The pandemic brought to the fore the critical role of the People’s Association (PA)

the pandemic brought to the fore the critical role of the peoples association pa

The pandemic brought to the fore the critical role of the People’s Association (PA).

The People’s Association (PA) is often the target of attack from the Opposition. But the 3 years of pandemic and the response of PA during the pandemic had altered people’s perception – and appreciation – of the PA.

The pandemic years were difficult ones. When the pandemic struck in 2020, PA swung into action early. 

From nation-wide distributions of masks and hand sanitiser to food delivery services for the vulnerable, especially during the circuit breaker period, TraceTogether token distribution, and Community Centres operating as vaccination centres and reaching out to seniors and others to be vaccinated, PA was there. 

The networks, trust and bonds painstakingly built by PA and its volunteers over the years has allowed Singapore to respond cohesively, quickly and as one community during the pandemic. This is the critical difference between the response here in Singapore and the responses seen elsewhere in the world.

3.52 million reusable masks distributed in second collection exercise by PA, April 2020

A noble mission to build social capital in peacetime

PA is a Statutory Board. It was established by an Act of Parliament and came into being on 1 July 1960. It’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 reserve is accumulated during peacetime so that when crises hit us – such as the COVID-19 pandemic – we are in a good position to handle them.

Political affiliations are not relevant.

Our ability to respond as one united people during the pandemic underscores the importance of accumulating social capital in peacetime. 

“The social capital that we have built up over time, the harmony that we have and that we enjoy within our society, taking care of our residents, including our seniors and the vulnerable ones amongst us – the value of all these, I would say to this House, is not easily quantifiable,” Senior Parliamentary Secretary (MCCY and MSF) Eric Chua once said in Parliament

“The political affiliations of volunteers are not relevant to our consideration in the volunteer’s participation in PA because PA’s mission is fundamentally focused on community building,” he said. 

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PA volunteer informing residents of mandatory block testing for COVID-19 , Hougang June 2021

Singapore works only when all communities come together...

PA’s role in peacetime and in crisis are inseparable. The networks and bonds of trust that enable the PA to perform its role in peacetime are also what enable the PA to play a vital role in crises.

The Singapore Government believes that Singapore works only when Government and people, businesses, unions and communities all come together.

As Senior Parliamentary Secretary Eric Chua explained in Parliament in March 2021, nothing can be achieved if the Government does not get the buy-in from the people. This is why the Government wants to explain their policies and provide channels for communication between the Government and the people because they believe the Government must be connected to the people

When a major Government policy is announced, PA, together with grassroots advisors, goes to the ground and explains the policies, including unpopular policies. At the same time, by being on the ground, PA provides the channels for residents to voice their concerns. Such concerns, when relayed to the Government, allow the Government to tweak and adapt policies if needed.

Thus, PA exists to connect people to the government, and to provide the social glue uniting different communities as one cohesive people. Without this social glue, Singapore would have gotten nowhere.   

These relationships of trust and comradeship built – bit by bit, through good times and bad – are what enabled us to respond as one Singapore during the pandemic, said Eric. And this is what the late Mr S Rajaratnam meant by a “democracy of deeds”.

During the pandemic, grassroots advisors and their leaders walked tirelessly knocking on doors to persuade seniors to get vaccinated so that they could be protected from the covid-19 virus. 


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