by Bertha Henson

THERE was a deathly silence. The group of grim men standing at attention looked at their boss, who was holding his head in his hands in an effort to preserve it. Des Quake wished he had never volunteered for the job. However big the pay packet, it wasn’t worth the headache. His boss might have had just 20 hours of sleep since the flooding “incident’’, but he had only 10. He reached out for his glass of water and popped another Panadol.

He barked out: “Who’s the idiot who wrote ‘came into contact’?” The grim men looked at each other grimly. Who was going to own up in this new era of accountability and openness that had been declared? One of them squeaked at an attempt to lighten the mood: “At least, no one came into contact with a virus or we’d have a carriage-full of dead people!”

Des Quake was ready to sink into the ground – except that this was already the underground cavern which doubled as his war room. He looked ready to tell everyone to “drop 20” and then realised that he was no longer in the military where orders are obeyed.

What a horrible month it had been! He had been trying so hard to fix those legacy issues over the past five years. People don’t seem to understand that getting things right takes time. He thought about the reasons that had been given.

  1. MRT system built on the cheap because G didn’t have enough cash then. (That was a good one! The people involved were probably already dead or retired.)
  2. Not enough engineers, so he was recruiting more and there was now an LTA Academy. (Damn that piece of fake news which said he was cutting down on staff!)
  3. Not enough down time to repair trains and tracks which is why operating hours will be shortened. (He was sure commuters will be unhappy about this.)
  4. Individuals not following SOP and doing what they are supposed to do. (Well, he’s offered an amnesty to slackers and he’s now figuring out what to do with them… )
  5. Complicated replacement of signaling system. (Commuters were already told to expect delays, but he should have added to expect injuries too.)

He himself had thrown in “deep-seated cultural issues but he never thought that someone would check the records and point out that he said the same thing five years ago. This was a war that had been going on for too long. He was battle-weary, battle-scarred, and under siege. He felt as though he was leading the charge of the Light Brigade.

He wondered why no one asked about that July 13 check on Bishan depot sumps before the Oct 7 flooding occurred; why no one asked why he went on to patch new signal line and old signal line instead of waiting for the whole line to be ready. Thales wasn’t helping by saying the incident was unprecedented. It was the first time in the world! We are No. 1!!! He felt like he was growing demented.

He barked out: “Well! What now?”

Staff One said: “I think we should let the minister do everything… “

Staff Two said: “Yes, now that LTA is also answering questions, there’s less pressure on us… “

Staff Three said: “We can rely on our comms team not to communicate anything. We can’t prevent leaks… unless we can use the Official Secrets Act (OSA)?”

He almost agreed on the last point until he realised that he wasn’t running a G agency but a GLC. Maybe the OSA could apply to GLCs too? He would have to consult the company lawyers if they weren’t too busy calculating compensation costs for the injured.

He had thought it could be a good PR signal to visit the injured who had gone home, with a bouquet of flowers and maybe a life-time of free MRT rides. But he was worried that they would be rejected.

Maybe he should hold a press conference and offer a deep bow – maybe not so deep as to facilitate the guillotine. Maybe he should sack everyone in the room – and himself. Life would be so much easier then.

But nope! He will soldier on. He put on his boots and helmet and decided that for the next month, he would live on the tracks between Joo Koon and Gul stations. That way, no one can track him down.


For more SMRT war room stories… 


Featured image from TMG File.

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