berthahenson

Military Might

In News Reports on December 6, 2012 at 1:06 am

Who would have guessed it? A retired general is bringing in the boys in green to help him run a company in dire straits. Actually, anyone could have figured this was what Desmond Kuek would do; just as no one was surprised when he was picked two months ago – a military man to replace the retailer who was steering SMRT.

But it was good that ST broke the story and even named an incoming hire. As for the rest, I wonder if they will be plucked out of the SAF or wooed out of  jobs outside the force. What to make of this command and control structure or, at least, culture that I suppose will filter through the organisation? I suppose for an essential service, that’s probably needed to make sure the bus and train networks move smoothly and problems nipped in the bud, especially in this stricken times for SMRT. (I mean, bus strike over, people are asking about its Mandarin train station announcements and why it isn’t in four languages or just in English….Talk about handling public opinion!)

I am in two minds about the wisdom of  military takeovers of essential services and other public agencies and corporations. The common perception is that our generals and colonels all have a space secured for them somewhere for their post-military days. Our key structures seemed to be staffed by establishment people, or people in the same mould as the powers that be.

It’s as though we prefer that mavericks stick to the private sector. Maybe this dichotomy is good. Let the mavericks and entrepreneurial types go where profit making is a key objective and keep the stable types in the places where the key objective is the public good.

Retailer Saw Phaik Hwa was probably good for SMRT when it focused on selling retail space. The conventional wisdom (or prejudice) is that under her charge, SMRT was so focused on making money that it forgot the nuts and bolts of running a transport service.

So where is profit going to figure in this supposedly new look/style SMRT? I guess the shareholders aren’t too concerned – yet. Better to fix its deep-seated problems and think about the money later. But I hope the SMRT experience doesn’t mean that the big public agencies/corporations opt for the safe route of putting establishment-types in the top ranks. You need stability with a dose of the interesting and the creative in the long term.

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  1. Actually the good General was a good General when he was in service. He earned a lot of respect from his commanders and men. Frankly I agree that for a corporation offering a public service, it should be run by military men. These guys get the NDPs right year in and year out for many years so it would be a good idea for some amount of military regimen and efficiency to be implemented into SMRT. I’ve got friends who were regular Non-Commissioned Officers (Specialists as they’ve been known for some time, after mine that is), who have worked in SMRT for ages since leaving the force. Loyal, hardworking and diligent.

  2. “people are asking about its Mandarin train station announcements and why it isn’t in four languages or just in English” – stricken because of this? it’s only a group of English educated who think they are superior than others who are buay song and want to make it into an issue. fyi, there were four-language announcements at both City Hall and Raffles Place stations when the lines first started operation. and until today, there are still four language security reminders. and on NE line, Mandarin station name announcements have been there for a long time. and what public opinion are you talking about? just the English educated counts?

  3. When Desmond Kuek was the head of the armed forces, he oversaw regular increases in NSF allowances and some pretty generous catering and leisure activities for the NSFs and NS men. Personally, I’d rather be released from my reservist cycle 3 hours earlier than to sit through a $10-a-head, catered “NSmen appreciation lunch” – but there you go, a paper soldier’s idea of “welfare” and “cohesion”. Sigh. I’d give up my $10 catered lunch if it means that the drivers can get a good salary.

    It’s hard to square that guy with the man who says that, well, a $25 raise in monthly pay ought to be enough for PRC drivers who work in a country that has 5% inflation a year, the highest in the developed world. (Funny how the ST doesn’t put it that way, but I digress.)

    What SMRT needs is commonsense, compassionate leadership. The PRC drivers have been dealt with in a needlessly heavy handed fashion, almost army style. It was so bizarre that it was an SMRT bus that brought the striking drivers to prison.

    The most important point that has been lost in this conversation is that SMRT should have encouraged its drivers to join a workers’ union which can represent their interests. Not only that, the union also has the legal authority to call for a strike within 14 days’ notice if need be. That 14 days grace period would have bought some time to defuse this situation. SBS’ drivers, after all, are unionised. It’s SMRT’s fault that their foreign drivers aren’t.

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