Transcript of speech by PM and People's Association Chairman Lee Hsien Loong at the RCNC 4020 Anniversary Dinner on 20 July 2018.
ESM Goh Chok Tong, Ministers, community leaders, friends, ladies and gentlemen. A very good evening to all of you. I am very happy to join all of you today to celebrate RCNC 4020. The 40th anniversary of RCs and 20th anniversary of NCs in Singapore. It is a special and significant milestone for both the RCs and also for the NCs. It is also a good opportunity to bring everyone together for a combined celebration.
Role of RCs and NCs
Our very first RCs were set up in 1977, soon after the General Election which was held a year before that. At that time, we were relocating large numbers of families from kampungs to new HDB estates. It was a drastic social change for the people. So the PAP set up a taskforce to study the formation of “block working committees” to help residents adapt to high-rise living and to get to know one another, as well as to manage petty crime, which was then a problem. The original idea was to have policemen lead these block working committees. At that time, policemen had priority getting HDB flats. So I suppose nearly every block you would find one. But ESM Goh, who was part of the task force, felt strongly that this would create a bad perception that Singapore was a police state. So he suggested forming residents’ committees, precinct by precinct instead, not block by block but precinct by precinct. So he would send out surveys to residents to ask for ideas on how to improve the estate. The more enthusiastic ones would be invited to lead the new residents’ committees. I suppose he must have invited them for tea. Mr Goh’s proposal was accepted, and the first RCs were piloted in Marine Parade, his ward, Bedok, and Tanjong Pagar, Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s ward.
The pioneer RC leaders came up with simple but effective ideas for activities to mobilise residents. Cleaning up the estate, organising children’s parties and barbecues, collecting old newspapers to sell to the karang guni man, and even holding a film premiere. Some of you here may be old enough to remember those efforts. Certainly the pioneers who are here with us, remember them. The pilot was a resounding success, and the Government subsequently decided to establish RCs across the island. So today, we have 654 RCs in all of our HDB estates. I am very happy that tonight, to celebrate this anniversary, we have some of the activists, the PA staff, and the advisors who pioneered the RC idea, back here with us to celebrate. First of all, Mr Ch’ng Jit Koon, who was 2nd Advisor to Tanjong Pagar GROs, and looking after the RCs at Tanjong Pagar. Also with him, Mr Lim Sah Soon, who was the Chief Liaison Officer of the RC Secretariat. He was, I suppose, Mr RC in those days. We have some of the members from those early RCs - from Tanjong Pagar, from Marine Parade, from Ang Mo Kio, from Bukit Merah and Kaki Bukit. Some of them, until today, are still serving in the grassroots after all these years. I think we should all stand up and salute them. Thank you all very much.
Our NCs were set up later for a similar purpose. By the 1990s, the number of private housing estates had increased significantly. We wanted to replicate the good work of the RCs in private estates too. So we started 14 NCs in 1998, twenty years ago. I remember opening two of the earliest ones, which were in Serangoon Gardens, and watching the residents playing petanque! In those days, a bit unusual, later on, the RCs picked it up too. Already from the beginning, we could see that the NCs had a somewhat different character and interests from the RCs, even from the games they played. We also have a few of the pioneer NC members here with us today – from Charlton Park NC, from Dover-Normanton, from Pasir Panjang Private Estate Association, and Thomson Gardens. We should thank them all too. Thank you very much. Now, we have 215 NCs in Singapore, which involve private estate residents in neighbourhood activities, and encourage them to bond and mix amongst themselves.
Both the RCs and NCs have expanded their scope and diversity of activities over the years. For example, RCs and NCs in Sengkang and Punggol organise “Embracing Parenthood” celebrations to connect their young families who have newborn babies, and provide community support to them. In Bedok, the RCs have Nurse@RC - every Friday, seniors can go there for basic health screening and health advice. In Pasir Ris, RCs and NCs come together to form a group to educate residents to clean up after their pets and keep their estates clean. They also have other activities, all kinds - Karaoke, Taichi, Zumba, and many other things.
All these different groups have something in common. The residents are taking the initiative to organise themselves, to pursue their favourite activities, and to make friends with their neighbours. These friendships become the building blocks of the community – the glue which hold us together.
Our RC and NC leaders are also an important bridge between the Government and the residents. Because you are the familiar faces that residents know and trust. You are often the first point of contact when residents have questions or feedback about life in the estate. If it is within your power, you will take care of the issues, and if not, you will give the feedback to Government agencies and follow up. This helps the Government to stay aware of what is happening on the ground and what people’s concerns are, so that it can react and fix any problems quickly. In the other direction, when the Government has to reach out to residents to explain policies, you are the ones who work closely, tirelessly to close the last mile. I know many of you have spent endless weekends and nights going door-to-door, patiently explaining MediShield Life, the Pioneer Generation Package, and more recently, CareShield Life – answering questions, dispelling doubts, solving problems. You made sure that everyone who was benefitting from these policies and programmes knew about them, and got full benefits from them. It is very hard work, and sometimes you may feel that it is not adequately recognised or appreciated. But rest assured that your efforts are seen, and your contributions are deeply appreciated, both by the residents, and also by the Government. So on behalf of the Government, I want to say a big thank you to all of you for your selfless service as grassroots volunteers!
Looking Forward: Future direction of RCs and NCs
To continue to be successful, RCs and NCs have to understand your residents well, organise yourselves and your activities, and meet their interest and needs.
This is especially so for the young residents. For example, take young families. Today, fewer young families and children participate in RC and NC events. They have more options for entertainment. Perhaps, maybe it is also because some of our traditional RC and NC activities are too traditional, not attractive enough for this young group. Younger people tend to spend more time at home, maybe they are playing computer games, maybe they are surfing the social media. But they are not always going out in the neighbourhood with their neighbours. So we have to make a special effort to reach out to them, to get young people to join RCs and NCs as volunteers, to organise activities which they find interesting, and also by using social media ourselves to be amongst them in their networks, in touch with them, on their wavelengths.
RCs and NCs can also look out for opportunities to work with other groups that are not part of the grassroots network. Such as other interest groups, clans, youth groups, even religious groups. Because by working and cooperating with them, and supporting them in projects that are in line with our own mission, we can broaden our outreach, engage people who would otherwise not have been part of our activities.
I am sure you are thinking of many other new and creative ways to keep RCs and NCs relevant to your residents. PA HQ has been organising engagement sessions with RC and NC leaders to discuss how to strengthen our capabilities and remain effective for the future. I saw on the boards outside the records of what you discussed – the ideas which came up – what you are doing now, what you are doing well, what you could do better, and what you would like to aim to be and to achieve in the future. Many good ideas and best practices surfaced during these dialogues. All of you here this evening have contributed to this conversation over the last four months.
One idea that was intensively discussed is how RCs and NCs can work more closely with each another. Because RCs and NCs are no longer so distinct and separate as they used to be. Today, 8 in 10 NCs have a neighbouring RC, because we have deliberately planned our private and public housing developments to be adjacent to one another, to have lots of points of contact. So quite a few RC and NC leaders have suggested to remove this distinction. What is the difference between the R and the N. Why should there be a distinction. If we treat the same, if we call them the same, then maybe it will encourage residents from public and private estates to mix more freely and participate in community activities together. Especially we can organise them on the basis of mixed precincts which have both private as well as public estates in them. Working closer together can also help RCs and NCs pool resources, and reach out to Singaporeans more effectively.
I support this proposal wholeheartedly. It is a practical, thoughtful, valuable idea. Bringing private estate residents and HDB residents together will make our grassroots network more effective, it will strengthen our social cohesion.
So going forward, we will set up new RCs and NCs to be called “Residents’ Networks” (RNs), 居民联系网. So they will be RNs if they serve HDB estates. They will be RNs if they serve private estates. And some RNs may well serve both. And this way, new flats and private developments can come under an RN, rather than one RC and a separate NC.
For existing RCs and NCs, we will leave it up to you to decide whether you want to rename yourselves RNs, or to re-organise and merge neighbouring RCs and NCs into a single RN. Or you may wish to remain what you are, as you are, and stay what you have established for the time being. Because I know many of the RCs and NCs have a long history, you may go back for 40 years to the beginning. You have your heritage, you have an identity which you want to preserve – and I fully understand that. You also have existing networks and bonds within your communities that are precious, and which you should maintain. Nonetheless, I encourage you to look for new ways to work more closely and collaborate with neighbouring NCs and RCs. And maybe one day, you may feel less of a need to have separate groups, and be more comfortable and confident with one another to decide to merge.
Keeping the Passion to Serve
So how we organise ourselves is important, but even more important is the quality and commitment of our people, and especially our grassroots leaders. As volunteers, you must always conduct yourselves properly – never pushing your weight around, or taking improper advantage of your position. This is not just behaving well during official functions like tonight, but also in everyday situations – in your communities, in the grassroots, or when you are completely off duty. Because you are grassroots leaders, and people see you not only as private persons, but also as representing government and authority. So it is only natural that very high standards are expected, and high standards must be adhered to.
That is why we focused on developing the right values and ethos among our people. Many of you have attended leadership training programmes at NACLI. Last year, we introduced a new training roadmap for all the Chairmen and Vice-Chairmen. These programmes are targeted at the new office-bearers, but those who are more experienced and want to refresh and upgrade their skills are also welcome – so in a way, it is a “SkillsFuture programme for GRLs!” If you do not come to us, or if it is not convenient for you to come to us, we will come to you. So you can come to NACLI and attend the course, or if you cannot do that, PA will bring this training programme down to your RCs and NCs, and then you can train as a team, which may be even better. So we will always be there to support you in your journey of learning and growth.
We also want to make sure that you keep on bringing in young people, new blood, into the grassroots movement, so that we can continue to serve our community well for many years to come. We need young people who have the right heart, and who are committed and willing to serve. So I feel happy every time I hear about young people serving the community. For instance, the Taman Jurong Zone ‘B’ Youth Chapter recently organised a concert for both youths and seniors to sing, dance, and even cat-walk together. The youths made sure that even the seniors who were on wheelchairs could attend the event, by going personally to their homes to bring them to the event venue. The young were passionate about establishing a personal bond with the seniors, and the seniors enjoyed the young’s company as well. This is a good example of youths taking initiative to care for our seniors, and giving back to the community.
For those of us - not quite so young, who have been working in the grassroots for some time, we can help to guide these young activists, encourage them, give them space, help them flourish and grow. Just as we ourselves who were mentored by more experienced activists when we were their age. Encourage them to make a difference, help them through tough times when they may be discouraged, and coach them to take on heavier responsibilities. And when the time comes, we can pass on the baton confidently, and cheer them on to run the next lap.
Fundamentally, RCs, NCs and now RNs, are a success because of you – because of the GRLs and volunteers on the ground who build our communities, day by day.
You embody a high level of commitment. You truly believe in the work of this movement. Many of you have spent countless evenings and weekends on grassroots work. Notwithstanding your own work and family responsibilities, you continue to help neighbours and residents around you. None of you are obliged to serve, but all of you have done so – with pride and dedication. I hope we can always nurture and strengthen this spirit among our volunteers.
So let’s continue to work together, deepen the close ties between the Government and the grassroots and the residents, so that our society can move forward as “One People, One Singapore”.
Happy RCNC 4020! Thank you very much.
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