The Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) is calling for Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan to accept full responsibility for the ongoing fiasco with the failures of SMRT by stepping down and states that unless there is demonstration of real leadership at the very top, there will be little motivation for the rank-and-file at SMRT to change its work culture, and the problems that beset its train system will continue, even worsen.
In the party's statement issued on Thursday (19 Oct), it notes that as the minister-in-charge of the "shambolic" system, Mr Khaw remains in his post and continues to enjoy the enormous salary that he clearly does not deserve. Given that SMRT CEO Mr Desmond Kuek had blamed the woes that have plagued the system on “deep-seated cultural issues” within the company. This indicates that the problems extend well beyond employees of SMRT which falls on the lap of the minister whose responsibility it is to change the organisation's culture if it is found wanting.
The party emphasised that as the Transport Minister has failed to tend to the problem all these years, signals Mr Khaw's incompetence and lack of leadership. As Minister for Transport, the buck stops with him.
Below is SDP's statement in full
In keeping with the PAP culture of claiming all the glory while avoiding any responsibility, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan has yet again placed blame on everyone but himself in the latest incident of flooding in the MRT tunnel.
Mr Khaw pointed his finger at the SMRT staff and said that they had “failed us”. As a result, the leader of the unit in charged of anti-flooding maintenance was removed and the team members will have their bonuses cut.
Such action would have sufficed if the incident was an isolated one. But breakdowns and other serious lapses of the train system are a common, even regular, occurrence that have gone on for years.
The breakdown of the Downtown Line 3 during its open house is just the most recent one in a multitude of train system malfunctions. Glass panels at train stations have shattered, the inside of train carriages have leaked during heavy rains, and brand new trains have even been found to have cracks in them.
In 2016, two SMRT workers were killed at the Pasir Ris Station. Investigations showed that the tragic accident occurred because safety procedures were not followed – for 14 years. All this took place under Mr Khaw's watch. Yet, the Transport Minister has managed to cast the blame on someone or something else on each and every occasion. Disciplinary action against staff members have been taken and fines imposed.
But as the minister-in-charge of such a shambolic system, Mr Khaw remains in his post and continues to enjoy the enormous salary that he clearly does not deserve.
SMRT CEO Mr Desmond Kuek blamed the woes that have plagued the system on “deep-seated cultural issues” within the company. Such an observation is indicative that the problems extend well beyond employees of SMRT. It falls on the lap of the minister whose responsibility it is to change the organisation's culture if it is found wanting.
The fact that he has failed to tend to this problem all these years signals Mr Khaw's incompetence and lack of leadership. As Minister for Transport, the buck stops with him.
Until and unless there is demonstration of real leadership at the very top, one that accepts blame rather pushes it, there will be little motivation for the rank-and-file at SMRT to change its work culture, and the problems that beset our train system will continue, even worsen.
Clearly, it is time for Mr Khaw to stop apportioning blame for SMRT's failure. He must take responsibility for the on-going fiasco not just in word but also in deed. He must step down.
Mr Khaw was appointed as the Transport Minister in 2015 after being re-elected in the General Election 2015 and appointed into the Cabinet.
When he first took up the appointment, Mr Khaw had highlighted the problems surrounding the rail system and wrote in a blog post on 9 Oct 2015 about how Singapore's MRT system is behind Hong Kong's MTR.
"...While all delays are frustrating, major disruptions (which we, as well as MTR, define as delays exceeding 30 minutes) in particular, greatly inconvenience and anger commuters. Last year, we had 10 such disruptions across all our lines. MTR experienced 12 major disruptions last year, but their network is significantly longer than ours. My immediate priority is on these major disruptions: what caused the past disruptions, can we prevent a repeat, what other possible causes have we identified, and have we addressed those causes as well?
The consensus view is that we have under-invested in rail maintenance, and our engineering capabilities in this area are still lacking. We will need to ramp up investment in this area. We will need to recruit and retain more skilled workers. All these are significant challenges, not easy to resolve quickly, but we are determined to overcome them.
We will need time to turn around and then stabilise the situation. Meanwhile, as I highlighted earlier, even MTR experiences major disruptions, once a month on average last year. We should therefore be mentally prepared for the next disruption. We will be very disappointed when it happens, but we shall stand up, lick our wounds, examine the causes, and work very hard to prevent a repeat."