“Forging strong ‘microcommunities’ is what PA chief executive director Yam Ah Mee, who took over in June, wants the statutory board to continue doing first one in July 2007” (PA, The Social Innovator, Miss Neo Chai Chin).
The article “PA, The Social Innovator” (December 3, 2010) by Miss Neo Chai Chin comes at a time when the People’s Association (PA) has just celebrated its fiftieth anniversary; which simultaneously provides an opportune moment for the statutory organisation to review its relevance, and eventually reposition its roles and responsibilities. Given the development in socio-political circumstances over the decades, the increasingly diverse needs of constituents and Singaporeans, as well as the growth of new agencies and organisations; the PA should be cognisant of the need of adaptation and eventual evolution.
On the macro-level, many of its initiatives and activities have been overshadowed by programmes pushed forward spontaneously, or by the administration. The task of gathering comments and gauging on-the-ground sentiments has been largely taken over by Reaching Everyone for Active Citizenry @ Home (REACH), the national feedback agency. The organisation of various dialogue sessions or talks have been constantly criticised for being redundant and unconstructive, yielding minimal takeaways for participants and largely disproportionate to the amount of resources and effort dedicated to the administrative functioning of these events.
The lack of coordination and assertions of bureaucracy are perfectly understandable, given the extensive network of grassroots organisations and community groups under the PA umbrella. For instance, my past volunteer experiences with the PA Youth Movement (PAYM) – under a Youth Executive Committee (YEC) – and the National Youth Council (NYC) have yielded very different exposures and revealed, in my opinion, that resources and programmes can be needlessly duplicated. Furthermore, in terms of aid and assistance for low income households or needy individuals, the sheer proliferation of state schemes or regional aid packages can often prove to be confusing for many. Capitalising on the “many helping hands” methodology adopted by the administration and the subsidiary ministries, partnerships can be established with voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs) to render specialised help on a case-by-case basis.
Perhaps the most evident criticism levelled against the PA would be the assertion that it is too closely aligned with the ideals and visions of the incumbent People’s Action Party (PAP). Grassroots leaders and volunteers seem to be linked too closely with the PAP that many individuals who are desirous of contributing and making a change – yet have opposite political beliefs – feel stonewalled and confused throughout the experience.
The PA does have its own assortment of benefits: many of the courses offered by the Community Centres (CC) are immensely popular for their value and quality, the Outward Bound camps and Youth Development elements have been productive for youths and students, rudimentary grassroots activities – such as parties, carnivals and celebrations – have promoted neighbourhood bonding and togetherness et cetera. However, its eventual relevance will only be maintained if it sheds the comforts of conservatism, be honest with its shortcomings, and work to increase representation and overall effectiveness.