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Deep-Seated Cultural Issues Start At The Top

I’m sure we don’t need a million-dollar salaried CEO to tell us that there are deep-seated cultural issues in the SMRT. It is blatantly obviously so. This is about as far that Mr Demond Kuek is willing to admit right now. The deep-seated cultural issues are quite likely prevalent throughout SMRT, and perhaps start right at the top.

Soon after the reasons for the 7 Oct train disruption emerged, I was at first shocked about the appalling state of maintenance, but then I realised that it is a confirmation of how systemic the problems are at SMRT. That the SMRT and LTA are willing to admit to this state of affairs shows how sorry the situation must be. I’m not just referring to this flooding situation, or about the frequent service disruptions. It’s about something far more serious.

Do you remember the fatal accident on 22 March 2016 when two SMRT employees lost their lives on the tracks? I wrote about that incident more than once, including once to ask SMRT to claw at the root cause.

An independent panel, appointed by SMRT, had stated the obvious, that safety protocols were not followed. Quite obviously so. They simply left it at that. This independent panel, I should just remind again, comprised members of the SMRT Board Risk Committee, among others. How independent do you think this committee is?

I had written back then:

Either way, there is something manifestly wrong with SMRT. As SMRT reported, other factors that played a part in the accident included track access management controls, communication protocols, and track vigilance. I believe, any one of these safety measures could have prevent the incident. The logical reason why the accident could have occured was the complete breakdown at all levels of their safety measures.

More importantly:

Clearly, there must be a systemic problem in SMRT.

Today, that there must be a systemic problem in SMRT is even more evidently so.

The tragic deaths last year are unlikely to be an one-off breaches of safety protocols. I expect that there’s a good chance that similar incidents have had occurred numerous times before. The accident is so easily foreseeable that one can imagine the amount of attention there must have been on safety. There must be multiple safety measures, as SMRT had confirmed. Yet every one of of the safety measures failed.

Surely, someone ought to have picked up on the problems. Surely the breaches must have been noticed. It would be hard for senior management to pretend like they didn’t know anything. I think they just preferred to not know anything. Either they chose not to ask questions, or carefully asked only the questions for which the answers they wanted to hear.

If there was any doubt at all, however little, that there was a serious problem in SMRT, I think this flooding incident is a confirmation that SMRT is in crisis. The deep-seated problems, cultural and otherwise, is so intrinsic to SMRT, that everyone, all the way to the top, is part of it. This isn’t just a problem with individual workers. This isn’t just a problem with the maintenance team. This is a problem with the organisation.

SMRT made a show this time of replacing the vice-president of maintenance. Not fired. We only know his job was replaced, but we don’t know what became of Mr Ng Tek Poo. Finally, someone felt it was ripe to find a scapegoat higher up the food chain. I like to ask if the buck stopped at Mr Ng?

Mr Khaw had far harsher words for workers at the bottom. He put the blame squarely on the maintenance team. They were irresponsible, unprofessional, and even cheats, for signing off on jobs that were not done. I wonder if that’s all there is to the story? Why did they do that? What were the circumstances under which the required maintenance came to be omitted?

The falsification of maintenance records is indeed a very troubling revelation. One wonders what else might be wrong within SMRT. This could just be the tip of the iceberg. On the one hand, we have blatant disregard for safety protocols. If they could throw caution to the wind with regards to safety, what more can we expect in other processes. But this is just not doing something right. With the falsification of records, we’re looking at something purposefully done wrong.

Looking back, it’s easy to ask questions about how such lapses occured and suggest how it can be easy to prevent them. I know, hindsight is always perfect. But, seriously, how could such lapses come to happen in the first place?

It is not as if that SMRT didn’t know that they needed to improve on maintenance. SMRT was already faulted on maintenance for the December 2011 disruption. They should not have needed a COI to tell them that. It is easy to blame the inattention to maintenance under the reign of the prior CEO. The current CEO must have known since his appointment in 2012 where his priorities should be.

Fast forward to October 2017, and here we are, disruptions time and again, finally culminating in a 20-hour shutdown because of poor maintenance, or perhaps the complete lack thereof in this case.

What has Mr Desmond Kuek been doing the last five years?

I read in his first statement after the flooding about what SMRT has done since 2011. He said that SMRT had gone into overdrive to address maintenance issues arising from age-related serviceability issues. I suppose that’s just what he thinks is happening in SMRT, or what he wants us to think is happening in SMRT. Either he knows it’s not true, or he’s completely out-of-touch with what’s actually happening in SMRT.

Mr Desmond Kuek came onboard to lead SMRT out of crisis. I’m afraid he’s being assimilated into SMRT’s troubles. He’s not working out. I think more people than just Mr Ng Tek Poo need to be replaced.

1 thought on “Deep-Seated Cultural Issues Start At The Top

  1. There must be something hiding on this SMART issue ….
    And some one try to benefitting this flooding situation to gain his goal or ambitions……

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