Workers' Party chief Low Thia Khiang praised outgoing Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew for doing a good job but said that the circumstances surrounding the minister's decision to step down at the next general election left many questions unanswered.
Speaking to reporters before his weekly Meet-The-People session in his Bedok Reservoir-Punggol ward of Aljunied GRC last night, he said he was surprised and disappointed that Mr Lui was stepping down as he thought the minister still had much to contribute.
"He's a hardworking minister and goes to the ground to try his best to resolve transport issues. It's a loss to the Cabinet. He's an experienced minister with experience helming different ministries," he said.
The opposition party chief added that Mr Lui had made a difference to the public transport scene here.
"He has managed to convince the Cabinet to spend... quite a lot of money (for) 500 additional buses to solve some of the problems. And he has also tried to move from the traditional model by now having the transport operator contracted out, which I think is in the right direction," he said, referring to Anglo-Australian transport group Tower Transit winning a five-year contract to operate several bus routes.
DETERMINATION MOTIVATED STAFF
Right from the day you stepped into office, Land Transport Authority staff have been motivated by your strong determination to improve public transport for commuters in all ways possible.
You are not content with just looking at the barrage of statistics that LTA collects. You have made a practice of visiting different train stations and bus stops during peak hours - by yourself, unannounced and unplanned - to get an upfront and unadulterated view of what commuters are experiencing. Then you follow up with e-mails for us to look into this and that improvement.
MR PANG KIN KEONG, Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Transport, in remarks at a dinner yesterday, a day after Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew announced that he would not contest the next general election. Mr Pang said it was a decision that staff were surprised and taken aback by.
Given these developments, Mr Low said Mr Lui's decision to step down was all the more baffling.
He rattled off a list of questions Mr Lui's impending departure from politics has raised - from speculation about the workings of the Cabinet to the Government's handling of a public transport system beset by breakdowns in recent years.
"Was it because of the recent incident of the MRT big breakdown, or is it because he feels that he has not been supported by his Cabinet colleagues, who are supposed to work as a team to give him enough confidence to stay on and to solve the issues?" Mr Low asked.
"I thought the standard ethos of the PAP is that resignation does not solve the problem?
"You have to stay on to solve the problem as a minister," he added.
Asked about the view of some analysts that Mr Lui's departure would take the heat off transport issues and help the PAP, he said he would "be very disappointed with the PAP if they allow a minister to resign in order to take the heat, because they are supposed to function as a Cabinet, as a team".
Noting that Mr Lui's predecessor, Mr Raymond Lim, had also left the Cabinet after helming the Transport Ministry, Mr Low questioned whether the Government needed to fundamentally rethink Singapore's transport model: "Was it because, philosophically, how they treat transport is not correct and not convincing to the Minister for Transport?"
He also wondered if Mr Lui's "morale" was affected after his Moulmein ward in Moulmein-Kallang GRC was "chopped off into pieces and redistributed" to other GRCs.
Mr Low did not want to be drawn to the issue of whether transport would be a hot-button issue at the next general election but acknowledged that transport problems take time to solve.
"We do recognise that the problem of transport is not something that can be easily solved like building more HDB flats," he said. "I think it's a long-term problem because it's heavily used every day."
Speaking on the day that the PAP began its introduction of candidates, Mr Low also shed a little light on his own party's plans.
He indicated that the WP's introductions would take place soon but added that there would probably not be a departure from the past practice of revealing where candidates will stand only on Nomination Day.
He did hint, however, that the future of his Aljunied GRC team could be made known this weekend when the party goes out to sell its newsletter.
Mr Low pledged last week that he would stay and defend Aljunied GRC to thank residents for giving the team a chance during the past elections.
Last night, the WP leader declined to confirm if that applied to every member of the team or if one MP would be sent to shore up a different constituency.