SMRT chairman Seah Moon Ming's decision to quit day job 'laudable'

SMRT chairman Seah Moon Ming announced on Tuesday that he was stepping down as CEO of Temasek unit Pavilion Energy to focus on his SMRT role.
SMRT chairman Seah Moon Ming announced on Tuesday that he was stepping down as CEO of Temasek unit Pavilion Energy to focus on his SMRT role. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SMRT chairman Seah Moon Ming's recent decision to step down from his day job to focus on fixing SMRT's woes should be lauded, said former civil service head Peter Ho.

He used Mr Seah's case to make the point that the correct approach for the authorities and SMRT to the ongoing train troubles was to do one's best to solve the problem, instead of seeking only to apportion blame for what went wrong.

This mindset applies to the civil service too, he said.

"Do we want to embrace blame-seeking culture or a problem-solving culture? The main thing is to solve the problem," said Mr Ho, who retired from the civil service in 2010 and is now senior adviser at the Centre for Strategic Futures.

Mr Ho, 63, was speaking to The Straits Times ahead of tomorrow's launch of his book, The Challenges Of Governance In A Complex World. In it, he addresses governance in an age of complexity and cites the idea of a "black elephant" - a problem actually visible to everyone, but which no one wants to deal with until it blows up in their faces.

Asked if the MRT's sub-par maintenance was one such example, he replied that apportioning blame in such a way was unhelpful.

"In a way, it doesn't really matter. It has happened and you have to solve the problem," he said.

He acknowledged that "if something went wrong, we have to find the people who fail and deal with them accordingly".

"But the main thing is to solve the problem," said Mr Ho. This was what Mr Seah was doing, he added.

Mr Seah was appointed SMRT chairman in July. Three months later, a flooded MRT tunnel disrupted services on the North-South Line. Last month, two trains collided at Joo Koon MRT station.

 

Mr Seah announced on Tuesday that he was stepping down as chief executive of Temasek unit Pavilion Energy to focus on his SMRT role.

Mr Ho said: "Because he is a real gentleman, he feels obliged to solve the problem. But the only way to solve the problem - and he is not being paid for any of this - is to resign from his real job to deal with this problem.

"That is a very honourable thing to do. Is he being thanked for it? No."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 07, 2017, with the headline 'SMRT chairman's decision to quit day job 'laudable''. Print Edition | Subscribe