Day by day as the proceedings of the Committee of Inquiry for the SMRT fiasco plays out in the press, it has become clearer and clearer how big the monster under the Transport Minister's bed really is. This is one big mess. How can it be that the problem of national transport can be privatized to a company that showed such wanton neglect of operational necessities? The long awaited appearance of the beleaguered CEO at the COI really only served to confirm how misplaced the entire SMRT agenda was. But much as we would like to just hang everything on the pathetic past CEO, Ms Saw, we should not forget she was not the only one responsible for this mess.
She essentially reported to the Chairman of the Board, Mr Koh Yong Guan, an eminent guy, but essentially a money guy. Eyeballing the SMRT 2010 Annual Report, we can see that the priorities of the Board really centred around fiscal prudence and health. Corporate risks were essentially only related to financial risks and not operational risks. Clearly the SMRT mission the Board set out for CEO Saw was really about growing the commercial and financial stature of the organization. Was she incompetent? Obviously not by the evaluations of the SMRT Board. At least not until the claws fell off the track and the poo hit the fans.
But who was behind the Board? Who put all this money people into the Board of an operational unit that was supposed to deliver a world class transport service? And how can it be that the transport regulator LTA can audit the SMRT year after year and find nothing but a bed of roses?
Now of course we know that bed of roses really harboured a huge stinky monster.
But going off on a tangent, as I am wont to do, it should be noted that this SMRT fiasco is really not merely an aberration in an otherwise healthy Singapore. Singapore, notwithstanding all the glowing reports in the mainstream media, is really quite dysfunctional. The sickness comes from the government's fixation on high GDP growth at the expense of everything else. Anything of worth is Singapore is denominated in dollar terms. The SMRT and the transport sector are not the only places where there are grossly misplaced missions. The health sector has been hugely corrupted by the pursuit of the medical dollar at the expense of affordable health care for the public. While lamenting the inadequacy of hospital beds, the Ministry of Health encourages corporatized hospitals to continue to build to cater to high end private patients. Meanwhile the universities chase bloated KPIs that have to do with ranking and research glory, rather than focusing on providing solid and affordable tertiary education for the average Singaporean.
There are monsters hidden under these beds that will, like the SMRT one, eventually emerge one day.
So as we head into the Hougang by-election, here is my plea to the Prime Minister. As a Singaporean I am increasing disillusioned by this overemphasis on wealth and elitist ideals. It is as if Singaporeans are not worthy of consideration and support unless they are megadollar earners. Prime Minister, you are wrong in this. Every Singaporean is worthy of support regardless of whether they are able bodied, able minded or not. Or even if they are just plain not-very-smart.
At this year's National Day Parade, I want to be able to say the pledge and mean it.
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