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Bertha HarianBertha Harian

News Reports

In the SMRT War Room

Poor SMRT. January sure is a bad month for the company….

Des Quake has never felt so besieged in his life. Outside the reinforced walls of his War Room, he can hear the howls of anguish and anger. People who couldn’t get to work on time. People who missed important business meetings. People who got no reception on their cell phones. They were baying for blood. And now, the chief was on his back… What did he say? Disappointment? Frustration?

Steely eyes fixed on his subordinates through rimmed spectacles, Quake started railing at them. “Six times this month we came under attack! Where to put my face now?’’

His subordinates stared at their well-polished boots, mandatory footwear for tramping through tunnels and along train tracks. Subordinate 1 decided to speak up: “We evacuated everyone safely. They were de-trained. Then they were re-trained. Those still in training were told to avoid danger zones. We also kept our communication lines opened.’’

Quake’s eyes bored through Subordinate 1. “And where were you when all this happened? Hiding in the trenches? You should be in the front line! I could shoot you for deserting your post!’’

If he had his way, he would have ordered a summary execution, Quake thought. Except that he was now in the corporate sector and had to contend with the likes of HR departments and trade unions. Oh…the days of a swift court martial!

Subordinate 2, a perky young scholar, snapped a smart salute. “Sir, I suggest we take a defensive position and hold your predecessor responsible. She went shopping but forgot to buy essential supplies, like maintenance parts. She also forgot to send out recce missions to scout for danger and defects. We cannot be expected to be battle-ready in such circumstances.’’

Quake looked at Subordinate 2, wondering if he should bust the cherubic face down to bus captain.  But his university grades were too good. And there was HR. He was minded to replace the HR head with a military man. He should log this down…In the meantime, better be polite to this ambitious young man who was a former white horse in the army.

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“I admire your strategy. But pushing blame is no way to accomplish our mission. Our target is zero stoppages and a quick response time if any should occur. Remember the new protocol – we get our rations cut if we can’t achieve our mission. Your families will starve during Chinese New Year.’’

Subordinate 3, ever the optimist, said: “We should go on the offensive and hire a PR company to explain our conditions to ensure that we don’t get too much flak. Just like Anton Casey did.’’

Quake was quaking with anger by now. What sort of troops was he commanding? And why was he dealing with trains when he was better with tanks? And who was this Casey anyway? He had never came across the name in military books – and he had read all of them.

Quake wished he was back on manoeuvres in the non-concrete jungle. Life was easier. He could camouflage himself.  

“Are you mad? People will ask us why we’re spending money on PR when they have just been told to pay more.  How is that fair? You think we will fare better than Casey? We’ll be shot and quartered by the media, including international media!’’

Subordinates 1, 2 and 3 looked at each other and telepathically decided on their next strategy: Blame those lower down the line, like the signallers and trackers, liaison officers and drivers… They recited a list. Including recommendations to sack, discipline, cancel leave, dock pay for not meeting KPIs, no CNY holidays.

Quake was about to go ballistic. So now, they’re sacrificing their men, he thought.

He was never one for a cowardly retreat. He would rather die on his sword. Even if it was a ceremonial one. He couldn’t contain himself and machine-gunned the room. With Hokkien expletives.

The War Room went quiet. A map of the North-South line fluttered down from the wall. Someone had forgot to superglue it. It was a bad sign. A line had been breached.

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

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