Edwin Tong insists on People’s Association’s political neutrality and denies involvement in partisan activities

Edwin Tong insists on People’s Association’s political neutrality and denies involvement in partisan activities

Singapore’s People’s Association (PA) neither “conduct any activity with any political party”, nor allow its events or venues to be used for partisan purposes by any political party, claims Edwin Tong, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY).

Mr Tong stressed that PA “serves all Singaporeans regardless of their political leanings”, serves the government of the day, as with any government agency.

Mr Tong further invited the Workers’ Party together “recognising the value PA brings to our community”, and the good PA staff and volunteers do, in tirelessly serving all residents, regardless of whether the constituency is Opposition or ruling party.

WP MPs sought clarification from MCCY Minister on PA’s role

These were said by Mr Tong was replying to Parliamentary Questions filed by Workers’ Party Members of Parliament, Mr Leon Perera and Ms He Ting Ru.

Ms He, MP for Sengkang GRC, asked the Minister what standards are applied to decide whether an activity held in PA-controlled events or venues are being used for partisan purposes by any political party, and what are the channels for recourse should any member of the public be concerned about PA events or venues being misused for partisan purposes.

Mr Perera, MP for Aljunied GRC, asked the Minister what types of activities are undertaken by the grassroots advisors (GRAs) to explain Government’s policies to the people.

In his written reply, Mr Tong who is also PA’s Deputy Chairman, reiterated that PA’s role, then and now, remains to foster racial harmony and strengthen social cohesion, promote active citizenry and civic responsibility, and serve as the bridge between the people and the government.

“This means that as a government statutory board, PA would communicate and explain Government policies to residents, help them understand and navigate the various policy details and processes, and at the same time, relay public feedback and sentiments to the Government so government policies can continue to be refined to better address the needs of Singaporeans. ”

He added that the PA can be defined as a concept in sociology known as “social capital”, which is the network of relationships and shared values that enable individuals to collaborate effectively towards a common goal.

“The PA was established in 1960 by our founding fathers, with the aim of enhancing social capital and strengthening the network of relations that unites us as a single people.”

Edwin Tong said grassroots advisors (GRAs) must be able to share the Government’s vision and objectives

On the grassroots advisors, Mr Tong said they augment PA with their extensive networks and grassroots experience.

“They guide the PA Grassroots Organisations (GROs) in their engagement and outreach efforts by walking the ground with grassroots leaders and volunteers to understand citizens’ concerns and gather feedback, explaining Government programmes and initiatives, and overseeing the last-mile delivery of the Government’s programmes. ”

Therefore, the GRAs must be able to share the Government’s vision and objectives, explain policies from conceptualisation to implementation, and are familiar with the concerns of the community.

“PA officers are themselves civil servants”

Ms He also questioned the impediments to having civil servants from the PA, as well as other agencies, communicate and explain Government policy, as compared with having a grassroots adviser to do so.

Mr Tong replied that Government agencies communicate their policies to the public and engage key stakeholders to explain the policy considerations.

He said PA officers are themselves, civil servants. But they, like other civil servants, also rely on PA’s grassroots networks for last-mile delivery and communications—this could be through informal chats with citizens at house visits or community activities, or structured dialogues on government policies.

“Over the years, PA has built an extensive grassroots movement, its staff and volunteers interacting with residents through community activities, celebrating key milestones in their lives such as parenthood, and significant national events such as SG50.”

He added that some of the grassroots leaders have served since PA’s early founding years, and have established a deep familiarity and rapport with the residents that cannot be replicated by civil servants in other government agencies.

“An agency one of whose role is to establish people-to-people links, cannot be relying solely on civil servants to nurture these network of relations that so enrich our communities.”

PA’s resources used to provide programmes for all residents, ranging from recreational, educational to social purposes. 

On Mr Perera’s question on the proportion of the PA’s overall budget devoted to explain Government’s policies, Mr Tong did not provide the breakdown, instead, he explained that there is no specific proportion of budget allocated for activities related to explaining government policies, as the overall PA’s budget is to achieve the objects of PA.

“The overall budget allocated to the PA supports GROs in reaching out to the community and deepening resident engagement; all the above that have been mentioned; as well as to construct and operate PA facilities including community clubs.”

Mr Tong explained that PA’s resources are used to provide programmes for all residents, ranging from recreational, educational to social purposes.

“These include community events to bring residents of different backgrounds together; outreach efforts to communicate, explain and get feedback on Government policies; and last-mile delivery of Government programmes and policies. ”

Mr Tong provided examples of PA’s involvement in initiatives such as COVID-19 vaccination awareness, Budget dialogues for policy explanation, and the recent “Forward Singapore conversations” aimed at engaging Singaporeans to refresh the social compact.

Opposition elected MPs do not perform difficult work of explaining government policies, says Sitoh Yih Pin

In Parliament last month, MP for Potong Pasir SMC, Sitoh Yih Pin, voiced strong disagreement with the statements made by Mr Perera and Mr Faisal about PA.

Opposition parties have regularly criticised the practice of excluding elected MPs from opposition parties from PA activities as the losing candidates from PAP are appointed as grassroots advisors instead.

Even for Seng Kang GRC, which does not have all the losing candidates appointed as grassroots advisors at the constituency, PAP’s anointed candidate, Ms Theodora Lai was present at the Edusave Awards ceremony when she has not official links to PA.

Also read: Presence of Theodora Lai at Edusave Awards ceremony in Seng Kang GRC raises questions of double standards

Mr emphasized that the PA and its members are committed to serving the community and building a better Singapore.

“The People’s Association (PA) and its members are here to serve fellow Singaporeans and not to advance the interests of any political party,” said Mr Sitoh.

He highlighted the strict rules and objectives that guide PA activities, and acknowledged the contributions of thousands of grassroots leaders, staff, and volunteers who work tirelessly to serve their fellow residents.

Mr Sitoh also addressed Mr Faisal’s comments about wanting to be involved in only “nice things” such as handing out awards and taking photographs, and not being involved in the more difficult work of explaining government policies to the community.

He emphasized that as a grassroots adviser, it is important to explain the need for unpopular policies that are in the long-term interest of Singapore.

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