The priority of a privatised transport industry, as in a commercial enterprise, is profits for the shareholders and service to the commuters is by necessity of secondary importance. So maintenance of the service becomes circumscribed by the profit bottom line and is it surprising that we get frequent breakdowns of train services much to the inconvenience of the hapless commuters who had to scramble by other means to get to their work? And many of the commuters are from the lower-income group and the regularity of the breakdowns has caused a numbness in their mental feelings to the extent that any miraculous remedy from the Government is a pipe-dream under the present privatised system. Of course, those who are affluent enough to own cars are not concerned with the frequent train breakdowns but they are a small number of the privileged class compared with the massive commuters.
A typical example of the ineptitude of the Government in this connection was the questionable appointment of Ms Saw Phaik Hwa as the chief executive officer of SMRT in December 2002. She had neither the expertise nor the experience of managing a transport system of such magnitude and it needed little intelligence to discover that she had made a great mess out of it. Her working experience was mainly in the retail business and indeed, despite her lack of expertise, she had surprisingly managed to deliver impressive profits to the company, but would appear not from managing the train and bus services. She was awarded hundreds of thousand of performance shares which were rightly forfeited after her resignation in January 2012 following two major rail breakdowns in December 2011. Her eminent successor, ex Lt-general Desmond Kuek, who took the helm on October 1 last year, is not seen to have fared better in the management of SMRT, apart from packing its management with his army cronies making it appear as an offshoot of the Ministry of Defence. Like his infamous predecessor, Desmond Kuek, with solely a military background, lacks the expertise and experience for the running of a rail and bus system and may finally end up with a mediocre performance.
The case for the nationalisation of the transport system is a cogent one. First and foremost, it is not run solely for the profits of shareholders to the disadvantage of commuters, especially the middle and lower income earners for whom public transport is a crucial means of their livelihood, As a government-run enterprise, it should be more efficient in its management and maintenance, which could cut down on frequent rail breakdowns and the less frequent unexpected industrial action by bus workers. Because it is non-profit orientated, the nationalised system will present less demand for the increase of transport fares from time to time, a welcome relief to the impoverished commuters. Just look at the countries with nationalised transport systems like Germany and France to see how efficient and trouble-free the way it is run with a contented commuting public, is it not time the cocooned PAP Government should seriously consider the much-awaited nationalisation of the transport system to alleviate the anguish of the long-suffering Singapore commuters? If the PAP wallahs are thinking of redeeming themselves by service to the public, this will offer them a golden opportunity for them to show their worth.