4 key moments from Khaw Boon Wan’s turn in Parliament on SMRT flooding

4 key moments from Khaw Boon Wan’s turn in Parliament on SMRT flooding

Transport minister Khaw Boon Wan holds a commemorative plaque signifying the completion of the power rail replacement project. (Photo: Aqil Haziq Mahmud)

SINGAPORE: Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan on Tuesday (Nov 7) took centrestage in Parliament as he delivered a Ministerial Statement and addressed individual concerns of members of the House, relating to rail operator SMRT’s tunnel flooding last month.

Here are some of the more memorable moments from what Mr Khaw said in Parliament today.

1. Calling out SMRT’s CEO

After praising SMRT chairman Seah Moon Ming for measures taken by the company internally, Mr Khaw said: “It begins from the top. And if there is poor work culture, the CEO is responsible. You set the corporate culture.”

Later, Mr Khaw said he recognised that CEO Desmond Kuek “has been working very hard to try to change work culture”.

“2011 was the last major disruption, and then SMRT decided to remove their previous CEO. Mr Desmond Kuek volunteered for this job. He volunteered for this job,” Mr Khaw stressed.

“He wasn’t parachuted in or being asked to go and fix this. He volunteered for this job. As former Chief of Defence Force, I think his heart is in the right place. He’s proud to be a Singaporean and we’ve all felt ashamed by these, every now and then, disruptions in SMRT.”

2. Reflecting on his start

Mr Khaw also spoke about his ministry’s larger mission to raise train reliability, beyond this flooding incident.

“This is not an easy task. If it were so easy, it would have been fixed years ago. I don’t have to be in MOT!” he said with a chuckle, alluding to his “Mr Fix-It” reputation earned by previously helping the health and national development ministries out of difficult patches.

3. Remembering how Taipei Metro once approached SMRT for help - and the roles have now reversed

One of the measures implemented by SMRT in the aftermath has been to invite a team of experts from Taipei Metro to do conduct a review, flush out gaps and recommend improvements.

This team was assembled by a former Taipei Metro Chairman, who Mr Khaw recalled meeting a week after the flooding incident.

“Taipei Metro - it’s done very well in terms of achieving rail reliability,” he said. “But they had plenty of problems too in the beginning.”

“At the meeting… I asked him for help and he said sure, because he remembered many years ago he came here for help when we were still running the system quite well.”

4. Rebutting opposition leader Low Thia Khiang

The Workers’ Party chief put his hand up to make the last clarification - and expressed the view that “the mission of SMRT is to make money for the Government”.

“The multiple problems that have congregated today of the train services, the core of the problem is money,” he added. “The Government wanted to have their cake and eat it, expecting profits from train operators while expecting efficiency and tip-top maintenance work.”

Mr Khaw disagreed.

“There are easier ways to make money. We don’t have to use SMRT to make money,” he said. “With SMRT, we could have done it as a Government department but I think the decision was not wrong to put it as a corporatised company fully owned by the Government.”

“Making money is not your objective, but you must not lose money. There must be financial discipline - cannot just anyhow spend money, but this, buy that, gold-plated everything.”

Spending big would come “at great cost” to taxpayers, said Mr Khaw.

“There’s no free lunch Mr Low. He knows it, he runs a town council. He needs to balance the accounts too and he knows the importance of governance. So when your team fails him, what does he do?”