SMRT Communications Head to step down, top management shakeup expected

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Patrick Nathan, who served as Vice President of Corporate Communications of SMRT, as well as its top spokesman, is resigning. This comes amidst what may be a significant change in SMRT’s management due to numerous train breakdowns, breaches in safety, as well as growing concern about SMRT’s work culture itself.

When exactly Mr. Nathan leaves office and who his replacement will be has not been disclosed. However, SMRT Chairman Seah Moon Ming has already announced that Elaine Koh will act as chief commuter engagement officer. Ms. Koh has worked in corporate communications for SMRT for a some time now.

Mr. Seah Moon Ming assumed the chairmanship of SMRT only last July, and has declared that he will be a hands-on, pro-active chairman starting next month. By the end of January, he will resign as CEO of Pavilion Energy, an oil and gas company.

Mr. Nathan, 56, is a former national security specialist. Following a vandalism incident in Bishan in 2011, he came on board to lead SMRT’s security and emergency planning department. By 2013 he was appointed SMRT’s head spokesperson after the sudden resignation of his predecessor, Kalai Natarajan. Ms. Natarajan, who only stayed with SMRT for five months, was a longtime PR person.

Many Singaporeans have clamored for a change in SMRT’s management due to a series of train service breakdowns. These calls intensified after the train collision in Joo Koon in which at least 38 individuals were injured, and the unprecedented Bishan tunnel flooding that inconvenienced countless passengers after services along the North-South line were suspended for almost an entire day.

Public outrage against the transport operator grew after investigations into the tunnel flooding revealed that a maintenance team that was supposed to carry out works in the tunnel did not do so for almost one whole year but falsified records that they did.

In light of such incidents, there is speculation that SMRT’s chief executive Desmond Kuek will also resign, since Mr. Seah Moon Ming will be taking a stronger leadership role. However, the public’s biggest concern remains the repair of SMRT’s engineering woes.

Public trust in the current leadership has understandably waned with each SMRT incident or breakdown. In this sense, a change in leadership may give the public an opportunity to rebuild trust in the company.

Many feel that at the end of the day, the leadership of SMRT must take full responsibility for decisions made that affected its performance. In this vein, netizens appear to welcome Mr. Nathan’s resignation while some called for SMRT to address real issues on the ground: