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MTRC or gov’t? Lawmakers split over responsibility for covering up Express Rail Link delay

The MTR Corporation is responsible for the “deliberate cover-up” of the delays to the construction of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link, a select committee of the Legislative Council has found.

The majority of the select committee found that MTRC’s former chief executive Jay Walder and former project director Chew Tai-chong were responsible for the cover-up of the two-year delay. But it found insufficient evidence that the Transport and Housing Bureau and the Highways Department were involved in the cover-up.

The inquiry report signed by eight pro-Beijing lawmakers was, however, rejected by five pan-democratic lawmakers in the committee. The five refused to sign the report, and issued a “minority report” instead claiming the government was also involved in the deliberate cover-up.

The high speed rail site.

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

The lawmakers – Lee Cheuk-yan, Claudia Mo Man-ching, Wu Chi-wai, Gary Fan Kwok-wai and Charles Mok – condemned the Transport and Housing Bureau for deliberately covering up the delays in their report.

The controversial HK$84.4 billion project, launched in 2010, was originally planned to be finished in August 2015 but was postponed to as early as mid-2017.

The five lawmakers wrote that the bureau selectively disclosed information at a LegCo meeting in November 2013, and that the delay was only known to the public five months after that meeting.

“Such practice was in violation [of the] public interest, and to the integrity of public official[s]” the report said.

Jay Walder Chew Tai-chong

Jay Walder and Chew Tai-chong. Photo: Apple Daily.

The report also blamed Director of Highways Lau Ka-keung for his “careless and arrogant attitude” leading to a failure to monitor the project’s progress, and for making a mistake in professional judgement, as he was notified by consultants as early as 2011 that delays might happen.

Regarding the role of the MTRC, the select committee “finds it unacceptable that the [MTR] Corporation has not reported fully to the Government on the progress of the Project.”

Chew had full knowledge

According to the select committee report, Chew Tai-chong appeared to be the only person within the MTRC having overall knowledge of the project’s progress, and he failed to report fully and accurately when asked by the corporation’s board members at their meeting in December 2013.

The committee found MTRC’s corporate governance was “startling” as its board was only informed of the project delays, and the reasons for them, at a special board meeting held in April 2014.

The report said the Transport and Housing Bureau and the Highways Department “had reposed too much trust in the [MTR] Corporation,” although it was not their fault.

Anthony Cheung

Anthony Cheung. Photo: StandNews.

In response, transport minister Anthony Cheung Bing-leung said the government “did not have any incentive” to cover up the delay.

“Looking back, if we disclose our differences with the MTRC over the progress at the end of 2013, it might have caused much fewer unnecessary second guesses,” he said.

MTRC chairman Frederick Ma Si-hang said the corporation was extremely disappointed by the conclusion of the report, RTHK reported.

“The accusations were serious, but there were not any substantial evidence supporting them, and not every single member supported the conclusion,” he said.

Ma added that the corporation was sorry for not disclosing the delay earlier, but there was “absolutely no deliberate cover-up.”

MTRC or gov't? Lawmakers split over responsibility for covering up Express Rail Link delay