US team praises grassroots touch

Congress staff are impressed with meet-the-people sessions.

AMERICAN congressional staff members said yesterday that they were impressed by the ability of Singapore’s political leaders to keep in regular touch with people at the grassroots level.

“It is wonderful that you have a system where constituents can get to know their representative and talk to them about personal issues,” Miss Shirley Neff, an economist with the US Senate’s Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, told The Straits Times.

Miss Neff, who is leading a delegation of five staff members to Singapore for a week-long visit, made the observation after attending a Meet-the-People session at Toa Payoh GRC. The session was conducted by MP Davinder Singh.

Such sessions are held once or twice a week by all MPs. “Ideally we would like to have a system like that in the US, but the country’s size makes it very difficult,” said Miss Neff.

A congressional district member represented 500,000 people, she said. At the same time a heavy congressional schedule makes it difficult for senators and congressmen to meet their constituents weekly. She said that while it was hard to implement Singapore Meet-the-People sessions at the national level in the US, such a system was practised at the local level with city council members and county commissioners.

American senators and congressmen also meet their constituents through town hall meetings where they address a group of more than 100 people and explain government policies.

“But it is nothing as close and personal to what you have in Singapore,” she said.

The staff members, who are here to learn more about the Republic and to establish contacts with the government, statutory boards and the private sector, also attended Meet-the-People sessions conducted by MP for Toa Payoh GRC, Dr Ho Tat Kin, and MP for Braddell Heights, Mr Goh Choon Kang.

Earlier, they called on Foreign Minister S. Jayakumar and had a round-table discussion with private and public sector representatives, as well as politicians and academics.

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