Conflict of interest for Alan Chan to be SPH CEO and LTA Chairman

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By: 永久浪客/Forever Vagabond

It was announced in March that the government has appointed SPH CEO Alan Chan to be LTA Chairman at the same time, effective 1 Apr (http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/sph-ceo-alan-chan-to-take-over-as-chairman-of-land-transport-authority-from-april-1).

That means to say, Mr Chan is currently wearing 2 hats looking after the interests of both SPH and LTA.

That poses an interesting question. Let’s say there are more bad news coming from LTA, how would Mr Chan instruct his SPH people to report? Wouldn’t he try to “tone down” the reporting of any bad news coming from LTA, since as LTA Chairman, he would be “losing face” if LTA is painted in a bad light in public?

Of course Mr Chan may argue that he respects the editorial independence and would not interfere with what his editors write.

But nevertheless, the editors do report to him and their bonuses and promotions would naturally also depend on their annual reviews by him.

So, say if you are a career-minded ST Editor like Warren Fernandez, knowing that your boss is also LTA Chairman, wouldn’t you be more careful when it comes to reporting news on LTA?

SPH reports cracks on trains to be of “hairline” nature

In fact, there may already be a certain level of self-censorship imposed in reporting the recent news about the defective trains being shipped back to China for repairs.

When Hong Kong’s FactWire first reported the news, it reflected that the cracks found on the trains were more serious. It reported (https://www.factwire.news/en/MTR-securetly-recall.html):

The mainland railway industry source stated that quality issues with the Chinese-made C151A trains began to worsen in 2013. They said cracks were found in structural components, including the sub-floor – a compartment under the passenger floor holding the equipment box and electrical wires – and bolster function parts connecting the car body to the bogie, the latter having the most serious problems. “It’s a structural problem,” said the source. “The bolster function balances the train’s weight and swing range, [therefore] cracks are dynamic, [they] can spread to the train car body with the bolster function, so the entire train car must be replaced.”

FactWire reported that the cracks, in fact, pose “a structural problem” to the trains.

Forced by FactWire’s reporting, ST reported the same incident the next day, quoting FactWire. However, ST used the headline, “Hairline cracks in 26 MRT trains made in China”, appearing to downplay the issue (http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/transport/hairline-cracks-in-26-mrt-trains-made-in-china).

Specifically, it used the adjective “hairline” to describe the cracks, suggesting sublimely to readers that the cracks are not serious after all.

What is a “hairline crack”?

Let’s look at the dictionary definition of a “hairline crack”. The Collins English Dictionary defined it as “a very fine crack ⇒ There’s a hairline crack in the rim of that jar” (http://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/hairline-crack).

Dictionary Central defined it as “a tiny stress crack which forms due to strains in the material or extreme temperature differences” (http://www.dictionarycentral.com/definition/hairline-crack.html).

In a subsequent report, ST said that 85 per cent of the “hairline cracks” are shorter than 20cm and “did not pose a safety risk”. But that also means 15% have cracks more than 20cm. In the report, ST continues to use the term “hairline” to describe the cracks (http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/transport/cracks-found-on-china-made-mrt-trains-in-2013-did-not-pose-safety-concern-khaw).

Is a crack of 20cm or more considered “very fine” or “tiny”, as defined in the dictionaries?

For that matter, if the cracks are not serious, why did LTA insist that the cracked bolster part be made by Japanese Kobe Steel from now on, instead of the original Chinese subcontractor of CSR Sifang?

In fact, it was disclosed that the cracks developed because of a defect in the manufacturing process of the Chinese subcontractor, resulting in impurities being introduced into the Aluminum parts. This indeed, reflects a serious structural problem posed by those defective bolster parts.

It’s more than just a “hairline crack”, Mr Chan.