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Denise Phua Lay Peng (Chinese: 潘丽萍; pinyin: Pān Lìpíng,[2] born 9 December 1959[1]) is a Singaporean politician and disability rights activist. After a successful corporate career spanning two decades, she gave up her corporate career to become a full-time special needs volunteer. She became the president of the Autism Resource Centre (Singapore) and co-founded Pathlight School.

Denise Phua Lay Peng
Mayor of Central Singapore District
Assumed office
27 May 2014
Preceded bySam Tan
Member of Parliament
Assumed office
7 May 2011
PresidentTony Tan
Prime MinisterLee Hsien Loong
ConstituencyMoulmein-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 59)
Political partyPeople's Action Party
Alma materNational University of Singapore, Golden Gate University

She is currently a Member of Parliament (MP) representing the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) in Jalan Besar GRC (Moulmein-Kallang GRC from formation in 7 May 2011 to dissolution in 24 August 2015). As a MP, she has focused on developing programmes for the disabled and special needs communities in Singapore. She currently chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Education and is a member of the GPC for Social and Family Development. She is also the Mayor of the Central Singapore District .

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 is best known for her advocacy for those who are at risk of being left behind in Singapore, and frequently speaks up for the disabled and Singaporeans with low-skilled and low-income backgrounds. She is one of the key architects behind three 5-year Enabling Masterplans for the Disabled in Singapore.[11]

Phua is also the co-founder[12] 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][13] A believer in helping autistic people realise their potential and integrate into society,[8][14] Phua helped develop many of the school's programmes.[15] These include employability skills training through a student-run café,[16] specialised vocational training,[14] and satellite classes where Pathlight students mix with mainstream students.[15] In four years, enrolment increased tenfold[17] and the school attracted media attention for its impact on students.[13][14]

Continuing her volunteer efforts, Phua continues to supervise two charities – Autism Resource Centre (Singapore) and Autism Association (Singapore), and two special schools – Pathlight School and Eden School.[11]

Political career

Phua joined the ruling PAP's Jalan Besar branch in 2004.[12] 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.[18] During the election campaign, she promised to make Singapore a more inclusive society by representing the disabled and special needs communities.[7][19] The PAP team won Jalan Besar GRC with 69.26% of the vote.[18]

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.[20] Phua also led a committee that drew up a five-year plan to improve services for special needs children.[21] The PAP studied their proposals and later implemented some, such as a National non-profit Special Needs Trust Fund.[22] 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.[23]

Non-political career

Phua was appointed Mayor of Central Singapore District in 2014 for a three-year term,[24] and was reappointed for the following term in 2017.[25] As Mayor, Phua has initiated many projects to meet the needs of her residents. These include a suite of more than 50 community programmes by the Central Singapore Community Development Council to help residents live a better life, and build a do-good district. Among them are:

  • Nurture, a 40-week programme to develop confident and self-directed learners in communications and problem solving;
  • In Search of Purpose talk series, to spur residents on in finding their bigger purpose in life;
  • Silver Alliance, a platform to bring volunteers and partners to serve our seniors through a series of silver programmes;
  • The Purple Symphony, Singapore’s largest inclusive orchestra comprising musicians with and without special needs; and
  • Enough Talk series, to inspire more people to take action on issues that they care for.


  1. ^ a b "Member's CV". Archived from the original on 11 July 2012. Retrieved 11 December 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d e "Denise Phua Lay Peng", Candidate Profiles, People's Action Party, Retrieved on 28 October 2008. Archived 2006-12-10 at the Wayback Machine
  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 Denise Phua | Singapore Tatler, Retrieved 4 March 2019.
  12. ^ a b Clarence Chang, "It's about remaking lives", The New Paper, 18 March 2006.
  13. ^ a b "This special school is mainstream too", The Straits Times, 5 August 2006.
  14. ^ a b c "An early start for a child with autism", The Straits Times, 4 July 2007.
  15. ^ a b Loh Chee Keong, "From dread to delight", TODAY, 23 July 2007.
  16. ^ Teo Xuan Wei, "Autistic students run café", TODAY, 20 January 2006.
  17. ^ "Pathlight School to get new S$33m home next year", Channel NewsAsia, 2 April 2008.
  18. ^ a b "2006 Parliamentary General Election Results", Singapore Elections Department, 11 September 2006, Retrieved on 1 January 2009.
  19. ^ Ansley Ng, "Ready to disagree, ready to serve", TODAY, 24 March 2006.
  20. ^ Tan Hui Leng, "Need for a net", TODAY, 20 July 2006.
  21. ^ Sarah Ng, "Masterplan to improve lives of disabled", The Sunday Times, 3 September 2006.
  22. ^ "MCYS studies proposal on enhancing financial security of special needs persons", Channel NewsAsia, 25 October 2006.
  23. ^ Radha Basu, "Parents of special-needs kids applaud draft law", The Straits Times, 15 August 2007.
  24. ^ Neo Chai Chin, "CDCs should keep exploring ways to serve changing population: PM", TODAY, 21 June 2014.
  25. ^ Danson Cheong, "CDCs can help Singaporeans navigate economic changes, stay united as a society: PM Lee", The Straits Times, 24 May 2017.
Parliament of Singapore
Preceded by
Loh Meng See
Member of Parliament for
Jalan Besar GRC (Kampong Glam)

2006 – 2011
Constituency abolished
New constituency Member of Parliament for
Moulmein-Kallang GRC (Kampong Glam)

2011 – 2015
Constituency abolished
New constituency Member of Parliament for
Jalan Besar GRC (Kampong Glam)

2015 – present
Government offices
Preceded by
Sam Tan
Mayor of Central Singapore district
27 May 2014 – present