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​SMRT’s amnesty period ‘unusual’, full disclosure needed, governance experts say​

Published on: 03-Nov-2017

The “amnesty” period that rail operator SMRT has given its employees to come clean about breaches is “unusual”, corporate governance and transport experts said, adding that there should be a full disclosure of the outcome.

It appears that SMRT had no choice but to resort to this move, one analyst noted.

Dr Lawrence Loh, director of the Centre for Governance, Institutions and Organisations at the National University of Singapore (NUS) Business School, said: “SMRT is in a situation where there’s no best alternative except to go this way to get to the bottom of the issue as fast as possible... We don’t know what else lies underneath the systems and mechanisms.”

While an amnesty period was unusual and “a bit messy”, Dr Loh said that it was in the “immediate and urgent interests” of the public that such a measure was taken, given that there could be possible implications for passenger safety.

The amnesty period, first reported by The Straits Times on Thursday (Nov 2), comes with the assurance that rail employees who step forward to admit breaches will not be penalised if they do so by Friday (Nov 3).

The rail operator will carry out an extensive inspection and audit as soon as the amnesty period is over, and staff members will be taken to task for any breaches uncovered during the checks, The Straits Times reported.

The news came just days after SMRT revealed earlier this week that the crew responsible for the maintenance of the pump system at Bishan MRT Station had signed off and submitted maintenance records for almost a year without doing the works.

This was in the run-up to the train-service outage last month due to rainwater flooding the tunnels between Bishan and Braddell stations, which stopped services along a section of the North-South Line for more than 20 hours.

Corporate governance expert Mak Yuen Teen from NUS said that an amnesty period, though not common, was a “good thing” for the operator, since it was unlikely an internal audit would pinpoint all the breaches and do so quickly enough.

Pointing to SMRT group chief executive Desmond Kuek’s revelation last month of “deep-seated cultural issues” in the company which were taking longer than expected to weed out, Dr Loh said this suggested that these issues may have set in over the years.

He urged a proper public disclosure from SMRT on the number of people who owned up to breaches, and the extent and nature of the lapses. “If, after the amnesty period, there’s no disclosure, it might even suggest that you’re hiding something,” he said.

Echoing this call was transport economist Michael Li from the Nanyang Technological University’s Nanyang Business School.

“It’s SMRT’s job to restore confidence as quickly as possible both at the corporate and public transport operator level, because it’s in the public interest. We expect a full disclosure… and that the company is ready to take action based on its full disclosure,” Associate Professor Li said.

When contacted by TODAY on Friday, SMRT was not ready to comment on how many employees had come forward and what breaches there may be, if any.

Commuters interviewed by TODAY were furious that SMRT is offering this amnesty to its employees before it embarks on a wide-scale audit.

Sales assistant Agatha Lim, 33, said that the move is “simply not acceptable”. “By giving them another chance without any kind of punishment is ridiculous. What happened on that day (Oct 7) was really very bad, and doing such a thing seems like they are not taking the incident seriously”.

Agreeing, retiree Betty Tan, 60, said that the move has “betrayed the trust” commuters have in the company.

“SMRT should let people know that they take this seriously... Why give those who cut corners a second chance? The next time... whoever is responsible will just think, ‘It’s okay, because I may get let off’.”

However, assistant manager Tina Lee, 29, felt that it is good of SMRT to give this grace period, saying that it is “human to err”.

“By giving them a second chance, they will be more alert and responsible to prevent such incidents from happening again,” she added. 

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