And let the troubles roll

The SMRT saga continues and all I see are denials and denials and denials. Where are the transparency and conversation the government sought to have? Where are the substances in all these conversation?

Touching down back to this sunny (or rather, rainy) island, the first thing the taxi driver yanked about is the failure of SMRT. Never mind that the recent sagas had created a deep distrust in the government handling of a private transport operator that had conflicting invested interest by the government itself, the transport minister goes on to showcase his EQ deficiency and insensitiveness in announcing the need to raise fares in order for SMRT to offer higher pay to attract Singaporeans to work as drivers.

And to the great embarrassment to any citizen of this ‘fine’ country, we have $15,000 a month MPs (see link) who are incapable of stringing logical answers and statements, flabbergasting in a stammer of nonsensical and heavily Singlish flavored replies that speaks zero confidence, absence of factual evidence, and simply devoid of intelligence. One can easily sense the great denial going on. When you can’t convince, you try to confuse, even though that’s a rather bad job done. I would rather hire Sarah Paulin as an MP. At least she knows the simple logic of Russia and Alaska being pretty near one another. How on earth did the great PAP ended up with minions like these?

Firstly, SMRT got someone who had not a single day experience in transport management to head a major transport company that offers public bus services. How is that risk assessed or approved is anyone’s guess. A few years down the road, it became obvious that Singapore Mass Rapid Transport is turning into SuperMaRkeT Inc with all that focus on retail rather than the core business in transport. Sure, revenue increased, which is a good thing for shareholders, notwithstanding that fares were still being raised in the face of “ever increasing cost in fuel and wages” despite increasing profits. Consequentially, failures of the train system came one after another, another after another.

The answer provided by the Ministry of Transport, which seems to have been sleeping on for years, is to spend more tax payer’s money in creating some random council to assist an entire ministry in solving SMRT’s problem. Why then do we even need a ministry for in the first place? Are all these people working in the ministry so useless they have to get additional resources to remedy something that they should be overseeing all this while? Lawyer fees were incurred, effort and thousands of hours later, it simply culminated in a muffed blaming game; in the hope of boomeranging the responsibility on the already guilty transport operator away from the government.  What I see is simply a show, a boring show by script writers who slaved away in MediaCorp’s cubicle box paid for by tax payers.

Turning back to an ex-military 3-star general to solve the current issue signified the depth of buried head the government had. Further stepping up on the bureaucracy ladder, this ex-general intend to rope in his soon-to-be-retired colleagues in the military. Isn’t it funny yet somehow familiar at how the military becomes the magic pill that “should” set things right. It’s simply a matter of going back to how things used to work before all that drama. Since things were fine headed by an ex-military honcho in the past, it must work in today’s time right? I’m baffled by the simplicity solution the government sought to create.  Anyone who had experience in the military will know that it is not the most efficient organization around. Appointing people who used to direct tanks and heavy vehicles to manage a nation-wide transport system isn’t really the wisest thing if you ask me. To be fair, time should reveal how capable our military is.

While the government stands by the view that public transport operators should be left privatized in order to achieve ‘efficiency’, they are slapping themselves in their face by indirectly admitting that the government, as a public serving body, is not efficient. Well, that’s pretty obvious going by the waste of tax payer’s money in the recent Procurement saga where there’s no logistical expert, no due diligence and no controls on spending money on the various ministries and statutory boards. How privatize is SMRT in the first place when the government is free to insert their own people as and when it deemed necessary? If simply being privatized equates efficiency and profitability, maybe the ministers, with their highly decorated accolades and degrees from prestigious universities care to explain the reason SMRT failed, or any other privatized firms such as the major banks failures in recent years.

Although “privatized”, the government goes on to use $1.1 billion of tax payer’s money to assist these transport operators to upgrade their infrastructure and procure new vehicles. $1.1 billion, that’s 1,100 million. It’s not a small figure mind you. It is equivalent to more than 8 years SMRT’s profit. How is such a huge amount approved so easily and so fast amazed me. All the more amazing when the PAP has always been reluctant to spend even an additional couple of millions more on healthcare and aid for the unfortunate.

In another showcase of efficiency, or rather, the lack of thorough debate and discussion with a fast approval in Parliament, the citizens of this island state are coerced to bail out a company that feeds profits to the government. In theory, privatized companies do perform better as they have a bottom line to take care of. By taking away that urgency to take care of bottom line, the government is signaling that SMRT will be guaranteed survival. Well, not only survival, the government goes an extra length to signify their willingness to guarantee profitability, even at the expense of the real shareholders—the citizens funding the entire infrastructure upgrade and bus procurement. The issue is not a matter of market failure and treating it with a useless tagline of ‘privatization’ when it is in essence heavily subsidized by public funds. The real issue is a Principle-agent problem, exacerbated by common interests between the government’s investment arm and the problematic company in question.  In essence, tax payers are paying for their own buses and bus captains and paying on top of it extra premium to ensure shareholders (ie Temasek Holdings) get their fatty pay check and bonuses. What choices do the common man and woman down the street has?

P.S. At the time PAP experienced WP’s episode of ‘unfaithful MPs’, we see Low Thai Kiang reacting to crafty interview questions (read between the lines how those questions posed are designed to bait certain answers) with ease and style. Why can’t the PAP ever learn their PR skills?

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  1. December 13, 2012 at 4:20 am
  2. December 15, 2012 at 6:55 am

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