Speech by Mr Edwin Tong, Senior Minister of State for Law & Health, at the Community Mediation Centre's 20th Anniversary Celebrations
1. Good evening Associate Professor Ho Peng Kee. Thank you very much for joining us again. You’ve been such an instrumental part of the success of the Community Mediation Centre (CMC) and you were around during its formative years. We welcome you here to dinner tonight. Thank you for gracing us with your presence.
2. Distinguished guests, mediators, friends and all the stakeholders of the mediation ecosystem. A very warm welcome to all of you and I do look forward to seeing each of you individually as the dinner progresses.
Importance and relevance of the CMC’s work in helping parties resolve community disputes
3. This year, we celebrate the CMC’s 20th anniversary. The CMC started in 1998 and it was set up to provide an accessible, affordable and effective means of social and community resolution of conflicts. We know, in Singapore, how important that is because we not only live in a society that is very densely knit, very close together in proximity with each other, but we also live in a society that is multiracial and multi-religious.
4. And so it is even more important for us that we don’t allow conflicts, especially between neighbours, to escalate. Thus, the role that each of you play, have played and will continue to play, will remain a very important one. So let me start by thanking all of you for playing that role and bringing the CMC to where it is today.
5. We all know that relationships between neighbours and family is something that we treasure, and the CMC’s aim is precisely to help preserve those inter-relationships, especially when disputes occur.
6. It is far better to talk things through with the help of a neutral mediator; one who is trained, one who is sensitive to the issues between two parties, to try and resolve that, rather than take it to court and have it litigated. In mediation, very often, both sides finish the session, and both sides win. And that’s really the advantage of mediation over other forms of dispute resolution.
7. Over the last 20 years, the CMC has mediated more than 9,000 cases. That’s quite an impressive number.
8. 20 years ago, the disputes that were mediated at the CMC, were largely between neighbours and families; between individuals. Common issues of dispute were related to noise disturbances, minor disagreements and minor nuisances.
9. 20 years on, the nature of the disputes, by and large, remain the same. However, we do see an increase in the number of harassment cases between neighbours, more confrontations – sometimes fierce ones, sometimes with abusive language – and unacceptable conduct.
10. Let me share a typical example. A resident who may stay in a lower floor unit experiences noise disturbance – and very often we have that in the close proximity of HDB flats that we live in. Sometimes, it takes place in the middle of the night, sometimes persistently while one side tries to get rest at night. One neighbour then resorts to calling the police for assistance, who then visits the neighbour. When one side calls the police, the other side will also call the police and the next thing you know, the issue becomes a question of the police coming to try to mediate the dispute. This kind of sentiment then quickly escalates because it’s a tit-for-tat kind of relationship. This kind of confrontational approach typically, as many of you who are trained mediators know, will then result in a very defensive response from the receiving party. One side, or the other, then goes to the police, HDB or Town Councils and it doesn’t make for a pleasant living environment.
11. For some parties, it may be because of the underlying reasons behind the disputes are deep-seated and acrimonious. For others, it’s really just a question of the ‘face’ sometimes.
12. All of these make it difficult for a case to be successfully mediated. However, with tact, skill, patience, persistence and perseverance, a trained CMC mediator will be able to help the parties resolve these disputes, regardless of the type of dispute and the underlying nature of the dispute between them.
Commending and recognising the CMC’s panel of volunteer community mediators
13. The CMC’s success would really not be possible without the support of all our volunteer mediators who are motivated and do give back to society.
14. Very often, mediation sessions last beyond the stipulated hours. They go well into the evening and I know that many of the mediators, in fact, don’t look at the clock but look at the objective of wanting to resolve the issue between the parties as their KPIs, and not so much looking at the hours, whether the time has come.
15. From our humble beginnings of 47 mediators when we first started, today, the CMC’s panel of community mediators now has 153 mediators, including all of you here. And on that note, I would just like to welcome the 18 mediators from the original batch who are here to join us tonight as well as the six former staff of the CMC who were involved and instrumental in the setting up of the CMC back in 1998. Thank you for joining us tonight. It makes the evening complete.
16. My heartfelt appreciation to all of the volunteer mediators. You add your own dynamics to mediation because it is about bringing life skills, about bringing your experiences to the table as well, and you bring that wealth of experience with precisely your varied backgrounds and professions to bear, on the resolution of disputes.
17. Many of you hold full-time jobs or run your own businesses, yet still manage to commit time and effort in your schedule to be a mediator.
18. A number of you are retirees who have chosen to mark the beginning of a bright new phase of your retirement years as volunteers giving back to society, and reaping the rewards of an active and fulfilling retirement lifestyle. Thank you very much for volunteering your time, even in retirement.
Minister for Law Community Mediator Award
19. There is no monetary incentive or elaborate titles when one chooses to be a community mediator. But despite this, and maybe in spite of this, we continue to have a steady stream of committed mediators, including all of you, who have served with us since the CMC first started 20 years ago.
20. I would like to take the opportunity to share the contribution of one community mediator, Mr Anthony Samy. Mr Anthony Samy is sitting here with his family and I would like to welcome you and your family to our dinner as well and thank you very much for gracing it. Mr Samy is a stellar example of passion, commitment and service to the community.
21. He has served for the past 19 years, mediated more than 500 cases, and volunteered more than 1,000 hours of his time doing mediation, coaching and outreach efforts for the CMC. He was not just mediating disputes, but lending his experience to the next generation of mediators, lending those skills and coaching them in the skills of mediation.
22. Tonight, I am therefore very pleased and very honoured to announce that we will be presenting him with the Minister for Law Community Mediator Award to recognise his contribution to Singapore through his volunteer work at the CMC. He has gone beyond the call of duty as a community mediator and he is truly an ambassador for CMC.
23. Congratulations Mr Samy!
24. I would like to also welcome the 13 mediators who tonight will be appointed to the panel, and congratulate the 113 mediators who are re-appointed, promoted and also receiving special awards tonight. You know who you are and we’ll see you on stage later on.
Importance of training and continuous learning for our mediators
25. The CMC requires its mediators to go through regular training to ensure that they are skilled to mediate cases that reflect the changing societal trends. A new volunteer would start with basic mediation training. As the volunteer matures, he or she will receive more advanced training, for example in how to handle some of the more difficult and maybe even aggressive cases.
26. Government agencies which deal with municipal issues also share with our mediators their experiences, so that our mediators are more aware of these issues and are better placed to address them during mediation. We often partner with HDB or Town Councils in dealing with such cases.
27. The CMC also collaborates with the Agency for Integrated Care (AIC) which trains the mediators to identify symptoms of common mental illnesses, such as dementia, and to mediate cases involving parties showing such symptoms tactfully and sensitively.
Singapore International Mediation Institute (SIMI) Qualifying Assessment Programme (QAP)
28. Last year the CMC worked with the Singapore International Mediation Institute or SIMI to enhance its training framework. The new framework requires all new CMC mediators to undergo 40 hours of basic training, up from 16 previously. New mediators will be required to undergo more role play exercises during their basic training to ensure that they are adequately skilled to handle different situations in real life and more complex scenarios that crop up amongst neighbours all too often. In such scenarios, role-playing will help to prepare them in advance for how to deal with the situations.
29. I am pleased to announced that SIMI now recognises the CMC as a Qualifying Assessment Programme or QAP for short. This is a major milestone for the CMC. It means that both the CMC’s mediation service as well as the mediation training it provides, are now recognised as meeting international standards. The recognition of the CMC as QAP gives recognition to the quality of the CMC’s service and also the skills and standards of our mediators.
30. The CMC’s success in serving the community would not have been possible without the strong working relationships with agencies such as Housing Development Board (HDB), People’s Association (PA), Singapore Police Force (SPF), Town Councils and the State Courts.
31. From 2017, the CMC has been providing frontline officers from HDB, SPF, PA and the Town Councils with basic mediation training to identify, and where possible, simple social, relational and community disputes.
32. This has been very helpful for frontline officers who deal with a multitude of such cases with the local residents from time to time and they help to resolve conflicts and nip it in the bud before it escalates into something more serious.
33. The CMC also enlists the following partners who have been assisting the Centre with the training, professional development and accreditation of CMC’s volunteer mediators.
a. The Singapore Mediation Centre
b. Temasek Polytechnic; and
34. We give our thanks and look forward to the continued strong relationships with these partners, which we have established over the years. I hope that we will continue to build on these partnerships, foster these relationships for many years to come, because together we can do better in helping our community to resolve conflicts.
35. Once again, as I conclude, let me congratulate the CMC on your 20th Anniversary. It is a significant milestone, and I want to reiterate that you play an important role in ensuring peace and stability, harmonious living between neighbours in our community.
36. To all our volunteer mediators, I thank you once again, for all your hard work and dedication to the CMC. It is through your efforts that you have lifted the CMC to where it is today. Tonight’s celebration it is about you and for you.
37. I wish you a very pleasant evening and thank you very much.