Should heads roll at LTA?

The Transport Minister reportedly said in Parliament recently, "SMRT's maintenance regime had shortcomings, but we too - both MOT (Ministry of Transport), as the supervising ministry, and LTA (Land Transport Authority), as the regulator - have to shoulder our share of the responsibility." He must be appreciated for having the integrity to admit mistakes and for taking responsibility for the failures.

The shortcomings of SMRT were quite obvious. That was why in December when the train disruptions happened, I joined others in calling for the resignation of SMRT's CEO Saw Phaik Hwa, in asking her to take moral responsibility for the failures.

The new Transport Minister however, cannot be faulted for the train breakdowns of last December. The disruptions happened when he was barely 7 months into his job. If anyone should take blame for MOT's failure in the disruptions, it should be the former Transport Ministers, Yeo Cheow Tong and Raymond Lim. But both no longer helm that Ministry.

The same however, cannot be said about Land Transport Authority. The chief executive of LTA, Mr Chew Hock Yong, was appointed to head LTA in September 2010, which means that he had more than a year to study and improve the regulatory framework of LTA. Heads of organisations are after all appointed to pinpoint lack and lapse proactively, and not wait for a major breakdown to happen before reacting to it.

In 2008 when Mas Selamat escaped, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong explained in Parliament why then-Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng's head should not roll.

Taking the lead from the Prime Minister, should the Transport Minister now explain why heads (incuding that of the head honcho) should not roll in LTA?

In December last year when the train disruptions happened and the fault of SMRT was quite obvious even to  a layman who has almost zero knowledge of maintenance framework, it took a foreign news agency to ask SMRT's CEO if she'd take responsibility for the fiasco and resign - it perhaps did not even cross the minds of the local newspaper men to ask her this very obvious question.

In my opinion, it is very important to ask the Transport Minister; that since the Transport Minister himself has admitted that LTA was also partially responsible for the major train disruptions in December 2011, should not heads roll at LTA? If not, why?

And while we are pondering that question, it's also good to remember what Workers' Party chief Low Thia Khiang said in Parliament in 2008, when Mas Selamat escaped from the Whitley detention centre.
If you remember, when we debated the salaries of ministers in this House, we were talking about pegging it to the private, corporate world. In the corporate world, when something goes wrong, heads that roll would include the CEO’s. Here, when something goes wrong, we talk about honest mistakes.”