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Like the MRT, our past efficient public administration has suffered a setback in recent years.  The more the government is eyeing for profit maximization, the more social and political issues the PAP has to face.  The MRT breakdown is not an isolated case. It represents the Singapore problem as a whole.  Just like the Hougang by-election, it is a local as well as a national level election.

The current COI on MRT breakdown has been going on for several weeks, however, has it got the basic right?  Have we looked at the human resource strategy and management of SMRT?  Is there a shift from engineering to marketing? Is there a policy to retain old and experienced but expensive workers? Or the worst situation is to replace expensive locals with cheap foreigners.   

Our MRT system has been in operation since 1980s. Only recently we experience the frequent breakdowns as often as a daily happening. We do not have operation problems at the beginning in 1980s as well as in the 1990s and 2000s.   Why suddenly there are so many problems? Are the current management and staff less competent and efficient than before? Or there is a shift of focus on the core value of public transport service?

We know the operations of public infrastructure usually face great challenges when it first runs into operations, like the opening of a new airport.  Delay, new problems for new system, staff training, and co-ordination etc. will always challenge the new airport management.   However, after that, it is usually a smooth operation unless the maintenance is not up to date. 

All infrastructures at the end of the day are still handled by human beings. If there is a quality shift of the workers, or a preference towards certain groups of employees, or a change of profit focus, all these will affect the performance of SMRT staff. The COI is only looking at the system, so even the system is corrected, there is no guarantee staff attitude towards work, the same old service standard can come back.

Perhaps, we should look at the management attitude, style and emphasis towards service and profit. Is there any difference or change of attitude between past and present (Saw Phaik Hwa) management.   Why the COI never asked Saw to compare her HR strategy before and after her CEO appointment?

A CEO’s attitude and decision on HR and her preference will affect the direction and service to the customers. It seems the passengers as the first customers have been replaced by tenants of retail space.  Such development will result to the drop of importance of maintenance staff and engineers.  An experienced and dedicated staff can recognize the problems before it occurs.  However, an inexperienced and new staff will not be able to do the same. Hence, you can spend the same amount of money and even increase the budget for maintenance but if the ‘heart of serving’ is no more there, MRT breakdowns will still be there and always be there.

This is the same as the government.  After spending so much money on upgrading pleasing the people, Singaporeans are still not happy. This is because the ‘heart of serving’ is missing, just like the PAP has forgotten the true meaning of Mother’s Day. (

This is why SMRT now has to engage its engineers, love their engineers, and give more attention to engineers. Only when the ‘heart’ of engineers is back to SMRT, it then can promise a problem less metro system. And it is, in fact, an HR problem and certainly, SMRT needs to look at its own history on how to become an engineering company, not a profit maximization company.      

[SMRT Corp will be repositioned as an engineering company, its chairman Koh Yong Guan revealed on Friday.
Mr Koh said that he was not 'comfortable' that although the rail operator's core business was trains, not enough attention was given to its engineers.
To this end, the chairman said he has reviewed the salary scales of executives with engineering roles and invited a senior engineering vice-president to sit in at board meetings. He has also set up a 'trains board', comprising largely of engineers who will focus their attention on train operations and maintenance.
'At the board level the senior-most person who is responsible for the operation of the rail system was not directly there to answer to the board,' he said, explaining why he had asked SMRT Trains executive vice-president Khoo Hean Siang to sit in at board meetings. (ST 12 May 2012)]


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