Many ways to make a difference
When Satwant Singh attended the opening of the first PAP Policy Forum (PPF) in 2004, it did not strike him that he may one day serve as its chairperson.
In fact, Satwant served as PPF Chairperson for two consecutive terms; in 2008 and 2010 respectively.
The 51-year-old, a practicing lawyer, has been serving at Kolam Ayer since 2001 where he provides pro-bono legal advice to residents who seek legal assistance during Meet-the-People sessions (MPS).
Looking back, Satwant recalled the fateful phone call from Kolam Ayer branch secretary, Vincent Chua, in late March 2006. However, it was a trying time for Satwant. “I remembered it very clearly because my mother had just passed away. But I did not reject Mr Chua when he raised the idea that he would like me to stand as PPF Chairperson.”
But after becoming PPF Chairperson, Satwant realised the importance of having a healthy platform for people to understand, share their views and opinions on policies.
“It is easy to comment and criticise, but have we understood the thought-processes that policymakers go through before formulating a policy,” Satwant questioned.
As PPF Chairman, Satwant was involved in the dialogues and focus groups sessions. He encouraged PPF members to speak their mind freely in these closed-door sessions, so that party leaders can receive the correct feedback.
“We don’t want to present a hunky dory image to our leaders, because we achieve nothing. If we want the country to progress, then we all have to work together.”
Satwant shared that the valid points that arose from the robust discussions will then be collated into papers and recommendations for submission to various agencies. Topics such as education, transport, housing and environment usually generate much debate.
However, Satwant also noticed that more Singaporeans are turning to the Internet to voice their opinions.
“It is a globalised 21st century, our society is getting more affluent and each generation is becoming highly educated. Everyone wants to have a say, even in cyberspace. However, we must be discerning of what we type online. It is easy to become personal and vulgar on the Internet. If you have something to say, come forward. All of us are passionate, and we want our nation to succeed. But we need to be responsible and find the right channel to share your thoughts.”
Besides serving the local community, Satwant also sets aside the month of December to mentor and lead a team of students to India to refurbish a school. This year will be the 15th time Satwant has done so.
“It’s a learning experience between me and the youngsters. They learnt to appreciate the modern amenities that are available to them, while I learnt about their creative approaches to solve problems. Usually, they return to Singapore humbled and grateful as they discover that there are people in the world who have no access to clean water and sanitation.”
Despite his busy schedule, Satwant’s vocal personality continues to drive him to share his opinions with policymakers. “I hope the leaders are not thinking that everything is rosy and perfect. There are issues out there and we, the PPF members, are the ground activists. When we get feedback, it is our job to ensure our policymakers stay updated instantly.”