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In 2010 Minister for Law K Shanmugam said that the SMRT was a private entity and onus is on the company – not the government – to ensure that their premises are safe and secure.
The Minister was responding to criticisms that the PAP Government had not done a proper job in ensuring adequate security in the MRT system after a Swiss national had broken into a train depot and painted graffiti on one of the carriages.
He said: “When it comes to private sector organisations, like the SMRT depot, it has been gazetted as a protected place, but the actual security of the premises is within the control of the company, as it should be, and SMRT has accepted that its responsibility is to provide for the security.”
Fast forward to 2011. Following the series of breakdowns in train services over the last several days, Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew has effectively assumed control of the SMRT recovery process. This is waht he wrote in his Facebook on Tuesday, 20 December 2011:
The next thing is to look at when we can gradually increase the 40kph limit. We have run the trains at this reduced speed over critical segments of the network since Sunday. The engineers from LTA and SMRT have inspected the trains and third rail every night since.
Many commuters have had to wait longer for trains to arrive. Your journeys have taken slightly longer. I know this has caused you some inconvenience. I hope to improve on this soon. I will be meeting the LTA and SMRT teams later this morning to get another update on their inspections and their assessments and recommendations.
Note the liberal use of the pronouns ‘we’ and ‘I’. The Minister is indicating that he is taking direct charge of the company’s crisis situation. But how can he do this unless the SMRT is a Government-owned company, something the Singapore Democrats pointed out here.
All of a sudden, talk of SMRT being a private company goes out the window. Minister Lui now declares that “I hope to improve on this soon”.
But more than just confusing signals, the Ministers’ answers paint a more disconcerting picture. In the security breach of the train depot which could have easily been exploited by terrorists, Minister Shanmugam’s response was to palm responsibility off to the SMRT.
In Mr Liu’s case, his first reaction was to ask whether the breakdowns were isolated incidents despite hard evidence of systemic failure. Again his instinct was not to assume responsibility. It was only after a huge public outcry that he aknowledged the need to rectify the faulty system.
When the situation called for Government leaders to step up to the plate, the PAP’s instinct is to duck.
Such is the mettle of the present PAP leadership. Its objective seems to be to minimise problems for itself – even if it has to make contradictory responses – rather than adopting a long-term strategic vision on how to conduct the nation’s affairs.
It does not inspire public confidence.
Watch related video below:
SDP calls for accountability on MRT security failure