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Khaw Boon Wan

Khaw Boon Wan
许文远
Minister Khaw Boon Wan.JPG
Khaw Boon Wan
Co-ordinating Minister for Infrastructure
Minister for Transport
Assumed office
1 October 2015
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong
Preceded by Position established
Lui Tuck Yew - Transport
Acting Prime Minister of Singapore
Covering duties
19 December 2017 – 25 December 2017
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong
Chairman of the People's Action Party
Assumed office
1 June 2011
Deputy Yaacob Ibrahim
Preceded by Lim Boon Heng
Member of the Singapore Parliament
for Sembawang GRC
(Sembawang)
Assumed office
7 May 2006
Minister for National Development
In office
21 May 2011 – 30 September 2015
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong
Preceded by Mah Bow Tan
Succeeded by Lawrence Wong
Minister for Health
In office
12 August 2004 – 20 May 2011
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong
Preceded by Lim Hng Kiang
Succeeded by Gan Kim Yong
Member of the Singapore Parliament
for Tanjong Pagar GRC
(Moulmein)
In office
4 November 2001 – 6 May 2006
Personal details
Born (1952-12-08) 8 December 1952 (age 65)
Penang, Federation of Malaya (now Malaysia)
Nationality Singaporean
Political party People's Action Party (2001)
Alma mater University of Newcastle

Khaw Boon Wan (simplified Chinese: 许文远; traditional Chinese: 許文遠; pinyin: Xǔ Wén Yuǎn; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: Khó͘ Bûn-oán; born 8 December 1952) is a Singaporean politician who was originally from Penang, Malaysia. Since October 2015, he has been the Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure and the Minister for Transport. He is also the Chairman of the governing People's Action Party (PAP) since 2011.[2][3] He was previously the Minister for Health from August 2004 to May 2011 and the Minister for National Development from May 2011 to September 2015. He has been a Member of Parliament (MP) since 2001.

Early career

Khaw began his career in the Singapore Civil Service, working in the Ministry of Health in 1977.[4]

From 1985 to 1987, Khaw served as the first Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the National University Hospital.[5] He also worked in the Kandang Kerbau Women's and Children's Hospital, and the Singapore General Hospital.

From 1992 to 1995, Khaw served as the Principal Private Secretary to Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong (who is currently Emeritus Senior Minister)

From 1995 to 2001, he served as the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Trade and Industry.[6]

Minister for Health (2004 - 2011)

Khaw was appointed as Minister for Health in August 2004.

As Minister for Health, Khaw claimed that he played a key role in combating the SARS epidemic that happened between February to June 2003,[7] which put a strain on and tested Singapore's public health resources.

Khaw was also noted for his role in handling the National Kidney Foundation (NKF) scandal, and made Gerard Ee the new Chairman of the NKF following the resignation of T. T. Durai. Responding to a report by international auditing firm KPMG in Parliament in December 2005, Khaw vowed to punish all wrongdoers in the saga and heavily criticised NKF's "bizarre HR policies".[8]

In a parliamentary speech on 9 February 2009, in the context of tackling the rising healthcare costs, Khaw suggested that Singaporeans can consider sending their elderly parents to nursing homes in Johor Bahru in Malaysia, which are more affordable to lower-income Singaporeans.[9][10][11] This was quoted by news reports and a public outcry ensued. Khaw subsequently clarified that his statement was quoted out of context by the media and his suggestion was only one of the many choices available to Singaporeans.[12]

In 2010, Khaw wrote on his blog boasting that his heart bypass surgery had only cost him a mere $8 (SGD) in cash in a class A ward, as the rest of the cost was offset by payments from his Medishield account and private insurance. This sparked off a debate in the public sphere, with many questioning if an ordinary Singaporean had the means to pay for such high insurance premiums as he did in the first place.[13] Members of the pro-PAP group, Silent No More, defended Khaw's claim and encouraged one another to rebut Internet users who had made jibes at Khaw.[14]

Minister for National Development (2011 - 2015)

Following the 2011 general election where the ruling PAP garnered its lowest vote share of 60.1% since independence, Khaw was appointed the Minister for National Development. At a press conference, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong revealed that Khaw had volunteered for this new role as the public was extremely unhappy with the Government's housing policy, and Khaw felt that he had the ability to solve the problem. In his new appointment, Khaw assured the public that he will make housing affordable and accessible to all Singaporeans.[15] In his 2013 budget debate, he said:

“We can now pause and see what else we can do to bring Build-to-Order (BTO) prices in non-mature estates to, say, around four years of salary as it was before the current property cycle started.”[16]

Though the relative prices of Build To Order (BTO) flats have fallen since Khaw's speech, most of the flats still cost more than four years of an applicant's salary.[17] The prices of new flats remain high despite six rounds of cooling measures.[18] In January 2013, a seventh round of property cooling measures was introduced to moderate the increase in residential and industrial prices.

In July 2012, National Parks Board's (NParks) purchase of 26 Brompton bikes costing $2,200 each sparked a nation wide uproar after it was revealed by a whistleblower on online forum HardwareZone of possible corruption due numerous red flags in the way the procurement was done.[19] Khaw, who initially defended NPark's purchase of the high-end foldable bikes, was criticised for handling the saga poorly.[20] Subsequent investigation by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau resulted in National Parks Board assistant director Bernard Lim Yong Soon being fined $5,000 for lying to auditors about his relationship with the bicycle firm which was awarded the tender.[21]

He also led the initiative to encourage cycling in the city state, such as through transforming the Park Connector Network for use by people on bikes as well as walking.[22]

During a parliamentary session on 12 February 2015, Khaw spoke on the Auditor-General's findings on the opposition-run Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council's alleged financial irregularities.

If an auditor makes such a finding on a listed company, it will immediately cause consternation among the shareholders, and a call for the removal of the CEO and the Board of Directors. In Japan, the Chairman and CEO would hold a press conference and take a deep bow. And in the good old days, they may even commit harakiri.[23]

The quote on committing seppuku (harakiri) when top leaders make mistakes became part of Singapore’s political lexicon[24][25] as various irregularities and lapses of other government agencies started surfacing,[26][27] along with the persistent train breakdowns under Khaw's Transportation portfolio in later years.[28][29]

Khaw came under fire in 2015 when it was revealed that a site in Sengkang designated for religious use was awarded to a commercial company to develop a columbarium instead. Residents of an upcoming BTO public housing project in the vicinity demanded a refund as they did not know they would have to live next to a columbarium.[30] Responding to opposition MP Lee Li Lian's questions in Parliament, Khaw acknowledged the oversight and used the Butterfly Lovers analogy to explain how "tender procedures have not caught up with time ... the (HDB) officers assessing the tender just assumed that it must be a company affiliated to some religious organisation".[31] The columbarium plan was eventually aborted.[32]

Minister for Transport (2015 - present)

On 28 September 2015, it was announced that Khaw will be the Co-ordinating Minister for Infrastructure as well as the Minister for Transport from 1 October 2015,[33] taking over a portfolio that has been under heavy public scrutiny.[34] Khaw wrote on his blog that he did not volunteer for the "thankless" job, but accepted it nevertheless as he put the nation's interest above his own.[35]

If my term turns out to be a thankless job, the loss is personal. But if we succeed collectively in transforming the city, the benefits will go to millions of Singaporeans. In such a cost-benefit equation, I will be selfish to say “no” to PM. I just hope that my heart, my own body train, can withstand the stress and do not breakdown.

Khaw Boon Wan

A key tenet of Khaw's transport policy is his vision of transforming Singapore into a car-lite city by 2030, which includes building a "smarter, greener and more inclusive transport system".[36] He has stated publicly that 75% of trips should be made by public transport by 2030.[37]

Khaw has also advocated for the use of driverless buses to tackle the manpower crunch. Three towns in Singapore will introduce these new vehicles by 2022.[38]

Death of SMRT trainees

Two SMRT trainees were killed on 22 March 2016 in the Pasir Ris rail accident, after they were hit on the tracks by an oncoming train near Pasir Ris station. They were investigating a possible signalling fault on the tracks.[39] The driver of the oncoming train was not informed of their presence on the tracks.

Khaw received flak for his insensitive Facebook post on 23 March 2016 for a conflated post celebrating 150 days of no train service disruptions for the new Downtown Line while offering condolences to the two SMRT staff killed.[40]

A coroners’ inquiry was convened to investigate on the causes of the accident and whether it was due to human error.[41] SMRT admitted that safety procedures were not adhered to, which was in breach of the Workplace Safety and Health Act.[42]

Defective trains

On 5 July 2016, Hong Kong based investigative news agency, FactWire broke news about 35 SMRT trains being secretively shipped back to China for repair by manufacturer CSR Sifang Locomotive & Rolling Stock Company Ltd.[43] It was reported that cracks were found in the structure connecting the car body and the bogie. After remaining silent for a week, Khaw came out to explain that the cracks were not safety issues and that the news could result in “undue panic” during a briefing at the Bishan Depot.[44] He criticised the news agency for mischief and even suggested that Singapore is a victim caught in the rivalry between political factions in Hong Kong and China.[45][46]

FactWire noted that instead of taking responsibility for an incident which has damaged the Singaporean public’s trust in the authorities, Khaw chose to blame the news agency for exposing the cover up.[47] FactWire defended its reporting and denied allegations of political interference. In an open letter to Khaw on 14 July, the agency maintained that it is funded by the Hong Kong public and that its reporting is independent of commercial or political considerations.[48]

Increased transport fares

Khaw had indicated in March 2017 that public transportation fares were set to increase and a fare review will be conducted by the Public Transport Council (PTC). Rationalizing the move, Khaw said that operating costs have been increasing, rendering the current fare structure "unsustainable" despite subsidies from the government.[49] He further stressed the need to strike a "fair balance" in the proportion of transport costs between commuters, the government and the transport operators.[50]

Khaw's comments were met with discontent among the public, with many questioning if transport fare increases have been tied to service improvements, and whether there is a need for a fare hike when the transport operators have been generating profitable growth.[51][52]

On 7 March 2018, Khaw pushed for a review of the current fare formula and transfers. However, fares will be reviewed depending on the economic and market conditions. Currently, the "bus service must not be the same as the preceding bus service" is abolished and became a transfer.[53]

Media controversy

On 27 July 2017, at a forum on infrastructure management, Khaw stated that train reliability has improved three times since he took over.[54] He was subsequently criticised online by commuters who had experienced persistent breakdowns in the same period. Khaw had derived his statistics based on preliminary data excluding all delays caused by re-signalling works.[55][56] Other online sources suggest that Khaw may have used a positive-sounding Mean Kilometre Between Failures metric to back up his claims, instead of the industry-standard Mean Time Between Failures metric.[57]

Khaw further berated the Singapore press for reporting extensively on the MRT breakdowns, criticizing them for "turning tabloid", "publishing frightening figures",[58] and magnifying the problem to which he has no solution. He added that if solving the problem was as simple as "holding a pen and writing a few articles", members of the media should run the transport system instead and Singapore does not need any engineers.[59]

Opening of Downtown Line Stage 3

On 26 September, leaders from Singapore's Inter-Religious Organisation were invited by Khaw to bless Downtown Line (DTL) 3 amidst mounting frustrations against frequent train disruptions.[60] Despite this, DTL 3 suffered its first disruption lasting 40 minutes during a pre-opening launch on 15 October 2017, where commuters were invited for free rides.[61] Responding to media queries the following day on the disruption, Khaw remarked, "Sometimes things will happen … For it to happen when we are doing an open house, that is bad luck".[62]

Bukit Panjang LRT Line

In response to various problems with the Light Rail Transit (LRT) system, Khaw acknowledged that the Bukit Panjang LRT Line was not well-planned and built "in such a masochistic manner"[63] as it was "an afterthought due to political pressure".[64] He added that taking the LRT was an "uncomfortable" ride and he felt "dizzy" on the train, which he said was akin to taking a roller-coaster in Singapore.[65]

The LRT system has been slated for an overhaul under Khaw's tenure.[66]

Tunnel flooding

On the evening of 7 October 2017, the tunnels along the North South MRT line (NSL) were flooded as a result of a malfunctioned pump. The flood caused train services on the NSL to be disrupted for 20 hours.[67] Khaw addressed the media 9 days later, holding the SMRT maintenance team responsible for failing Singaporeans. He revealed that the rainwater sump pit at the Bishan station can hold up to 5000 cubic metres of rain, at least seven times more than the amount of rain that had fallen in the catchment on that day, implying that the pit had not been maintained for quite some time. He added that a joint decision by LTA and SMRT had been made to replace the pump just a week prior to the flood, blaming bad fortune, he said, "but I supposed that is life".[68]

On 19 October 2017, the Singapore Democratic Party issued a strongly worded statement calling for Khaw to step down as Minister of Transport. In the letter, the party charged that Khaw has failed to stop the recurring breakdowns and other serious lapses all these years, signalling his incompetence and lack of leadership. It said, rather than shifting the blame to everyone else, as the Minister for Transport, he must take responsibility for the ongoing fiasco and resign.[69]

Responding to mounting public pressure and the intense media scrutiny on the constant train breakdowns and tunnel flooding, Khaw delivered a 47-minute Ministerial Statement in Parliament on 7 November 2017. The parliamentary sitting was attended by SMRT's senior management, which included CEO Desmond Kuek and Chairman Seah Moon Ming. In his speech, Khaw offered no apology, but expressed sadness and embarrassment on the continuous bad publicity received. He revealed that anti-flooding pumps at Lavender and Kembangan stations were also found to be in non-serviceable condition, and maintenance records might have been falsified since 2016. Khaw also disagreed with opposition chief Low Thia Khiang's charge that SMRT's main aim is to "make money for the government" at the expense of commuters, saying that "there are many other simpler ways to make money". [70]

Khaw also stated in Parliament that the tunnel's pumps are not critical components and insisted that there is no shortcomings or lapses in regulatory oversight by LTA or MOT staff. As such, a public inquiry into the matter in the form of a Committee of Inquiry need not be convened.[71] A poll conducted by market research company Blackbox, however, showed that 69% of Singaporeans felt a public inquiry into the incident should have been held.[72]

In the same poll, more than half of Singaporeans felt SMRT CEO Desmond Kuek should resign.[73] Defending Kuek's performance in Parliament, Khaw said, "he wasn’t parachuted in or being asked to go and fix this, he volunteered for this job. As the former Chief of Defence Force, I know his heart is in the right place".[74] However, members of the public questioned Khaw's choice of the word "volunteer" given that Kuek is paid $1.87 million per annum, and whether there is a proper selection process at SMRT given that Kuek, a former Singapore Armed Forces Lieutenant-General and civil servant, had no experience running a company in engineering or rail operations before joining SMRT.[75][76]

Khaw further suggested that the responsibility of SMRT's failures, including that of poor work culture, vests in the CEO.[77] He also believed that they could have avoided the fiasco if Temasek Holdings had appointed Seah Moon Ming to replace Koh Yong Guan as the SMRT chairman earlier, at his recommendation.[78] Khaw claimed that he had slept for less than 20 hours in total over the past month, which has cost him his personal health and family life.[79]

Speaking at the inaugural Public Transport Workers Appreciation Day on 14 November 2017, Khaw further criticised SMRT's maintenance team responsible for the tunnel flooding, saying that they had "tarnished the reputation of Singapore and Singaporeans",[80] and "brought disrepute" to other transport workers.[81] The saga led to the sacking of 8 SMRT employees and legal action is expected to commence.[82]

Khaw added that longer engineering hours were required and therefore train operating hours would have to be shortened.[83] Soon after, it was announced on 21 November 2017 that train services at 17 stations along the EWL would have to be suspended for two Sundays in December 2017.[84]

Train collision and delays

An MRT train collided with another at Joo Koon station at approximately 0818 hours (SST) on 15 November 2017. It was initially reported that the accident caused 28 people to sustain injuries and they were taken to Ng Teng Fong General Hospital and the National University Hospital.[85] Of the 28 injured, 2 were SMRT staff (including the driver) and 3 had to remain warded in hospital for observation. The collision caused massive delays on the East West MRT Line.[86] More commuters sought treatment thereafter, which saw the number of injured rising to 38.[87]

Speaking to the media hours after the accident occurred, Khaw said he was "deeply sorry" and it was "an awful day".[88] It was revealed at a press conference that the collision occurred due to an "inadvertent removal" of a signalling software protection feature. Train services between Joo Koon and Tuas Link station had to be suspended for four days to allow signaling contractor Thales to conduct further assurance checks.[89][90] The last train collision occurred over 2 decades ago in 1993 which resulted in 156 injured.[91][92]

On the same morning, commuters experienced long delays on Circle MRT Line due to a door fault, which caused station platforms to be overcrowded and commuters venting their frustration on Twitter.[93] The fault took more than two hours to resolve.[94]

In the evening of the same day, train services on the North South MRT Line were delayed as well. SMRT's announcement stated that the delays were “due to fewer trains” and commuters need to add 40 minutes of train travel time.[95] The delay is expected to extend till the following morning.[96]

In support of Khaw following the train collision, Law Minister K Shanmugam wrote on Facebook on 16 November 2017 that he was "confident" Khaw had the ability to "sort things out".[97] Prime Minister Lee acknowledged that the constant MRT breakdowns "have hurt public confidence",[98] but spoke in support of Khaw at the PAP convention on 19 November 2017. Lee added that Khaw had "our full support and confidence"[99] and claimed that Singapore's public transport system remained first-class.[100][101]

According to a statement from SMRT and LTA, the protective "bubble" around the first train was "unexpectedly disabled" when it passed a trackside device, which was not compatible with the new signalling system. The second train failed to keep safe distances from the first train as it moved forward automatically. Speaking to reporters at a press conference on 21 November, Khaw said that Thales, the provider of the new signalling system, "could have done better" to avoid the Joo Koon collision.[102] Khaw asserts that if one disregards the collision and the flooding incident, SMRT was "actually making good progress" with regards to train operation.[103][104]

A poll of 1000 Singaporeans conducted by market research company Blackbox from 10 to 16 November 2017 revealed that 65% of the public felt the public transportation system was "not well run".[105] 60% of respondents were "not confident" that the current situation will improve soon, and 57% felt that they had not been "kept informed and told the truth" about these lapses.[106]

Other appointment

Khaw has been a Member of Parliament since 2001 and currently serves at the Chairman of the PAP.[107] He represented Tanjong Pagar Group Representation Constituency (Tanjong Pagar GRC) from 2001 to 2006, and Sembawang GRC since 2006, taking over from Dr Tony Tan.

Education

Khaw received his secondary education in Chung Ling High School and Anglo Chinese School in Penang, Malaysia.

In 1973, he was awarded the Colombo Plan Scholarship from Singapore to study a combined degree program in Engineering and Commerce at the University of Newcastle in Australia. He graduated in 1977 with a Bachelor of Engineering (Honours Class I) and Bachelor of Commerce.[4]

He received his Master of Science degree in Industrial Engineering in 1982 from the National University of Singapore and received his Doctor of Engineering honoris causa from the University of Newcastle in 2002.[4]

Personal life

Khaw Boon Wan was born in Penang, Malaysia, on December 8, 1952.[108] Khaw is married to a retired pharmacist with three daughters.[citation needed] He professes to be a religious man[109] in Parliament. In 2010, Khaw underwent a heart bypass operation[110] and after his recovery, it was reported that he has switched to a vegan diet, avoiding all meat, fish and dairy products.[111]

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External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Lim Hng Kiang
Minister for Health
2004–2011
Succeeded by
Gan Kim Yong
Preceded by
Mah Bow Tan
Minister for National Development
2011–2015
Succeeded by
Lawrence Wong
New office Co-ordinating Minister for Infrastructure
2015–present
Incumbent
Preceded by
Lui Tuck Yew
Minister for Transport
2015–present
Incumbent
Party political offices
Preceded by
Lim Boon Heng
Chairman of the People's Action Party
2011–present
Incumbent