When we hear of yet another train breakdown, it is easy to blame the system on Khaw Boon Wan and the Ministry of Transport. However, it would help to understand that the MoT is not just about trains.
It is actually a very big organisation that relates four statutory boards:
- The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore
- The Land Transport Authorty
- The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore and
- The Public Transport Council
It implements policies and directions through seven divisions:
- Air Transport Division
- Land Transport Division
- Sea Transport Division
- International Relations and Security Division
- Air Accident Investigation Bureau of Singapore
- and two other corporate communications/development divisions
Its job is very broad, accident free skies, waters, roads and tracks. Connectivity, not just within Singapore but with the entire globe. Security, safety and compliance. International work is a large part of the MoT’s portfolio, planes start landing when they’re miles away from Singapore and our radar needs to scan skies that don’t belong to us. Ships and cargo are very much their problem because of Singapore’s dependence on exports to survive.
It is air, land, sea and world. Far beyond what we can imagine when we take the trains from day to day.
When Lui Tuck Yew was helming the Ministry, he suffered attacks, criticisms and online abuse. But if you ask any person working in the Ministry of Transport, all will tell you that he is capable and a very likeable leader. Upon his resignation, the critics suddenly turned to admiration. The quiet supporters of his work came out to voice endorsement of his work.
The same was said of ex-Transport Minister Raymond Lim. “A lot of people don’t know this, but it was under his charge that the CTE was expanded to take a fantastically large volume of traffic. This was said to be a difficult feat amongst engineers”, said someone who wants to be known as Tan, a former civil engineer.
Today, Khaw Boon Wan takes the hot seat. And he comes under the same fire.
Perhaps the best way, is to slowly reel in the SMRT from private hands and turn it into a public statutory board. As Phillip Yeo says, it would be far more effective to take the organisation and burn it to the ground. Start all over again with new people and systems.
It is textbook theory that governments are (economically) inefficient at running corporations, hence the push towards privatisation. However, the Singapore governance had proven itself to be far more efficient than any private organisation the world had ever seen. If there was a reason for the SMRT to return to the public, this would be it.
Nationalising is not going to be an easy task. One does not simply snap their fingers and -poof- MRT problems disappear tomorrow. It will involve retrenchment, which in itself is already a very big deal. Who is going to drive your trains tomorrow? Who dares to work for the SMRT the day after?
It will involve management replacement. How would a leaderless SMRT operate? You do not simply plug management in and out like power sockets. It will involve financing… lots of financing. If SMRT goes public, guess who’s doing the funding? That’s right – taxpayers.
The Ministry of Transport is perhaps the worst position to be in. It has work that expands in many directions and people only remember you for 3 things:
Good lucky to Mr. Khaw in the rest of his term at the MoT.