In a Channel NewsAsia report dated 16 October (Monday), it is reported that Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan made his first public address on the major North-South Line (NSL) tunnel flooding incident two weekends ago and stated that the SMRT maintenance team in charge of the anti-flood system at Bishan station had "failed us".
On 7 October (Saturday), train services on the North-South line were affected by flooding in the tunnel from Bishan to Braddell MRT stations. SMRT had to cut off trackside power supply as a safety precaution, causing service on six stops across the NSL to be disabled for about 20 hours. More than a quarter of a million commuters were affected in the country’s first disruption due to flooding and making it one of SMRT’s worst breakdowns in recent history.
Mr Khaw stated that the incident was "sad and unnecessary", however, preventable and should not have happened. He said, "We are all sorry it did. Whatever follow-up action which needs to be done, has already started. Nothing has been covered up. The incident has pushed back the recovery of public confidence in us."
According to the Minister, Singapore’s MRT tunnels were designed to handle local weather and cope with "very extreme storms far more severe than the last few weeks".
"The bottom line is they should not have been flooded. But on 7 October, the stretch at Bishan and Braddell stations did. There are standard anti-flooding systems with huge stormwater sump pits. Our findings show that the anti-flooding system there was poorly maintained," he said.
"In simple terms, the stormwater pit can hold more than 5,000 cubic metres of rainfall. During that period over the catchment area, rainfall could not have exceeded 700 - let’s stretch it, 1,000 cubic metres," he said.
The Minister stated that if it were well-maintained, the reservoir should be empty before rain starts to flow.
"But it overflowed. The pit had not been maintained properly," he said.
Mr Khaw then revealed that the Land Transport Authority and SMRT had made a decision to replace the pumps on 29 September, adding, "So we are late by a few days. Had they proceeded to replace (the pumps) this thing might not even have happened."
"But I suppose that is life," he added.
Mr Khaw then stated that energies had been focused on rails and train signalling systems instead - which he pointed out had improvements to show.
"At the beginning I said to give me four or five years. We are at the mid-point now. We wanted to close the gap with Taipei’s benchmark of 800,000 km without incident. We have made serious improvements, we have exceeded next year’s target (of 400,000km) and that’s why I was confident enough to say let’s go for 1 million," he stated.
"But I knew Singaporeans couldn’t relate, because they still hear delays here and there because of resignalling," the Minister added.
Mr Khaw then said that the main reason for this can be traced to two major projects ongoing at the same time - improvements to existing lines and re-signalling for the NSL.
"I did say the re-signalling would have tonnes of problems. I said so in public, to bear with us. So even when you evaluate our performance in re-signalling, we have done well. That’s why I’m concerned when media reports conflate the two projects and draw wrong conclusions," he added.
Many took to the comments section to express their anger and disappointment, especially voicing their displeasure at Mr Khaw's statement which said, "that is life".
Casper Tann wrote, "When limpeh tell the banks, I supposed that is life. I had missed payment by a few days to pay the bill. And they say there is no such thing as a few days."
Collin Chia wrote, "By saying 'That is life', does the minister mean to tell Singaporeans 'Eh, just suck it up and do not complain!' What the hell?"
Ryan Lee wrote, "We have imbeciles as Ministers, we have lost plenty of chances to replace them too. I suppose that is life."
Shinn Ng wrote, "'But I suppose that is life.' Try telling that to the commuters who are stuck inside the jam. Try telling that who are late for their appointment. Try telling that to people who are late for their exams. Try telling them that in their face, $8 Khaw. If they voted for you and your cronies, then well, that is life, under the leadership of the PAP, more breakdowns."
Karen Lim wrote, "This talented minister took joy ride on BPLRT and complained that he felt giddy, and said 'that is life'. To him constant failures in MRT are 'that is life'. No hope!"
Sze Chan wrote, "Life is, Khaw Boon Wan should be fired. Life is, SMRT CEO should be fired. Then, besides flooding, there are 2 less problems As a citizen, as a commuter, as a voter, I need d a responsible minister and public transport vendor CEO, not some idiot to tell me what is life"
Roy Tan wrote, "I was late in paying road tax for one day, was fined. Can you forgive me and return my fine? Well, that is life, I do forget sometimes."
Grace Goh wrote, "That is life?? Tell that to all the employers in Singapore. Do not tell us when government did not take initiative to tell employers.
But, well, it is really a good chance to push for change and improvement."
Frank Goh Chok Chun wrote, "Missed by few days! Still want to give excuse! Yes 'I suppose that’s life'. Really thick skin. Millions of life and economy is effected by your ministries poor governance. Has authority computed Economic loss during these outages?"
Sherie Kng wrote, "Ya 'That is life' that we have to bare with all these nonsense and bare in mind that if the next election PAP votes goes down 'That is life'"
Ong Qizong wrote, "Lame excuse given by a high paying minister. I Guess that is life that we have to suck up and go through all these SMRT nonsense?"
William Chan wrote, "Please lah. Are you saying flooding is life, breakdown is life? If this is life, change to better living environment! Integrate the system. Do not give bull story. Singapore is heading from first world to third world country. Same as Thailand. Flood here and there. What is just a few days? Don't you know that few days can kill someone in hospital without any remedies? It would be better if you can step down in these 2 days. Singaporean would say that is life."
Many also commented on the Minister's statement which said that they were only few days late.
Simon Teo wrote, "KBW: 'so we are late by a few days (to replace the pumps)'. I beg to differ.
1) In any design consideration, you always take into account anything that can happen, be in 1 in 100 or 1 in 100000. If there is the slightest of chance that it will happen, your design must take care of this possibility. Bringing this up give me the impression that you are just shirking your responsibility.
2) Hello? Miss by a few days??
You said in a meeting in September, a decision is made to replace the pump? Then surely it will take weeks if not months to ITQ, approve quotation, purchase, wait for delivery, wait for installation, etc. These take time and you just dismiss it as 'miss by a few days?!' That is life for you, but not us!"
Chin Hua Yak wrote, "Are you sure only missed by a few days? Hahaha! Why don't you also miss collecting your million dollar salaries by a few days?"
Adeline Kho wrote, "Missed by a few days?? This shows how incompetent he is as a minister as he does not have the foresight to think of the 'what ifs, not when'. Even animals like turtles know how to plan their birth in locations before the birth of their babies."
Some stated that top management always takes every praise, while lower management is the one to blame when something is not right.
Aspa M Hatta wrote, "Dear Mr Khaw, it is always everyone else's fault, never yours nor the top management. Rot is truly at the top and it does not take a genius to see that."
Kenny Koh wrote, "When there is no train fault, top management take credit. When the services are down, lower management take the blame. Wah lao. Like that you win liao."
Some stated that during LKY's time, such thing would never happened and the Minister would be sacked right away.
Mimi Jin Doo Rang wrote, "That time, in the past, if LKY is the Prime Minister, he would have ask you to go to the bloody tunnel and asked you to scoop up all the water before 23.59 and have you sacked there after."
Alvin Pereira wrote, "Seriously for once nobody can fathom you are still around as a transport minister with all that screw ups. At least 50 break downs a year. IMHO you should be kick out long ago for your incompetence."
Christopher Ho wrote, "During Lee Kuan Yew’s time, he will not tolerate such mistake and will remove the CEO at once; he had demanded in one of his National Day Rally and he was serious about it. That was why during his Premiership it was 'do it right the first time!' And he never tolerate mistake or poor performance or neglect of duty. Today CEOs are very lucky because LKY’s philosophy of excellence is no longer followed through."
Some asked the Minister to do something honorable and step down.
Jack Spear wrote, "'In Japan, the CEO and board of directors will call a press conference and take a deep bow, and in the good old days, they may even commit hara-kiri. Where there are breaches of the Companies Act, both the company as well as the individuals responsible will be charged, and
if found guilty, punished with fines and/or jail terms for the individuals.' - Khaw Boon Wan."
Sam Kok wrote, "Why don't you just resign? Period. Do not need to explain so much. Let another capable person to run this Ministry.
Anyway, every Ministries you sat in has some sort of problem.
Better resign with your millions. Otherwise, kenna kick out lagi no face."
Tay Chin Peng wrote, "Learn from other countries. If you want to make a public apology and keep the trust of the company. Then do the right thing. Resign!
We cannot support SMRT if we know the root cause is not fixed. We and all your employees will not have trust nor fate in the company if you do not leave. If you really feel responsible, if you really think for your company and not your salary, resign!
Your high salary is paid for you so that you can take the blame. And leave without worrying about your days ahead. You have earn enough. Time to go. That includes you minister Khaw Boon Wan."
Sam Lim wrote, "Bloody Desmond Kuek and his bunch of military dogs still grossing millions! Billions in productivity lost due to train faults!"
Syamsul Ab Rahman wrote, " I ever try that kind of answer to my boss.. You know what happened? My year end performance get affected. Imagine that A government official says that and got away so easily.
Hi Sir, your department got opening or not? I salute you for saying this in the public and still get to keep your job and pay intact. You must be so powerful."
Some stated that they do not understand the message that the Minister tried to deliver.
Sandrian Tan wrote, "Wow. My listening comprehension getting bad to worst. Spend one min talking about climate change and then in five seconds said that the breakdown had nothing to do with climate change, saying that it was just poor maintenance. Then talk again about climate change and decided to replace the pump due to climate change and ordered pumps to met the challenge of future climate change. So hor, there is no working pumps working daily cos waiting for new pumps? Or the new pumps ordered are to meet future needs and future just came early? Nobody bother about the pumps because it is going to be replace already? I do not understand again what was the core reason for the failure. The future came to early or maintenance lazy or there were no pumps because waiting for new pumps to arrive. Wow! Smoke screen I feel"
Wen Ting wrote, "What kind of message is he sending, as a cabinet minister of the nation, when he can just shrug of responsibility with this is life? I'm afraid Singapore is going downhill."
Teo Rodney Bk wrote, "Thank you for your great confidence, The study is on-going, the blame is on-going, the disruption is on-going, the fare hike is on-going, your top management salary payout is on-going and the paying customer aka commuters' inconvenience is also on-going. We get you !!!!"
Jason Going wrote, "Copping out! Where is the supervision? Who should do the supervision? The buck must stop somewhere with the people right at the very TOP! Very bad example for leaders of corporations to follow if the big chiefs hire people down the line to absorb any ill impact and make it easy to just apologise and then expect things to carry on with more hiccups to follow. Come on! If we can’t find the right people in our land to run our essential services, (even looking after our country’s wealth for that matter) properly, we should have enough resources to scour this planet to engage real talent to safeguard our assets and essential services."
Sherwin Tay wrote, "Things I learnt from this video:
1. Khaw Boon Wan doesn't understand how climate change works. It doesn't happen "once in a hundred years" you twat, it's a cumulative, permanent effect.
2. A minister in charge of infrastructure, doesn't understand how engineering works. Preventive measures are reset every time an incident happens, and again, capacity is cumulative per incident, not chronologically determined.
3. That Khaw Boon Wan has atrocious grammar.
4. We should all buy 4D after each breakdown. Apparently, you have a higher chance of winning than of SMRT making urgent repairs on time."
Chloe Low wrote, "Dear Mr. Khaw, instead of taking up the responsibility, you push it away to SMRT! Is this what a leader is all about? If you do not even want to spare a thought about Singapore, you should not even stay here. You should go back to where you belong!"
Mr Tan Jui Cheng stated that he is glad that they had not replace the pump. He wrote, "It is fortunate that they had not replace the pump, or else we will never know the standards of maintenance is so unreasonably low."
Mr Kenny Chan stated that it is a good thing that the trains did not become an aquatic tomb. He wrote, "We’re thankful the trains did not become an aquatic tomb to thousands of commuters. If it did, how and who would be responsible for a possibly tragedy of such magnitude?"