Opening Address by Minister for Culture, Community and Youth and Second Minister for Law Edwin Tong SC at the Mediators' Appointment Ceremony and Appreciation Dinner 2023
05 Oct 2023 Posted in [Speeches]
Associate Professor Ho Peng Kee, Chairman of the Advisory Committee for Community Mediation
Our many mediators this evening
Ladies and gentlemen
1. Good evening, everyone.
2. It took me a while to make my way from the foyer into the ballroom. Even as I was coming in, I saw people going out to take photographs, share happy moments, catch up with old friends, and see each other put on funny costumes for the photographs.
3. I am so glad to see that, because this evening is all about celebrating all of you – celebrating your volunteerism, your ‘never say die’ attitude, your ability to come forward and serve year after year, and make the Community Mediation Centre (CMC) 25 years this year.
4. So, I want to start by asking all of you, to please give yourselves a tremendous round of applause.
5. This evening, as we celebrate 25 years of community mediation, it is a chance for us, as we go forward into the next 25 years and beyond, to take a moment to look back on how we have come here collectively.
6. 25 years is not a small milestone. It is a major milestone, a significant achievement.
7. It must have been quite a journey, particularly for the first cohort of our mediators who stepped up and took that journey way back in 1998. I want to thank them for being one of the pioneers, and for believing in mediation.
8. That belief is very much appreciated. Because today, more than ever, especially as we live so close to each other, you realise that there is more we can do to preserve the harmony and the peace in our own community. And many of you here have been pioneers in doing that.
Evolution of the CMC
9. Let me first briefly touch on the rich history of the CMC.
10. It was in May 1996, that our Committee on Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) was appointed by then Minister for Law, Professor S Jayakumar.
11. The Committee was tasked to study how ADR, in particular mediation, could be promoted in Singapore. The intent was very clear – to provide a less acrimonious means for people to resolve conflicts without having to go to court.
12. The study was completed in July 1997. It basically confirmed what the Committee first suspected, when they set it up, which is that it was important for us in Singapore to have less expensive, and perhaps more importantly, non-adversarial ways of resolving disputes.
13. If you can resolve disputes in a non-adversarial way, it helps to promote the peace, and helps keep good relations. Those are qualities that are particularly important if you are having a dispute with your neighbour. Because you can choose many things, but you cannot choose your neighbour. So you have to preserve the peace.
14. One of the recommendations, in the context of resolving disputes in the community, was to establish a network of CMCs to serve as a platform for parties to come, where there will be a neutral, trained expert mediator to resolve the conflict.
15. With that thinking, the CMC was conceived.
16. In 1998, the very first CMC opened its doors in Marine Parade, which some of you here may still remember.
17. Between 1999 and 2001, three other CMCs were established at other locations within our neighbourhoods. It was important that we do it in the neighbourhood because that is precisely where the conflicts take place.
18. In fact, today, as we look at revising and improving on the CMCs, through our Community Dispute Management Framework (CDMF), this is one of the core principles of trying to maintain the ability to resolve disputes.
19. If you are having a dispute with your neighbour who lives three feet from you, it does not make sense for both of you to get onto the bus, travel for 45 minutes to resolve the dispute somewhere else farther. So we wanted to make sure that it is accessible, convenient, and somewhere which you can actually associate with, in the neighbourhood.
20. Our very first cohort of volunteer community mediators who started out with the CMC were all grassroot leaders. Today, eight mediators from that first cohort, the pioneer batch, are with us here today. May I invite all of you to stand up, to get acknowledged by everyone?
21. It is not just your vision and foresight, but your perseverance and resilience in continuing to be a mediator. So I thank you very much for your unwavering commitment, dedication and your belief in what you do, because what you do over the years have inspired others. If you look around the room today, many of these mediators have come on board this journey because of what you have done. So, thank you very much.
22. In the early days, residents would go to the Centre to register cases. That time was still a bit low tech.
a. We still used a telephone to make an appointment.
b. The CMC officers who were there would very much persuade the parties, or if there was only one party who was coming forward, to persuade the other party to come to the CMC for mediation.
c. All the processes were manual.
d. All the case notes were by hand, files were physical, and the process was a bit slow.
e. But that did not deter our mediators.
23. Today, I am glad to say that we have improved on at least that part of the process, and made significant improvements by leaps and bounds.
a. Residents can now initiate mediation, not by calling up or queueing up, but by going online with a few clicks.
b. Applications can be submitted at any time of the day or night, at their convenience.
c. Pre-mediation administration, like making payment, filling up forms, can all be done online very conveniently, even before the start of a mediation session.
d. Even the settlement agreements that you reach after mediation can be signed digitally.
e. In other words, you can do everything at the convenience of where you are, aided by technology.
f. Case notes can be submitted through the Mediators Portal, helping the mediators as well.
24. As the CMC journey unfolded over the years, we expanded our footprint from Marine Parade to Ang Mo Kio, Woodlands, the former Subordinate Courts and back to Maxwell. Each of these moves symbolised our commitment to be very much at the focal touchpoints in our community.
25. In 2015, another chapter opened with the establishment of the Community Disputes Resolution Tribunals (CDRT). This broadened our horizons to encompass Court-referred mandatory mediation in neighbour disputes.
26. Some among you here underwent comprehensive training to become Tribunal Mediators, guiding parties towards Consent Orders, transforming mediations into Court-recognised solutions.
27. Now, of course, as we do this, we know that it is really as far as we can help it, as the port of call. We try mediation first, and thanks to the mediators for their assistance and perseverance, and lending a kind, sympathetic listening ear, it has made all the difference.
28. But a small percentage of these cases, for all the efforts that we put in, parties are still intransigent. The problem still happens – can be noise or some other kinds of nuisance. So we started the CDRT for this reason.
29. More recently, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, we faced unprecedented challenges. Our homes are not designed for everyone to be at home all the time. So when that happened, it caused some friction.
30. In many ways, the lessons that we have learned from the pandemic were just like any other sector.
a. We embraced virtual training via platforms like Webex and Zoom. We did not do this before. These are new ways of learning, new ways of connecting.
b. We learned the good habits from COVID-19, we adopted them and made these practices mainstream. The pandemic has been a catalyst to accelerate the transition to virtual mediation.
Increasing Access to Mediation
31. Not all mediation can be done virtually or should be done virtually. Sometimes you need to look the person in the eye and be in-person.
32. But on the occasion where it is not possible, virtual mediation is now something that can be used to settle disputes remotely.
33. Today, you can choose face-to-face or virtual mediation. You can use Zoom, or some other platforms, expanding accessibility and convenience.
34. So what more do we do? Let me just give you a sneak peek of what else we are going to be doing.
35. Residents have been asking for mediation outlets closer to their homes.
36. Last year, I had shared with you about the collaboration with the Public Service Division and the People’s Association that resulted in six satellite mediation venues being set up in the heartlands, using our partnership with the People’s Association.
37. We embedded these satellite venues in the heartlands, as far as possible, within the estates and precincts where our residents live.
38. These satellite mediation venues, strategically placed within ServiceSG Centres and Community Clubs, aim to extend our reach to all residents, making it a lot more convenient, and much harder to say no to mediation.
39. I am really happy to say that this year, we have set up four more locations where residents can practically go downstairs, walk a few more steps and get into mediation. These include Ace the Place Community Club, Clementi Community Centre, Paya Lebar Kovan Community Club, and ServiceSG @ Keat Hong Community Club.
40. So, we have extended it to different parts of Singapore. If we find that this has traction, people will come to mediation, we will look at expanding our partnership with the People’s Association.
41. Along with the main mediation Centre at The URA Centre East Wing and ten satellite mediation venues all around the island, I would say that mediation today has become far more accessible than it ever has been, and we will aim to enhance that in the near future.
Increasing Awareness of Mediation
42. Attending mediation can only take place when people know about mediation, which is the challenge.
43. You can build many other centres; you can have many other portals available by Zoom or in person. But actually one of the key fights we face is to bring awareness of mediation to the people who need mediation.
44. The CMC has been working very hard on this part, to spread the awareness of mediation into the everyday life of people.
45. Quite frankly, most of the time, when you are going through your daily life in the workplace, in school, and you do not have a dispute, you do not need to know about mediation or the CMC.
46. But on the occasion when it happens, you need to know where to look, how to find resources, and how to get help to resolve them.
47. What the CMC has been doing is to try to find places in everyday life where you go to, constantly all the time. They engaged residents at the lift lobbies, and tried it in nine different towns, through informative infographics – using cartoons, sometimes using a little bit of humour, to convey messages in a soft way.
48. We also use social media to help increase public awareness of how common neighbour disputes can be resolved using mediation – in a more creative and light-hearted manner, such as through hand drawn comic strips and light-hearted videos on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and X (formerly known as Twitter).
49. So you cannot run away – you see it at the lift lobby, you see it online, on any of the social media platforms.
50. The CMC has been working very hard to make sure that this becomes accessible, and we raise awareness through all of these things.
51. The CMC has also ventured further in reaching out to different demographic groups, collaborating with online content platforms like SGAG to deliver a TikTok video to capture the attention of our younger audience.
52. Nowadays, you need to cater your message to different demographics on different platforms. But do not worry, even those who are senior can still go to TikTok and have a look. I am sure you will enjoy it.
Update on the Progress of CDMF
53. As I reflect on the progress of the CMC, I think the past couple of years has been very significant.
54. Earlier this year, we announced that one of the key enhancements under the inter-agency CDMF is to mandate mediation in certain categories of cases.
55. Why do I say that? Why did we develop this thinking?
56. In many cases, mediation can only be successful if both parties are prepared to come forward. It takes two hands.
57. So if we have two neighbours and one refuses to go into mediation, it is very difficult to find an amicable solution.
58. The next step would be to file a claim, either at the CDRT or in the court. That becomes adversarial, and acrimonious. Even if you find a solution by having an order from the court, it leaves a sour aftertaste.
59. So we decided to look at the whole framework and the success of mediation. Quite frankly, we took the view also with the quality of the mediators that we have at our disposal, that was growing.
60. We felt that it was time for us to mandate mediation, to require parties to go to mediation compulsorily. If you do not, then there will be certain consequences, like for example, you cannot proceed with the claim to the court.
61. I think that is fair. Because in our society, especially for neighbour disputes, we want to try mediation first. If you do not come forward to try an amicable solution, and the court rules will not allow you to file a claim at the CDRT.
62. This gives the mediation process that much more standing in the teeth, to invite parties to go through mandatory mediation.
63. The combination of these efforts, I think, will be a game changer when we eventually implement them.
64. What we did was, we had a very broad public consultation exercise because we wanted to get the views of not just the mediators, but also the different types of neighbours who encountered different types of problems.
a. We also sought the views of the frontline public agency officers – those from NEA who look after noise pollution, those from HDB and the town councils who look after neighbour disputes, in the close quarters of the HDB precincts.
b. And also the users – the different residents who had encountered problems in the past.
65. We got all their views, studied them closely, before we start to finetune the framework.
66. As we distil the feedback and the insights we obtained – and they have all been very valuable, we remain very determined and steadfast in our view that these CDMF enhancements will take us to the next level, and will really help not just to resolve disputes, but in a more formal way, to maintain the peace.
67. Once people know that there is a framework and there is mandatory mediation, I think that has an impact on the way you behave, or the way you look at your neighbours, or the way in which you treat your neighbours as you deal with noise, and disamenities like smell, sound, and so on. I think it helps to condition people.
68. To do that, we go upstream by working with Singapore Kindness Movement to try to instil certain community norms, to try to educate people. It is also about raising awareness in a nice, gentle, kind way.
69. So we are not just putting the rules in place, we go upstream and try to foster a positive behaviour and change societal norms.
70. The package as a whole, is not just about resolving conflicts, it is about building a kinder, more compassionate, more caring, and more understanding society.
Significance of Community Mediation in Singapore
71. The continued success of mediation is really a testament to our shared commitment to social and community harmony. It takes all these people in the mediation ecosystem to make it work.
72. I am very confident and positive about mediation.
73. For every 10 cases that walk into the CMC, eight succeed in a settlement agreement. That is a very high statistic.
74. It is testament to the success of the system. It is also testament to the success and value each of you as mediators bring to the table.
75. I know it is not easy, because to bridge the gap, you do not just use your training, but you have to use your EQ to try to reach into the dispute and the disputing parties, and find that common ground, find that bridge.
76. Sometimes, it takes a long time. Sometimes, it is quick. Sometimes, it needs you to find a solution that exists outside of the problem itself.
77. I know all of you have been very effective, very innovative, and in many ways, very persistent in what you do.
78. You should rest assured that the value of what you do is not underestimated. For every case you resolved, you preserve harmony – and all of you here are volunteer community mediators.
79. I want to end tonight’s speech by really giving you a shout out.
The Evolution of Mediators' Responsibilities
80. Every one of you started out as volunteer mediators. Over the years, some of you have progressed and transformed to becoming more than mediators.
81. I am pleased to know that as the scope of the mediators’ responsibilities grew, and sometimes the disputes became more and more complex, more and more parties, harder to resolve, you did not shy away.
82. In fact, many of you stepped forward and began to take on new roles. From mentors, to trainers, assessors, media ambassadors – many of you made sacrifices, family time, and doing so without compensation, without pay, because you believe in the value of mediation, exemplifying your commitment to serving the community. And really, as I said just now, growing the care in Singapore, so that we become a kinder, and far gentler, and more compassionate society.
83. For instance, today, we have a pool of senior experienced mediators who mentor new mediators.
84. This is important because as you step in and qualify immediately, you may have gone through the training, you still ask yourself, how do I actually do it? You sit in front of two very quarrelsome persons entrenched in their ways, and you sometimes need a guiding process.
85. That is the value of the mentor mediators coming forward to share their experience with you, and give you some guidance.
86. Overall, it underscores our commitment to learning and growth, bridging gaps between experienced mediators and those who are relatively new.
87. In line with our commitment to staying abreast of trends, specialised training led by accomplished professionals ensured our mediators’ ongoing relevance.
88. We recently expanded our training pool.
89. Where once all training and workshops would be conducted solely by Dr Lim Lan Yuan, the CMC’s Advisor, he is now assisted by several fellow mediators.
90. They include:
a. Mr Tan Lam Siong, a practising lawyer, who helps to train our mediators on drafting settlement terms that can be registered as an Order of Court;
b. Ms Grace Wong, a professional consultant; and
c. Mdm Diane Kum, a full-time professional mediator, whose expertise lie with the topics on Effective Communication and Collaboration.
91. A few of you have also agreed to assist the CMC as media ambassadors. As media ambassadors, you represent the CMC in media interviews of various medium, further spreading the awareness of mediation.
92. I spoke earlier about how important it is that people know about mediation, know how it can be done, and know that they can get help.
93. The media ambassadors have done a big part of that. These volunteers undertake more than the roles that they have been identified for, and they did not decline or turn them away, when approached by the team.
94. What this demonstrates to me and heartens me considerably, is the warm and close relationship that the CMC has established over the years, a strong rapport with the mediators.
95. Thank you very much to our mediators.
Recognising Long-Serving Mediators
96. This evening, we want to affirm and appreciate the dedication of our long-serving mediators who have been instrumental in shaping the CMC’s legacy.
97. We are in many ways, the forerunner of what has been the hard work for good thought leadership and dedication of many of our predecessors.
98. This is also the first time that we are presenting the 25 th Year Appreciation Awards to the eight pioneer mediators.
99. I am told that amongst the recipients, sadly, is one whose family will be receiving the award posthumously.
a. His son, Mr Eugene Lim is here to receive the award for his father Mr Francis Lim, who passed away earlier this year.
b. Mr Lim was from the pioneer batch of volunteers who had stepped forward selflessly to serve as a community mediator way back in 1998.
c. Having mediated over 300 cases, this year would have been his 25th year of volunteer service with us.
d. Those who knew Mr Lim would remember he always carried a kind smile and cheerful disposition, always caring for others, always thinking of how he can make a difference in the lives of others.
100. To the recipients of these awards, your tireless dedication has been an inspiration. It has also paved the way for unity and understanding in our community.
The Community Mediation Luminary Award
101. Beyond appreciation, we have an individual whose contributions have transcended the CMC’s legacy.
102. He is none other than Dr Lim Lan Yuan.
a. Dr Lim’s journey began in 1998 as a volunteer mediator, which paved the way for his extensive and truly transformative contributions.
b. From a mediator to Advisor (a title that only belongs to him), trainer to coach, mentor to media ambassador, a member of the Advisory Committee on Community Mediation – he has undoubtedly been instrumental to the growth of the CMC in so many ways.
c. Dr Lim’s legacy is one of leadership and selfless commitment, making him a deserving recipient of this inaugural award, the Community Mediation Luminary Award.
103. Tonight, the time is priceless. I want to dedicate this evening of our 25th anniversary celebration to all of you – as a token of gratitude and appreciation that you have in all the work that you do, all the sacrifices that you have made – helped us to achieve the CMC’s vision, which is ‘Building Bridges through Reconciliation’.
104. Resolving disputes peacefully is not just about resolving a dispute. It is actually causative, and is not really about elimination.
105. It is not just resolving the problem. It is the steps all of you take one by one, to build a more positive, kinder, and understanding Singapore.
106. So I wish all of you a very enjoyable evening, celebrate this big anniversary like never before. Let your hair down.
107. Enjoy the evening, and thank you very much.
Last updated on 05 October 2023