SMRT saga: Is it an “anyhow can” attitude?

In News Reports on December 6, 2017 at 12:15 am

It could be that the pumps weren’t switched to automatic mode or the float sensor was too submerged in mud to send out an alert. Never mind the specific cause of the flooding in MRT tunnels on Oct 7, they all boiled down to lack of maintenance. Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan calls it a failure of organizational management.

We have a nice media. In other countries, those SMRT employees who have been sacked, disciplined or who have quit would have been corralled and asked some questions about why they did or did not do some of the things they were supposed to. But there’s nary an attempt to chase them down. Perhaps, there is the thought that the SMRT might take legal action against them and in these days of tightened OB markers, the media think it better to let the court process take its course?

I was more or less hoping that the investigation panel will shed light on that phrase “deep-seated cultural issues’’ which CEO Desmond Kuek will never be able to live down. But I guess that wasn’t part of the investigators remit.

Clearly, cultural issues which are deep-seated are what is termed euphemistically as “legacy’’ issues. I would dearly love to know if Desmond Kuek succeeded in replacing those who have helmed positions from his predecessor Saw Phaik Hwa’s time? Of course, this doesn’t mean that every long-time staffer is a laggard or recalcitrant, but it would give an idea if the new(ish) broom swept clean or left the corners un-dusted.

That’s about top management. What about the rank and file? What I find troubling is the attitude of the bad apples in the SMRT barrel. They seem to have taken no pride in their work. How prevalent is this sort of “anyhow can’’ attitude is among our people here?

Former top civil servant Lim Siong Guan referred to this in his lecture last month: “We have to move away from what appears to be a prevailing attitude on the part of many workers in Singapore, an attitude of “satisficing”, which means “aiming to achieve only satisfactory results because the satisfactory position is familiar, hassle-free, and secure, whereas aiming for the best-achievable result would call for costs, effort, and incurring of risks”.

“When we avoid “trying our best”, but simply do what is good enough, we are in fact cheating ourselves of what is possible given our individual talents and abilities.’’

We seem to have given up on the mantra of being the best we can be, which include doing the nitty-gritty, mundane tasks well. I suppose it’s normal to chafe at having to grind away at a series of small stuff which nobody sees and aspire to handle bigger, higher profile projects. But if you can’t do the small things well, what makes anyone think that you’re capable of anything bigger?

I wonder if the cultural narrative that has been circulating for sometime is correct for our people. You know, about fulfilling aspirations and chasing rainbows…

People do not jump from, say, school, to gliding on a rainbow. There’s a long hard slog in-between, unrewarding and out of sight, for a pay-packet which we all think could be better. We’re no longer kiasu about making sure everything is tip-top, and more willing to cut corners because no one’s really watching.

We’ve got to bring back the idea of excellence.


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