SINGAPORE - All transport-related incidents - air, sea and land - will be investigated by a single agency, following the passing by Parliament of the Transport Safety Investigations Bill on Monday (Aug 6).
The move gives the Transport Safety Investigation Bureau (TSIB) - a department of the Ministry of Transport - which currently investigates air and marine accidents the powers to also investigate rail and selected bus incidents.
Senior Minister of State for Transport Janil Puthucheary, in presenting the Bill for debate, stressed that ensuring safety is a key focus of the transport system.
There are high safety standards and close oversight of transport operators, he said.
"Transport operators also employ technology, train their personnel and run safety campaigns."
Still, when incidents happen, "it is important that we learn from them, identify the causes, and take measures to prevent a recurrence", he said.
This is where the TSIB steps in.
Unlike regulators such as the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS), the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) and the Land Transport Authority (LTA) that can prosecute when a wrong is committed, the TSIB's main aim is to identify issues and give recommendations to improve safety.
Because the aim is not to ascribe blame, those involved in an incident are free to share information without fear of being penalised, Dr Janil said during the debate before the Bill was passed.
Other highlights of the discussion included how much clout the TSIB has to undertake its investigations independently and whether certain categories of incidents should be excluded from the TSIB's ambit.
Four MPs who rose to support the Bill, including Workers' Party chairman Sylvia Lim, sought assurance from Dr Janil that the TSIB would stay true to its mission.
Ms Lim asked whether the agency can maintain its independence and credibility, especially in cases where other government agencies are also involved in parallel investigations.
What if there are conflicting conclusions, she wanted to know.
"If we want TSIB to succeed as a credible agency, it must be absolutely fearless in its investigations and not be seen to cower to transport regulators or big businesses," she said.
Dr Janil assured the House that while the TSIB will have to engage with interested parties during the course of an incident investigation, it will ultimately have to take full responsibility for the report it puts out, and stand by it.
"I'm sure there will be attempts to put across vested interests, lobbying and so forth," he said, but there are provisions to ensure that the agency is able to operate independently.
Mr Melvin Yong (Tanjong Pagar) asked why certain segments of the land transport sector are not covered under its ambit.
For example, TSIB's role is limited to investigating only incidents involving buses that are operating under the LTA's public bus services contracts.
"With so much innovation disrupting the land transport sector currently, it would be important for the TSIB to have the powers to step in and investigate major incidents on our public roads that are beyond the public bus contracts" Mr Yong said.
He noted that new and emerging forms of land transport, such as autonomous buses and shuttles, are also excluded.
Dr Janil pointed out that even if an incident is not investigated by the TSIB, there are other agencies, for example the police or LTA, that would.