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Gov’t bypasses subcommittee to try to get express rail link funding passed

In a rare move, the government has decided to bypass a subcommittee at the Legislative Council in order to speed up the funding application for the Guangzhou–Shenzhen–Hong Kong express rail link.

Lawmakers were debating an additional HK$19.6 billion of funds for the project at the Public Works Subcommittee on Tuesday, but the two-hour session ended without a vote. The government had previously said that, if the funding cannot be passed by the end of February, it will potentially terminate the project due to lack of funds.

Even if the funding had been passed at the subcommittee, it still needs to get through the Finance Committee. The committee has only two scheduled meetings this month – a total of eight hours of meeting time – before the deadline when the money will run out.

Anthony Cheung Bing-leung.

Anthony Cheung Bing-leung. File Photo.

Secretary for Transport and Housing Anthony Cheung Bing-leung announced after the Tuesday meeting that the government will bypass the subcommittee to forward the funding debate to the Finance Committee.

“If we hesitate, it will be a serious cost to society,” Cheung said, adding that the decision was made “after thorough consideration”. The government had said the additional cost for the project was estimated at HK$28.2 billion if it did not pass in time.

Cheung said that there were many infrastructure projects waiting to be approved at the subcommittee, and that the “congestion” problem must be solved.

Cheung also said that although it was a rare move by the government, it was not unprecedented.

“In the 1990s, some government projects did bypass the Public Works Subcommittee to go to the Finance Committee, although not a lot,” Cheung said, pointing out that lawmakers can still review the funding at the Finance Committee.

The high speed rail site.

The high speed rail site. Photo: expressraillink.hk.

Approval from committee chairman

The move still requires approval by the chairman of the Finance Committee, Chan Kin-por, for the funding debate to be scheduled at the meeting on Friday.

For the government’s move to work, Chan also needs to agree to waive the required notice period of five working days to insert the request for funding onto the agenda of the committee.

Chan has not indicated whether he would agree to both.

Last Saturday, Chan cut short the debate on the HK$5.4 billion funding request for the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge project, terminating a filibuster waged by pan-democratic lawmakers.

Gov't bypasses subcommittee to try to get express rail link funding passed