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Will SMRT learn from recent incidents on how to be publicly accountable?

By Ghui

As the recent deaths of Nasrulhudin Najumudin and Muhammad Asyraf Ahmad Buhari on the SMRT tracks would attest (read story), unfortunate accidents do occur at work. While it is too early to say conclusively what has caused the accidents, it is important for the employer in question to show immediate support to all affected by the accident.

By support, I do not mean PR messages on social media websites expressing regret and condolences but actual concrete steps at ensuring that there is an organised step-by-step approach to investigate the causes of the accident. The methodology of such investigations and the way they are conducted and documented must also be transparent.

While such standards should be applicable to every employer, it is even more vital if such employer is part of the government or a government-related entity.

As the Benjamin Lim and Dominique Sarron Lee incidents have shown, there are clearly gaps in our current systems whereby employees or minors under the care of civil servants have not been afforded the best possible care. Worse still, these deaths have exposed the scary prospect that there may not even be proper channels of recourse to redress wrongs in any way that can be considered adequate!

As the debate rages on, I can only hope that the SMRT has learnt something from the debacle that has surrounded the deaths of Dominique Sarron Lee and Benjamin Lim and approach the deaths of its employees promptly and with sensitivity.

In the Benjamin Lim incident, there was radio silence followed by a defensive stance – all of which come across as hollow in the face of the death of a minor. In the Dominique Sarron Lee case, it was exposed to an incredulous public that despite proved negligence on the part of the SAF, the Government Proceedings Act protected them from liability! To add insult to injury, the Lee family was ordered to cover the SAF’s legal costs!

Hopefully, the SMRT would have learnt a thing or two from the debacles of the police and the SAF and address the deaths of its employees with compassion and fairness.

While experts may have said that there were strict safety procedures in place and that there was enough space for the workers to carry out maintenance work, questions still remain as to why there appears to have been no coordination between the moving train and the ground staff. (read more).

From the interview given by Muhammad Hatin Kamil, it would seem that the group was not warned on the potential dangers of a train coming. This raises further questions on whether adequate training was provided to the trainees before sending them into a potentially dangerous situation.

The SMRT has been plagued by woes in recent years with numerous breakdowns and delays. Yet in the midst of such upheaval, the SMRT saw it fit to pay its chief over $2.25 million last year making Desmond Quek the highest paid SMRT CEO. (read more)

Such a high salary package at a time when the SMRT faces unprecedented delays seems out of place. Yet, it also demonstrates the confidence that the SMRT has in CEO Desmond Kuek.

In the face of this tragic accident, I hope that Mr Kuek will live up to his remuneration by dealing with this calamity in a just and open way thereby restoring a brand that has taken a battering in recent years.

With great (earning) power comes great responsibility to your employees and the people you serve, all of whom deserve your protection and accountability.

It would restore public confidence if Kuek shows equitable leadership at this time and ensure that the deaths of these two promising young men are adequately and openly addressed with concrete measures put in place to ensure that these accidents never occur again.