Khaw now doesn't think "complete openness" is best

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By: 永久浪客/Forever Vagabond

8 years ago in the midst of Lehman Brothers financial crisis, then Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan told the media in an interview that one thing he has learned in communicating with the public is that “complete openness” from political leaders is the best policy.

At the time, some PAP town councils had invested the residents’ sinking funds in toxic financial instruments, resulting in massive losses. Many Singaporeans were angry and demanded answers from the town councils.

Mr Khaw tried to offer his views on why the town councils did not disclose immediately their exposure to those Lehman-linked toxic products after the collapse of Lehman Brothers investment bank.

He thought that the town councils needed time to determine which of their investments were at risk. Because the information was not readily available, the town councils needed time to check.

“When there is $200-odd million in the account, it’s a huge array of investment products handled by various investment managers. The town councils would have to meet these managers and find out which investments were exposed to what kind of Lehman-linked products. It does not mean all Lehman-linked products are in trouble,” Mr Khaw told the media.

“I think they (town councils) were trying to be complete in their reply.”

Change of mind about “complete openness”?

However, 8 years later, the once humble permanent secretary turned minister, who then become the powerful PAP Chairman, Khaw Boon Wan, is now singing a different tune.

When news of the China-made MRT trains being secretly sent back to China for repairs broke recently, the public reacted angrily to the fact that LTA had been hiding the news for 3 years.

In fact, it took an outside media, Hong Kong’s FactWire, to break the news after an intensive amount of investigating journalism on their part.

Mr Khaw, now the Transport Minister, had no choice but to come out and say something. He said that telling the public about the news could have caused undue panic (http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/going-public-on-train/2950576.html).

Going public for something that was “not a major event” might have caused unnecessary panic to the layman, he said.

“If all cracks are have to be reported when they do not cause any of those safety issues then they have to think about what is the impact on the ground,” said Mr Khaw. “Looking back I think it’s understandable. We learn as we go along, sometimes even routine matters can be spun out of control as it happened in this case”.

“I think if it was a safety issue, LTA – I’m quite sure will – in consultation with MOT (Ministry of Transport) – will decide to go public immediately.”

But if it wasn’t a safety issue, why did LTA insist that the key components, the train bolsters, need to be re-cast by Japanese Kobe Steel from now on instead of the original Chinese subcontractor?

Blaming Hong Kong’s FactWire

Instead of apologizing and humbly learning a good lesson out from the whole train defect saga, Mr Khaw even took a swipe at FactWire, “With hindsight, the lesson to be learnt is (that) a seemingly routine matter, in mischievous hands, can be mis-spun into a controversy.”

He linked the news to factions in Hong Kong with an anti-China political agenda. He added, “We are caught in a crossfire and there are factions in Hong Kong who wanted to cause some difficulties for mainland China. I have no inside information on whether that is true or not, but it’s possible.” (http://bit.ly/29GfoyO)

“Unfortunately, we become a convenient bullet and collateral damage. Whatever it is, it is of legitimate concern to Singaporeans and we have to address them.”

And he addressed the issue by saying going public with the news earlier might have caused unnecessary panic to the layman.

Well, now that the news is out, are Singaporeans panic? No, they are in fact asking why Mr Khaw is no longer so open as before.