9 Nov 2016 Posted in Speeches
Associate Professor Ho Peng Kee
Distinguished guests, mediators and friends
Good evening everyone. I am pleased to join you once again at our annual appointment and appreciation dinner.
As our volunteer mediators, you are pivotal in building bridges between disputing parties and in helping them to improve their relationships. While this may sound simple in theory, but in practice it is much more difficult. One has to remain impartial and objective, and yet be able to get parties to come to an agreement at the end of a mediation session. This is especially so in cases where the parties may have long-standing misperceptions of each another due to not knowing the whole story. This can arise when a party or parties do not communicate all the relevant facts about their circumstances.
Being able to get to the root of the problem comes with the experience. For many of you, this is a skill that you have honed over the years. Let me share an example of a case that illustrates what I mean. The names in this story I am about to tell have been changed to protect the parties privacy and to maintain the confidentiality of the mediation process.
So Mr Tan, a middle-aged man, was living with his elderly mother. Their neighbours upstairs, were the Lim couple and their six-year old son. Mr Tan often complained about noise from their neighbours which included the bouncing of a basketball, slamming of doors and dragging of chairs. This is very familiar to many of you as you may have heard complaints like these. The noise frustrated Mr Tan and he was adamant that his neighbours’ young son was the problem.
Both parties had tried mediation at the CMC before. The Lim family agreed to reduce the noise while Mr Tan agreed to show more tolerance. The Lim couple also shared their contact numbers with Mr Tan so that he could inform them when the noise was unbearable.
However, Mr Tan would call frequently, sometimes in the wee hours of the morning. This annoyed the Lim family. They felt harassed and mentally drained. Mr Tan was also increasingly rude towards their family.
The mediators stepped in and they found out that Mr Tan was aggressive and felt that it was important to talk to both parties separately. As a result of their skilful facilitation, Mr Tan opened up to the mediators and he revealed that his mother was suffering from kidney failure and was at the end stage of her life, and he was going through a divorce. All these events took a toll on him. So you can just imagine all of that, and then you have the bouncing of the basketball, and all the noise going on in the background. So it had an impact on him. He had never wanted to create problems for his neighbours. All he wanted was some peace at home. As the mediators recognised that it was important for them to share his plight with the Lim couple, they sought Mr Tan’s permission to do so.
When the Lim couple heard of Mr Tan’s plight, they were shocked and very sympathetic. They agreed to make time and bring their son to the playground to play, so as to reduce the noise at home. Mr Tan was also much more composed and agreed to call the Lim couple only when necessary, and to approach them in a cordial manner.
Clearly this was a difficult relational case. It was not an easy case since the root of the dispute was not obvious until there was a willingness to be candid in the conversation. Such a knack for getting to the root of the problem requires mediators with the ability to draw a person out, good listening skills and patience in order to guide parties towards an amicable resolution.
Appreciating and recognising volunteer mediators efforts towards lifelong learning
The case of Mr Tan and the Lim family is just one of over 8,000 cases that have been handled by the CMC since its inception in 1998. Some were relatively easy to handle, while others are clearly more complex. This evening’s red carpet theme is therefore befitting of the recognition accorded for your contributions and achievements. I am glad to see that many of you have brought along a family member or a colleague to join us in this celebratory evening, as it is often because of their support that you are able to continue to volunteer at the CMC.
This is why the CMC continues to see a success rate of about 75 per cent for its cases mediated. Your unyielding efforts and sincerity play a significant part in achieving such results. We know the parties appreciate the efforts, even if their cases were not successfully mediated. Let me read out aloud what some of the parties have said:
“I would like to express my sincere gratitude to mediators – Mr Ramachandran and Mr Then Choon Huat who handled my mediation session with utmost professionalism. They were placed in an extremely tense situation, yet they remained calm and patient. Although the outcome from my session was not completely favourable, I believe both mediators did their best and I truly thank them for their time and effort.”
- There is one for Mr Gan Ong Peng and Mr Ganesan as well. This person said:
“They exhausted all efforts to help us come up with solutions. Even though the other party was not amenable to the solutions, I appreciated the advice from both mediators. They were familiar with our issue, acted neutrally and were knowledgeable.”
- Such compliments are a testament to your professionalism and ability to help affected parties mediate their disputes.
- In line with the CMC’s commitment to build the competencies of our mediators to help them better handle the increasingly complex cases, our mediators are encouraged to hone their skills as part of their lifelong learning journey.
- To this end, eligible mediators have been co-sponsored for relevant mediation-related courses since 2013. One such programme is the one and a half year Certificate in Law for Community Mediators programme offered by Temasek Polytechnic. This year, our third cohort of five mediators are being co-sponsored for this programme, which is conducted on a part-time basis. I understand that classes commenced earlier this year. I commend you for your interest to pursue lifelong learning and upgrade your skills.
- I would also like to take this opportunity to thank our partners from Temasek Polytechnic, Carol and her team who are here with us tonight, for working with the CMC to facilitate this programme.
Besides training programmes, the CMC also organises regular ‘Community of Practices’, or COP, sessions for our mediators such as the Mediators’ Retreat and Quarterly Sharing Sessions. These COP sessions not only allow our mediators to share best practices with one another, but also enhance bonding.
Collaboration with State Courts’ Community Justice and Tribunals Division: Use of video conferencing to conduct Pre-Trial Conference
- Following the implementation of the Community Disputes Resolution Tribunals in October 2015, I am pleased to announce that the CMC was able to successfully resolve about fifty percent of the cases that they received from the Tribunals.
- The cases that were referred by the Tribunals were acrimonious in nature. Kudos to our 26 Tribunal Mediators who exhibited patience and perseverance in guiding the hostile parties towards peaceful resolutions.
- The CMC also works closely with the Community Justice and Tribunals Division from State Courts to review workflow process and make improvements where necessary to increase service efficiency for members of the public.
- For instance, in July this year, we implemented the use of video conferencing to conduct Pre-Trial Conference. With the use of technology, a Tribunal Judge can give directions to parties who are unable to settle at the CMC, soon after a mediation ends. Without the aid of such technology, parties would have to wait for three working days to appear in person before the Tribunal Judge for further directions on the case. So here, waiting time has been reduced from three days to one hour.
I would like to express my appreciation to our partners from the State Courts, particularly to District Judge Samuel Chua, who has been key to our partnership. Thank you DJ Chua and team.
Updates on outreach and partnership efforts to promote self-help conflict management and prevention
- The CMC advocates mediation as a friendlier approach for parties to resolve their conflicts than going to Court. We believe that everyone can play a part in preventing conflicts from escalating by learning how to manage our own conflicts in a better way.
- Since last year, the CMC has been promoting the 5-step “FOCUS” tips as a self-help approach to manage our conflicts at the first instance. We hope that over time, it will encourage a culture of mediation in the community.
- “The ME in MEdiation”, is the chosen theme for our new set of collaterals. The “ME” highlighted in “MEdiation” aims to convey how important the individual is in the eventual outcome of a conflict and the relationship between the disputing parties. More often than not, the most effective solutions are derived when the individuals take ownership of their issues, adopt an open mindset to collaborate with one another and work out amicable solutions that are win-win for all.
- In reaching out to the community, the CMC works closely with its partners by participating in their community events and exploring possible collaboration to heighten the awareness of our mediation services as well as to promote the FOCUS tips for self-help conflict management.
- Since January this year, the CMC has participated in more than 15 events organised by our partners such as the Housing and Development Board (“HDB”) and People’s Association (“PA”). These events provided opportunities for the CMC to interact and distribute our new collaterals to the residents, and share the benefits of mediation as well as encourage self-help conflict management. We also stage community skits that enact a typical neighbour dispute scene and demonstrate how FOCUS is applied to convey the message in a light-hearted manner.
- To further spread such messages to youths, the CMC has been working with the Ministry of Education’s Guidance Branch (“MOE”) and the Singapore Kindness Movement (“SKM”). For a start, the CMC is currently working with MOE to promote the use of FOCUS tips for students to resolve their relational conflicts in schools.
- In addition, our grassroots leaders who walk the ground, act as our eyes, ears and hands. They are usually the first responders on the ground, they can be peacemakers and make a difference to prevent a conflict from escalating.
- Over the last two years, the CMC has trained close to 500 grassroots leaders with basic mediation skills through a programme conducted by CMC’s advisor, Dr Lim Lan Yuan. I hope that the grassroots leaders have found the training useful, where the skills learnt will help nip conflicts in the bud to create a more harmonious community. The CMC will continue to partner PA so that more grassroots leaders can be trained.
We appreciate our community partners for the valued partnership in working together with us in our outreach efforts. Special thanks to Chay Yean and her team from HDB, Juay Hong, Suzana, Mark, and their teams from PA. We would also like to express our heartfelt thanks to Dennis, William and their teams from MOE and SKM respectively, as the CMC’s new partners to reach out to the youths.
- In conclusion, let me say that it is my great pleasure to be here tonight and I would like to pay tribute to all the mediators present. Congratulations to the 14 new mediators who are appointed to the panel and to the 17 mediators who are promoted, re-appointed and receiving their awards. Keep up the good work!
- Thank you and please enjoy the evening.
Last updated on 09 Nov 2016