Community networks also key to tackle social issues: Indranee

Mr Mohammad Azahari Abdul Razak, a former offender who is now completing his studies at Singapore Polytechnic, said families in dire straits sometimes just need people to befriend and support them.
Mr Mohammad Azahari Abdul Razak, a former offender who is now completing his studies at Singapore Polytechnic, said families in dire straits sometimes just need people to befriend and support them.

When it comes to addressing social issues like inequality, financial assistance alone is not enough, said Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Indranee Rajah.

Building up community networks which can connect people to the help they need and support them is just as important, and is something "we should really seriously consider", she added.

She was speaking to reporters after interacting with Singaporeans at the Kampung Admiralty Hawker Centre during a ministerial community visit to Sembawang GRC yesterday.

Over food and drinks, she had chatted with residents and others from nearby areas, such as Mr Mohammad Azahari Abdul Razak, 37, who is completing his chemical engineering studies at Singapore Polytechnic. A former offender - he had been arrested for trafficking in heroin in 2001 and sentenced to 20 years' jail - Mr Azahari had spoken about how his difficult family circumstances had led him into bad company.

Asked how someone in his position can be helped, he said families in dire straits sometimes just need people to befriend and support them.

Ms Indranee said: "What he said was very insightful for me, which is that when we have families with difficulties, financial support is important, but that's not the key. The key is the moral support and all-round support in the community."

While the Government has put in place financial assistance programmes to help those in need, she added, "there's much more room for community networks to be developed and for us to become more sophisticated about it, particularly when you're talking about inequality and helping people to level up".

Such networks can be modelled after the Community Network for Seniors scheme, which involves government bodies, voluntary welfare organisations and volunteers teaming up to visit seniors, suggested Ms Indranee.

Yesterday's ministerial community visit was the second since Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said last month that the younger ministers would be trying a new format by having multiple ministers visit a constituency together.

Also with Ms Indranee were Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon and Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information, and Culture, Community and Youth Sim Ann. The three fourth-generation leaders had worked with the MP for the area, Mr Amrin Amin, to speak to residents in small groups rather than hold a dialogue session.

Dr Koh said: "By hearing more personalised stories, I think it can help us understand how we can mitigate some of the circumstances where some people seem to fall through the cracks, and then craft ways in which we can also help to lift them up."

Added Ms Indranee: "In particular for the 4G (ministers), we really want to be on the ground... If you're developing policy and programmes, you must know what's on people's minds, you must know what they're feeling. And every individual story gives you a deeper insight that gives you a more informed basis on which to do things to improve lives."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 06, 2018, with the headline 'Community networks also key to tackle social issues: Indranee'. Print Edition | Subscribe