Grassroots groups growing in private estates

PA modifies outreach to take in more groups and communities; plans further engagement

West Coast Park NC helped keep the area's leafy look despite road widening. From far left are: Dr Coral Lai, Mr Prakash Kumar Hetamsaria and Mr Ng Seng Chong.
West Coast Park NC helped keep the area's leafy look despite road widening. From far left are: Dr Coral Lai, Mr Prakash Kumar Hetamsaria and Mr Ng Seng Chong.ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

When residents in West Coast Road heard two years ago that the road would be widened, they were worried they would lose the trees that gave their neighbourhood its leafy character.

They got together and, though the authorities cut down 100 trees, they ended up planting 700 new ones in the area in June.

The West Coast Park Neighbourhood Committee (NC), formed in 2012, took the neighbours' concerns to the government agencies involved and worked out solutions.

"It was a collective decision, and we got to pick the trees we thought were suitable - not the kind with leaves that drop too fast, or have a strong smell," said NC chairman Prakash Kumar Hetamsaria, 50.

"Now the area is cleaner, wider and we are very happy."

The NC held a tree planting carnival in June, which was attended by 500 residents despite a drizzle. Some even took part in planting the trees outside their homes.

NCs - the equivalent of Residents' Committees (RCs) for private estate dwellers - are a critical part of the social fabric and have grown in number, said Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing.

Mr Chan was speaking to reporters last week about his first year as People's Association deputy chairman, as well as the progress of the Community 2020 Masterplan that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced last year.

In recent years, the PA has modified its outreach to strengthen community bonds, and placed some focus on engaging NCs as well as a range of interest groups such as sports, dance and community associations that are not bound by geography, said Mr Chan.

Unlike in public housing estates, where RCs are set up, private estate residents must organise themselves to form NCs. But PA staff are on hand to help, said Mr Chan.

The number of NCs is expected to increase from around 150 in 2013 to 200 by the end of this year.

In another case - Riverina Walk NC in Pasir Ris - the area was declared a dengue cluster but the grassroots network helped cut down the amount of time to have the area declared dengue-free, Mr Chan said.

And as residents spend more time in various interest groups, the PA plans to engage them more. "Many of them are very passionate people. They bring resources and ideas to enrich what we already have inside the grassroots network," he said.

He also hopes more activities will be initiated by and organised with residents, not planned top-down.

The PA, which is responsible for two-way communication between the Government and people, has also adjusted its communication strategy to cater to different groups.

For example, posters for the Silver Support Scheme - which gives cash supplements to needy seniors - could differ from lift lobby to lift lobby because of the make-up of the block's residents.

"If any PA staff came up with a booklet for a one-room-flat block, which said, 'If you want more information, please zap this QR code,' I'd be quite disappointed," said Mr Chan. "These are things we want our people to be sensitive to."

He also said the PA had to continue to be in touch with the fears, concerns and aspirations of residents.

"If something happens in your community and you don't know about it, then we would have failed.

"If you know about it, but have not been able to develop a programme to help residents solve the problems, then again we have failed."

Mr Chan will give an update on the grassroots movement at the PA's annual grassroots seminar this Saturday.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 05, 2016, with the headline 'Grassroots groups growing in private estates'. Print Edition | Subscribe