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One week ago, the Singapore Democratic Party issued a statementon the disruptions to the train service. We are gratified that the three recommendations we made have been adopted by the government in their entirety:
1. That the Minister for Transport return to Singapore and conduct an Urgent Safety and Health Check (USHC) on the functioning of the MRT system to ensure that immediate concerns are eliminated so that the safety of commuters and the security of the system are not compromised.
2. The government convene an independent Public Transport Commission to study the safety, health and security of the MRT system to ensure that the economy and citizens are not endangered further.
3. That full disclosure of the USHC findings is made available to the nation.
Indeed, sensing the urgency of the situation and the alarm of the people of Singapore, the Prime Minister himself cut short his holiday and returned home.
These measures are to be welcomed. As we mentioned in our statement, the public transport system is the arterial base of the community, both economically and socially. Without a functioning and safe system, the nation can grind to a halt. That the government is responding so rapidly, is both unusual for it but also an indication of the truth of this observation.
The key element in Recommendation 2 is independence. As the majority shareholder in the SMRT corporation (and SBS Transit), it is in the interests of the government to restore confidence in the train system and to ensure that shareholder interests are safeguarded.
The government has, however, lost the initiative, with its appointment of Mr Ong Ye Kung (a junior PAP candidate for Parliament who lost his first contest in Aljuneid GRC earlier this year), by no means an independent individual, to head the investigation team that will fulfil Recommendation 1.
The Straits Times website today described Mr Ong as an “independent director of SMRT”. As reported on this website on 28 November 2011, Mr Ong, in addition to being a member of the PAP, is:
- Assistant Secretary General, NTUC;
- Chairman, Employment and Employability Institute;
- Exec Secretary, Nat’l Transport Workers Union and S’pore Manual Mercantile Workers’ Union;
- Board member, SPRING Singapore;
- Council Member of Ngee Ann Polytechnic; and formerly
- Principal Private Secretary to the Prime Minister.
It is not clear, and nor has the government explained, in exactly what sense Mr Ong is independent.
Societies progress on the strength of the public discourse. And for the public discourse to be veracious and seen to be so, it is imperative that the quest for public information is indeed independent so that no entity can be accused of special pleading.
Recall it being reported that on 18 December 2011, radio DJ, Hossan Leong, was ticked off for announcing to the travelling public that a disruption had occurred on the Circle Line. This highlights a worrying continuation of the government’s tendency to hush up events that set it in a bad light.
Had the government been serious about this safety and health investigation, it would have appointed someone manifestly independent of the Executive to ensure public confidence was satisfied. It has not done so: it has taken shelter in the appointment of an acolyte, and one without any experience in handling an investigation of this magnitude and seriousness.
It is to be earnestly hoped that it has not done so to ensure that embarrassing (and potentially dangerous) findings are concealed. The onus will be on Mr Ong to show that this is not so.