Photo of Neo Kian Hong from Mindef

Less than a day after his appointment, Singaporeans have taken to online forums criticising the new SMRT CEO, Neo Kian Hong. The former army general is just as useless as Desmond Kuek, and many are questioning how different would Neo Kian Hong be given that he had exactly the same profile as the retrenched CEO.

How useless is the new SMRT CEO?

30 years military, 0 railway business, 0 private sector

Like Desmond Kuek, Neo Kian Hong spent decades in the Singapore Armed Force. He was then promoted to become a permanent secretary for defence development, again, another irrelevant CV unhelpful to the worsening state of rail reliability.

The greatest weakness of Neo Kian Hong however is not at his lack of private sector experience or technical knowledge, but rather his military background.

1) Rank means never wrong
Military brains are wired to impose punishments on their underlings and never take responsibility for their own actions. The higher ranking you are, the fault lies always with your subordinates. SAF officers are notorious for power harassment, often flexing their power not for a reason but because they can. High ranking officers are narcissists who think highly of themselves, they love to preach and never practice what they preach because “they are of another level”. Just think Chan Chun Sing, and read up on his “I-know-best” statements.

2) “Eye power” management

In the Singapore army, high ranking officers are never the “hands-on” type. They will give instructions to others and watch from behind. Neo Kian Hong is going to be worse because he does not even know the technicalities behind every work process. In fact, he can be on site with technicians and he is not even going to understand what he is watching.

Do you know that SMRT CEO Desmond Kuek visited the train tunnels countless times in 5 years since 2012, and he was totally unaware that there were hundreds of foreign objects littered on the train tracks all over the country for over 13 years? Desmond Kuek probably had seen these foreign objects and thought “I won’t look stupid if I don’t ask what is that”, until the Land Transport Authority inspectors found them in 2017.

Can Neo Kian Hong even tell the difference between a bolt and a screw? Will he go for a part-time degree in railway engineering to bridge his lack of technical knowledge? Fat hope. It is in his military nature to believe he already knows everything, and every word he says is final.

The state media is currently propping up Neo Kian Hong’s profile and pouring praises for him. SMRT Chairman Seah Moon Ming even openly lied about a “global search” of some 20 profiles. These are just marketing gimmicks, and it is probably because Neo Kian Hong is truly useless which explains why he needs intense propaganda support from others.

The 151st-ranking state media also wrongly credited Neo Kian Hong for the control of SARS virus in 2003. Vietnam was cleared of the virus a month earlier than Singapore, and every country was acting on instructions from the World Health Organisation.

Neo Kian Hong headed several supposedly-reputable organisations like DSTA, but he achieved next to nothing in them.

The only logical explanation behind his appointment is just cronyism. There is no meritocracy and Singaporeans are right to point out that senior managers in SMRT are more eligible than he is.

Alex Tan
States Times Review Editor