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Friday, October 20, 2017

Desmond Kuek Should Resign?

Somebody sent me the above picture. At first, I laughed. It was such an ingenious piece of art. Then, I became sad.

Wreckage at the Bottom of Ocean
If truth be told, Desmond Kuek is not capsizing a healthy ship. Desmond Kuek took charge of the SMRT ship at a time when the SMRT ship was already at the bottom of the ocean. He has spent the last 5 years raising it from the depths. We all know that raising a ship from the depths is an exercise fraught with danger. Lui Tuck Yew's political career died in that process.

Khaw Boon Wan saw his friend Lui Tuck Yew's career go down into the depths of the ocean. Yet, Khaw bravely took on the Ministry of Transport. Surely he must know it is political suicide? At the time Khaw took the helm at the Ministry of Transport, the SMRT ship was halfway resurrected from the depths. Under Khaw's watch, 2 men died on the tracks and a flood overwhelmed the system. This did not happen on the watch of the Naughty Saw Phaik Hua and whomever the forgettable-did-nothing-to-prevent-problem Minister was at that time. It happened on the watch of a man (Khaw) who dove in to raise the ship from the depths.


Really, if you leave the SMRT wreckage sitting at the bottom of the ocean, nothing will go wrong.

At most, there is no SMRT ship lohhhh... then, people will walk, cycle, drive to work lohhhh... They have to go to work mah... They will find a way. Just leave the SMRT ship to rot quietly, its decks colonised by fish and coral. Why not? The SMRT railway tracks can be turned into cycling paths. Its tunnels can be used as storage or underground homes. Imagine living in an underground bunker home surrounded by a gigantic fish tank on all sides. You look out your windows and see blue water and fish. Fully private and so exclusive!

However, when a ship is halfway up towards the ocean surface, that is when things can go wrong spectacularly. Things have. Men have died... a flood and pregnant women walked on train tracks in deep, dark, dank tunnels. All that was laid at the door of one poor man - Desmond Kuek. If he had stayed a Permanent Secretary, he would today, still have his stellar reputation as a committed and loyal government servant. He can hold his head high in front of his children, wife and relatives.

He took on the challenge of raising the SMRT ship from the depths. As a result, his name has been dragged through the mud. His reputation is in tatters. He will be remembered in history as a spectacular overpaid FAILURE.

The whole world clamours for his resignation. The whole world wants to see him bow. Frankly, I find this bowing business super ridiculous. How many of you, when you make mistakes at work, need to bow to your boss? You lost a deal. You bowed to your boss? You sent out a wrong email. You also bowed? Why not prostrate yourself too? They do it in Japan, you know. Are you Japanese?

We forget that Rescue Missions are those most fraught with danger. If you don't rescue, nothing will go wrong. If you choose to rescue, anything can go wrong.

Desmond Kuek's Hard Work, Another's Glory
Believe you me. The next person who takes the helm of the SMRT is one lucky person. He/she will have glory poured on him/her that rightly belongs to Desmond Kuek. This is because in the past 5 years, Desmond Kuek has worked hard and well. The ship is almost reaching the surface. You cannot tell? Nobody has been paying attention to reports on how many kms of sleepers have been replaced, how much of the 3rd rail has been replaced, how much of the signaling system has been renewed? Whomever replaces Desmond Kuek merely is in the right place, at the right time.

Retrench or Re-educate
I saw people complain that American CEOs have 9 months to change the culture of a company. Ahhhh... but consider this. American MNCs are notorious for retrenching people. It is easy to change a culture when you choose to hire and fire. When Desmond Kuek first replaced SMRT Senior Management with people he thought had the right attitude, the whole world excoriated him. Look now at the abuse heaped upon Ng Yat Chung because of the SPH retrenchments. If cannot retrench, the only way to change a culture from sloppy to high performance, is to re-educate sloppy people.

It is very hard to do that. I know this from experience.

Parents entrust me their children to teach. Necessarily, their children imbibe their parents' values. In some families, people are just sloppy. Everything is sloppy except their clothes. For some reason, they always dress well. The parents are sloppy and the children are sloppy too. When these children do HW for me, they are sloppy. Week after week, HW comes in without full stops and in incomplete sentences. In cases where the parents share my values, I can change the child. In cases where the parents do not share my values, I can do nothing but refuse to teach the child.

It is close to impossible to change a sloppy adult.

So, Desmond Kuek cannot retrench staff BUT he must miraculously change the company culture from ultra sloppy to ultra high performing, via re-education in just 9 months. If you can do it then why aren't you the CEO of an American MNC? If you can't, then why abuse Desmond Kuek?

For those of you who think that Desmond Kuek should have retrenched people so that you can get to work on time, think a bit about the lives of those who work in SMRT - the old technicians, the old managers, the old station staff. They all have dependents - children, wives and parents. In some cases, they are the sole breadwinners. In the wider scheme of things, does getting to work on time measure up to the intensity of pain each of these old timers (and their families) will go through if retrenching was done so that Desmond Kuek would have a shortcut to glory? Is it not better to re-educate, and only get rid of those who stubbornly refuse to change?

Re-education takes time.

Bullies! Bullies! Bullies!
People, it is nothing short of BULLYING that we are doing. We are bullying men who put their entire lives' STERLING REPUTATIONS in jeopardy (eyes wide shut) to help resuscitate the SMRT wreckage lying at the bottom of the ocean. We are bullying men with lifetimes of sterling public service. Khaw turned around MoH and MND. He is the reason why I can walk into Khoo Teck Puat Hospital and receive a quality of healthcare that people in England envy. When I visit my public healthcare oncologist, the waiting room has apples. In many public hospitals around the world, the waiting room has mould. Yet, it looks likely that Khaw too is headed towards an early political death. Khaw will be remembered as a failure too.

The person who made the picture above is a gifted artist. Why not use your gifting to uplift and encourage instead of bully?

I think people are such hypocrites. When Lui Tuck Yew left politics, people lamented - the same people who abused him whilst he was in office were suddenly full of kindness and compassion. So now what? You wanna chase away Khaw Boon Wan and Desmond Kuek too, so that you can show more hypocritical kindness and compassion? Wouldn't a change in leadership jeopardise the SMRT recovery at a time when the ship is so close to surfacing as would triply benefit from a steady hand?

For the Record
Whatever the public record states about these 2 men, I want to leave a trace on the internet that celebrates both men as Lions among men, and modern day Heroes. We are blessed to have such men among us, not that we deserve them.


Wang said...

Dear Messrs Petunia

Although agreed that it will take time and disagree that he or Min Khaw should be removed, but would state that Desmond Kuek should be under flak as basic engineering plans or even military plans should have backup plans , plan A/plan B/Plan C.

Will leave aside the train delays and will agree it is part of the plan and leaving aside he has been involved for 5 years.

To me the failure point is in the flooded tunnel considering that Bishan terminal was the one with the breach of security twice (graffiti), so either send those directly to equivalent of Siberia or frontier part to ensure that no further harm or break them to ranks

Desmond will still get flak but swift and decisive action is required and the action plan to prevent such as increase in inspection teams.

People who utilise the MRT have some patience but such patience is not inexhaustible.
Unfortunately both in business and life , with great privelege comes great responsibility.
So the key issue, is summarise the issue and how it is not overcome and the art of communications is required


Wang said...

Messrs Petunia

Separately, Glad to see you posting more