Smart alec SMRT CEO Desmond Kuek no longer surprises Singaporeans with his antics, the latest of which he springs on the public as a Christmas present by bringing in four former high-ranking SAF officers. They were among eight key managers hired by Kuek "to steer the beleagured transport operator back on track".
The first impression that comes smack on the public's mind is where Desmond Kuek, a former SAF lieutenant-general, is trying to lead the SMRT. Is he trying to turn SMRT into another entity of the SAF? Surely to run the SMRT efficiently, you do not depend on former army officers whose expertise is alien to running a bus or underground train service. One cannot but view with cynicism when Kuek indicated that more would be coming soon.
There is hardly any precedent in the commercial world that army men were brought in to run the business, so this gambit by Desmond Kuek is quite mind-boggling. Is he trying to show skeptical Singaporeans that he could run the SMRT in the same way that he was running the SAF as the chief of defence force? Kuek could run the SAF strictly in enforcing military discipline but if he tries to do that to the civilian staff of SMRT he is likely to get a rude shock.
As for non-technical staff, has Desmond Kuek explored the extensive employment market before resorting to recruiting ex-army personnel? He will be surprised with the quantity and quality of suitable talents who abound in the open market. As for technical staff, does Kuek think that ex-army engineers possess more superior expertise than the abounding talents available in the open market? Has he explored this invaluable source before falling back on ex-army engineers? When talented personnel are abounding in the open market, it does not seem logical that one has to fall back on cronies in the SAF as a first preference.
It is not uncommon that cronyism plays a part when a politician becomes a head of government and appoints his cronies to important positions in government or associated concerns.This may not be the case in Singapore but there is no shortage of such examples in some developing countries. This not a reflection on Desmond Kuek but could cronyism be a factor in the recruitment of the ex-SAF officers? Hopefully not, but this does not preclude the public from the possibility of entertaining such an idea.
To be fair to Desmond Kuek, his desire to restore the standard and efficiency of SMRT cannot but be genuine and sincere. Only his methods appear to come under public scrutiny like the recruitment of the ex-army personnel. One illuminating quality of an eminent honcho is his ability to cut losses and improve on them at the first opportunity. Whether Desmond Kuek acquits himself well in this respect is something the public will watch closely. In this connection an appropriate Chinese saying is relevant: To repair the pen after the sheep have escaped is not too late (亡羊补牢，未为晚矣）。