The People’s Association (PA) has been an important component of the Singapore mechanism; with it being synonymous with an assortment of grassroots involvement and activities through its network of centres and volunteers. Its achievements on the ground – through the fifty years – cannot be denied: it has facilitated a host of community activities to foster integration and heighten understanding, offering assistance for less-privileged Singaporeans, encouraging a flurry of interest groups, programmes and courses that are diverse and attractive et cetera.
Grassroots activities – in terms of its outreach and strength – are especially significant for the development and maturity of a country in the various socio-economic spheres. Very naturally, the accessibility and proximity of these communal elements have subtly encouraged political parties across the globe to actively utilise these influences to their advantage. In the United States (USA) for instance, the Democrat and Republican parties maintain strong grassroots organisations to not only provide assistance to constituents whenever necessary, but also to increase advocacy efforts and rapidly spread political ideologies, or to garner ground support for a variety of policies and proposals.
However, such politicisation has deeply divided citizens and generated unnecessary tensions as a result of political differences, making enhanced bonding and the process of rendering much-needed help for individuals more arduous. In Singapore, the claim that the PA is political and not partisan is ludicrous, since the country has been predominantly a one-party state, with the Opposition kept out of this grassroots network. With the changing political landscape, and Singaporeans making more varied decisions at the voting booths, the PA needs to make a step forward to embrace internal administrative and advisory diversity. Continued close association with the ruling administration would continue to turn capable people away from the PA because of the fear of enforced beliefs.
For a positive start, appointed Opposition Members-of-Parliament (MP) who have won the mandate of their constituency should not be denied of their rightful advisory roles on the Citizen Consultative Committees (CCC). If they have to establish their own agencies to facilitate the aforementioned roles, the residents would only be at the losing end because of the bureaucracy and overlaps in the responsibilities of the two separate organs. Confusion and disillusionment would gradually set in. The MPs’ dedication to the betterment of their estates should not be in doubt, and they should be granted the deserved chance to prove their worth in enhancing the quality of life of their residents. Moving further, Nominated Members-of-Parliament (NMP) and Non-Constituency Members-of-Parliament (NCMP) should be more involved in the CCC and its respective components to heighten the combination of ideas and possibilities. PA’s antiquated notions of service must be gradually adjusted.
It is not just about being evergreen and changing personnel and leaders because it is the same script, different cast; with the fundamentals unchanged. Challenges such as the divides – of public and private residency and of new citizens – the purported superficiality of integration and the growing irrelevance of the “community” transcend petty political differences. While idealistic, PA’s eventual long-term success would be premised upon its detachment from any political influences, and subsequent ability to function as an independent body committed nobly and solely to the needs of all Singaporeans, regardless of race, language, religion – and political benefits.