Neo Kian Hong to replace SMRT chief Desmond Kuek on 1 August

Former chief of defence force Neo Kian Hong (left) will take over from current SMRT CEO Demond Kuek (right) on 1 August). (PHOTOS: Getty Images / Yahoo News Singapore)

Rail operator SMRT has confirmed in a press statement that former Chief of Defence Force (CDF) Neo Kian Hong will replace Desmond Kuek as group chief executive officer from 1 August.

This follows media reports that Neo, who replaced Kuek as CDF in 2010, would be taking up the role.

Kuek is said to have submitted his resignation in January. When quizzed by reporters at the time, the 55-year-old dismissed reports of his possible departure as “entirely speculative”.

Currently the Permanent Secretary for Defence Development at the Ministry of Defence, Neo was formerly Permanent Secretary (Education Development) at the Ministry of Education. The 54-year-old was chosen as Kuek’s successor following a “global search”.

“I am conscious that there will be challenges ahead. I know the public expects safe and reliable train services. I will work very hard to meet their expectations,” said Neo.

In the same release, Kuek said, “It has been my privilege to have served alongside a most professional and dedicated team in SMRT, and to have led the company through this critical period of organisational transformation and system renewal.

“While we have been through challenging times, I firmly believe the company is well-placed for better journeys ahead, and I see this as a timely juncture to hand over to a new leadership team to take the company to its next level,” he added.

Kuek‘s tenure as CEO was marked by an increasing frequency of rail breakdowns and by numerous incidents such as a tunnel flood that resulted in a 20-hour disruption in train services as well a train collision that injured 38 people.

On 22 March 2016, two SMRT trainees died after being struck by a train while inspecting a mechanical fault on the tracks near Pasir Ris station. SMRT Trains director Teo Wee Kiat was eventually fined $55,000 for the safety lapses that led to the incident.

In October 2017, Kuek alluded to “deep-seated cultural issues” within SMRT which he had been unable to resolve during his watch. Asked to elaborate, he referred to issues such as the level of accountability by supervisors and the level of ownership with regard to what was not working well.

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