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News Reports

Military Might

Who would have guessed it? A retired general is bringing in the boys in green to help him run a company in dire straits. Actually, anyone could have figured this was what Desmond Kuek would do; just as no one was surprised when he was picked two months ago – a military man to replace the retailer who was steering SMRT.

But it was good that ST broke the story and even named an incoming hire. As for the rest, I wonder if they will be plucked out of the SAF or wooed out of  jobs outside the force. What to make of this command and control structure or, at least, culture that I suppose will filter through the organisation? I suppose for an essential service, that’s probably needed to make sure the bus and train networks move smoothly and problems nipped in the bud, especially in this stricken times for SMRT. (I mean, bus strike over, people are asking about its Mandarin train station announcements and why it isn’t in four languages or just in English….Talk about handling public opinion!)

I am in two minds about the wisdom of  military takeovers of essential services and other public agencies and corporations. The common perception is that our generals and colonels all have a space secured for them somewhere for their post-military days. Our key structures seemed to be staffed by establishment people, or people in the same mould as the powers that be.

It’s as though we prefer that mavericks stick to the private sector. Maybe this dichotomy is good. Let the mavericks and entrepreneurial types go where profit making is a key objective and keep the stable types in the places where the key objective is the public good.

Retailer Saw Phaik Hwa was probably good for SMRT when it focused on selling retail space. The conventional wisdom (or prejudice) is that under her charge, SMRT was so focused on making money that it forgot the nuts and bolts of running a transport service.

So where is profit going to figure in this supposedly new look/style SMRT? I guess the shareholders aren’t too concerned – yet. Better to fix its deep-seated problems and think about the money later. But I hope the SMRT experience doesn’t mean that the big public agencies/corporations opt for the safe route of putting establishment-types in the top ranks. You need stability with a dose of the interesting and the creative in the long term.

Written By

An ex-journalist who can't get enough of the news after being in the business for 26 years

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