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Denise Phua

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Denise Phua Lay Peng
Mayor of Central Singapore District
Assumed office
27 May 2014
Preceded by Sam Tan
Member of Parliament
Assumed office
7 May 2011
President Tony Tan
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong
Constituency Moulmein-Kallang GRC
Member of Parliament of Jalan Besar GRC
In office
6 May 2006 – 18 April 2011
Personal details
Born (1959-12-09) 9 December 1959 (age 58)
Nationality Singaporean
Political party People's Action Party
Alma mater National University of Singapore, Golden Gate University
Occupation Politician

Denise Phua Lay Peng (Chinese: 潘丽萍; pinyin: Pān Lìpíng,[2] born 9 December 1959) is a Singaporean politician and disability rights activist. After a successful corporate career spanning two decades, she became the president of the Autism Resource Centre (Singapore) and co-founded Pathlight School. She is currently a Member of Parliament (MP) representing the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) in Moulmein-Kallang GRC. She was previously a MP representing Jalan Besar GRC from 6 May 2006 to 18 April 2011. As a MP, she has focused on developing programmes for the disabled and special needs communities in Singapore.

Early years and corporate career

Phua studied at Balestier Girls' Primary School,[3] Raffles Girls' School and Hwa Chong Junior College.[2] She graduated from the National University of Singapore with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and earned a Master of Business Administration degree from Golden Gate University.[2][4] In a career spanning two decades, she held management positions at Hewlett-Packard and the Wuthelam Group. She then founded a regional leadership training firm, the Centre of Effective Leadership.[2]

Volunteer work

Her son was diagnosed with autism at the age of three.[5][6] As Phua consulted professionals and did research on how to help him,[5][6] she thought about how she could help other autistic children.[7] She subsequently founded WeCAN, a charity which helps caregivers of autistic people and offers early intervention programmes for autistic preschoolers.[4][8]

In 2005, Phua left the corporate world to be a full-time special needs volunteer.[3][4] She and her partners sold the Centre of Effective Leadership to Right Management, a Manpower Inc. subsidiary.[2] Phua then became president of the Autism Resource Centre.[3][9] She often wrote to newspapers and government agencies on issues affecting the special needs community.[6][10]

Phua was co-founder[11] and former acting principal[9] of Pathlight School, the first special school for autistic children in Singapore.[9] The school offers mainstream curriculum and life skills education to its students.[8][12] A believer in helping autistic people realise their potential and integrate into society,[8][13] Phua helped develop many of the school's programmes.[14] These include employability skills training through a student-run café,[15] specialised vocational training,[13] and satellite classes where Pathlight students mix with mainstream students.[14] In four years, enrolment increased tenfold[16] and the school attracted media attention for its impact on students.[12][13]

Political career

Phua joined the ruling PAP's Jalan Besar branch in 2004.[11] The following year, she was appointed to the Feedback Supervisory Panel, which leads the government's Feedback Unit.[10] In the 2006 general election, she was fielded as a PAP candidate in Jalan Besar GRC, which was contested by the Singapore Democratic Alliance.[17] During the election campaign, she promised to make Singapore a more inclusive society by representing the disabled and special needs communities.[7][18] The PAP team won Jalan Besar GRC with 69.26% of the vote.[17]

In July 2006, the PAP formed a workgroup, headed by Phua, to explore initiatives to improve the financial security of disabled and special needs children.[19] Phua also led a committee that drew up a five-year plan to improve services for special needs children.[20] The PAP studied their proposals and later implemented some, such as a National non-profit Special Needs Trust Fund.[21] Laws were also drafted to prohibit abuse of the mentally disabled and to allow parents to appoint someone to look after their special needs children after they die.[22]

Phua criticised the PAP's "many helping hands" approach, where social services are provided by charities and overseen by the PAP. She said that special education should be led by the Ministry of Education (MOE), as it had more resources and expertise. Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports Vivian Balakrishnan defended the policy, arguing that it reduced bureaucracy and left jobs to the right people.[23] However, the MOE agreed to play a more active role in special education, with increased funding and teacher training. The MOE also introduced more satellite classes in mainstream schools and helped special schools set targets for learning outcomes, such as O-Level passes.[24] In 2014 Phua also spoke out during the second reading of the Remote Gambling Bill, calling for a complete ban on remote gambling.[25][26]

In April 2016, Phua caused widespread controversy when, during a debate on the Ministry of Home Affairs' budget in Parliament, she suggested the installation of fences at communal areas in Little India, like playgrounds, to prevent the congregation of foreign workers there and to allow residents to use the facilities away from them. "Congregations of such high density are walking time-bombs and public disorder incidents waiting to happen," she remarked. She apologised two days later.[27]


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b c d e "Denise Phua Lay Peng", Candidate Profiles, People's Action Party, Retrieved on 28 October 2008.
  3. ^ a b c "Why would Ah Beng vote for you?", The New Paper, 25 March 2006.
  4. ^ a b c Jasmine Yin, "She's one for the underdogs", TODAY, 24 March 2006.
  5. ^ a b "Small Victories are Sweet Archived 23 March 2008 at the Wayback Machine.",, Retrieved on 28 October 2008.
  6. ^ a b c Chi Yin, "An advocate for kids with special needs", The Straits Times, 24 March 2006.
  7. ^ a b "Interview with Denise Phua Archived 24 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine.", Passion People, 938LIVE, 4 January 2007, Retrieved on 28 October 2008.
  8. ^ a b c Chuah Yii Wen, "Lighting new path for autistic children", The Straits Times, 10 February 2007.
  9. ^ a b c "Volunteer Denise Phua one of new PAP candidates", Channel NewsAsia, 23 March 2006.
  10. ^ a b Chia Sue-Ann, "14 new faces on feedback panel", The Straits Times, 22 June 2005.
  11. ^ a b Clarence Chang, "It's about remaking lives", The New Paper, 18 March 2006.
  12. ^ a b "This special school is mainstream too", The Straits Times, 5 August 2006.
  13. ^ a b c "An early start for a child with autism", The Straits Times, 4 July 2007.
  14. ^ a b Loh Chee Keong, "From dread to delight", TODAY, 23 July 2007.
  15. ^ Teo Xuan Wei, "Autistic students run café", TODAY, 20 January 2006.
  16. ^ "Pathlight School to get new S$33m home next year", Channel NewsAsia, 2 April 2008.
  17. ^ a b "2006 Parliamentary General Election Results", Singapore Elections Department, 11 September 2006, Retrieved on 1 January 2009.
  18. ^ Ansley Ng, "Ready to disagree, ready to serve", TODAY, 24 March 2006.
  19. ^ Tan Hui Leng, "Need for a net", TODAY, 20 July 2006.
  20. ^ Sarah Ng, "Masterplan to improve lives of disabled", The Sunday Times, 3 September 2006.
  21. ^ "MCYS studies proposal on enhancing financial security of special needs persons", Channel NewsAsia, 25 October 2006.
  22. ^ Radha Basu, "Parents of special-needs kids applaud draft law", The Straits Times, 15 August 2007.
  23. ^ Li Xueying, "Don't slay many helping hands sacred cow yet", The Straits Times, 11 November 2006.
  24. ^ "MOE takes greater ownership of pre-school and special needs education", Channel NewsAsia, 7 March 2007.
  25. ^ "Singapore lawmaker calls for complete ban on remote gambling". Xinhua, Retrieved 8 October 2014. 
  26. ^ "Supper with Denise Phua". Youtube. SPH Razor. Retrieved 8 October 2014. 
  27. ^ Yong, Charissa (8 April 2016). "Denise Phua apologises over remarks in Parliament on large groups of foreign workers". Singapore Press Holdings. The Straits Times. Retrieved 8 April 2016. 
Government offices
Preceded by
Sam Tan
Mayor of Central Singapore district
27 May 2014 – present