The government will have to consider whether to temporarily halt the Guangzhou–Shenzhen–Hong Kong express rail link construction project if its new budget is not approved by the legislature within a week, Under-secretary for Transport and Housing Yau Shing-mu warned on Monday.
The statement came as a legislature subcommittee on railway affairs held a panel meeting to discuss the construction project. Yau said that, as the total expenditure of the project will have exceeded HK$60 billion by March, the government will need to decide on a date to halt construction if the new budget is not approved. He added that extra costs of HK$4.8 billion may be incurred if the project is indeed suspended.
Some pan-democratic lawmakers earlier said they would filibuster and block the new funding from being passed, deeming it a “white elephant” project and criticising the government for not responding to social needs.
The government has since bypassed a subcommittee in the Legislative Council in order to speed up the funding application for the controversial rail link. It is currently seeking an additional HK$19.6 billion in funds.
Mired in controversy
In 2010, the legislature passed a HK$66.9 billion budget bill for the construction of the Express Rail Link project amid huge controversy. The construction project is managed by the city’s railway operator, the MTR Corporation. It has been plagued by budget overruns and repeated delays with pan-democratic lawmakers blaming MTRC mismanagement and the government’s lack of supervision for the cost overruns.
Some pan-democrats also argued that the suggestion to adopt a joint Hong Kong-mainland checkpoint at the West Kowloon terminus could harm the “One Country, Two Systems” principle.
The pro-establishment camp has previously stated that they will support additional funding. Regina Ip, a lawmaker from the New People’s Party, said in December that the project was “too big to fail” and that leaving the project unfinished would be like “throwing money into the sea.”
On February 1, MTRC minority shareholders approved an agreement in a special meeting, under which the government will be paying HK$19.6 billion in cost overruns related to the project. The amount will later be repaid by the MTRC through special dividends. The agreement also stated that the MTRC, and not the government, will have to foot the bill for any further overruns above the new budget.
The MTRC said that 77.3% of the construction has been completed as of late January.