SINGAPORE - Covid-19 brought the "critical role" of the People's Association (PA) to the fore, and its work over the years has allowed Singapore to respond cohesively to the pandemic, said Parliamentary Secretary for Culture, Community and Youth Eric Chua.
Responding to Non-Constituency MP Leong Mun Wai on Monday (March 8) on the PA's "large budget", Mr Chua said the agency has to be properly resourced to achieve its mission of building up social capital and goodwill between people and the Government.
He noted that the PA's budget for the 2021 financial year is $796 million, comprising $207 million for building and upgrading community clubs (CCs) as well as $589 million for operating costs.
This funding enables the PA to carry out its "peacetime mission" to provide thousands of Singaporeans a day with activities that enrich them and which they can enjoy, and also enables the building of networks, communities and relationships of trust, he said.
"PA's roles in peacetime and in crisis are inseparable," he added, noting it was involved in nationwide efforts to distribute masks and TraceTogether tokens as well as deliver food to vulnerable individuals during the circuit breaker period.
More recently, PA has also been involved in operating CCs as community vaccination centres and reaching out to seniors and others for vaccination.
"A year ago, I am not sure any of us had 'pandemic response' written in our work plans," Mr Chua said.
"But the networks, trust and bonds painstakingly built by PA and its volunteers over the years has allowed us to respond cohesively, quickly and as one community, during the pandemic. That is the critical difference between our response here and the response elsewhere."
Mr Leong had noted that the PA's operating expenditure per staff member exceeds that of the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (Iras) and the Government Technology Agency (GovTech).
"Why is such an expensive administration structure needed when the main job of PA is to be a bridge between the Government and the citizens, and much of the work of the PA is carried out by the grassroots volunteers and volunteer worker organisations?" the Progress Singapore Party NCMP asked.
"We wholeheartedly support the hard work by the staff and the volunteers of PA to strengthen the social fabric of our country. However, is there more that we can do to redefine the role of PA at the higher level and to ensure that the funds are deployed in areas that help our needy Singaporeans most?"
Mr Chua said that for the PA to achieve its mission, it has to be properly resourced. It is "not meaningful" to compare its operating budget to headcount, as Mr Leong had done, as the $589 million includes both manpower and other operating expenditure, he added.
"Much unlike other agencies like IRAS or GovTech, PA manages a whole host of community facilities all across Singapore, fully manned by fulltime staff," he noted.
"This includes 108 CCs, and 665 Residents' Committee (RC) centres, which needs regular maintenance as well as other operating costs."
Mr Leong could "rest assured" that PA's budget has been to put to good use, said Mr Chua.
"The proof of the pudding is in the eating and there is no doubt that the PA has proven its worth in the past year," he added.