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Defective Trains: “Discuss Things Openly, Tell People The Truth”

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By: Law Kim Hwee

Unlike most articles taking SMRT, LTA and MOT to task, I want to address the transport issue to Mr Shanmugaratnam personally. He’s not the minister responsible. So, why him?

For one, I have plenty of respect for Thar-‘man’. He is probably the most qualified and proven minister in his job. He’s respected internationally not just domestically like so many self-vaunted ministers/ex-ministers who could only land jobs in GLCs but not MNCs once out of their million$ posts.

Another reason: as a Singaporean of Indian descent, he has it in him a natural openness to debate, talk over issues. Noble laureate Amartya Sen did not author ‘The Argumentative Indian‘ for no reason. The Indians were philosophers long before the Greek or the Chinese ones appeared as embryos.

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And, of course, Mr was the person who preached, ‘Discuss things openly, tell people the truth.’

In truth, he also famously told Singaporeans that their right to know stops if he simply says so: “People do want to know, there is curiosity, it is a matter of public interest. That is not sufficient reason to disclose information. It is not sufficient that there be curiosity and interest that you want to disclose information…it serves no strategic purpose,’ he said in Parliament over the Charles Goodyear ‘resignation’ even before he started work at in 2009. Remember that one? As citizens, we had no ‘strategic interest’ to know something that affected the management of OUR hard-earned CPF money! Walau!

So, now, Mr Tharman, surely the very safety of high-speed train commuters are a paramount concern to you. Surely, there is curiosity, public interest to understand why it took a foreign investigative team to uncover the defective trains before LRT and MOT came out with such well-prepared explanations. Surely, surely, we wish to know, nay, we must know what exactly happened, the works! LTA processes, the chain of events unfolding, the negotiations etc to understand what if any cover-ups for complacency (?), for incompetence (??), for possible corruption (???) might have occurred?

Whilst the minister of transport has direct responsibility, you as DPM, you who preach open discussion and telling the truth, surely you must demand answers for us voters and citizens.

How about it, Mr Tharman? Will you see to it that you practise what you preach, ‘discuss things openly, tell people the truth’? How about starting with these 2 questions:

1. If the defects were not ‘safety-critical’, why was it not discussed openly, told truthfully to us until LTA’s hand was forced by the report of foreign investigative journalists?

2. How is it ‘the appropriate thing to do’ and ‘value for our money’ to settle for rectification instead of new replacements for new trains delivered defective? You mean LTA negotiated such pathetic terms when signing the purchase order?

But I wonder if a minister, junior to you, who preached the need to not cultivate ‘a blame culture’ may prevail over your sermon? Perhaps, it’ll be the cabinet’s collective decision to continue to fudge things up, to protect the cronies and fellow -supporting civil service elites. Because, in protecting your underlings, you protect your own complacency and incompetence.

8 lives were lost in the Hep C mistake at the General Hospital. No one was brought to account openly and truthfully – all in the name of avoiding a blame culture. No life has been yet lost – yet – due to the defective trains. So, chances are dim that citizens will see the train fiasco ‘discussed openly, told the full truth’. What’s more, the families of the 8 lives lost must have been paid off so obscenely with taxpayers’ money that they preferred to remain quiet instead of commencing a class action against those guilty of killing their loved ones. And, of course, the Health Minister never offered to resign.

Hence, the prognosis to ‘discuss things openly, tell people the truth’ is not good.

How many deaths do we need before we ‘discuss things openly, tell people the truth’? But if a non safety-critical issue is being covered up, we inevitably develop a culture of more and worse cover ups…all in the name of avoiding a blame culture.

Mr Tharman, how does it feel to be a minister in a cabinet with such moral leadership values, of such distinction?


Republished from Law Kim Hwee’s blog.

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