SMRT’s lowest tender system is to blame for frequent train breakdowns

I met an engineer who has been in the contracting business for two decades. He also provide cable testing services. I asked him about his view on the frequent MRT breakdowns and if his business involve the testing of cables in the MRT system.

He was very convinced in his reply, He said: The problem is with our tender system. We get various contractors to tender different parts of the MRT system. All the systems need to interact with each other.

Under the tender system, the award is usually given to the lowest tender. Although the government has introduced the two envelop system, it does not work.

He explained that the two envelop system requires the award committee to evaluate the tenders based on quality before they consider the price. He said that in practice, it is difficult for the award committee to award the work to a bidder quoting a higher price.

The winning contractor may be squeezed as their bid has a low margin. They may resort to buying lower quality materials or using unskilled workers. This has led to quality issues.

I agree with his view. Another engineer, who worked in the marine industry, said that it is important to have a quality audit plan that is carried out rigorously. He suspected that this was not done with SMRT.

For many years, I have seen the weakness of the tender system. I believe that there is a better way to award the project to the contractor that does not involve competitive tendering. I will write about it in a separate article.

We are now seeing the outcome of the weakness of the tender system. The cost of this bad practice is much higher than most people had anticipated.



* Facebook post by Tan Kin Lian.





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14 Responses to “SMRT’s lowest tender system is to blame for frequent train breakdowns”

  • pap selected INDIAN president:

    when the 3 star sent to SIA did he make CEO? no. he was only an evp. they did not trust the 3 star with the ceo job. because they cannot afford to have even one airplane to drop from the sky.

    yet they make the ultimate mistake in having another 3 star run mrt as CEO. citizens now see the problems. with some even needing medical care due to injuries. if only they had stuck to the distrust model, naming dismal quack as evp rather than CEO, guaranteed, yes it is GUARANTEED, current mrt problems would have be cleared.

    that is why NOL gone case. because they sent a 3 star there. notice within a year of NOL under not 3 star management it turned around, less than a year, and made money.

    no need too much theory. pap generals, especially 3 stars, are not CEO material. if need to keep them, and to avoid problems, they cannot be given, yes given since they truly know nothing to earn anything, a role higher than evp. otherwise, things break, and eevn injuries occur.

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  • Titiana Ann Xavier:

    Good things are rarely cheap and cheap things are rarely good. The PAP government has short-changed the people in trying to cut costs by accepting low bids. The frequent train disruptions are exacting a heavy toll on commuters. Taking the MRT is no longer a breeze but a hassle. The PAP government will be punished when angry commuters retaliate through the ballot box. Mr Tan Kin Lian’s article is an eye-opener. The MRT may end up as a white elephant.

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  • quality vs quantity:

    Singaporeans deserve better than this…
    Cheap is not good…and good isnt cheap!
    Ever heard of “penny wise pound foolish”.
    Rather spend a bit more on quality n save on repairs later on!
    People’s lives are at stake..

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  • Bruise Lee:

    The MRT is just like the PAP government which is beginning to fall apart and nothing can put it together again even with the tender system revamped.

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  • opposition dude:

    HDB’s failing lifts are a very good example of tendering. Want cheap yah? Want good too? Wait long long hor.

    They won’t stop the tendering process because they want low prices for everything. They don’t care if it’s good or not because they aren’t affected.

    Same pattern for the MRT, the monkeys don’t use it so they never know how it feels like to either be on a slow moving train from station to station adding another 2 hours of travel time nor how tough it is to get out of the area of a disrupted station when several thousand commuters are also trying to do the same.

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  • LIONS:


    Not necessary cheap things are never good n vice ver$a?
    Look at the MIW-Monkeys In White- they are not cheap?
    But are they good?

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  • Amos exposed PAP hypocrisy:

    Dr Goh was against the MRT. He wanted an all-bus public transport system. He stated the reason was cost. 1st Phase of MRT costs around $5B. (BTW Ho Ching lost around this amount when she made Temasek invest in Merrill Lynch and Barclays just before the start of the 2008 Financial Crisis). I suspect cost is not the real reason he was against it. I suspect he believed (but obviously cannot say in public) that the “Singapore system” for doing things in the public sector will not be able to properly build and maintain a rail-based public transport system. He is right. Blame arrogant, self-serving SOB LKY. He also screwed up big-time on GDP growth vs productivity growth.

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  • NotMyProblem:

    Agree, I am involved in tendering too. I will first look at the price, when it is lowest, I would compare the different with the others, when it is very close I would consider, otherwise I won’t even bother to read what on the specification and works scope.

    I know tenderer with lower quote usually ends up with a lot of variation orders (VOs) and these are usually expensive. They also caused a lot problems during and after the works. Just like a Town Council case of a worker was also the supervisor.

    For audit, in the case of GLC or government project, he/she will be kaki-nang. So ownself check ownself. Remember the Town Council’s manager was also the contractor?

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  • Suggestion:

    Better to award the tender not to the lowest but the middle one.The one between the lowest and the highest.
    That way you likely get the value for money for reasonable quality and less breakdown issues.

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  • asd:

    Aiya .. now blame the tender system and not the mrt system ..

    diam diam smoke .. .

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  • rxdcfvgybhnu:

    Doesn’t mean you earn/paid less by the gov means that you can anyhow do your work without standard. Do well, if require extra fundings just ask from them. If not, you will not just getting yourself screw by losing your job/contract and all the citizens in the country as it is public service.

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  • SBS buses & sharp braking:

    Investigate why sbs buses brake so hard even at extremely slow speeds.

    I notice this is a islandwide problem with all their buses compared to 20 years ago where the braking was much smoother.

    What kind of brakes they used? Why they like that?

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  • Caw:

    I agree with the former president participant!

    When the first provision of computers were rolled out to the schools, we got an ignorant director of schools to choose the tender and award it to the lowest!

    Immediately the computers start to fail in most of the schools…… cheap good then? This is the reason why more is known as the ministry of errors!

    The ps then was none other than the former head of civil service! Who went on to gic…….that will be another day and another story to tell!

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  • LoveMeTender:

    Everything tender for lowest price…but when time for charging, citizens pay the highest price n keep on paying !

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