SINGAPORE - The People's Association (PA) has to cater to an increasingly sophisticated population, but remains non-partisan, said Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing on Thursday (April 14).
Mr Chan, who is the PA's deputy chairman, underscored these roles as he explained the statutory board's budget and mission in response to Ms Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC).
During Wednesday's debate on the Ministry of Community, Culture and Youth's spending plans, Ms Lim questioned the PA's "every-increasing" budget and wondered whether it had "deviated from its mandate" of fostering social stability.
The Workers' Party (WP) chairman had said it was understandable that the PA's budget last year was much larger than usual given the Golden Jubilee celebrations. But she wondered if its budget for the 2016 financial year, which stands at $900 million, was justified.
Mr Chan said the budget was about 5 per cent lower, on aggregate, than in the previous financial year.
He also said that the bump in last year's budget was not due to the Golden Jubilee celebrations, which cost about $4 million, as Ms Lim had said.
Rather, most of the budget went into setting up the Pioneer Generation Office and building Tampines Hub and Wisma Geylang Serai Civic Centre.
Explaining this year's budget, he said the PA plans to upgrade 24 community clubs.
On possible concerns that it might not be a good time to do so, given the economic slowdown, he said the PA weighs whether there is sufficient resources to do so, and if it would be able to "stretch those dollars that we spend".
"So during the current economic slowdown if there are opportunities for us to lock in good prices for us to do our routine projects, I think we should do it," he said.
He added: "It doesn't do us any good to have a feast and famine strategy in our capital expenditure."
The other concern Ms Lim raised was over an "unhealthy culture" developing among some in the PA. These people may think that their role includes "advancing the ruling party politically and undermining the work of opposition MPs", she said.
She pointed to the example of PA activists being mobilised to campaign for People's Action Party candidates during elections as "just one aspect".
Responding to this, Mr Chan emphasised that as a statutory board, the PA executes the directions for the Government of the day and does not allow any political activity on its premises.
"The PA does not check on the political allegiance of the participants of our activities, nor does anyone know their voting preferences. It is not relevant to our work," he said.
He added: "When I see my own residents, participants of my PA activities, supporting the opposition, I can only ask myself how I can work harder to win them over."
Ms Lim had also highlighted the situation of WP MPs trying to advance their residents' welfare through infrastructural projects, only to find that government bodies recognise only PA organisations, like the Citizens' Consultative Committees (CCCs) and Residents' Committees, as the "proper channels",
To this, Mr Chan said he has "heard from both sides accusing each other of being uncooperative" and urged both town councils and CCCs to put the interests of residents first.
"When things get done, there's never a shortage of people who will claim credit. When things are not done, there's always a shortage of people who will claim responsibility. This is not the way we want to go. This is bad politics and this is not leadership," he said.
"The social fabric of our nation is a work in progress. It is a work that we all want to embark on and we all want to succeed together. So let us work on that basis."
Ms Lim also later asked if the PA would reply to letters from MPs.
Mr Chan said: "The answer is yes."