SMRT: Prefers “no blame culture” and “no fines”?


Will SMRT undergo a major reshuffle to meet future challenges?

I refer to the article “Flooding in MRT tunnel preventable. says Khaw” (Straits Times, Oct 17).

Bonuses will be affected

It states that “Mr Seah said the incident will have an impact on the bonuses of the SMRT maintenance team. Mr Kuek said SMRT was taking full responsibility and looking into tackling remaining “deep-seated cultural issues” within the company, despite progress on instilling a positive work culture.”

As to “Earlier, he said that bonuses of the maintenance team and its bosses would also be affected.

Whose bonuses will be affected?

Mr Seah’s response sends a strong message to SMRT staff” ((“Bonuses for team at fault ‘will be affected’” (Straits Times, Oct 17) – will the bonuses of the senior management, remuneration and other benefits of the board of directors. etc, be affected too?

What exactly does bonuses will be affected mean? That bonuses will be reduced and roughly by how much?

You mean after all that has happened – they will still be paid a bonus?

Hong Kong – what a world of difference?

In this connection, for Hong Kong’s MTR – “”The MTR board is exploring whether it’s possible to reflect major disruptions on the railway network in directors’ salaries,” Cheung said. “It’s unfortunate that there have been more frequent disruptions recently.”

Cheung added that part of MTR directors’ salaries was already linked to service performance, but said disruptions could also be included as a factor.

“Both the MTR and the government think it is important that management staff are held responsible,” he said” (“MTR directors may have pay cut for delays, Anthony Cheung warns“, SCMP, Mar 23, 2014).

Singapore – “prefers a no-blame culture”?

In stark contrast – in Singapore – “Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan, who chaired a briefing yesterday on the flood-induced breakdown on the North-South Line, said he prefers a no-blame culture, with all sides working as one to solve problems.

Prefers no fines also?

He noted that it would be left to the Land Transport Authority (LTA) as to whether to impose a financial penalty on SMRT for the incident. But if it were up to him, Mr Khaw said “my preference is not to go back to this system of fines” because it “creates an adversarial relationship between operator and regulator” (In contrast – “The (Hong Kong) MTR will be stung with a HK$27.5 million fine for 147 disruptions last year. That will be applied this year, meaning that under the fare adjustment mechanism, passengers will save 10 per cent on every second trip”).

“Deep-seated cultural issues”?

With regard to “Mr Kuek said SMRT was taking full responsibility and looking into tackling remaining “deep-seated cultural issues” within the company, despite progress on instilling a positive work culture.”

“Indeed, many of our major disruptions in the past have been attributed in some part, or all, to human error or failure. We regret that this is so,” said Mr Kuek” – what exactly does “deep-seated cultural issues” within the company, despite progress on instilling a positive work culture” mean?

Military takeover?

In this connection, possibly, perhaps the following may be interesting to read:-

“SMRT’S new chief executive is calling in senior Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) officers to beef up command and control in the transport operator’s set-up.

In one of his first planned tweaks to his management team, Mr Desmond Kuek – himself a retired lieutenant-general – is understood by The Straits Times to be hiring two or three senior SAF officers to take up key appointments in the coming months.

Sources said one is Colonel Gerard Koh, who is poised to join next month as director of human resources – a department that has been in the news since last week’s bus drivers’ strike. He has held various HR positions. His latest post is head of national service affairs.

The last military man at the SMRT HR department was retired colonel Low Ah Tee, a one-time HR general manager.

Mr Low and more than half a dozen senior executives retired or quit when retailer Saw Phaik Hwa helmed the SMRT between 2002 and January this year.

Sources said Mr Kuek, 49, intends to appoint another senior officer, a logistics specialist, to the bus division. It has not only been loss-making for years, but also made the news when 171 drivers from China went on an illegal strike.

The Defence Ministry said it did not comment on its officers’ career moves. “We do not share such information with the press,” a spokesman said.

Mr Kuek, who took over SMRT in October, is also keeping mum.

But he let on in a recent Lianhe Zaobao interview that SMRT will undergo a major reshuffle “from top to bottom” to meet future challenges and improve service.

“There are clearly managerial, structural, cultural and systemic issues that need addressing. And that is one of my top priorities.”

“If they have competencies and skills the SMRT needs”?

Singapore Human Resources Institute executive director David Ang said bringing in SAF officers should work if they have competencies and skills the SMRT needs.

The key to whether they excel in the corporate world lies in whether they can adapt to the environment, provide leadership and manage diverse groups.” (“SMRT chief to tap military men for key posts”, Dec 9, 2012).

Still say “MRT system reliability has improved”?

Inspite of the kaos of our worse ever breakdown – here’s that our Transport Minister said – “Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said MRT system reliability has improved, going by the longer average distances trains are clocking before encountering a delay of over five minutes. But he acknowledged Singaporeans could not relate to the improvement. This is because two ongoing projects – improving existing MRT lines, and upgrading the NSL’s signalling system, which has faced teething problems – have been “conflated””.

Mr Christopher Tan could not have put it better in his commentary “SMRT, LTA have to get to root of the problem” (Straits Times, Oct 17).

“Take responsibility first, then find out why”?

“If something fails, no matter why, you take responsibility. Let’s take responsibility first, then find out why.

That was SMRT chairman Seah Moon Ming’s stance when asked why the rail operator had removed its vice-president of maintenance just days following the tunnel flooding on Oct 7 and 8, despite the fact that deeper investigations were ongoing.

“They were to be inspected and maintained last month, but this was postponed as the maintenance team claimed it could not get a slot for track access during engineering hours.

Mr Lee said SMRT will conduct checks on water pumps and flood sensors more rigorously – on a monthly basis instead of every quarter currently. The flood-prevention devices that failed were last inspected in June.

SMRT will also work with LTA to improve the redundancy of flood prevention measures, including additional radar sensors to activate pumps. On top of alerts sent to the operations control centre, SMS messages will also be sent to SMRT staff when water in the storm pit reaches a certain level.

The pump control panel will also be re-located so that track access is not required to manually activate the water pumps, said Mr Lee. LTA added that it will send the failed float switches for further testing.

Mr Seah said SMRT has added more staff to its inspectorate teams, which check all work done and reports independently to an audit and risk management committee.”

For one thing, the operation of all three pumps should not be tied to one float switch. Even though each of the three had its own float switch, a fourth switch detects low water levels to prevent the pumps from overheating when there is little or no water in the reservoir. This fourth switch, which overrides the rest, was the one that malfunctioned.

The system would have been more robust if the fourth “stop” switch was removed, and each individual pump had its own low-water cut-off. Many modern pumps have this in-built feature.

As Mr Khaw pointed out, two pumps would be sufficient to empty the reservoir even in heavy rain. Having three thus seems to provide sufficient redundancy. But to have all three tied to one switch undermines this redundancy.”

Leong Sze Hian

About the Author

Leong Sze Hian has served as the president of 4 professional bodies, honorary consul of 2 countries, an alumnus of Harvard University, authored 4 books, quoted over 1500 times in the media , has been a radio talkshow host, a newspaper daily columnist, Wharton Fellow, SEACeM Fellow, columnist for theonlinecitizen and Malaysiakini, executive producer of Ilo Ilo (40 international awards), Hotel Mumbai (associate producer), invited to speak more than 200 times in about 40 countries, CIFA advisory board member, founding advisor to the Financial Planning Associations of 2 countries. He has 3 Masters, 2 Bachelors degrees and 13 professional  qualifications.