PA's key mission: Ensure unity during crises

Mr Chan (centre) and People's Association chief executive director Ang Hak Seng (next to Mr Chan) reciting the pledge with some 500 PA staff during a National Day observance ceremony yesterday. The minister said terrorism is not the only threat to un
Mr Chan (centre) and People's Association chief executive director Ang Hak Seng (next to Mr Chan) reciting the pledge with some 500 PA staff during a National Day observance ceremony yesterday. The minister said terrorism is not the only threat to unity as new fault lines have emerged, including the division between the rich and poor, and between groups with different value systems. The PA's role is to bring these diverse communities together, he said.PHOTO: DON WONG FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Singaporeans are increasingly conscious of the need to stay united after a terror attack, but this reflexive unity is a work in progress.

Meanwhile, the People's Association (PA) has a key mission: to make sure Singaporeans stand as one the day after such a crisis, PA deputy chairman Chan Chun Sing said yesterday.

Like a general rallying his troops, he called on 500 PA staff gathered at a National Day event to further strengthen this conviction in Singaporeans and bring them together as a community.

Mr Chan, a former army chief who is now Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, told them: "Who is there to make sure nobody sows the seeds of discord and distrust among our community?

"It is people like you working day in, day out to build the community."

Should a bomb go off here, Singaporeans should go about life as normal and not be cowed by terrorists, he said at the PA headquarters in Jalan Besar.

Neither should people turn on one another in mistrust.

"Staying united sends a very strong and powerful signal to the people who mean us harm: that even if you break our bones, if you shed our blood, tear our skin, we are not going to let you rob us of our normalcy," he said.

But such unity requires hard work. "We never take for granted that the different communities with different aspirations, fears and concerns will naturally come together," Mr Chan said.

He pointed to the way the people in London, Paris and Sydney reacted to terror attacks in their cities.

For instance, after a hostage crisis in a Sydney cafe two years ago, Australians offered to accompany Muslims on public transport in a show of solidarity against anti-Muslim sentiments.

This facet of community response will be addressed by the SG Secure national movement, which will be officially launched next month.

It aims to make people aware of their security and stresses the importance of staying united in the event of a terror attack.

People are increasingly aware of the need to stand together, said Mr Chan: "I think the consciousness is growing in the community."

But terrorism is not the only threat to unity.

New fault lines have emerged, and these include the division between the rich and the poor, and between groups with different aspirations and value systems, he added.

The role of the PA is to bring these diverse communities together, an important job in the light of the economic slowdown, he said.

"Whether we are rich or poor, what is most important is that we hold together, that those who are blessed and able among us take care of the less fortunate," he said.

To do the job, the PA needs to have its ear to the ground and know people's concerns. "We must be the first people to know the pain points and aspirations of everyone on the ground," he added.

Mr Chan also encouraged the PA to reach out to people who normally do not join community events.

Ms Grace Chan, deputy constituency director in Buona Vista, said a key approach in finding out people's concerns was to visit them at home.

She said: "We plan to do more and help resolve issues swiftly, like get an agency's response to them as soon as possible.

"By helping to get a quick response, we can be a bridge between the Government and the people."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 18, 2016, with the headline 'PA's key mission: Ensure unity during crises'. Print Edition | Subscribe