When I was in the SAF, I was told to fear Boards of Inquiry because they inevitably mean someone’s career will be shattered with a demotion if not a dishonorable discharge, and usually with a long detention sentence to boot.
The COI is not just to investigate the technical causes of the incident. That can easily be established by SMRT or LTA and will be backed by forensic, physical and documentary evidence which will leave no doubt how it happened.
The COI is to establish the cause of the incident, ie who created the physical conditions that led to the incident. Who did not follow procedure, who did not perform the necessary maintenance, was the maintenance regime adequate and in line with manufacturers’ recommendations to begin with, were we running the system beyond its design load and/or design frequency, etc.
More importantly, did the compliance, governance and regulatory oversight work? Did Internal Audit do a proper job? What representations did the senior management rely on to provide assurance that the system could do what it was intended to do? Did LTA the regulator, as the statutory overseer, have correct and updated checklists for inspection, were any findings highlighted to senior management for attention, etc.
In other words, there is enough blame to go around, starting from the SMRT maintenance team through the SMRT management and board, along with SMRT internal and external auditors, all the way to LTA and possibly even some people at the the Ministry as well.
It is precisely because the agencies involved are interested parties themselves that we cannot close this matter with a simple report by LTA alone (even if it includes “relevant” foreign experts), as LTA can hardly be expected to incriminate their own staff in a report. Thus an independent COI has to be set up to name and shame anyone concerned.
Make no mistake– those found to be negligent will find their careers shattered, even if they are not court-martialed like in a Mindef BOI. If there is enough evidence from the COI to charge anyone with criminal negligence or willful misconduct, that will probably happen. If there is enough evidence that procedures and guidelines were not followed, maintenance regimes were inadequate, etc, the people who should have done this, should have escalated that and should have known better will likely be exiled to distant parts of their organization. They will be replaced by a bunch of more “on” types.
In short, this is Survivor MRT Island.
What remains to be seen is:
1. Who will head the COI– he will be the one driving it and we need to know if we have a hard driver. Also, will the Committee be assisted by a tough-as-nails prosecutor like Walter Woon or Glenn Knight?
2. Whether the proceedings will be published in full, or only the final report. This has implications for transparency.
3. The terms of reference of the COI. This will determine whether any fault will be attributed to the politicians who set up the regulatory framework and threw in more passengers than the MRT was designed for.
I’m looking forward to the best Reality TV series of 2012. Will you join me?