspective, the PA’s operating expenditure in FY2021, is S$589 million with 2,565 staff. In comparison, IRAS running cost are S$432 million with 2,050 staff, and GovTech S$403 million, 4,610 staff,” he explained.
Mr Leong also pointed out that the PA spent only S$199 million or 30 percent of its running cost on activities and projects in FY2020, while the remaining S$441 million, or 70 percent, was spent on administration.
“Why is such an expensive administration structure needed when the main job of PA is to be a bridge between the government and the citizens and much of the work of the PA is carried out by the grassroots volunteers and volunteer worker organisations?” He asked.
While he expressed “wholehearted support” of the work done by staff and volunteers of PA to “strengthen the social fabric” in Singapore, Mr Leong also wondered if more could be done to redefine the role of PA at a high level and ensure that the funds it receives are channelled towards areas that help those who need it the most.
In response, Parliamentary Secretary for Culture, Community and Youth & Social and Family Development Eric Chua stressed that the PA’s mission is to “build up the cohesiveness of our population – a reserve of social capital and goodwill that is built on trust between people and the Government.”
This social capital built up during peacetime would then be crucial and helpful during times of crisis, such as the current global pandemic, said Mr Chua.
He went on to reveal that the PA’s budget of S$796 million comprises of S$207 million for development—to build and upgrade community clubs—and S$589 million for operating expenditure.
However, Mr Chua said it is “not very meaningful” to compare the PA’s staff to budget ratio to agencies like IRAS as GovTech as the PA manages a whole host of community facilities across the nation that is manned by fulltime staff.
This includes 108 community clubs and 665 residents’ committees centre which require regular maintenance and operating costs.
“PA’s budget allows it to carry on with its peacetime mission of providing our people – in their thousands, every day – with activities that enrich them and which they enjoy,” said Mr Chua, adding, “It also enables the building of the networks and communities – the relationships of trust.”
He went on to say, “The proof of the pudding is in the eating and there is no doubt that the PA has proven its worth in the past year.”
In his questions, Mr Leong had also asked for the distribution of PA leaders, staff, and volunteers who are members of political parties.
He noted, “If it is so heavily funded by taxpayers’ money, we wish that the PA is a real organisation for the people with its leadership and membership not skewed towards any political party.”
To this, Mr Chua said: “As answered before in this chamber, the political affiliations of volunteers are not relevant to our consideration in the volunteers’ participation in PA, because the PA’s missions is fundamentally focused on community building.”
Mr Leong also asked about the Community Development Council (CDC)’s budget as a percentage of the PA’s budget, in view of recent debates on the CDC.
Mr Chua did not answer this specific question.