The recent revelation of the possibility of a buyout by Temasek Holdings of SMRT, just days after LTA announced it would buy over SMRT, has led to the Workers’ Party calling the multiple moves “a long overdue corrective to a major policy mistake,” and one that could lead to SMRT becoming “less transparent to the public”, “given Temasek’s status as a private exempt company”.
In its latest statement, the WP had this to say:
“The Workers’ Party views the new rail financing framework for SMRT as a step in the right direction. It is a long overdue corrective to a major policy mistake.
This move corrects the mistaken course taken by the government in the year 2000 when MRT operations were privatised, which created a tension between the private company’s impulse to maximise shareholder value from a quasi-monopolistic position, and the rightful goal of operating a public transport system that best serves the public.
This policy misstep contributed to the many problems that the MRT has faced in the past decade, from overcrowding to frequent breakdowns, problems that long-suffering commuters bore the brunt of. This corrective move is long overdue but welcome.
In its GE2015 manifesto, the Workers’ party called for placing all operating assets under a new government body, the National Transport Council, so as to separate the ownership and regulatory functions.
We are, however, concerned about the buyout of SMRT by Temasek Holdings. While this may seem like a move towards nationalisation, it is not. In fact, it could result in none of the benefits of nationalisation (e.g., government control over MRT’s operations and management), while SMRT’s financials and operations may become less transparent to the public.
We call for :-
a) a shortening of the SMRT licence period from 15 years to 10 years to enhance contestability. Given that the SMRT has had 15 years of operating experience as a private company, another 15 years of operating licence is unnecessary before the government considers if and how the award of the operating license can be changed for the NS, EW, Circle and Bukit Panjang LRT lines. In its last manifesto, the Workers’ Party called for assessing the changed government public transport financing model for 10 years before once again reviewing if the model has worked at driving both quality and efficiency.
b) clarity on whether a Temasek takeover would reduce financial and operational transparency given Temasek’s status as a private exempt company, and how Temasek would manage the tension between its role of maximising shareholder value and delivering better public transport value.
c) clarity on whether and by when the NE Line and Sengkang-Punggol LRT under SBS Transit would transition to this new framework.
Non-Constituency Member of Parliament
The Workers’ Party
20 July 2016″
Workers’ Party Media Statement on the new MRT Rail Financing Framework and Buyout of SMRT by Temasek
He Ting Ru responds to Png Eng Huat’s post about the chaotic trip back from JB where a 89-year-old man in his group of volunteers needed to wait in queue, while the entourage of grassroots that followed behind Minister Tan has special privilege and clearance:
This post got me thinking about the values of the society we hope to build, especially as I have been experiencing first-hand the graciousness and thoughtfulness of strangers in Singapore who have often crossed train carriages to offer me their seats on crowded trains when they spot my growing baby bump. They come from all ages, backgrounds and nationalities, and for each one who pretended not to see me or stare studiously at their phones, I encounter a few others who ask me to sit down with a smile. Thank you for your thoughtful gestures – we aren’t as graceless a society as we are sometimes accused of being.
Some airports have dedicated fast-track queues for those who need special assistance, and ICA should prioritise implementing this not for VIPs but ordinary folk who may have mobility issues.
She was responding to Mr Png’s post as follows:
“The durians were not the only bad thing we encountered during the 1-Day Desaru Tour yesterday.
Upon returning home, both immigration checkpoints were overwhelmed. In the midst of waiting patiently to clear the Singapore custom, suddenly there was a commotion and a certain excitement in the air. Many tired travellers were relieved to see another counter opened but to their dismay, it was only toallow Minister Tan Chuan-Jin to clear as he had joined his residents for a day of outing and fun too.
Most people in the queue probably did not mind that as being a Minister does come with privileges. However, along with him, an entourage of grassroots leaders and members with shopping bags in tow also enjoyed the privilege of fast clearance at the custom without needing to join the crowd. No one else could use that counter.
In the long queue at the immigration check point yesterday were many travellers, some of whom are old and tired, but they all had to wait patiently for hours for their turn.
One of my residents is 89 years old and another was injured during the tour. If these two elderly residents can wait in queue patiently for their turns, so can all my volunteers and grassroots members. After all, we are supposed to enjoy a day of fun TOGETHER. No one should not be accorded more ‘fun’.
The chaos, anger and confusion at the Tuas Immigration check point certainly made us forget how bad the durians were yesterday, and how bad the system needs to change.”
Ever wondered how much the govt is paying for all those YouTube and Facebook ads you see? Our man in blue, NCMP Dennis Tan Lip Fong 陈立峰 asked the Minister in Parliament and managed to extract some info, though not all:
Last week in Parliament – 11 July 2016 – Government Expenditure on Advertisements and Sponsored Posts on Online Media Platforms
Last week, I asked the Minister for Communications and Information (MCI): (a) for each year from 2011 to 2015, how much has the Government spent on advertisements and sponsored posts on online media platforms including but not limited to Facebook, YouTube and Google; and (b) what is the breakdown of this spending by each Ministry.
Assoc Prof Dr Yaacob Ibrahim replied in writing that “the Government does not keep track of the total amount ministries spend on online advertisements. However, MCI itself spent approximately $4.3 million last year (or 0.5% of our operating budget) on digital advertisements to support a wide range of major policies and initiatives such as the Pioneer Generation Package, SkillsFuture, Marriage and Parenthood and Integration issues. This was spread out across multiple online media platforms, including YouTube, Facebook and Google.”
I find it quite hard to believe that the government does not keep track of the total amount all ministries have spent on online advertisements each year. Surely such figures can be obtained if it wishes to. Nevertheless the amount disclosed for MCI alone gives us a little idea of the bigger picture of the government’s likely spending on publicity for its policies.
WP’s Hougang MP Png Eng Huat has fired back at PAP Minister Tan Chuan-Jin for his rebuttal about “politicizing“.
In the post, Mr Tan had accused Mr Png of “politicizing” the issue of clearance for him and his “entourage of grassroots leaders and members with shopping bags in tow“.
Mr Png was back at the Tuas checkpoint after a JB Durian Trip, in which he remarked -amidst the shock and dismay of the long waiting passengers – that the “chaos, anger and confusion at the Tuas Immigration check point certainly made us forget how bad the durians were yesterday, and how bad the system needs to change.”
Mr Tan felt it right to hit back by saying Mr Png’s learned post was “aimed at stirring hate and anger, not only to be directed at me, which I can understand politically, but also at my residents and volunteers (who organised as well as helped guide each bus), as well as our officers who secure our borders.”
He also tried to defend himself by claiming he was there on an “official visit to the (Malaysian) Deputy Home Affairs Minister’s Hari Raya Open House”.He added that: “Mr Png seems to accept that it’s reasonable that our office holders get facilitated, if so, then surely the others in that bus need to be cleared as well so that the bus can leave and not add to the vehicular queues there.”
Mr Tan also apparently went to take the effort of asking ICA to check the CCTV recording of Mr Png’s group, and revealed that the latter only took “30 mins” to pass the customs.
Mr Png has since posted that he has responded to TODAY with the following:
The post wasn’t about me. It wasn’t about the Minister either. It’s about the treatment of grassroots leaders travelling with the Minister. I understand that is a judgment call for ICA to make, according to its statement.
I wasn’t even interested in my own wait time but since ICA and Minister Tan seem to suggest that the wait time to clear custom on the night of 17 July was “all of 30 mins” only, why was there a need to accord the people travelling with the Minister expedited clearance then?
The system must be seen to be fair. The issue is not about Minister Tan. The expedited clearance for him comes with the position he is holding and for security reason. My volunteers worked very hard too. Some buses were missing a few passengers as they were still queuing and the buses did not leave the checkpoint until way past 11pm. I am sure some of the PA buses experienced that too. I have no doubt our officers worked very hard to secure our borders too. In fact, I believe they worked a lot harder because the Minister was there.
I cannot control how people feel. I am also on the receiving end of hate and anger for bringing this issue out in the open. I don’t have an issue with Minister Tan, personally or politically. I have an issue with inequality.
The Government will take over all operating assets of the North-South, East-West and Circle lines as well as the Bukit Panjang LRT Line from SMRT starting from October.
In turn, SMRT will run the trains under license on these lines and retain a share of the earnings. (Details)
The mainstream media outlets stopped short of calling a spade a spade and calling the move “nationalising”, by instead framing it as a “new financing framework”.
Quoting the words used by the Straits Times which “revealed” that the move followed an “agreement” reached between the LTA and the SMRT after “more than four years of intense negotiations”.
That would be a very curious thing to have happened given the PAP government’s strong stance against the idea of nationalistion when the notion was advanced by the Opposition Workers’ Party in the House.
Stealing WP’s idea while denouncing it earlier?
Straight to point, Workers’ Party MP Dennis Tan Lip Fong remarked: “Today the government has announced that they have reached agreement with SMRT to buy over rail assets, or effectively, to nationalize rail assets, for around $1 billion. And I can still recall that when the Workers’ Party brought up the need for nationalization of public transport, it was not well received by members of the government.”
Another member of the WP, Bernard Chen Jiaxi, also had this to say:
“Good to see that ideas of The Workers’ Party are [gradually] being taken up!
The Workers’ Party in its manifesto noted that the government has been moving away from the profit-based privatisation model of running public transport towards the WP’s National Transport Corporation (NTC) proposal to run public bus and MRT operations on a not-for-profit basis of maintenance and cost recovery. The “Government Contracting” model, where the government owns the assets but contracts out service delivery to public transport operators (PTOs), has been implemented in the past few years.
It is reported that the SMRT rail assets will be bought at about $1 billion. How did LTA arrive at this figure? The acquisition of the operational assets of the present public transport operators should be done at fair cost to the public purse. The Workers’ Party propose the price to be paid by taxpayers for the acquisition should be suggested by a panel of independent third parties with expertise and experience in public transport economics. All proceedings should also be made public.
It is also important for us to monitor the implementation of this model to assess whether it drives greater cost efficiency and service quality for commuters. If there are still problems, WP proposes that the NTC takes over the running of public transport services.
WP believes that the NTC should hold a key place in the Government Contracting model. In fact, the ownership and management of rail and bus assets is a dedicated and specialised operational function that should be separated from the planning, development and regulation body (Land Transport Authority, LTA) and tasked to a statutory board. NTC would be tasked to minimise costs and achieve efficiency in the management of the assets. To avoid conflicts of interest and improve transparency, the NTC should operate specialised audit systems to make sure the PTOs meet performance and service delivery standards, while LTA sets regulatory standards and collects the fines for service disruptions.”
Temasek stands to benefit handsomely, and deal was reached without asking Parliament?
Similarly, online media outlet, the States Times Review, also questioned the apparent “huge profits” for Temasek Holdings to reap. It also pointed out that such a deal was reached without Parliamentary consultation:
“The Singapore Land Transport Authority (LTA) today (July 15) announced that it will pay S$1.06 billion to nationalise the assets of SMRT. Temasek Holdings, who own 55% of SMRT, will be the greatest beneficiary of this sale – which is seen as an alleviation to the embarrassing S$24 billion losses reported last week.
The S$1 billion deal is considered finalised even though it is to be pending approval from shareholders of SMRT on the 1st of Oct, because the country’s sovereign wealth fund company is the single major shareholder. The CEO of Temasek Holdings is the wife of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
Physical assets like trains and signalling system will be nationalised but SMRT will however continue to operate the assets on a 15-year license-basis. SMRT will also be forced to increase its maintenance staff strength by 20% to about 700 employees over the next three years, as the company has been under-cutting maintenance budget resulting in a series of train breakdowns. Although the LTA said that the 15-year license will be open for bidding, there is no open tender this time and SMRT will be the default train operator awarded.
In 2000, SMRT was privatised and now 16 years later, it is nationalised due to greed-driven business principles and a lax transport authority. Many Singaporeans believe the dilapidated state of public transport will remain the same as before because the Transport Ministry and SMRT are still equally forgiving of train breakdowns and mistakes.
The Singapore ruling party government decided the S$1 billion SMRT purchase without consulting Parliament.”
Let’s be fooled again
Looks like some people might be laughing to the bank, and some people who should take responsibility get credit instead, and the people of Singapore get fooled once again into thinking these bad guys are God who never did steal other people’s ideas while denouncing them.