Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP) professor Kishore Mahbubani yesterday (Oct 29) echoed Singaporeans’ calls for the nationalisation of Singapore’s public transport operators SMRT and SBS.

Speaking at the Singapore Economic Policy Forum, the LKYSPP dean said that the profiteering models of public transport in Singapore conflicts with the need for long-term maintenance spending and that privatisation of the SBS and SMRT is an “old economic idea taken too far”:

“If you tell a private corporation that I’m going to judge you on the basis of your quarterly results and your bonus is based on your quarterly results, why would you want to spend money on long-term maintenance? That only adds costs and doesn’t shore up my quarterly results. I hope as we write our economic history, we can honestly admit that we made mistakes … The question is: Have we learnt from our mistakes and are we prepared to move ahead?”

Singaporeans have been appealing for the Singapore government on various feedback channels like REACH and even through the Opposition parties to nationalise Singapore’s public transport system. This appeal was borne out of frustrations over SBS and SMRT’s incapabilities to handle train breakdowns and upkeep the existing public transport infrastructure. Aside from the increasing frequency in train breakdowns, Singaporeans have also expressed frustrations at the profits of SBS and SMRT.

Singapore’s public transport before its privatisation in 1997 was widely known to be highly efficient and that any minor train breakdown would have made national news with serious repercussions for the Transport Ministry’s management and the Transport Minister. This has however deterioriated as Singapore’s Transport Ministry took a hands-off approach and blamed the breakdowns squarely on the public transport operators, SBS and SMRT, which also resulted in the resignation of the former SMRT CEO Saw Phaik Hwa. However, despite heavy government interference, Singapore’s state of public transport continue to worsen today.

Executive chairman of Banyan Tree Holdings Ho Kwon Ping however disagreed and said  that “the privatisation of the public transport system is crucial to retain competition”, although he relented a bit by adding that Singapore’s privatisation model has to be relooked at.