Lt. Gen. Neo Kian Hong in 2012. (Photo by United States Department of Defense )

No other candidate with more relevant experience available after global search?

After the multiple MRT debacles and hiccups, ranging from flooding, delays, accidents and breakdowns, local transport company, SMRT finally has a new chief at the helm in the form of Neo Kian Hong, a former General of the Singapore Armed Forces, Permanent Secretary (Education Development) in the Ministry of Education and Permanent Secretary (Defence Development) of the Ministry of Defence. According to reports, this feted appointment was made after a “global search” for the right candidate.

While Neo’s illustrious public service CV cannot be questioned, does he have any relevant experience to lead a transportation enterprise that is responsible for enabling multitudes that rely on its services to get about the business of life?

Also, how was this “global search” conducted? What did the search entail? What are the prerequisites to take on this challenging appointment? Given that the SMRT is inextricably linked to the public, shouldn’t these questions be adequately addressed with transparency and openness? Who were the other candidates that were considered? Was there an application process?

This is by no means a criticism of Neo. I have no doubt that he will work hard. That said, are there applicants and/or candidates that perhaps possess more relevant experience and expertise?

How are the skills gleaned as a general of the army or as a Permanent Secretary within the Ministry of Education or Ministry of Defence linked to managing a large transportation outfit that has faced numerous complaints and issues over the last few years?

Arguably, the military set up will be one whereby discipline is paramount and dissent not tolerated. How does this stack up with running an organisation which is faced with much criticism?

How does working with education gel with transportation?

At the end of the day, Singapore needs to avoid all possible accusations of cronyism. While this may be a well thought out and meritorious appointment, the government, SMRT and Temasek Holding which owns 100 per cent of SMRT, must do more to justify this appointment. It is not for the public to ask why he is the right person given that he does not appear to possess directly relevant experience. Rather, given his lack of directly relevant experience, it is for the SMRT and the government to explain why this appointment was made. The fact that they have not really done so is cause for concern.

This is especially because of the sheer number of issues that have plagued the SMRT in the past number of years! If a new chief is brought in to rehabilitate the image of the SMRT, surely someone who has run another huge transportation company would appear better suited to the role?

Surely, if there was a “global search”, that a candidate with more relevant experience would be available?