30 years of GPCs

Sitoh Yih Pin: Being a team player to solve MRT issues

Mr Sitoh Yih Pin, chairman of the Transport GPC, believes joining the tide of public criticism over the MRT woes is not helpful.
Mr Sitoh Yih Pin, chairman of the Transport GPC, believes joining the tide of public criticism over the MRT woes is not helpful.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

 Sitoh Yih Pin

Given the frequent breakdowns in the MRT system, and strong public anger over the issue, one might expect the chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Transport to be leading the chorus of criticism against the Government.

But Mr Sitoh Yih Pin, who occupies this hot seat, has chosen not to do that, and admits that he is likely to pay a political price for it.

"It is a stand that I have deliberately taken," he tells Insight.

He explains that in the current transport crisis, he has three options as GPC chairman.

The first is to keep quiet and do or say nothing - to try to dodge the situation. He finds this irresponsible.

The second is to join the tide of criticism. "For the public to criticise the Government is perfectly understandable. But given that the public's criticism is already so overwhelming, what does it achieve if I were to join in?" he asks.

His choice is the third option, which is to close ranks with the Ministry of Transport and SMRT - to be part of the team and to try to solve the problem with them.

 

This means that on non-MRT issues, he will ask hard questions in public, but on MRT issues, he will do so mostly behind closed doors, because of the extraordinary situation - in his words, "the worst of times" - the MRT network is in.

Another way he shows he is part of the team was apparent last month, when an MRT tunnel in Bishan was flooded.

He took interviews to explain to the public what was being done - to try to bring back hope. "I apologised during the interview and said, 'We are sorry.' I said 'we', meaning, I am part of the team."

Residents have been asking him why he is doing the explaining when the MRT breakdowns have nothing to do with him, he reveals. He adds: "I may pay a political price, but never mind."

Not all MPs fully agree with him on what the GPC for Transport should be doing at this time.

A member of the GPC, Mr Zaqy Mohamad, called on Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan to convene a committee of inquiry on the flooding incident - a call that was turned down by Mr Khaw, who feels the circumstances surrounding the flooding were straightforward.

Mr Zaqy tells Insight that he can see the dangers of too much criticism at this point - for example, it could cause rail workers to lose morale and down tools. But he also sees a place for probing questions by Transport GPC MPs.

He says: "As GPC MPs, we are in a better position to frame some of the views of citizens, because, while citizens may not understand the full picture, we are able to translate some of that into pointed questions for the Government."

For Mr Sitoh, another key factor behind his adoption of this stance was the leadership of Mr Khaw.

"He takes it on. And to me, if the leader takes it on, I will follow. If I have to take a bullet for you, I will take a bullet for you," he says.

He is quietly confident that Mr Khaw and his team have what it takes to solve the problem.

When his GPC term draws to a close at the proroguing of Parliament - expected next year - he intends to write to Mr Khaw to express his wish to stay on in the Transport GPC. (MPs can state their preferences on which GPC they are assigned, but postings are decided by the party leadership.)

"I will tell him, since we started this journey together, live or die, let me finish this with you," he says.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 19, 2017, with the headline 'Being a team player to solve MRT issues'. Print Edition | Subscribe