You have to hand it to Singapore's Mass Rapid Transport (SMRT) for their ability to demonstrate a tin-ear to the demands of the public and the worst possible time. The disruption of the North-South Line on Thursday 15 December 2011 was a slap in the face of a nation that takes so much pride in the fact that it has a “World Class” transport system. While the disruption on its own was bad, the company proceeded to make matters worse by its inept handling of the situation – the infamous “income opportunity” message it flashed to all its taxis is currently competing with Whitley Detention Centre's lack of a window grill as a symbol of incompetence.
The only saving grace of this whole afair was the fact that the Singapore Government acted like it cared. The Prime Minister cut short a holiday and called for a public enquirey while the transport minister proceeded to become very vocal. Thanks to the pressure ontop, the management of SMRT proceeded to run a series of checks on the rail system and what did we find? It turned out that there were a mere 61 faults in the rails and 13 trains were found to be deffective.
I don't think this is acceptable by anyone's standards, let alone for a nation that takes so much pride in how it has climbed to the top of the world in just about everything. It brings me to the last days of my national service, when the powers-that-be could happily tell us that five out of every hundred fuzes were deffective and they only bothered to discover this after two people died and this wasn't the fault of the all caring defense procurement companies.
Its been a decade over since the incident in New Zealand took place and although I like my contemporaries have managed to move on from the emotional trauma of the incident, I still get irked whenever I read about incidents in Singapore that were caused by disregard by upper echelons for the people below them. I don't blame my commanders for the incident. Looking back at the incident, I can accept that my bosses did the best that they could in the circumstances that we were thrown in.
What I cannot and I should not accept is the way the Committee of Inquirey found a host of safety lapses between the people who were supposed to buy the ammunition and the people who were supposed to receive it on our (The people who fire the gun) behalf and then out of the blue the story that came out of this was how they were dupped by greedy Americans who outsourced it to shoddy Chinese Manufacturing. Nobody was persecuted for what can only be described as criminal negligence. This was an eye-opener to the way the world worked – too many of the “right” people were making money from defense procurement to allow this incident to blow a hole into the system even if it cost two lives and countless of injuries. I suppose you could say my batch got lucky – Ronnie and Yin Tit paid for one faulty fuze. I hate to think what the battalion would have been like with if we got all five out a hundred faulty fuzes (We fire around 400 plus rounds per exercise – at that rates, we'd all have come home in body bags).
Nearly a decade and a half later, I'm no longer reading about fuzes for an artillery round but trains. Sure, nobody died when the train service got disrupted but whoes to say that it wouldn't happen the next time. In a way, the faults from this incidents are more unforgivable than the fault that caused the explosion in New Zealand all those years ago in the sense that these are faults that could easily have been detected.
The train system shuts down every single night by midnight and it only reopens five and a half hours later. A basic inspection of the system is supposed to detect faults like this. Sure, I can except that you can repair all the faults immediately but surely in that time, you can repair some of the more serious ones?
So one has to ask – how is it possible that we're now finding 61 faults to the rail system? More seriously – how the hell are we finding out that we have 13 defective trains running across the system. Surely one could have repaired at least one of those trains in a basic nightly inspection. Why are we running 13 defective trains on the system?
What's worse for SMRT is the fact that it has asked for and received the right to increase the rates it charges consumers. Thanks to the Young Muslim Politician who Supports the 2008 bombing of the Gaza Strip from Pasir Ris GRC aka Thambi Pundek, I knew what the transport opperators were claiming (he was trying to hawk it) - “They were not making money from providing transport at the current fares they were charging.” They were of course making enough money to pay the CEO of SMRT her S$1.6 million annual salary as well as dividends for the shareholders (largest one being Temasek Holdings).
Well, I'm not going to go into the financial statements of the transport opperators but what's clear is that the money which seemed to flow to the senior management and majority shareholders didn't flow into simple routine checks that could have saved people a lot of agravation and trauma.
I lived in London for three-years as a student. I used the tube regularly enough. The tunnel system was built in the Victorian era and in many ways, the fact that the system works is a miracle. When you compare the facilities we have to what London has, we're way ahead in terms of modernity and the latest technology.
Yet, despite this, I never heard of a massive train disruption on the tube system in the three-years I lived there nor in the subsequent years since then. By contrast, Singapore's much younger and much more modern system has produced 61 faults and 13 deffective trains within a space of two decades.
For all its faults, the London Underground understands that it needs to do basic things. The tube user is at the centre of the system. Sure, its not glitzy or comfy to travel by tube but the system doesn't get broken down by basic faults. Money is spent on doing basic things to ensure the system runs.
By contrast Singapore has a system that lavishes money on the glitz and the glam and somehow neglects basics. Swanky stations make Ministers feel good when they brag to the world about how great we are. Opperator CEOs look good when they buy swanky gadgets. Nobody except the end user suffers when basic things are not taken care of.
I couldn't except being on the receiving end of this disregard for the small man when I was in National Service. I don't see why I should stand for it now that I'm older and way past military liability. These are not things I receive as part of someone elses generosity but things I pay for as a consumer and a tax payer.
Acountability is not a wishy-washy Western liberal dream that is unsuitable for Singapore's “Asian” society. Demanding it is the most practical and patriotic obligation of every citizen.