MRT Breakdowns: If PAP Does Not Fire Paper General-CEO, Commuters Should Fire PAP

The latest SMRT breakdown which affected more than 250,000 won’t be the last. As the population increases towards PAP’s 6.9 million target, rest assured the mother of all SMRT breakdowns will be making her appearance. The government should not continue to deny what’s inevitable.

In URA’s Revised Concept Plan 1991, the government had wanted “to develop a viable land transport network that could meet the demand of a population of 4 million by the year 2030”. Obviously, even if it’s not obvious to our scholars, there are going to be issues. And plenty of them – more than 60 breakdowns and delays after GE 2011.

What we currently have is a broken system and no amount of papering over the cracks from our perpetually-concerned politicians will help. Every assurance coming from the PAP will be another half-truth.

Commuters are not blaming SMRT staff or engineers but PAP for a system which parachutes scholars with ZERO relevant experience into top positions in the civil service and GLCs.

A permanent solution is to get rid of such a non-transparent and unaccountable system, failing which the alternative is to say good riddance to PAP.

In view of the abject failure of ex Ferrari driving CEO Saw Paik Hwa, any responsible CEO would have employed personnel with decades of experience but not Kuek.

Abject failure ex CEO Saw

Instead, CEO Kuek roped in 4 of his army buddies with ZERO relevant experienceto steer the beleaguered transport operator back on track”. How’s that for an insult? Through his action, Kuek clearly had no intention to improve SMRT.

On the latest incident, Kuek reminded the public that “the journey to bringing about a much higher order of reliability and assurance is a difficult one, but we are committed to doing so .”

Hmm .. still dare to TKSS after inconveniencing more than $250,000 commuters? If his task was so simple, he would be earning a 5-figure annual salary, not $2,300,000. Without PAP support, Kuek would have been history. In fact, he wouldn’t be able to insult commuters as SMRT CEO.

When we look at other parts of PAP’s system, we can see that it is rotten to the core and in urgent need of a revamp.

As the regulator of SMRT, LTA is headed by ex navy chief Chew Men Leong. Not only did SMRT CEO have zero experience, neither did the head of its regulator!

Zero experience + zero experience = trial and error/need more breakdowns to learn lessons/commuters suffer.

After Chew left the navy in 2011, he was parachuted into PUB and became CEO with zero relevant experience. When flash floods hit Singapore in December 2011, Chew was praising PUB for its efforts to alleviate floods and claimed that we are the “victims of our own success”. Chew could not empathise with businesses which had lost millions. To Chew, PUB was a runaway success and it was really not their problem.

Trial to use buildings for water storage by PUB?
Image credit: STOMP

What about ex LTA CEO, Chew Hock Yong, who needs to shoulder some of the blame for the recent breakdowns? Under PAP’s merry-go-round system, Hock Yong was promoted to Second Permanent Secretary, MND, to oversee the newly-formed Municipal Services Office. Does one need to have extensive experience at LTA in order to be promoted to MND Perm Sec?

In a statement, the Ministry of Transport extended its appreciation to Mr Chew for his significant contributions in his four years as LTA’s chief executive. It sounded like Chew Hock Yong did a perfect job as LTA CEO overseeing SMRT and one should not link any SMRT breakdown to him.

During Roy’s cross-examination on 1 July, PM Lee had agreed that the CEO should take responsibility for MRT trains breakdown. 31 years earlier, Lee Kuan Yew had also said that if things did not work, the chief would be held responsible and “firing the chief is very simple”. (quoted from TOC article)

Sadly, the reality is PAP is all talk but no action, one rule for ordinary Singaporeans and another for elites. Instances of unaccountability:

During the twice in 50 years Orchard Road ponding in 2010 and 2011, PUB CEO Khoo Teng Chye put the blame on everything except himself and refused to apologise. Khoo was not fired but went on to head theCentre For Liveable Cities, fully funded by taxpayers.

For serious lapses at CPIB involving $1.7 million in public funds, which tarnished its reputation, director Eric Tan was not fired but merely redeployed to another department in 2013. Instead of an internal promotion, Eric was replaced by Workforce Development Agency’s Wong Hong Kuan who had ZERO relevant experience. Before Eric became CPIB Director, he was with the ICA and had ZERO relevant experience. More about Eric Tan at Singapore Notes.

And surely nothing beats this – a commissioner of police becoming PUB CEO.

If there was succession planning, surely there must be employees within the organisation with more extensive experience to become CEO than appointing a scholar with ZERO experience. Truth be said, meritocracy is dead and promotion under the PAP is based on loyalty, nothing to do with merit.

There are too many instances of PAP not holding itself accountable for epic screw ups. PAP can’t simply issue statements of perpetual concern and let the matter be. Instead of transferring a deadweight to another government department, it’s about time to let SMRT CEO go. Being a scholar with decades of experience in the military and government, Kuek should be able to find meaningful employment anywhere.

By “firing the chief”, LKY must have meant letting him go before he wreaks more havoc on people’s lives, not transferred. With the mess that PAP has created, LKY is likely to be turning in his grave.


Public transport commuters must demand for Kuek to be held accountable, ie fired, or it will be too late after a disaster has struck. From the above examples, it is obvious PAP has acted irresponsibly by allowing government organisations to be helmed by parachuters with zero experience.

Promotions in the civil service and GLCs are based on loyalty to a political party and unrelated to meritocracy. PAP is self serving and does not serve citizens. Such a system is rotten to the core.

If PAP can’t even show that it’s serious on accountability for once by firing SMRT CEO, commuters should not hesitate to fire the PAP at the next election.



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