Almost six years after he took up the role of president and group CEO of SMRT Corporation Limited, Desmond Kuek is stepping down from the role, according to a Straits Times report.
Citing reliable sources, ST reported that Kuek’s successor is expected to be former Chief of Defence Force (CDF) Neo Kian Hong. Neo, 54, succeeded Kuek, 55, as CDF in 2010. He is currently permanent secretary for defence development.
A formal announcement of the change will be made as early as Wednesday (18 April). This follows months of speculation that Kuek will step down.
Kuek‘s tenure as chief executive was marked by numerous incidents such as a tunnel flood that resulted in a 20-hour disruption in train services and a train collision that injured 38 people, as well as an increasing frequency of breakdowns.
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.
Kuek, who spent almost three decades in the Singapore Armed Forces, succeeded the controversial Saw Phaik Hwa as SMRT chief in 2012. Saw herself resigned following two of the worst train service breakdowns in SMRT history.
Kuek brought with him many former military men such as Lee Ling Wee, a former Air Force regular who was appointed as SMRT Trains CEO, and director of train operations Alvin Kek, formerly a Chief Engineer Officer with the Army.
But Kuek and his team seemed unable to resolve the perennial issue of service breakdowns. He also attracted ridicule for Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan’s remark that he had “volunteered” for the SMRT role.