Some SMRT staff in the building and facilities department have owned up to lapses in their work after the company offered them 'amnesty'
Some SMRT staff own up to lapses during 'amnesty' A train in the flooded tunnel between the Bishan and Braddell MRT stations on Oct 7. The flooding, caused by a gap in maintenance operations, disrupted North-South Line train services for about 20 hours. PHOTO: ST READER

SINGAPORE - Staff from at least one department in SMRT have admitted to lapses in their work, in response to a company call to own up - without penalty - before a wide-scale audit is launched.

The Straits Times understands that the employees are from SMRT's building and facilities department, which oversees areas such as MRT tunnel ventilation, and flood and fire protection measures at train stations.

It is unclear how many staff have come forward in the "amnesty" exercise that ended yesterday, and which is targeted at quickly plugging gaps in maintenance operations - one of which caused the flooding of an MRT tunnel last month, bringing down train services on a stretch of the North-South Line for about 20 hours.

When contacted, SMRT said it was unable to comment on the amnesty offer, which was made known to staff via e-mail a few days ago.

The offer was made to quickly establish the extent of improper practices, and to allow staff to "volunteer information in open reporting as a mitigation against further disciplinary action", SMRT's group chief executive Desmond Kuek said in a statement on Thursday evening.

SMRT has told staff that it will embark on a massive audit and inspection exercise following the amnesty period, and lapses uncovered will be dealt with. These measures follow revelations that SMRT staff responsible for maintaining the pumps of a storm water pit at Bishan station had signed off on work that was not done. It is suspected that the falsification of the quarterly maintenance records went as far back as December last year.

The manager and staff responsible have been suspended and are assisting in investigations. SMRT also replaced its vice-president of maintenance a week after the flooding.

Observers said SMRT's amnesty offer is a rare move, and held mixed views on its effectiveness.

Mr William Thien, a principal consultant at EON Consulting and Training, said: "It's a good effort to identify potential gaps quickly, calling on the conscience of employees to do the right thing."

"Giving amnesty is not a common thing in companies. But given that SMRT is providing a public good, which has a great impact on public transport, I can understand why," Mr Thien added. He said organisations mostly rely on whistle-blowing channels to bring up lapses.

PeopleWorldwide Consulting's managing director David Leong said: "From an HR perspective, it's very poor people management. The trust between the management and staff is totally lost.

"It doesn't lead anywhere... Are you going to retain the people who owned up and let them do the same job? Or are you enticing them to come out, to remove them later?"