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Get someone qualified to fix the sorry state of our MRT.

Friday, July 10, 2015

I have said before in my blog I am not averse to companies I am invested in paying their top executives top dollar if they are worth the money. However, when it is obvious they are not worth the money, we should replace them.

I have been ranting a bit on my FB wall recently regarding SMRT after the massive breakdown a few days ago. It has gone beyond being a bit of an embarrassment and mere inconvenience. I think it is really unacceptable.

From my FB wall:

"Highest pay for SMRT CEO ever = Largest MRT breakdown ever?
What is LTA going to do? Slap SMRT with a big fine again?
Who is bearing the burden of the fines? SMRT shareholders!
Why not consider slapping the CEO with a fine?"

Enough is enough. It is time we get someone who can do the job properly to lead SMRT. It might have to be a foreign talent if no Singaporean has the knowledge or experience to do the job well.

Which is less embarrassing? Admitting that we need foreign talent or having a MRT system that keeps breaking down?

Related post:
MRT nightmare at Bugis.


jason said...

i absolutely concur! Already ask LT Yew to have him fired immediately (FB) - totally non functional MRT, what about the indignance of having to pay the fares after getting stuck inside? What of the poor who suffer the increasing fares AND being stuck in the train? Where is the accountability? The govt says pay needs to commensurate with pte sector - but we all know CEOs get sacked instantly when this kind of epic screw up happens, so far have not seen anything to talk about heads rolling!!? Or are we then saying that scholars are infallible and invulnerable in GLCs i.e never get fired!??! What sort of signal are we sending???? Just me ranting on a friday. Really pisses me off no end (and i hardly take MRT, but thats beside the point)

AK71 said...

Hi Jason,

I agree with you on so many counts. I believe in being reasonable and giving people enough time to do better. How long has Desmond Kwek been CEO of SMRT? 3 years? Not enough time? -.-"

Now, who is a $50 million fine going to hurt? The shareholders! It might be a matter of left pocket and right pocket with the majority shareholder but what about the minority shareholders, the retail investors? They cannot even kick DK out at the next AGM...

jason said...

haizzz, guess who's the major shareholder of this GLC!?!!?!? bloody stupid hell. Cant believe how shameless some people are - should just volunteer to resign.......

Rokawa said...

Whatever fine smrt is slapped with, its not shareholder who suffer. Smrt pay fine. But soon enough there wil be a fare hike due to increase maintenance cost or watever they can come up with to avoid another biggest breakdown. And the money goes back into smrt pocket.
So practically speaking, the public the commuters are paying the fines. Not smrt. This is my personal observation.
The interesting part abt breakdowm so far is that every single time smrt or somebody say our transport improve, certainly enough mrt breakdown in some aspect within a week or 2.
The other part is the chief is suppose to commit hara kiri
I have to smile at this. Knowing that it will not happen since the chief is on the "right" side of the fence.

baiyun said...

Saw someone post this on facebook..
So funny...

fataba said...

Ak , I cant agree with you that foreign talent can do this job better.
We have to understand that first it is mechanical and subjected to wear and tear like any system. Further we do not know the full background of the systems when first set up. Hiring top class engineers with knowledge of the system might help. But putting a foreign talent as CEO most likely wld be far worst then having a talent s'porean who understanding the local need and requirement.
I do not know the current CEO in charge but I do not see that having a faultless system can be resolve by just having a foreign talent in this position> certainly managing the expectation and complex other requirement are important.

AK71 said...

Hi fataba,

I did not suggest that foreign talent can do this job better than a Singaporean. You have misunderstood me. You might want to read my writing again.

I suggested that if no Singaporean has what it takes (i.e. the relevant knowledge and the experience) to do a good job, then, perhaps, we should consider hiring a foreigner, someone who is better qualified to do the job. I said it "might" have to be a foreign talent.

I do know what the current CEO was doing before he joined SMRT. All of us do. He did not join SMRT a few months or a few weeks ago either. So, we won't be wrong to ask if he is the right person for the job.

We are paying him a lot of money here. $2.25m to $2.5m a year. That is not peanuts although some might disagree.

I am sure SMRT shareholders have quite a bit to say as well now with the very real possibility of a $50 million fine by the LTA. Is the CEO going to offer some of his $2.25m to $2.5m remuneration to help pay the fine for not doing a good job?

FoodieFC said...


ironically, they want to hire independent consultant to go through the whole system and find the issue. Considering SMRT has their own engineers who do the maintenance, etc this is a joke. SMRT's engineers (or their contractors) should know the whole system better than anyone else. If independent consultants can do.. then they should be hired on a full time basis.

Anyway whatever the amount of fine, its left hand into right hand. Govt can give subsidies or grant on another occasion. Even if it does has impact, thats a great reason to say rail divison is suffering from losses (time to increase fares again).


AK71 said...

Hi FoodieFC,

Indeed, you have made a very good point. Hiring independent consultants to weigh in on the breakdowns suggests that SMRT's rank and file lack the competence to do a good job which I like to think is untrue. Like you said, SMRT's own engineers should know the system best. Is this a case of throwing money at a problem?

A leader should know how to make use of existing resources well. If he knows that the system is ageing (which he seems to know), why didn't he up the checks to more than once a year as a pre-emptive measure? If the breakdowns are due to an ageing system, they can be prevented through more frequent maintenance which might include replacing worn parts. The breakdowns are not due to some sudden event.

Yes, the $50 million fine, if it should happen, might not hurt the majority shareholder who is we know who. It is the minority shareholders who would definitely feel the pinch. -.-"

jovan said...

I agree with you AK. We need to get the right person doing it and not "parachuting" someone with no experience nor knowledge in a transport system. Regardless of talent but the right person who can do the job. At the end of the day, it's the commuters who will suffer where they are being chauffeured around.
In army, if a specialist didn't go for the sergeant course can he be a sergeat? likewise for officers? *for obvious reason ;)
For $2.5 million, we can easily get many engineers giving good solutions internal. Just use that as a incentive/bonus for any engineers who can successfully improve the system and I'm assure you that the best solution will be there.

AK71 said...

Hi Jovan,

I am usually quite apathetic about how CEOs are appointed in GLCs. Why bother, right? However, I am really all fired up in this case for various reasons.

You know, I was actually quite sympathetic towards Desmond Kwek when he was first given the job because I thought he got thrown a hot potato. Basically, he had to clean up the mess left by a certain Ms. Saw.

However, when it was revealed how highly paid he was, I wasn't quite so sympathetic anymore. If a person is comfortable taking such a high pay, then, he should be comfortable taking the heat from a hot potato if it has not cooled after 3 years under his care and it certainly looks like it hasn't.

jovan said...

Haha ya I understand what you mean but still the same old methods are being used that solved threads nothing. As such, its only right that we get frustrated. Highest paid ever CEO for SMRT for the greatest breakdown. What an irony. . If only we can also sack the CEO like Europe banks where for this case, he was given also around 3 years ago for his job.

Oh well, we can only wished where end day we are the ones suffering. Like you, I dint buy SMRT shares for the obvious pay reason too.

AhJohn said...

More worry is, this should not happen again and again here, if so, we can't believe in SG100!

AhJohn said...

Fire CEO or someone else?

apex property investment said...

Hi Jovan, there are engineers and solutions. Its that evaluators that they have to work on; who can effectively make the right decision? How long would you need to test bed a solution? I certainly believe the cable tie is a WITS project that probably won the guy some monetary award but thats speculation. May the best man stand up now to take on the job.

Casey said...

Hi Ak,

We wanted more trains to shorten the waiting time, we know that it is an old system, who shouted for such drastic move to confront such challenges?

We know that the nation is having serious shortage of hands-on technical people who can carry out more physical task, who shouted for such drastic foreign labour and talent restrictions?

Instead of handling more important technical and engineering issues, many companies are fire fighting for manpower issues, such low quality issues have become the main problems of the engineers. Now, our engineers are doing the hands-on, then who will do the design and preventive measures?

It is the political will that overwhelm other technical issues. We must know what is the right things to do and make difficult decision, sometimes the right decision might not be the popular decision.

It is easy to blame the government, the company, the CEO or even the share holders. But sometimes, we should blame ourselves for unreasonable demands. We should be more pragmatic and more visionary.

With so many restrictions and demands, I believe that there is no immediate cure for the MRT, we must accept that the pathway that we have chosen has many speed bumps ahead. If other advance economies like France, UK, etc can bear with days long shutdown, why is the few hours breakdown to hard to swallow. If we are moving towards Europe like work life balance, yet expecting Japan like service level, it is going to be very painful due to the poor expectation management among us. Reputation? We learn from mistake, reflect the truth. Sometimes, we should give everyone a break, move light weight, without baggage, we can move faster and happier.

Besides, other than economists, lawyers, doctors in the cabinet.... perhaps engineers could be added.



AK71 said...

Hi Casey,

I believe that the PAP government has done more good than bad. They have made more right decisions than wrong.

However, in allowing the population to balloon in the recent past without investing more in infrastructure, providing more housing etc. to prepare for a bigger population led to bottlenecks. This led to great unhappiness which showed itself in the last General Election (GE). So, more trains and a slower influx of foreign workers were two results of the government's fire fighting measures implemented after the last GE.

The PAP government blundered and PM Lee admitted as much.

MRT breakdowns started to happen before new trains were added. Ageing system? Then, it is someone's job to ensure that the system is able to take on a heavier load of having more trains. Whose job is that if not the person leading SMRT? If he is paid $2.25m to $2.5m a year, it is reasonable to expect him to be competent in doing the job. Yes, reasonable.

I am a reasonable person. I give credit where it is due which can be seen in my blog posts on the CPF system. It might be easy to blame the government but I do not blame the government or anyone easily for anything. It is not my style.

I appreciate the drift of your comment and agree with parts of it but, in this blog post, I am questioning the competence of a leader, a leader who has been on the job for a few years and who is paid millions to do it well.

Casey said...

Hi Ak,

Totally agree with you. Cheers. The past cannot be reversed, many people are fire fighting, we have to adjust our pace and move on with optimism.


UCP said...

Very disappointed to Smrt service and management capabilities. A elevator in btw E-W Line & Circle Line has broken down for more than 3 months, still not be fixed, they just keep changing the new completion date for the elevator. A small task spending 3 months also cannot solved, how to expect they can handle something bigger? Very sian to such kind of world class service and management capabilities , as a commuter and the smallest retail investor.

pf said...

Yes, smrt wld just increase fares to make up for the fine. And guess what? LTA or PTA or whatever will just let them.

LTA says the fines go towards fund to subsidise the poor.....oh come on! We, the middle class, with no car are the ones suffering!!!!

The only way I think would comfort me a little bit to tolerate the situation is to distribute shares to every singaporean. So that we can get some dividends as return from this nonsense of a company.

Not that I support them. It's just a way for me to balance the dissonance.

pf said...

Yes, I agree with u AK. In other countries where the train systems are 2 times or more older than ours have schedule weekend maintenance. The people think how to make it better with their resources.

However, I have yet to see any concrete plans from smrt in updating the system. Besides replacement of the sleepers. What is the root cause of all those small breakdowns? Are those symptoms of the current big breakdown? Up to now, they can't tell what is the root cause. If they don't know, they can't control it.

I think smrt should be more transparent to the public with what their mgt is going to do about this. The public is their biggest stakeholder!

pf said...

Lack of confidence in local transport. This is why I spent big money and moved closer to town. In the event, there is a breakdown, I could even walk home.

If they can't find the root cause of break downs now, and the govt and public accepted as such, I have doubt if they ever will.

AK71 said...


Mr Lee also pointed out that the North-South and East-West Lines were the first major lines to be built. He said they are towards the end of their life span, when they see a spike in defect rates. He noted that they must move beyond this phase when they are renewing their assets.

Mr Lee added that the aging insulators in the train's third rail system may have caused a power leak that led to last week's major train disruption.

"The third rail is actually suspended in the air by a series of brackets,” he said. “The brackets are insulated from the third rail by this ceramic material that is called insulator. The third rail system has been in place since 1987, so it is almost 30 years old, and some of these insulators are aging, and so there's a possibility that some of them have lost their insulation properties."

Mr Chew said maintenance has to be kept up. "The system has been running for over 30 years; in 25 years of those 30 years actually the system has run pretty well based on the design we have actually put in," he said. "I think it's very important that as the system continues to age, the maintenance needs to be kept up specifically.

“Additional effort needs to actually be put in to see how we can pre-emptively see what the vulnerabilities are and change out specific components."


pf said...

When I see the above news, I'm quite annoyed. There is NOTHING new. Tell me this for what....just go and do it. If cannot handle, go and tell ur boss....

AK71 said...

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) has turned to Swedish and Japanese experts after local engineers failed to discover the root cause of the massive MRT breakdown that occurred on July 7.

LTA will bring in a team of five experts from Sweden's Parsons Brinkerhoff and Japan's Meidensha Corporation to independently assess the overall condition of the power supply infrastructure and other railway trackside installations along the North-South and East-West Lines (NSEWL).

The team of experts will be led by Mats Onner from Parsons and Hiroto Ikeda from Meidensha. They will focus on identifying the root cause of the power trip and proposing areas for improvement to prevent recurrence.


AK71 said...

No need to fix the sorry state of our MRT liao. Just chuck the problem to someone else. Who will be the ones holding the baby? I wonder. (Hint: Do you pay taxes?)

Public transport operator SMRT looks set to be privatised after Temasek Holdings announced a S$1.18 billion buyout offer at S$1.68 a share Wednesday (Jul 20).


AK71 said...

"Hi Ak, SMRT gg to bght over for 1.68. Tdy is 1.64. If we buy in quantities, we can get 4 cts profit? minus a little brokerage fees also in the money....Would u buy?"

"Er... I think FD safer. What if not enough shareholders accept the offer?" ;p

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