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SMRT’s Saw Phaik Hwa Resigns, Mountbatten MP Lim Biow Chuan’s Two Cents’ Worth

As news of SMRT Corporation’s CEO Saw Phaik Hwa’s resignation filtered through social networking sites and major socio-political websites last Friday, there were jubilant cheers of celebration, and unbridled proclamations of victory. It was a strangely good feeling: with the unfortunate bogeyman out of the way, it felt as if we – as Singaporeans and commuters – could close the present chapter, and progressively move on.

I thought The Straits Times did a relatively fair coverage of Miss Saw’s resignation, with one of its headlines succinctly encapsulating the beleaguered CEO’s nine eventful years at the helm: “a hit with investors, but not with commuters”. It had become painfully apparent that while Mrs. Saw had the Midas touch when it came to boosting the company’s finances, she possessed a pedantic lack of awareness of pent-up, on-the-ground commuter frustrations. Her public relations skills were simply lamentable.

MP Lim Biow Chuan: the public wants “a pound of flesh”.

MP Lim Biow Chuan: The Public Wants “A Pound Of Flesh”

My interest, however, was piqued by an intriguing side comment made by Mountbatten Member of Parliament Mr. Lim Biow Chuan (right): “It would be a bit sad if she resigned because of Internet comments. For the public to say the top must resign for every single fault, I’m not comfortable with that. I wouldn’t say that is public accountability – it’s wanting a pound of flesh”.

I respectfully disagree with his perspectives on three counts.

First, it is naïve to reckon that Internet comments per se were sole determinants for Miss Saw’s voluntary departure; instead, her decision and the assorted opinions expounded online were the results of glaring incompetence across the board. The three major disruptions in December are not the only considerations; there were serious security breaches in train depots between 2010 and 2011, chronic overcrowding and lethargy in dealing with peak-hour traffic, as well as poor associated contingency plans.

Second, the public is certainly not contending that “the top must resign for every single fault”; this point of view is myopic and unconstructive. Miss Saw had failed on two counts: as the company’s linchpin, she displayed poor leadership abilities, and lacked public sensitivity. The service provider’s responses to breakdowns were disorganised, messy and woefully reactive; whereas Miss Saw’s responses to media queries reflected a disturbing lack of cognisance of day-to-day inconveniences passengers struggle with.

Third, why is such a resignation not considered to be public accountability? As the head of a public transportation operator, strong moral authority is imperative; Miss Saw’s resignation would not effect immediate technical or mechanical changes, but it generates impetus for improvements, and provides a blank slate for future enhancements.

Strengthening Regulation Of Public Transportation

Miss Saw’s resignation provides an excellent start (again) for all Singaporeans.

As I contended last week, “Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew’s assertion that the current regulatory framework is a ‘robust’ one is, naturally, perceived to be farcical and detached from day-to-day realities” (here). It is important to recognise that the LTA and PTC are equally culpable, and should be taken to task for their lapses and oversights.

Minister Lui will be making a Ministerial Statement today, during the year’s first sitting of Parliament, on the December disruptions as well as the corresponding work of the Committee of Inquiry. It would be fascinating to see what transpires, but Miss Saw’s resignation – I believe – provides an excellent start (again) for all Singaporeans.

About guanyinmiao

A man of knowledge lives by acting, not by thinking about acting. Carlos Castaneda.


7 thoughts on “SMRT’s Saw Phaik Hwa Resigns, Mountbatten MP Lim Biow Chuan’s Two Cents’ Worth

  1. exactly! and you dont have to respectfully disagree with LBC. you can just outright disagree with LBC.
    the FACT is: the public (and internet) have ASKED for her to resign even before this incident has happened as this is not SMRT’s first incident under her watch. and what happened? did she resign? No. she stayed on. she overstayed. now that she has resigned for whatever reasons (god knows), suddenly she is a pushover and a victim?? and the internet is at fault???

    Posted by ben | January 9, 2012, 6:22 pm
    • No worries; I feel that a basic level of respect should be accorded to our elected representatives, even if we do not see eye-to-eye on certain issues.

      The tsunami of public pressure might have been an important factor resulting in her resignation. Unlike traditional leadership positions, the one at the helm of a public transport operator should have a positive relationship with the public. Unfortunately, Miss Saw was considerably incompetent in this regard.

      Jin Yao

      Posted by guanyinmiao | January 10, 2012, 6:48 pm
  2. Astronomical salary scales imply taking responsibility for major problems and resigning is part of taking responsibility. The ruling party have had a holiday with respect to this important point. They shift the blame elsewhere when a major problem occurs and happily continue to pocket their high salaries.

    Posted by Shamsudin Koh | January 9, 2012, 11:31 pm
    • I think that it is too early to call; some time should be fairly given for the authorities to conduct a thorough investigation of the breakdowns and associated issues.

      Jin Yao

      Posted by guanyinmiao | January 10, 2012, 6:49 pm
  3. Sporeans should expect more from their leaders because they have given up 2 years of their lives to NS and have to do annual reservist training. We have to live with a press which protects the ruling party and gives them a pass always. We work long hours. We have no social security monthly payments nor are we covered by universal health care. And to top it all we pay our leaders very high salaries.

    So please dont call the average sporean unrealistic and overly demanding. We have SACRIFICED a lot and expect a performance from the ruling which corresponds to this sacrifice

    Posted by Ginko Lee | January 10, 2012, 1:47 pm
    • Again, it is important to focus on the issue per se. You have highlighted general concerns that are worthy of our attention, but we should concentrate upon the present exposition at-hand.

      Jin Yao

      Posted by guanyinmiao | January 10, 2012, 6:51 pm


  1. Pingback: Daily SG: 09 Jan 2012 « The Singapore Daily - January 9, 2012

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