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SMRT spokesman abrupt resignation, more questions arising

By Philip Ang

It was reported 2 days ago that Ms Kalai Natarajan, the chief spokesman for local transport operator SMRT has handed in her resignation and will leave on Monday.  (link)

Ms Natarajan’s resignation comes on the heels of a major reshuffle where 8 senior management staff joined SMRT after Mr Desmond Kuek Bak Chye became its CEO after the resignation of former CEO, Saw Phaik Hwa .

As if though there were no suitably qualified applicants available in the transport or any relevant industry, CEO Kuek also roped in 3 ex-colleagues from the SAF and RSAF who had no relevant experience working in a private organisation. (link)

What is troubling is that the various heads from the HR, legal, planning, businesses development, corporate communications, buses and trains have all been replaced in 2013.  There is little assurance from SMRT when it employs Mr Tan Kian Hong as VP of buses who had zero experience after having spent his entire career in the SAF and the education sector. Mr Lee Ling Wee, another ex RSAF personnel, was put in charge of trains despite his irrelevant experience in the management of aircraft and weapons systems.  Perhaps the SMRT intends to arm our trains and convert them to aircrafts for national defence?

In the latest SMRT incident where a bus had overturned on 22 July, killing one passenger, SMRT selectively disclosed personal details of the driver except his nationality to the Straits Times.  However, the driver’s identity was disclosed on Channel 8 news.  SMRT PR stunt attempted to downplay the fatality after repeated recent breakdowns with tonnes of irrelevant information.  This appears to have backfired as it insults even the intelligence of even 6 year olds.

Ms Natarajan could not have joined SMRT at a worse timing, fronting SMRT’s systemic failures for 5 months.  She is no ordinary employee and for her to not ‘give face’ (notice) to SMRT, there might be something more than meets the eye.

Her resignation is akin to a cabinet minister quitting Singapore Cabinet just months into the job.

Although SMRT had removed its heaviest deadweight costing some $1.8 million annually, it has no doubt added more less-costly ones i.e. those with irrelevant experience.  The replacement of more than half of the senior management staff also spells trouble for commuters. (Just imagine if half the Singapore cabinet being replaced within months)

To quit after only 5 months into the job (with immediate effect), Ms Natarajan might have held overwhelming doubts of SMRT.  This is in line with the negative public perception.

The frequent replacement of senior management are signs of a failing company.  As a public transport operator, SMRT owes the public an explanation.