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Wednesday, July 6, 2016, 18:23

MTRC covered up express link delay: Report

By Li Yinze
MTRC covered up express link delay: Report
This undated photo shows the construction site of the West Kowloon Terminus of the Hong Kong section of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link. (Parker Zheng / China Daily)

HONG KONG - A select committee of Hong Kong's Legislative Council (LegCo) blasted the MTR Corporation (MTRC) for a "deliberate cover-up" over the delay of the high-speed rail construction.

The criticism came after the committee issued a probe report into the matter, which also criticized the government for "unreasonably" placing too much trust in the MTRC. The report urged the government to take a more proactive role in monitoring projects.

The Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link, designed to be part of the national high-speed railway network, had been delayed twice in its Hong Kong section construction, which was contracted to the MTRC. The construction was originally scheduled to complete last year, but was delayed three years to the third quarter of 2018.

The official report by the 13-member committee concluded that the delay should have been made public by the railway operator more than six months before the announcement in April 2014.

The committee blasted the MTRC former chief executive officer Jay Walder and its former projects director Chew Tai-chong as responsible for the cover-up. The report said it was "difficult to believe" the MTRC relied solely on them and its executive committee for such a massive project.

Meanwhile, the report revealed that Chew had promised Walder that the project would still be completed by the end of 2015 on a partially open basis in spite of the delay, and Walder had accepted it. Thus the committee blamed Walder for his “questionable” judgment.

He should not have relied upon the assurances given by Chew alone without credible and verifiable evidence to show how the problems could be managed, the committee criticized.

It was also unacceptable for Chew to have failed in properly reporting the progress and the challenges of the project to the MTRC board, the committee said.

In addition, the report found insufficient evidence to lead to a conclusion that the Transport and Housing Bureau and its Highways Department had been involved in the cover-up, as the MTRC did not provide sufficient information about the delay until April 2014.

However, it blasted the SAR government for having put too much trust in the MTRC and for displaying a lack of practical experience and expertise in railway projects.

Thus the committee urged the MTRC to enhance the efficiency of its internal mechanism to ensure an overall high standard of its corporate governance.

Mutual cooperation and trust between the contracting parties in the government work contracts are needed, it recommended.

Moreover, it urged the government to recruit more local and overseas professionals in railway construction to assist the government in monitoring the work on future railway projects.

Also in the committee, five “pan-democratic” lawmakers did not put their signatures to the report. Instead they issued their own minority report criticizing both the government and the MTRC. They said both had been "blindly confident" of a timely completion of the project.

They condemned Secretary for Transport and Housing Anthony Cheung Bing-leung for being too tolerant of the MTRC, saying this was in breach of the public interest.

Chairman of LegCo's transport panel Michael Tien Puk-sun described the entrustment agreement between the SAR government and the MTRC as a “flaw”.

He said the government was supposed to supervise the project contractor but that it ended up with such poor management.

Tien believed the government had neglected to exercise adequate supervisory functions in the project, though there was no evidence to prove it deliberately concealed the delay.

Responding the same day, Anthony Cheung said the government reserves the right to pursue the obligations of the MTRC and does not rule out the possibility of using legal means.

He said there was no reason for the government to cover up the project delay – stressing that he had tried his very best to give an account of the affair to the public.

MTRC chairman Frederick Ma Si-hang expressed his disappointment on the conclusion of the report. He criticized the report as lack of evidence, saying the allegation against the Corporation was "way too serious".

Ma apologized for not having announced the delay promptly, however, he denied the company had deliberately covered up relevant information. He called the company's misconduct as "lack of communication".

"The Express Link Project is proceeding as planned,” he added. He said the company will guarantee the public and the government has the access to supervise over the works progress of the project.

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