From ‘All have stations to man on the Singapore boat’, 13 Aug 15, ST Forum
(Steve Chiu Shih Tung): Though the major disruptions on the MRT lines were mentioned in Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew’s letter to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, we can only guess at what the real factors behind his resignation might be (“Lui Tuck Yew decides to leave politics“; yesterday).
But let’s suppose that the MRT breakdowns were the factors; we ought to contemplate how our responses to the breakdowns might have shaped Mr Lui’s decision to step down.
As citizens, we are all in this one Singapore boat. It’s a boat well envied by international watchers, but it’s a boat that’s already 50 years old, and we have a lot of infrastructure, like the MRT, that has been faithfully serving us for several decades now.
As this Singapore boat weathers all kinds of storms, we must realistically expect wear and tear, damage and even downtime to some of the key machinery running this boat, such as the MRT lines. The MRT is just a microcosm of the crucial machinery running this Singapore boat.
…Storms will come and, often, they are beyond our control. We would do well to rise above our frustrations in the face of inconveniences, recognise the efforts of our fellow countrymen and cheer them on, as they do their utmost to serve us all as we weather these storms together.
The writer has successfully used the pretext of our Transport Minister stepping down from his ‘poisoned chalice’ to display his knack for cheesy analogies. Firstly, to be more specific, Singapore is a SAMPAN, as described by PM Lee himself. Once you’ve got that boat analogy down, you need to make it rock, hence ‘weathering the storms‘. One may argue that a massive MRT breakdown is not a random act of God but an inherent system failure, a problem that Lui has supposedly ‘inherited’ from the past, according to Low Thia Khiang. Not surprisingly, ministers who once owned the transport portfolio decided to keep mum about Lui’s sudden decision, or Low’s suggestion that someone, somewhere along the line of the condemned screwed up. That includes Khaw Boon Wan (Acting Transport Minister circa 2003), and retiring ex Minister of Communications Mah Bow Tan (1991-1999).
Incidentally, just before Lui was tasked to ‘brave the perfect storm’, he spoke of poison mushrooms during his 2011 GE rally. And sick was what our aging MRT turned out to be. Despite having the cards heavily stacked against his favour, we got our Free early morning rides and a new Downtown Line due by the end of the year. Tower Transit London won a bus tender with the Government Contracting Model. Naturally, with his boss reluctantly accepting his resignation, the accolades from co-workers came pelting like the gentle rain. He was ‘hardworking’, had a ‘heart’ for Singaporeans, and worked the ground like all Ministers should. He descended into the dark belly of the beast with the unwashed masses. He referred to these niceties, in his own humble words, as ‘obituaries and eulogies without the flowers’. How accurate. We haven’t had such pleasant things said about a PAP politician since LKY passed away.
To say that things haven’t been smooth sailing for the former Navy Chief is an understatement. The hashtag #tuckyew has been trending on Twitter ever since 2011, first tweeted by a guy called Martin Wong: ‘Let’s trend #tuckyew’. For the past 4 years, any delay in train service, any instance of a SBS driver not understanding English, every time a bus gets so packed it passes us by as we flag for it, someone tweets their frustration with a ferocious, tragically catchy ‘Tuck Yew!’. Alas, despite Facebook pages dedicated to ousting Lui out of the position, our PM’s stand on cock-ups under his Ministers’ watch has remained firm. In response to the Wong Kan Seng-Mas Selamat episode, he said that we should not encourage a culture where officials are forced to resign whenever something goes wrong, that this may appease the angry public, but ultimately leave the problem unsolved. Which explains why WKS is relinquishing his seat ONLY NOW.
An outgoing SMRT CEO, on the other hand, may get the most unceremonious of public farewells. Just ask Saw Phaik Hwa. Current CEO Desmond Kuek also got rapped for declaring his $2.25 million salary. Nobody is going to send the SMRT CEO off with a bouquet and a heavy heart when they decide to step down, so maybe being Transport Minister isn’t quite the shittiest job in the world after all. Yet, for some reason, nobody tweets ‘PhaikHwa!’, or ‘BakChye’ (Desmond Kuek) when shit happens.
As for the Singapore boat, it’s probably less a case of a good man tossed overboard, but one setting sail for less turbulent waters towards the horizon. Here’s wishing Tuck Yew all the best in his future endeavours. To his successor, let’s pray that he makes good of his time in charge while walking the plank.