Current Affairs

On his 65th birthday, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan says it feels like he’s 70


December 8, 2017 is a meaningful day to remember for Transport Minister and Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure Khaw Boon Wan.

For one thing, it happens to be just over two months since the calamitous and entirely-preventable Bishan tunnel flooding incident that stalled trains on the North-South Line for the good part of 24 hours on October 7.

It also happens to be a week shy of a month since the even-more-calamitous collision between two trains at Joo Koon MRT station that landed two passengers and one of the train drivers in hospital, alongside 35 others who were injured.

But more importantly, for him personally, it is his 65th birthday.

In his Facebook post, the minister’s reflection undoubtedly reflected the heaviness of his heart from grappling with the events of the past two months:

Here’s the text of his post:

“At 65, I feel like 70 after the recent trains’ incidents. I had looked forward to year end this year, with Terminal 4, DTL3 and [Singapore’s] successful re-election to the IMO [International Maritime Organisation] Council. But it was not to be 🙁

In life, we try our best and do what we can but the final outcome is sometimes beyond us. Key is to persevere and press on, knowing that the cause is just and good should eventually prevail.

Especially when one is surrounded by good friends, able colleagues and passionate volunteers. No problem cannot be overcome.

Thank you all for your warm birthday wishes. My supportive colleagues got me a “65-5” cake to “restore” the five years that slipped me! My Sembawang grassroots leaders brought a rainbow cake to add colours to my life! Back at home, we are getting ready to welcome a new member – our third grandchild, to the family! #Thankful” (our notes added in square brackets and italics for context)

Examining the flooding incident

Khaw’s clearly been very concerned about the tunnel flooding incident, in particular because it was clear that it happened because essentially, people were slacking.

At a forum on Tuesday, he said plainly:

“Oct 7 was not a failure of engineering. It was a failure of organisational management at SMRT.”

But something was quite telling from reading the transcript of the speech he gave there, addressing a group of 200 engineers — in the time he spent talking about SMRT, the man he mentioned was SMRT chairman Seah Moon Ming, instead of the actual guy at the helm — Desmond Kuek:

“SMRT will learn from it and emerge stronger. I have full confidence in Chairman Seah Moon Ming and his team.

SMRT is top priority for Seah Moon Ming, as national duty calls. Let us all help to render full and public support, not just for Seah Moon Ming, but also for his management, and the rank and file at SMRT. That would make his job much easier, and raise the morale of everyone down the line.

Remember Seah Moon Ming is not Superman; none of us are. While we are keenly aware of various gaps in SMRT that still are not yet addressed, do appreciate the many tireless and necessary jobs that have already been done and the risks avoided. Let us also give credit to our workers and our contractors for handling our renewal projects well.”

As we know, Seah made headlines this week for announcing his decision to step down from the oil and gas company he was leading to focus on SMRT.

He’ll focus more on the very beleaguered transport operator as soon as he leaves his post as Pavilion Energy CEO on Feb. 1, 2018.

In non train-related news

You might’ve noticed the mention of the International Maritime Organisation — that’s something Khaw was busy with last week, in London with a delegation to get Singapore re-elected to the IMO’s council. He succeeded:

Undoubtedly, it’s been a tough past two months for the man at the helm of what is arguably the most unforgivable ministry in Singapore.

But hey, he’s chugging on — guess we, and our trains, hopefully, will too.

Top photo adapted from Khaw Boon Wan’s Facebook post

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