Guess what, SMRT CEO Saw Phaik Hwa finally got a lucky break. In less than a minute, MP Seng Han Thong decidedly turned the attention on SMRT on himself and this just makes one wonder how on earth did the PAP get it so wrong by getting an MP like him.

MP Seng Han Thong appeared on TV some nights ago as a commentator on local TV programme, to give his take on the SMRT incident. Boy, he must be regretting it now. He made a comment on the possibility of some SMRT staff of Malay and Indian race having less than perfect english and hence being less effective in communicating the breakdown. The irony of the situation is that he was making those comments in english that was nothing short of horrible. Anyway, he followed that with a post on Facebook saying that he was ‘misinterpreted’. He even kindly supplied (so that us bloggers don’t have to transcribe the clip) a portion of the transcript that contained the ‘offending’ segment. Here it is (emphasis mine):

First the staff are not trained for this emergency preparedness, they know how to prevent terrorist but even this one, they are not prepared so they follow a very strict kind of SOP, so they have to be flexible, and especially to deal with different kind of emergency whether it is terrorist attack or internal, system flaw. They are not ready. I notice that the PR mention that, some of the staff, because they are Malay, they are Indian, they can’t converse in English good, well enough, so that also deters them, from but I think we accept broken English.

I venture to guess that Mr Seng Han Thong implies that he was being mistaken for being a racist. Indeed, you can see he was being cautious by saying that it wasn’t his opinion (he was quoting SMRT’s PR guys) that some Indians or Malays can’t converse in good English (not ‘English good’ Mr Seng).

He certainly didn’t deny it but he acknowledged the statement by saying that he accepted broken english.

In the first place, if he was savvy, he would have questioned the need to even mention race. Mr Seng Han Thong could have self-depreciatingly said that although the PR staff mentioned minority races, even a Chinese-educated guy like him can’t speak good english (whichwas evidently true).

Furthermore, if communication was the issue, then why is the point even about english? Don’t tell me that everyone that takes the train is expected to speak English fluently? Local older folks would most probably know dialects or Malay even better than English. The largest groups of tourists to Singapore come from China and Indonesia (check Changi Airport group’s website, they have the stats), would you expect them to understand good english better than Mandarin or Bahasa Melayu?

So there you go, Mr Seng Han Thong, your follow-up statement only made things worse. I really don’t think you were mis-interpreted at all. And this only makes one wonder about the PAP’s selection process even more. Looks like selecting Tin Pei Ling, Puthucheary and some others can’t be excused as ‘having a bad year’ after all.