SINGAPORE - A residents' committee's effort to grow its grassroots network in the Fengshan constituency has instead courted unwanted attention over the benefits that its volunteers receive.
The recruitment drive drew a response from the Workers' Party (WP), which contested the single seat in the last general election and continues to walk the ground there.
On Tuesday (March 21), Fengshan MP Cheryl Chan told The Straits Times the ground-up initiative had been misconstrued, adding that volunteers give their time out of passion and commitment.
The episode began last week when one of the residents' committees (RCs) hung flyers at the front doors of housing block flats in Fengshan calling for volunteers.
A snapshot of the flyer had been posted online by WP member Gerald Giam and was shared more than 300 times. The former Non-constituency MP had spotted the flyer on Thursday (March 16) while doing house visits in the constituency.
The flyers mentioned eligibility criteria and also highlighted some of the perks volunteers can get, such as car parking privileges and priority registration in primary schools for their children, drawing comments online implying that grassroots volunteers were motivated by benefits to volunteer.
The WP also followed up with an online advertisement of its own, designed to resemble the flyer.
It called for volunteers and listed the benefits that the flyer had noted, and categorically stated that the WP does not offer the same advantages. "We do offer: occasional free meals (leftover from events), free exercise from carrying chairs and tables, eternal love and gratitude," the tongue-in-cheek WP ad added.
The WP ad also made a dig at a grammar mistake made in the flyer, which had the sentence "Who is eligibility to be residents' committee volunteer?"
Ms Chan told The Straits Times on Tuesday that the RC's ad was used for the first time and the circulation was limited.
"This begun as a ground-up initiative where the RC's only intent was to recruit volunteers for their local activities. They thought it was fine to share publicly available information on recognition that a GRL may have in facilitating community work. Little had they known that this would shed negative light about volunteers," she said.
"The RC has learnt from this incident and felt bad that this has impacted many volunteers who had been volunteering out of deep passion and commitment. And many have volunteered for a long time with a good heart for the community," she added.
"It is unfortunate for a well-intended recruitment initiative for volunteers to be misconstrued. I strongly feel that our volunteers, like many others, serve with their heart and continue to do so for the community and social causes that they are passionate about," she said.
In a Facebook post on Friday night, the People's Association (PA), acknowledged the stir online and said it was aware that "there have been some posts questioning the motivation of grassroots volunteers".
"We would like to place on record our deep appreciation to volunteers who, out of the willingness of their heart, selflessly give of their time, talent and resources to help our residents and the less fortunate amongst us, building up a sense of neighbourliness and care for one another, all to strengthen the community spirit, and not expecting anything in return," said the PA, an umbrella organisation for grassroots organisations including residents' committees and citizens consultative committees among others.
"Standing as exemplary men and women, we are indebted to all grassroots volunteers for having stood fast in their selfless dedication to tirelessly forge a cohesive nation," added the PA post, which was shared more than 400 times.
Some who commented on the post praised the work that grassroots volunteers do and noted that they knew of many people who gave their time without making use of the benefits.
"To be fair, these rewards were not the reasons why most grassroots volunteers donate their thoughts, time, talents and treasures, including money, to their communities. Many of them are not attracted to and won't take the rewards," wrote Mr Patrick Liew.
Mr Peter Li suggested that the PA take the whole episode in its stride.
"I suggest we, including the PA, see it in a humorous light. It would be cool if PA can reply in a light-hearted tone. Don't need to be so uptight about questions or doubts if it is unfounded," he said.
Still, a few were not impressed by the PA's response. Some said the flyer would attract the wrong kind of volunteers.
Former Nominated MP Calvin Cheng left a pointed comment on Facebook saying: "'Selfless dedication' does not need to be rewarded by preferential access to primary schools. Just saying."