Transcript of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s speech at the Swearing-In Ceremony of Mayors, People’s Association HQ Auditorium, 29 June 2009

29 June 2009

Ministers, Mayors, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

A very good morning to you all. I am very delighted to be here for the Mayors’ Swearing-In Ceremony. May I congratulate the mayors who have been newly reappointed - Matthias, Teo Ho Pin, Amy, Zainudin, and may I thank Senior Minister of State Zainul Abidin Rasheed for his many contributions as a Mayor in the Northeast District for the last ten years. He served the district well, left a deep impression on the residents and will be fondly remembered by all. I welcome Teo Ser Luck as the new Mayor of the Northeast District, He will have many things to do to follow on what Zainul Abidin has accomplished.


We formed the CDCs in 1997 to foster community bonding and to bring back and revive the kampung spirit of self-help and self-reliance in our community. The CDCs aim to get successful Singaporeans, especially those who have not previously been involved in grassroots organisations, to get involved, to help the less successful and to strengthen the community ties, the social safety nets and the bonds between us. Over these last twelve years, the role of the CDCs has evolved to better meet the needs of the community. We have learned from our experience and have developed the functions - the way it works, the way it connects upwards with the Government, and forwards with the advisors in each of the wards.


In 2000, the CDCs took over the delivery of social services. In the following year, they took over employment services. Social services refers to social help projects while employment services means connecting jobseekers with jobs, giving advice, counselling them and getting them back into the job market. As we placed more responsibilities on the CDCs, we have also progressively given them more resources, and the authority to design and to run their own programmes, so that they could respond quickly to ground needs in their areas without being tied down by bureaucratic requirements. You see their needs, you have the resources, you work out the schemes, you mobilise your people and you do it. So we have been able to speed up the response time for various schemes. Financial assistance usually take up to three months to process. Now CDCs respond within two to four weeks. I know they are trying to do it even more swiftly in routine cases.


Secondly, the CDCs have introduced new community activities in line with evolving national priorities. We have activities to support racial harmony, active ageing, emergency preparedness, public health and so on. We work with partners – grassroots organisations, VWOs, schools and government agencies – so as to strengthen our cohesion, deal with immediate problems and prepare our people for future challenges and potential crises. Today, all the CDCs have adopted the same mission statement to reflect their roles: assisting the needy, bonding the people, connecting the community. All of you will notice these are the ABCs of the CDCs.


During this recession, the first role of assisting the needy has, of course, become more urgent and important. The global financial crisis has hit our small and open economy. It has affected workers and their families. Many of them have come forward to seek help, and CDCs have seen their “business” go up. There are more visitors and more people needing assistance. We looked at some statistics in terms of low-income families approaching CDCs for help and it has gone up by about 40%. The number of unemployed residents looking for jobs at CDCs has almost doubled.


The Government, at a national level, has responded decisively to help businesses, workers and their families. We have schemes, we have SPUR, we have the Jobs Credit programme, we have the Resilience Package, we have the various offsets which households are receiving, and which are helping to ease the burden across the board, in every home, in every constituency. But still the CDCs play a crucial role because they are close to the ground, and therefore more attuned to the needs on the ground and to the constraints and circumstances in your areas. You can deliver assistance where it is most needed, where it is most deserved, and you can help Singaporeans get back on their feet and be self-reliant as quickly as possible.


In this crisis, I am happy to see that CDCs have come up with innovative and effective schemes to offer targeted help. The first step is often to help workers get through the initial shock of being retrenched, so that they can recover their balance, think and work out what to do next. For example, the Southwest CDC has an interim coping package for economic downturn. The initials spell, “iCope.” This provides the retrenched workers with immediate support, interim assistance, transport grants and food vouchers. “iCope” will give the retrenched workers some comfort and assurance and stabilise their position while they look for new jobs.


Another critical task is to help jobseekers transit into new industries and into new jobs - the jobs which exist to replace the ones which may be melting away. Jobseekers often face difficulties doing this because they do not have the relevant experience, or the skills which are up to date. They also have to overcome their own mental barriers which hold them back from making this adjustment. In other words, as the NTUC says, they are not yet “job-ready”.


So the CDCs have to go beyond providing training support and job-matching, to help make them more “job-ready”. We have schemes for that, for example, Northwest CDC has a Trial, Train and Transit or T3 programme. (Trial - try out, Train - acquire the skills, Transit – move over and fit in again.) This puts jobseekers on work trials to ease the transition. These services are vital because, in this recession, some of the old jobs are not going to come back. We need to train new people for new jobs in growing industries.


Of course, this is not just for blue-collar, rank-and-file workers. PMETs also face difficulties at this time, and the CDCs have also developed programmes to help the PMETs. For example, the Northeast CDC has a Headhunt programme to help PMETs network with companies and headhunters, and to get access to PMET vacancies – to know what they are, to make the introduction and to connect them.


Besides employment help, CDCs also help residents help themselves. So they conduct budgeting workshops which teach poor families how to reduce their arrears, how to get out of debt and how to manage on a limited income. The sessions are intensive, with deliberately small group sizes, so that the families get full attention. It is resource-intensive work, but very satisfying when you see a family who has been helped apply the lessons and improve their own circumstances. In the last two years, more than six hundred low-income families have gone through these workshops, and typically, six out of ten of the families who attend these workshops are in fact able to manage and reduce their monthly expenses after going through the course.


We have similar programmes with a wider reach. Central Singapore CDC has distributed a Survival Guide to all households at their roving roadshows and Southeast CDC has organised MoneyWise carnivals. Through these programmes, residents learn to save on their expenses and they become more self-reliant in this downturn.


The CDCs have made valuable contributions, but there is always more work to be done. If we look ahead, I think there are a couple of new areas the CDCs ought to focus on. I will mention three of them. First, they should encourage and enable self-help in the community. They should continue to provide platforms for successful Singaporeans to give back to the community. For example, council members are all accomplished individuals who dedicate their time and expertise to help in their respective districts. We are grateful for your contributions, we thank you for your good work, and we hope more Singaporeans will volunteer like you have done to bolster your ranks.


Secondly, the CDCs must continue to build and exploit links within the community. They can marshal the resources, link up with the other parties who can help you, and ensure that the community aid flows smoothly to the right areas, and that the community resources are mobilised to deal with these problems. For example, the CDCs have set up the ComCare local networks to pool together grassroots leaders, VWOs and Family Service Centres to help low-income and dysfunctional families. By working together, I think we can render more coordinated assistance, encouragement, support and programmes which will make the difference. This is one good way to do it, but you will have to find more good ways to reach and connect with the public, private and people sectors.


Thirdly, the CDCs have to continue to strengthen our social cohesiveness by working with grassroots and community partners to strengthen our social fabric, engage residents, young and old, so that they participate, they feel that they have a role to play, and they make a difference. The Asian Youth Games starts today and next year, we will have the Singapore Youth Olympic Games. These are good opportunities to engage residents and to get people to do something so they feel they are part of this active community that is Singapore.


Over this last decade-plus, the CDCs have become valued participants in our community. I am confident you will continue to contribute to your districts and to Singapore, so please continue the good work. Help us to build a cohesive and compassionate nation and to make this something better than it used to be. I wish all five Mayors every success in their responsibilities. Thank you very much.

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