Anson's mixed signals on opening date

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 November, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 November, 1998, 12:00am
 

Anson Chan Fang On-sang admitted yesterday she had written to the Airport Authority saying Chek Lap Kok's July opening was irreversible.


Mrs Chan, acting Chief Executive, testified earlier that the opening could have been deferred.


On Day 40 of the Commission of Inquiry on the New Airport, Mrs Chan said the Government would have been willing to consider a delay if evidence of a significant problem had been brought to its attention.


Under cross-examination from John Griffiths SC for Hong Kong Air Cargo Terminals Limited, Mrs Chan admitted a further delay would have worsened the Government's image.


But she denied political pressure or a fear of criticism prompted her to state the July 6 date could not be changed.


Mr Griffiths put it to Mrs Chan that she had used the term 'irreversible' in relation to the July 6 date.


Mrs Chan admitted the term was used in a letter sent to authority chairman Wong Po-yan after the July opening was announced in January. But she said the letter was 'personal and confidential' and not 'cast in tablets of stone'.


Mr Griffiths said: 'The message you wanted to get out was that having changed the date, there was not much chance of changing it again - you wanted the world to know that.' Mrs Chan said: 'No. The thrust of that letter was the Government had decided on the date and all parties should work diligently towards meeting this target.


'I expected the authority and HACTL to use their common sense because they had a clearer picture [of their state of readiness]. I was never asked 'can the date be changed?'.


'We had no indications [of major problems] whatsoever. On the contrary, we were given assurances.' The Airport Development Steering Committee, which she chairs, was assured by the authority right up to the eve of opening day that Chek Lap Kok would be ready.


She said the Government was in a 'no win situation' with regard to criticism.


'No matter what decision we made we would still have been criticised - public relations was something that had to be managed [if a further delay was announced] and could be managed.


'But the Government could not shirk its responsibility in meeting the minimum criteria we set out.' The Government decided in January not to open in April because the rail link would not be ready. The inquiry before Mr Justice Woo Kwok-hing continues today.


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