SMRT gives staff a chance to admit lapses before it launches internal audit

Amnesty aimed at plugging gaps in maintenance quickly but move draws mixed reactions.

SMRT has asked rail staff to step forward and own up if they have been cutting corners in their work – and assured them they will not be penalised if they admit to any breaches during this “amnesty” period which ends today.

Once the amnesty period ends, SMRT’s internal audit will conduct a wide-scale inspection and audit, and lapses discovered then will be penalised.

The move is aimed at ensuring commuter safety and quickly plugging gaps in maintenance operations – one of which resulted in the flooding of an MRT tunnel last month.

The Straits Times understands that the rail operator sent out an e-mail to employees a few days ago offering them a chance to own up on work that they had not done, or if they had not adhered to company procedures or instructions.

SMRT group chief executive Desmond Kuek said yesterday that the company does not condone any wrongdoing. He said: “In order to quickly establish the extent of such improper practices, an amnesty period was allowed for staff to volunteer information in open reporting as a mitigation against further disciplinary action.”

The move follows Tuesday’s revelation that some employees responsible for maintaining the pumps of a storm water pit had signed off on work that was not done.

It is suspected that the falsification of the quarterly maintenance records went as far back as December last year.

The manager and staff responsible have been suspended and are assisting in investigations, while SMRT also replaced its vice-president of maintenance a week after the flooding, which caused train services to be down for about 20 hours over two days.

About a quarter of a million commuters were hit by the disruption.

National University of Singapore transport researcher Lee Der Horng was not in favour of the “amnesty” approach. He felt it would be more effective to conduct checks and identify problem areas and staff.

But an experienced auditor, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said of the amnesty process: “The objective is to get to the nub of the problems as fast as you can.”

“If you do an extensive audit, it takes time. In the meantime, for example, if the train breaks down because of a lack of maintenance, even though it was supposed to have been serviced regularly, it creates a bigger issue. Once this is tackled, then we can deal with accountability,” he added.

Mr Yee Chia Hsing, a member of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport, said: “I can understand that some people may think that giving an amnesty is letting the staff off too easily.

“However, if we want to work towards an outcome of upping the standard of maintenance, and given it is easier for people to own up and report rather than for the audit inspection team to discover the non-compliance, I can understand their rationale for doing this,” he added.

Related story: SMRT maintenance staff bonuses will be cut
Related story: SMRT maintenance team signed off on work that was not done
Related story: Flooding in tunnels: Experts highlight how other industries prevent such lapses