Eric Chua on PA's S$796 million budget: The proof of the pudding is in the eating

PSP's Leong Mun Wai had questioned PA's role in parliament.

Syahindah Ishak | March 08, 2021, 04:48 PM

The People's Association (PA)'s mission is to build up the "cohesiveness of our population", as well as trust between the people and the Singapore government, and therefore needs to be "properly resourced", said Parliamentary Secretary for the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) Eric Chua.

He said this at the tail-end of the Committee of Supply (COS) debates for MCCY on Monday (March 8), explaining in greater detail the PA's work and a brief breakdown of the budget allocated to its work for the coming financial year.

It became a topic of discussion after Progress Singapore Party (PSP) Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) Leong Mun Wai raised it as part of MCCY's COS cuts, arguing that "many questions remain unanswered" with regard to PA's  nearly-S$800 million budget.

Leong: PA's budget translates to higher cost per staff than IRAS & GovTech

Leong noted that this has been the case since 2016, when Workers' Party's Sylvia Lim questioned PA's increasing budget and whether the statutory board had deviated from its mandate of fostering social stability.

He flagged PA's operating expenditure for financial year 2021 as being S$589 million with 2,565 staff, which translates to a higher cost per staff than those of the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS) and Government Technology Agency (GovTech) — both of which are supposed to have higher proportions of professional staff.

High administration expenditure relative to budget for activities & projects

Leong also questioned the PA's significantly lower expenditure on activities and projects than its administration expenditure.

"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?

We wholeheartedly support the hard work put up 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 a higher level, and to ensure that the funds are deployed in areas that help our needy Singaporeans most?"

Chua: Funding is 'put to good use'

In his speech and in response to Leong, Chua defined the PA's mission as building up the "cohesiveness of our population" and a reserve of "social capital and goodwill" built on trust between Singaporeans and the government.

He disclosed that out of PA's S$796 million budget, S$207 million is devoted to development (mainly to build and upgrade community clubs), while the remaining S$589 million is for operating expenditure.

"It is, however, not very meaningful as the member suggests to compare operating budget to head counts as S$589 million includes both manpower as well as other operating expenditure. And much unlike other agencies like IRAS or GovTech, PA manages a whole host of community facilities all across Singapore, fully manned by full-time staff, and these include 108 CC (community clubs)s and 665 RC (residents' committee) centres, which need regular maintenance, as well as other operating costs."

He spoke about PA's extensive work in mask and hand sanitiser distribution and also food delivery for vulnerable groups, as well as the job it does in explaining government policies to residents.

And so this funding, explained Chua, enables PA to carry on with its "peacetime mission" and enables the building of the networks and communities. PA, he said, exists to "help provide the social glue, without which Singapore would have gotten nowhere".

"... in Singapore, we want to explain our policies, provide channels for communication between government and the people because we believe that the government must be connected to the people.

But why? Because we believe that nothing can be achieved if you don't get buy-in from our people. Singapore works only when government and people, businesses, unions, communities all come together.

And PA exists to provide the social glue, without which Singapore would have gotten nowhere. And the networks and bonds of trust that enable the PA to perform its role in peacetime are also what enable the PA to play a vital role in crisis."

And so, Chua said, the money allocated to the PA has been "put to good use", and that PSP's Leong can rest assured of this.

"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."

Top images from PA/FB & MCI's YouTube page.