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									                       THE SINGAPORE EXPERIENCE
                               - Transcript of Miss ANG Bee Lian‟s Speech

First of all I would like to thank, really, the Central Policy Unit for inviting me here
to share the Singapore experience. I won‟t go into a lot of detail but I think I have
got a few friends in the audience and just generally, this year
I was actually in Hong Kong with Patricia Chu learning from the Hong Kong
experience about your social services as well.

I will go straight into the talk so that we have more time later on for questions and
answers and try and catch up on time. What I would like to share this afternoon is
really the Singapore experience as far as social service provision is concerned.
When I look at the topic today – „A More Cohesive Community‟ – I say, “Wow!
This is a big topic and we can actually have a whole week seminar on that topic. So
what I will do is, actually, just to share one perspective of the Singapore experience.
Hopefully, what I share, I am sure will echo a lot of things for you in Hong Kong as
well. In fact, in Singapore, we learn a lot from Hong Kong as well, so hopefully, it
is a symbiotic relationship.

I was thinking what would I want to leave with you this afternoon in the talk, and
perhaps if I can just summarize it by saying three things. First of all I will describe
what the „many helping hands‟ approach is in social service provision in Singapore.
Then later on I will just mention a little bit about what, increasingly, will be the model
that we will use in policy formulation and implementation, largely called „The Three
Ps Model‟. We usually like to learn things this way.

The first „P‟ stands for „public‟ – that is the government sector. The second „P‟
stands for „people‟ - which is really the community, or in some cases you call it the
civil society. And the third „P‟ is the private sector. I understand, in the audience,
there are some people from the corporations and it is really interesting to see that;
increasingly, the corporations are coming in to help in this whole area of community
building as well.

And the third aspect of the talk, I will touch on, perhaps, some of the general
principles that we use in Singapore in terms of implementing this approach of „many
helping hands‟ and how we actually engage the community in social service
provision. And interfaced throughout the whole talk, I will try and touch a little bit,
perhaps, on how consultation comes into the whole process.

So, basically, when we talk about the „many helping hands‟ the first question people
ask us is: What are you talking about; what are all these many helping hands?
Well, very simply, it refers to, actually, the individuals - anybody in Singapore. We
are talking about groups, we are talking about communities; we are talking about the
private sector, government bodies, organizations. Basically, actually, anybody can
be a helping-hand in this whole approach. And the whole reason why we want to
make the approach so simple is because we feel that social service provision, you
cannot get the best service just by relying on the government alone, that the
community must play a part; and even the private sector can play a part.

These individuals - I think like in every other country, you have the philanthropists
which are so much needed, but we also try to engage the ordinary man in the street
and those with special contributions in terms of expertise. Increasingly, we are
trying to engage professionals to come forward to become volunteers as well in social
service provision.

Then we have the groups and organizations - increasingly we see, actually, the
religious groups coming forward in a very powerful way in providing social service
provision in Singapore. And, of course, the civic and service organizations, the
voluntary welfare organizations - you call them NGOs here.

I just want to mention a little bit about the civic and service organizations. By these,
I refer to, really, for example, the Lions Groups, the Rotary Clubs and so on. What
is interesting is that the last 5-10 years – five years actually – we see, for example, the
Lions Groups coming forward to provide long term projects. In the past, when we
tried to engage some of these civic organizations they said: Oh, we can‟t really go
into long term projects because our turnover of presidency is every two years and so
on and so forth. But what is very encouraging is that we are beginning to see a lot of
these civic organizations coming forward to say: Yes, we will go on with the long
term projects.

So, for example, the Lions have started running nursing homes in Singapore. They
have started, actually, a befriender service for elderly people as well. So, the Rotary
Club, for example, just last year started a family service centre. So we are quite
encouraged by some of these initiatives from the ground.

Then you have the communities - of course you have the clans. The clans are the
group that have had a history, in Singapore, and they have, historically, provided
social services. But over time, they have actually played a much more low-key role
and we are trying to engage more of them in social service provision.

Then we have what we call the self-help and ethnic groups. In Singapore, there are
four of them. One, that is the one that serves the ethnic group the Malays, the
Indians. Then we have the Chinese and Eurasians. And government, in order to
give impetus to actually these groups coming forward, is actually subventing, giving
grants to these organizations. So they actually get a grant, both for the building and
also whatever money that they raise is actually matched by the government. You‟ll
find that this is one of the themes that appears quite a lot in our policy formulation
which is this, what we call, co-responsibility or co-sharing or co-funding principle.

And, of course, the newest people in this whole scheme of things is actually what we
call the Community Development Councils. Basically, they are councils at the local
level, headed by the member of parliament. In this particular case, Singapore is
divided into nine councils and each council is headed by a mayor. This is a very
new initiative, just only, probably, about 24 months old or something like that. They
are going to be very much involved in community service provision at the ground
level because our belief is that social service is a very personal service and the lower
you bring it down to the community, the better, hopefully, the service is because it can
be a little bit more personalized to the profile of the community.

Then, of course, the private sector – the businesses and the corporations – they are
there but we hope to engage them a lot more in what we do. Again, there are
encouraging signs. We have, actually, for example, I think at least two private
organizations that have started, again, long term projects. One of them, an auditing
company, for example, has started a Day Activity Centre for the Disabled. And
there is still one more that is actually discussing with us. And we have, also, the co-
operatives that are running, for example, facilities for the elderly.

I will go through, very quickly, the next couple of slides because I think these actually
echo a lot the things which you already know; the types of concerns that they address
– the care of young children. Compared, say, to 15 years ago, the child-care centres,
today, are very much into developmental issues. You hardly see a centre that is
custodial. When we first started the child-care centre programme we were really
targeting at just providing very spartan custodial services or just a care programme for
children. But, today, our child-care centres are very much developmental. This
also caters to the needs of working-mothers who expect, actually, a fairly high level of
care at these centres.

And, of course, the use, increasingly we are trying to engage them in the street,
engaging them in constructive activities, rather than just trying to handle the tail-end
when they are actually juvenile delinquents. And for the adults, very much more
preventive family life education type programmes, conciliatory services and so on.
In the last few years we have actually gone into a lot more mediatory type of services
and training, providing mediation services even for couples who are actually going
through divorce. Then, of course, we have services that have catered to the
dysfunctional families - very much more rehabilitative in nature.

Disabilities: very much more concentrating on abilities rather than their disabilities
and the whole concept of integration wherever possible, rather than giving separate
services to people with disabilities. And, of course, drug-abuse and rehabilitation.

Again, these couple of things echo a lot for you. I just want to, perhaps, touch a little
bit on just nursing homes. This is the area of greatest growth, actually, in Singapore
because we have an aging population in Singapore. I think we are about the second-
fastest aging country in Asia or the South Pacific area, after Japan, so this is really
something of great concern for us and we are building more nursing homes because
we realize that we can no longer, sometimes, just rely on the family; that sometimes
there comes a point when the family, actually, needs to put the older person in the
nursing home. And that does not mean that they don‟t care for the older person but
it is just that there are some limitations. But, of course, the issues here surround, of
course, the question of who then pays and how do you pay, and how do you actually
cost-share some of these services. So those are the concerns.

Again, there is a whole string of community-based services which I think you are
familiar with, so I will just skip that as well.

Services for the family:   very similar to what you have in Hong Kong as well.

Homes for the disabled – hostels: again, the whole range of provision. The Teach-
me Programme is the programme that attempts to integrate young children with

disabilities into mainstream schools. So they are given support while they actually
attend the mainstream schools. So this is actually one form of, really, full
integration of students with disabilities, in the mainstream.

Then, of course, programmes for young children: these are the types of programmes
that have to evolve and change all the time because the young people keep changing
in their fads. So, a lot of these programmes have to really be tuned to what is the
current interests of the young people. For example, as you know, in more recent
years, of course, the internet is the greatest craze, so a lot more programmes and
interventive-type of programmes actually surround the whole area of internet and so
on. I think some places are trying to even provide sort of internet counseling kind of

I thought I would just show you one slide as well, that sometimes the social service
provision, it is not enough just to look at the provisions out there, but also to look at
some of the tax fiscal policies that we have in place that actually support the family.
So we have a tax-relief for aged parents and disabled siblings, and in a way not so
much to give incentive as to encourage or give acknowledgment to families that
actually have older people staying with them. Taxpayers who have older parents
staying with them actually get slightly better tax-relief than if they are claiming tax-
relief for a parent who is not staying with them.    So there is a slight two-tier system

Then, of course, we have tax-relief to help the working mothers - tax-relief for foreign
maids and also for having young children. Then we have a child-care centre subsidy
for working mothers. And we have, also, the insurance schemes - the Central
Provident Fund Minimum-sum Scheme, Medi-Save, Dependents Protection Scheme
and so on. So these are some of the insurance schemes that we have to help the

I will move on now to talk about the partnership model that I mentioned to you, the
„Three Ps Model‟ that is, increasingly, going to be part of the whole policy
formulation and implementation of social service provision. Basically, the public
sector‟s role – I will just explain what the roles of each sector will be. It is not that
neat, but we attempt to try and make it, at least, in some form of a system.

Basically, we see the government‟s role is largely in the area of allocation of land and
premises for social and community use. And for a land-scarce country like
Singapore, this becomes a very important thing. Basically, you need the premises to
actually run your services and this is given, allocated, by government. Then, of
course, the market rent is all taken care of by government. There is a goods and
services tax for social service provision and then we also offset that. Government
actually subvents the services at 50 per cent. I know, in Hong Kong, it is a lot, lot,
lot higher but in Singapore we actually go on the 50-50 funding, basically cost-
sharing. But for capital grants, government pays up to 90 per cent.

And maybe the question you ask is: Why this kind of formula? Why 90 and 10,
for example. I think, basically, if government wants to, it can pay up to 100 per cent.
But I think the whole idea is, we want the community to have, actually, a vested
interest in the facility as well. And generally, from what we have seen and from the

feedback, they have been able to raise that shared amount of money if not more than
that. Besides, the voluntary organizations get a waiver for all those taxes.

Government‟s role is also in human resource development and in staff development in
the whole area of training and managing. So we are not just looking at the paid staff
in the NGOs, we are also looking at the volunteers in the NGOs, that government‟s
role must be also to develop that whole area of human resources.

Government has started, as well, to begin to what we call „seed‟ new initiatives.
Basically, to support new initiatives from the ground and help them to grow. One
example is, for example, the RSCP chapter in Singapore which was just launched,
actually, two weeks ago by our Prime Minister himself. So he has actually given a
lot of emphasis to this whole area. I understand there was an RSCP seminar
yesterday, or something like that, here in Hong Kong, and we hope to certainly work
more closely with our Hong Kong counterparts. But in Singapore, certainly, the
RSCP has gained a very, very high stature and status there, with the Prime Minister
himself actually blessing that initiative.

Then from the people sector, the community, or in some places you call it the civil
society, their role is increasingly in direct provision of services. But it is not to say
that government, in Singapore, does not provide services. We actually provide more
the statutory services. For example, the rehabilitation of juvenile delinquents and so
on, that is the responsibility of government. But very much more the non-statutory
functions are provided by the civil society or community. They raise funds largely
to provide a value-added service and they pioneer new services which is the unique
characteristic of, really, the voluntary sector. And their role is increasingly to
engage more and more people in the voluntary movement, and they continue to hold
on to this unique characteristic of the voluntary sector which is to be flexible and be
responsive to local conditions.

The private sector‟s role - largely donations to charities and causes, sponsoring events
and activities. We have the IBM, in Singapore, that has actually committed itself,
since, I think, probably 10-15 years ago, to actually be at the forefront every year to
drive the volunteer movement in terms of a national campaign. So the private sector
is very much in the picture.

We are hoping to engage, again, more of the business people with their business
expertise into some of the management committees of the NGOs, because we find that
sometimes you do need a bit of that business-sense to run organizations. Even
though it is a non-profit organization, they can benefit from some of the management
skills that the business sector is very good at. And they sponsor and operate direct
service like I mentioned earlier on – the auditing company.

And we hope to – there is not a lot of this thing happening – but we hope to actually
encourage a lot more corporations to allow their employees time to volunteer their
services. In other words, it is part and parcel of being an employee of a particular
organization. I think one of our telecommunications companies has started doing
some of these things – allowing their volunteers who are active in community service
to actually use part of their office time to actually do that. So, increasingly, they are

beginning to realize that it actually makes good business sense to have a community
identity, to be known to be community-conscious as well.

“Why the many helping hands approach?”, you might ask.. Well, philosophically
we believe that it makes for a better society because the „Three Ps‟ – the public, the
people and the private sector – are engaged in the process of caring and demonstrating
compassion. This is an enabling way of building cohesion. It makes for a better
society because when the sectors work together, when people actually come together,
they begin to see the challenges and the opportunities better, with the varied
perspectives they bring to bear on the social concerns or problems. You find that
when people work together they begin to see with each other‟s eyes, so to say, and
they don‟t start wasting a lot of time actually trying to blame one another or accuse
one another, but rather to pool our resources together in a more constructive way. At
the practical level, the coverage or reach is wider when you have various people
actually trying to knit into a single safety-net.

I will just touch on this question which I think most people would ask anyway:
What makes for social cohesion? I think this is an extremely difficult question, so I
will just confine, perhaps, my sharing to how the social service provision actually
contributes to all this. By the way, we also do sports and all that under the
community sector. We believe that when people actually do things together at the
activities level, they begin to understand one another, they begin to actually feel that
they have an identity, they have a cause that they are fighting for, and in that sense
they build people-to-people bonds.

So, we are not just interested in people building bonds with the government, but we
want people to build bonds amongst themselves. And we believe that such bonding
actually is ongoing work and it cannot be left, really, to chance. But rather, most
people, whether you are from the private sector, voluntary sector, everywhere tries to
keep their hands on the pulse of the community, so that we know how the community
is actually progressing.

I think most people are aware of, we have a national sort of body that actually looks
after a large number of people who work in the grassroots organizations and they
actually run a training institute as well. I have been involved in some of the training
of this institute and what is very interesting is that I think they have moved quite a lot
in their curriculum of training. In the past it was very much trying to help people to
learn how to chair a meeting and that kind of thing, but leaders actually moved a lot
more into what we call mediation skills training, actually helping, training the local
leaders to do mediation work at the ground level. And this is a movement, these are
some of the changes that are happening and there are about 28,000 graduate
volunteers working in various kinds of activities at the ground.

I will move on quickly now to some of the principles. You will find that interfaced
throughout what we do and say is this whole thing about shared responsibility.
Then, of course, we always say that we should try and share the cost. Basically,
because I think when people actually put something into something, they actually then
have a vested interest and they pay more attention and give their energies to it.

Government‟s role is really much more in macro planning but we know that you have
to be very flexible at the local level to reflect the local conditions, and also to
facilitate voluntary initiatives. You cannot have too much centralized control and
planning but some of the decision making can be left, really, to the ground.

These are some of the things that we hope to do, actually, in the next couple of years:
encouraging, restructuring and reshaping of services. You find that, for example, in
the NGO sector, very often people go into new services and so on and they don‟t cut
back on services which are no longer appropriate or necessary; it‟s a lot of adding-on.
But we are hoping to help people to realize that while you move some of your
resources elsewhere, you can cut back on some of the areas which are no longer

And then it is this whole process of self-examination and forward planning that we
hope to encourage a lot more in the sector. And, of course, an increasing interest,
a trend, is actually to try and set performance measures. Not only just performance
measures but a lot more in the whole area of looking at outcomes. Because I think
we are quite good at looking at input and output measurements, but how do we
actually measure outcomes, particularly in social service provision. That is going to
be a very difficult area.

I will end up with just sharing with you this slide which I have actually extrapolated
from some of the readings I have done. What happens is, the United States, actually,
in the last – this was probably a survey that was done about five years ago – they
surveyed right across the United States in all the various states, and they found that
there was a great shift in thinking or planning in social service provision. Largely,
from this whole realm of what you call a very client-focused to a much more
customer-driven kind of approach. The individual as the client, to a lot more as the
family, as the customer. Input-driven to very much outcome-driven.

That is what I was talking about, that we need to do a lot more work on. The whole
area of moving a lot more resources into prevention while still holding on to the
maintenance programmes. A lot more decentralization. The State taking on a
catalyst role rather than a central control role. And very much more the services
provided by the NGOs and self-help groups, with government providing an
infrastructure. The government must be there to provide the infrastructure.

I think it is very easy to go into a debate about who should take a larger share. But
rather, I think we should be looking at what different roles the various sectors can
play. So, hopefully, that actually summarizes the „Three Ps‟ model that we actually
are moving a lot more into in our social service planning. On that note I thank you.


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