We now know that SMRT will have a new general, I mean, CEO.

Neo Kian Hong, who is at present the Permanent Secretary for Defence Development at the Ministry of Defence, was formerly the seventh Chief of Defence Force in the Singapore Armed Forces.

He will be resigning after 35 years in the civil service to take over as general manager, I mean, CEO (I really need to fix this signal fault between my brain and fingers), from Desmond Kuek on Aug 1.

Countless train delays; a collision between two trains in which 36 people were injured; an accident which resulted in the tragic deaths of two SMRT staff; and a tunnel-flooding incident which revealed “deep-seated cultural problems” made Kuek’s time at SMRT a torrid one. He offered to resign after the tunnel-flooding episode in October.

Perhaps their PR department wasn’t much help, describing the collision as trains coming into contact. (Yes, they exchanged numbers, followed each other on social media and became Facebook friends.)

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Still, we thought that all that would be consigned to history with the new broom, but the replacement of a former general (the sixth Chief of Defence Force) with another former general (the seventh Chief of Defence Force) made many wonder if it would end up being more of the same in the years to come.

While some may argue that the selection of Neo represented a deep-seated tradition of choosing military men to run the rails (SMRT’s first CEO Kwek Siew Jin was a former rear-admiral who was succeeded by Boey Tak Hap, a former brigadier-general), SMRT came out to say that Neo’s selection came after a global search which was narrowed down to 20 candidates.

Image Source: Flickr / Richard Foo TH

Some questioned the global search that threw up a former Singapore general. But if the search had culminated in the appointment of a foreigner, these same voices would probably ask why a Singaporean wasn’t chosen. In the same way so many Singaporeans seem to have nothing good to say about our MRT while every foreign friend I know who lives or has lived in Singapore has assured me that it really is one of the best in the world. (It’s not that I haven’t experienced the subway systems in other countries. I just don’t take our own MRT very much.)

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So there you have it: Neo Kian Hong – best in Singapore, JB, Batam, and SMRT says, the world.

But what do we know about Neo?

Not much, apart from the fact that he served in the military with distinction. And the chairman and board of SMRT seem pretty confident that he’s the best man for the role.

SMRT chairman Seah Moon Ming said in a statement: “The board was impressed with Kian Hong’s appreciation of interdisciplinary collaboration, as well as his vision and experience in leveraging new technologies for public service.”

Seah told The Straits Times that the board is “confident that (Neo) will be able to lead SMRT towards achieving operation excellence”.

And in a statement following the announcement of his appointment, Neo said: ”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. I also recognise that successive generations of board, management and staff have worked very hard to deliver a good system. I will do my best to build on their foundation, and work with the SMRT team at all levels, as well as with Land Transport Authority, to continue to deliver, and improve on, a reliable and sustainable system.”

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Like him or not, Neo will have his work cut out for him. He hasn’t caused any delays on the MRT track yet, but already there are people who can’t wait to have a go at him.

So please, give chance, lah.

At least allow Neo to step into his new role first. And I know I have no means of stopping you from criticising him, but wait until he makes a mistake before you do. It would be gracious on our part to grant him that.

Top Image: Flickr / Bing Tan