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Good morning everyone ​and good morning to Professor Lim Lan Yuan and the Executive Committee of International Institute of Mediators of Singapore (iiM). Thank you very much for inviting me to the Inaugural Conference on the Resolution of Neighbour Disputes.

It is a pleasure and a privilege to be with you as you discuss very important issues that confront our society today. Distinguished guests, I know many of you here are grassroots leaders, community mediators, and people with leadership positions in society.

It is particularly important that you play this mediation role and I am very heartened that so many of you have taken the trouble, and the time, over the weekend to be at this conference.

The importance of mediation in resolving disputes in Singapore

Why is mediation important? You’ve heard from Professor Lim Lan Yuan’s speech earlier and will hear from some other experts later.Let me share some perspectives with you. We all, in Singapore, live in a very densely populated society, in HDB flats, and even in private housing – they are all very close together.

Second, we are a multi-racial, multi-religious society, living together. That is something we cannot take for granted. It is something that we have had from the time of the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew – he started and he set up the rules for Singapore on this. It is also something, that, till today, we hold very dear in our hearts and we cherish.  But there are sometimes conflicts that may spiral out of proportion.

Racial, religious issues and differences and tensions can sometimes be very emotional as well.  On top of that, we all live in a culture that is, fundamentally, a very Asian mind-set, a very Asian context to our setting. It is all of these factors coming together to make mediation a very important tool for resolving conflicts and disputes. Over the years, Singapore has always believed in and encouraged mediation. We have set up institutions such as the Community Mediation Centre.

They help to facilitate mediation and over the years we have seen mediation grow.  Next week we will be celebrating our 20thanniversary. Some of you will be there as well and I look forward to seeing you there.

UN’s Singapore Convention on Mediation

Mediation has taken on that important role because it can resolve conflict and find a win-win solution. That is particularly important.

Next year, we will be host to the signing of the UN’s Singapore Convention on Mediation in August 2019. That is a very big milestone for us because UN treaties don’t come about very often and they are not named after a place for no reason. It is reflective of the thought leadership and the progression that we have made in alternate dispute resolution. It is also a step towards further recognition of the role of mediation in our society.

The importance of resolving neighbour disputes amicably

We are more likely to achieve cohesion by undergoing mediation to find an out-of-box solution; a win-win solution that is novel, and not based strictly or only on legal rights.

Neighbours, which is the topic of the conference today, have no choice in who they live next to.  They will see each other day in and day out, unless they move out, and thus a solution that allows them to maintain face, to reclaim the ability to still say hello and goodbye to the neighbour is very important and useful.

Our Community Mediation Centre was set up 20 years ago, in 1998, and over the years it has resolved many cases, amicably. These include a fair share of neighbour disputes – be it harassment issues, issues of encroachment, parking, pets or noise – the mediation centre has the right skillset, has the people to help resolve this.

Over the years, the Centre has grown and along with it, the number of volunteer mediators also has grown. Mediators have achieved greater expertise and experience to resolve more disputes.

The Centre frequently also receives referrals from the grassroots. There are also referrals from HDB and the Police because, if you have a disagreement, sometimes neighbours are very quick to call the authorities.

But is that the best way of resolving the difference? Probably not, because when one party call in the Police one day, another day when something else happens, another party will call the Police. Then it will be a never-ending fight and the relationship just very quickly deteriorates.

Many of you here today, I know, are volunteers or volunteers-to-be and I would like to play my part in showing my appreciation to you and our gratitude for taking up this challenge because mediation is going to be nothing without mediators and you need to be trained in the skill, you need to gain expertise and experience as well.

I thank the Institute for taking the leadership in this and having the foresight to arrange something that may sound fairly trivial, in terms of a neighbourhood dispute, but one that is very much grounded; is very much part of our life so thank you very much for that and for the contributions.

Bringing together skillsets for more effective mediation

Today’s conference, I understand that, you will hear from a diverse group of speakers and there will also be role-play. There will be very experienced speakers who will come and share their experiences with you and their sense of technique. But mediation is a very much of a personal skill as well. After having heard from the speakers, each of you should work out what works best for you, what works best in your own community.

You are all embedded in your community in your own way, be it grassroots leaders or town councillors and so on.

You know the ground situation best, you know who the neighbours are, you know what the ground sentiments might be and what the sensitivities could be.

These are all factors and skillsets that you must bring together as you conduct a mediation.

Conclusion

During the conference, I hope that you will speak up and exchange ideas because part of a successful conference lies in being able to learn from each other, to have best practices exchanged between each of you and to also share what works and what doesn’t work so there is a greater exchange of knowledge and experience.

So with that, I wish all of you a very successful weekend here, I wish all of you success, not only today or tomorrow, but beyond this because what you do will have a deep and profound impact in the way our community interacts and functions with each other.

Once again, thank you very much and I wish all of you a very good morning.