All you need to know about Khaw Boon Wan's massive Ministerial Statement on the MRT tunnel flood

A Committee of Inquiry will not be convened.

Sulaiman Daud | November 07, 2017, 03:23 PM

To no one's surprise, the hottest topic for the November session of Parliament was the MRT flooding incident that occurred on Oct. 7.

No less than ten MRT-related questions were submitted by various MPs, and Minister for Transport Khaw Boon Wan addressed them all in a single, super-long Ministerial Statement.

Here's what you need to know from his nearly 4,500-word statement, as prepared for delivery.

1. Maintenance team may have falsified records

Apparently, internal investigations have found that the maintenance team responsible for Bishan's flood protection system had signed off on maintenance records for Dec. 2016, March 2017 and June 2017. But the team didn't ask for track access during those dates - and you'll need to apply for track access if you want to go down and check the storm tank in the first place.

According to Khaw:

"No track access approvals were issued for preventive maintenance of the Bishan portal sump pumps on these dates. Pump logs also showed that the pumps were not activated for these same dates, which is required as part of the maintenance procedures. In other words, the maintenance records may have been falsified."

This begs the question, is there someone at SMRT responsible for cross-checking that the maintenance records are backed up by track access logs?

The maintenance team responsible for Bishan have been suspended and are "assisting" SMRT's investigation.

2. Switches failed, other pumps not working

As previously reported, the pumps attached to the storm tank at Bishan MRT station were found to be working fine. However, the switches that were supposed to be activated when the water reached a certain level failed.

During his press conference on Oct. 16, Khaw said that the LTA was conducting an investigation into why the switches failed. That investigation is still on-going.

The SMRT investigation also turned up non-functional pumps at Kembangan and Lavender Station. The people responsible for the pumps, from SMRT's Building and Facilities maintenance group, have also been suspended while SMRT carries out its investigations.

3. No Committee of Inquiry, no lapses by LTA

Although some of SMRT's investigations are on-going, as are the LTA investigations, Khaw stated that a Committee of Inquiry will not be convened.

"While investigations by LTA will take a few more weeks to complete, the facts of the 7 October incident are not complicated, and the cause of the incident is clear. My Ministry will therefore not be convening a Committee of Inquiry."

Khaw also added that there were no shortcoming or lapses in oversight by LTA staff in the present regulatory framework.

LTA had met with SMRT on Sept. 29, just a few days before the incident. During the meeting, LTA stressed the importance of proper maintenance for the tunnel pump systems.

SMRT agreed to review the pumps and report malfunctioning ones to LTA, but it was too late.


4. New audit team set up

Going forward, LTA and SMRT will set up a new Joint Readiness Inspection (JRI) team to support SMRT's own internal auditors. This new team will be headed by Richard Kwok, the former Chief Technology Officer of ST Kinetics.

Kwok was apparently released by ST Kinetics at the special request of SMRT Chairman Seah Moon Ming. In addition to the JRI, he will also head SMRT's own audit team.

"His team will report directly to the SMRT Board’s Audit and Risk Committee. He will also jointly head with LTA the Joint Readiness Inspection team which will report to the LTA and SMRT Joint Board Technical Committee.

The tighter audit system will help to identify any deficiencies, so that they can be addressed early before faults occur."

5. Everyone in SMRT is responsible for growing the right culture

Other than the technical measures implemented by SMRT, like replacing the faulty switches and pumps, efforts have been made to tackle the "deep-seated cultural issues" alluded to by CEO Desmond Kuek in the Oct. 16 press conference.

Acting on a union suggestion, SMRT declared an "amnesty period" so that workers could come forward with information on "poor work practices".

Internal processes are also being tightened, with enhancing supervision of night works, and improving training for supervisors. Also, supervisor bonuses will now be linked to the performance of their team and audit results.

This was what Khaw said:

"I would like to stress that growing the right culture is the responsibility of everyone – from the top leadership to the workers. I will look to the SMRT management to set the right tone of professionalism and excellence, to complement the audit systems that are being put in place. This is the Singapore way. Mr Speaker, workers and management are jointly responsible for the success of their enterprise. When we speak of “culture”, we mean the culture of the whole organisation – the values and practices of management, as much as the values and practices of the workers."

6. Chairman praised, but silent on CEO

Seah was referred to several times in the statement, and was even commended by Khaw for having a "zero-tolerance" attitude to failure and reviewing the renumeration of senior management in taking responsibility.

"I am confident that the new SMRT Chairman will be able to turnaround the company, and that we can catch up with the best metros in the world in terms of service reliability."

By contrast, other than referring to Kuek's quote about "deep-seated cultural issues", he wasn't mentioned as much as Seah was.

Khaw also mentioned that he was certain of the SMRT Chairman's "sincere efforts" to change SMRT's culture -- but did not mention Kuek, who brought up the issue of SMRT's culture in the first place.

"I am certain of the new SMRT Chairman’s determination and sincere efforts to transform the culture of SMRT as a whole. With the support of management and workers across the organisation, I have faith that he will succeed."

And you can view the statement in the video below:

Top image via YouTube screen shot.