Photo by [email protected]

SMRT Fiasco – Time for heads to roll

11252645_10153548150136383_1872094334562086658_nBy Ariffin Sha

To call it a disaster may be an understatement for the quarter of a million people stranded by the train breakdowns last evening. Yes, we do see breakdown pretty often but what happened last night was unprecedented. 250,000 commuters were affected when no less than 57 train stations were rendered obsolete.

Some scenes of the fiasco last night
Some scenes of the fiasco last night

The scenes around the red dot last night were befitting of an apocalyptic blockbuster. Bus stops became obsolete, queues formed were so long that it gave the queues at Lee Kuan Yew’s funeral a good run for its money and people were lost, angry and unsatisfied, to say the least.

Bus stops became a thing of the past (Source: Renald Loh)
Bus stops became a thing of the past (Source: Renald Loh)

On social media, many Singaporeans lamented about how, in the face of constant breakdowns and now the nationwide disaster, unjustified the increases in the salaries of CEOs and fares were. In the past 5 years alone, commuters have seen fares increased 3 times.

To add salt to the wound, just last week SMRT CEO’s Desmond Kuek’s salary increased yet again. His salary has increased mulitfold  in just a span of three years and he is now paid at least 2.2 million annually. With increases in salaries of the men in-charge and fare hikes, it is only natural that commuters expect a parallel increase in service standards, or at the very least, the maintenance of current standards.

However, that was not to be. The lack of satisfaction amongst millions of Singaporeans is justified, definitely more justified than the fare hikes and Desmond Kuek’s remuneration package.

SMRT CEO Desmond Kuek
SMRT CEO Desmond Kuek

Instead of taking responsibility and being seen on the ground to ensure commuters affected by the countless breakdowns get home safely, there was little else other than statements of ‘concern.’ from Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew. From a layman’s perspective, stranded at bus stops and faced with the never ending queue in the hot, humid and sweltering crowd, reflecting on the astronomical salaries the people behind the trains and the fare hikes is a real kick in the face.

Even if we can accept occasional breakdown, or even systemic infrastructural faults, complete lack of accountability should not be tolerated. And we saw a decent dose of that last night.

But things weren’t always like that, were they? There was once a time where the MRT was the pride of all Singaporeans alike and breakdowns were as alien as curry puff syndicates . So much so, in fact, that the PAP itself incorporated the MRT in it’s election posters.

A PAP campaign poster from 1998.
A PAP campaign poster from 1998.

Now, that is one poster we’ll probably never see revived. Not with the way things are going. This poster surfaced in 1988, when the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew was our Prime Minister. Reflecting on last night’s fiasco, I can’t help but wonder, what would he have done?

I for one feel that, if the man was still around, such an incident wouldn’t even have happened. In fact, he would have tackled the problem at its core before it snowballed to the constant breakdowns Singaporean commuters face today. See, if there were one thing that separated PAP’s Lee Kuan Yew from the PAP of today, it would boil down to this – he never hesitated to make heads roll.

Let us cast our minds back to Mr Lee’s National Day Rally in 1984,

“Everything works, whether its water, electricity, gas, telephone, telexes, it just has to work. If it doesn’t work, I want to know why, and if I am not satisfied, and I often was not, the chief goes, and I have to find another chief. Firing the chief is very simple.”

Mr Lee and Mdm Kwa entering the train station
Mr Lee and Mdm Kwa entering the train station

To cut the long story short, if Mr Lee was in charge, heads will roll. Mr Kuek and Mr Lui would be lucky to even stay in their positions, let alone collect millions of dollars. The PAP of the past sure is a far cry from what it is today.

As then Chief District Judge Tan Siong Thye during the Committee of Inquiry on the slate of breakdowns concluded:

That the incidents were preventable and that there was a “a gaping disconnect between what was formally on record and what was happening on the ground”.

And that gap is ever-widening. The PAP of today is great for soundbites, but when it actually comes to acting on their words – well, I’ll leave you to decide for yourself.

untitled

It’s about time that Singaporeans started voicing out for, as Mr Lee said, heads to roll. And the ballot box is a pretty good place to start.