Khaw: SMRT CEO Desmond Kuek wasn't parachuted into the job, he volunteered for it

Khaw also compared Singapore's MRT to Hong Kong's MTR system.

Sulaiman Daud | November 07, 2017, 04:24 PM

Desmond Kuek, the SMRT CEO under fire for not turning around the problematic company culture after more than five years, received some recognition for his efforts in transforming the company.

Well, sort of.

In Parliament on Nov. 7, Minister for Transport Khaw Boon Wan described him as someone who has "his heart in the right place".

In remarks that were not included in his Ministerial Statement, Khaw shed some light on the circumstances behind Kuek's appointment, and revealed that he volunteered for the job.

"I know he has been working very hard to try to change work culture. Let me share a little secret about, I don't know whether he make public. 2012 you know, when...2011 was the last major disruption and then the SMRT decided to remove their previous CEO.

Mr Desmond Kuek volunteered for this job. He volunteered for this job, he wasn't parachuted in or being asked to go and fix this. He volunteered for this job. I mean as former Chief of Defence force, I know, I think his heart is in the right place. He's proud to be a Singaporean, and we all felt ashamed by these, you know, every now and then disruptions in SMRT."

Q\Kuek took over as SMRT CEO in Oct. 2012. He replaced Saw Phaik Hwa, who resigned in Jan. 2012 following two major train disruptions in Dec. 2011.


In 2016, Kuek received a pay cut of 20 per cent, although SMRT did not reveal the reason for it.

Speaking candidly, Khaw also mentioned how he compared Singapore's situation with Hong Kong.

"Many of us, I mean I'm an engineer, I have many engineering friends, and we really feel embarrassed, for a long time. I don't know if I should say so, but for a long time we've always compared ourselves with Hong Kong, we're far ahead of them as engineers. And when their MRT's running much better than our MRT, it's terrible."

Hong Kong's Mass Transit Railway (MTR) system has been routinely compared to Singapore's MRT.

However in Oct. 2017, Bloomberg columnist Andy Mukherjee opined that Singapore should not seek to emulate Hong Kong's MTR system, and argued for the government to take over SMRT entirely.

You can view Khaw's remarks below:

Top image from SMRT.