SMRT latest incident is a manifestation of what’s wrong with Singapore

“I tremble for my country when I think we may in fact get the kind of leaders we deserve.” – Gary Hart

[Added 24th Mar 2016: Is it me or it is the Government-controlled cencored mass media is playing down the whole episode, how on earth is the Brussels Terrorism and LKY one year death anniversary more headline-worthy than the death of two young Singaporeans who died in their course of duty. Convince me that there is no conspiracy theory behind this hypothesis!

Added 29 Mar 2016: Yahoo! SG: COMMENT: SMRT tragedy exposes company culture that needs fixing]

“In the Benjamin Lim incident, there was radio silence followed by a defensive stance – all of which come across as hollow in the face of the death of a minor. In the Dominique Sarron Lee case, it was exposed to an incredulous public that despite proved negligence on the part of the SAF, the Government Proceedings Act protected them from liability! To add insult to injury, the Lee family was ordered to cover the SAF’s legal costs!”

The latest SMRT incident involves the death of two Singaporean workers is a reflection of what’s wrong with our Government as a whole:

1. Reactive. In Chinese sayings: “头痛医头,脚痛医脚” is a typical mentality of our civil servants and ex-civil servants these days. The standard reply of our civil servants when things go wrong is “we will review the procedures to ensure that no such incident will happen in future”. What happen to the good old vision in our old guards in planning well ahead? Why you need an unfortunate event to trigger a review? How are we different from third world countries’ civil servants if we are so reactive despite IMHO overpaid civil service? In case readers want to argue that SMRT is not part of Government, SMRT is a private company in name only if you ask me, the infrastructure and trains are owned by Government, it takes money from the Government, it is largely owned by the Government investment vehicles and it is doing a critical public service. Askmelah often wonder if our minister and SMRT CEO are well prepared for not-happen-before incidents such as mass leakage of water in the tunnel, explosion in the train cabin, collapse of the above ground beam/track etc. Are we ready for such scenarios where mass casualty will happen, for people such as the Transport Minister and SMRT CEO, these are far more worrying incidents that should keep them awake at night.

2. Elitism. Who is in charge of SMRT? A retired Chief-of-Defence who knew nuts about MRT operation was parachuted in to take charge of the company. Previous SMRT CEO Saw Phaik Hwa was another epic failure choice of CEO that caused years of expensive fixing due to the neglect of engineering under her watch. Despite splurging billions of dollars replacing all the tracks and upgrading, the frequency of large scale breakdown of our MRTs is unheard of in any developed countries. It may not be an exaggeration to say that even Guangzhou and Bangkok MRTs have better track records than their Singapore counterpart. Like the PAP Government, it draws million of dollars of paycheck and no accountability when things go wrong. This is worse than the American honchos who pioneered obscene CEO pays, at least they frequently are booted out for non performance (BTW, booting out is not the answer, obscene pay is the root cause of all evil). Go watch the Youtube video of the SMRT Chief answering questions from the reporters: No guilt, no emotion, no compassion, as if the whole incident has nothing to do with him, it smack of Elitism and lack of EQ!

3. Overstaff and wastage of human resources: to investigate a simple signal fault, you need 15 people to go to the site? Remember the famous scene in Jack’s Neo “Just Folllow Law” (01:37), to change a faulty lightning bulb, you need three technicians and finally need to outsource the job to a contractor because no one in the department are well trained to do a job that is rightfully their own. Holy cow, so far no report indicating how many of them are trainees, but on a live narrow track platform where trains are running, logic will say that you can not have too many trainees to show/train them the maintenance on a narrow walkway. Like the Government, they are simply overstaffed. Why then you can see our Civil Servants have some of the most luxurious perks enviable by people in the private sector such as generous maternity leaves, paternity leaves, eat-with-your family days, child care leaves, garden leaves etc etc. Many stat board CEOs/directors/generals/Perm sect often absent for a few months to go Wharton college and Harvard to beef up their resumes to justify their appointments or promotions later, are proof that the Government are overstaffed and wasteful. Mind you these ivy league courses are very very expensive, why can’t these well paid elites pay the course themselves if it is so useful for their careers instead of using taxpayers’ monies to foot their bills? How often do you see a private MNC CEO can afford to be absent even for a week let alone months for enrichment!

4. Transparency and accountability. Despite a good standard operating procedures are in place, the unthinkable has happened. Many questions remain unanswered: why only the 2nd and 3rd person of the 15 staff fallen out of the maintenance path despite facing oncoming train? why the breakdown in communications between the control station and the train operator to change train to manual mode as well as to slow down upon approaching the maintenance crews? Was the train operator sleeping when the train is in auto mode, shouldn’t he be alert and on the lookout even if the train is in auto mode? Why is the supervisor not able to shed some lights on what happen, did he save himself without caring for his people under his charge? In a few days time, we are going to see a very well package and nice briefing (old link dead!)for both SMRT and the authority to explain their way out of the screw up, just like the Great Mas Selamat Escape, Little India Riots and the recent Benjamin Lim / Dominique Sarron Lee / SGH Hepatitis C outbreak incidents. Without an effective media and Opposition in parliament, many of these incidents often get muted coverage/reported with a slight slap on the wrist. Occasionally some brave reporters such as Salma Khalik who dared to write a conscientious report, they often are not followed on with more reports by the mass media or taken up by MPs to get accountability for the relevant authorities to come clean or be held accountable. Singaporeans will have to pay the price in the long term when things happen to themselves. Just ask Benjamin Lim and Dominique Sarron Lee’s parents.

“Dom, in these past 3+ years, I have been worn-down, beaten and defeated by the very government I taught you to trust; worn-down, beaten and defeated by the very system I counselled you to have faith in; worn-down, beaten and defeated by the very people I advised you to respect and honor.”

“Dom, forgive me. I taught you wrong.”  

“People in senior positions are expected to deal with problems when they arise. Obviously, some did not live up to their responsibilities. Should they still remain in those positions?”

“I would have thought that a government that is sincere about engaging citizens more would be more willing to go into details and explain the processes that led to certain conclusions and decisions. But it seems, at least for now, that is not the case.”

Martyn See One Country Two Systems TTSH sacks blogger Roy Ngerng.jpg

Credit: Martyn See’s Facebook post

Related commentaries:

  • Naming those responsible for Hep C outbreak breeds blame culture – “Whether or not one chooses to use public shaming to deter others for the greater good, the fact that a terrible mistake has been made means that there should be a ‘learning and improvement process’ in place ANYWAY. Keeping mum about the identities of culprits has nothing to do with subsequent mitigation measures.”
  • Learning from mistakes, not a blame culture, the way forward for hospitals: Gan – “you can sack Roy Ngerng in a huff over some trivial matters but you cover all your staffs when people died. You fail to realize the seriousness of this situation? what is there to hide?” – Scada Tan; “Guess the current health minister differs in perspective from the former one hara kiri one…” – Kevin Wee
  • More robust, credible measure of rail reliability needed -it is imperative that we honestly assess the system to get to the root of the problem. LTA needs to find a measure of the network’s reliability that is credible to commuters, and which measures the system’s health holistically.”
Posted in Dirty Politics, Social Ills in Singapore

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