When Lieutenant General Demond Kuek took over from Saw Phaik Hwa as the new CEO of SMRT in October 2012, he proclaimed with great fanfare, “What is certain is that we are first and foremost a public transport operator. This is the core business that we are responsible for and must excel in.” He also paid lip service to putting priority on engineering ("strengthen our operations, engineering and maintenance capabilities") and safety ("instill a strong customer service and safety culture in all our people”).
So how do engineering and safety on the tracks come into play with his plan to lease and operate more than 40,000 sq m of retail space inside the new Sports Hub? Make no mistake, SMRT is taking the lead in 70% of the new venture called SMRT Alpha. NTUC is roped in only for the FairPrice Xtra hypermarket share of the pie. The range of indoor and outdoor dining outlets, stores, entertainment options in the retail mall will be taking up the general's full attention. The train merely serves as the conduit to the retail outlets.
Maybe Kuek thought he had the industrial relation issues licked, palming it off to the other general in the Ministry of Manpower. More likely, he has taken cognizance that the other ex-armed forces staff given free rein at SMRT, Boey Tak Hap (Chief of Army) and Kwek Siew Jin (Rear Admiral), were paid in the region of $570,000 before share options. Saw Phaik Hwa, retrenched from Duty Free Shops (DFS), was paid $1.43 million in 2009. Her total package including share options came up tp $1.67 million, making her the highest-grossing chief executive that public transport operator SMRT Corp has ever employed. Elementary, my dear Watson, the money is in the shops, not on the trains or buses.
Suddenly, the lieutenant-general "is proud to be involved in promoting a sports and lifestyle destination for the Singapore community." The sweat and stink of smelly armpits in the trains is now celebrated on the running tracks. The smell of money is the perfume of profit mania.