Parapolitical Institutions

Parapolitical Institutions

After independence, Singapore's rulers perceived the population as uncommitted to the new state and as lacking a common identity. Accordingly, the government devoted much effort to fostering popular identification with the nation and commitment to the government's goals. In 1985 the Ministry of Community Development was formed by combining the former Ministry of Social Affairs with activities previously administered by the Office of the Prime Minister and by the Ministry of Culture. The new ministry coordinated a network of grassroots agencies intended to promote community spirit and social cohesion. These were the People's Association, the Citizens' Consultative Committees, the Residents' Committees, and the Community Center Management Committees. The People's Association was a statutory board established in 1960 and until 1985 a part of the Office of the Prime Minister. Its primary activity was to manage a system of 128 community centers, which offered recreational and cultural programs, along with such services as kindergartens and a limited number of day-care centers for children of working parents. The members of the various consultative and management committees were volunteers who received prestige but no salary. Each parliamentary constituency had a Citizens' Consultative Committee, whose members were in frequent contact with their member of Parliament. All Housing and Development Board apartment complexes had Residents' Committees, headed by volunteers and intended to promote neighborliness and community cohesion. The committees' activities included organization of neighborhood watch programs and tree-planting campaigns, in which the committees were assisted by the civil servants of the Residents' Committees Group Secretariat. In 1986 the government began organizing Town Councils in the larger housing estates. Though not official government bodies, the councils' immediate purpose was to take over some responsibilities for management of the complexes from the HDB. Their larger purpose was to promote a greater sense of community and public involvement in the residents of the clusters of high-rise apartment buildings. In March 1985, the government inaugurated a Feedback Unit, a body intended to collect public opinion on proposed government policies and to encourage government departments to respond quickly to public suggestions or complaints.

The various advisory committees and the Feedback Unit provided functions that in many countries are provided by political parties. In Singapore the parapolitical institutions, which had the clearly political goal of generating public support for government policies, were presented as apolitical, inclusive, communityoriented bodies, headed by people motivated by a selfless desire for public service. Such an approach reflected a decision made by the country's rulers in the 1960s to avoid trying to organize a mass political party, in part because many less-educated citizens tended to shy away from partisan and overtly political groups. Others habitually avoided government offices and officers but would participate in community-oriented and attractive programs. The ruling elite had had serious problems both with opposition parties and with left-wing opposition factions within the PAP and apparently found the controlled mobilization offered by the parapolitical institutions more to its liking. Members of all the advisory and consultative boards were appointed by the government and were carefully checked by the security services before appointment. The government closely watched the performance of the leaders of the community organizations and considered the organizations a pool of talent from which promising individuals could be identified, promoted to more responsible positions, and perhaps recruited to the political leadership.

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