Airport boss angered Anson in '96
THE Government was not satisfied with the performance of then Airport Authority chief Hank Townsend 10 months before the airport's original opening date, it emerged yesterday.
At a meeting of the Legislative Council select committee on the new airport, it was revealed that Anson Chan Fang On-sang had wanted a 'stiff word' with the authority's chief executive officer at a meeting in September 1996.
But testifying at the hearing yesterday, the Chief Secretary for Administration said replacing Dr Townsend was not considered due to the tight schedule.
The airport had been due to open in mid-1997 but was delayed until July this year.
Minutes of a meeting of the Airport Development Steering Committee (ADSCOM) in August 1996 quote Mrs Chan as saying 'long experience had indicated we would not get anywhere talking to the CEO [Dr Townsend].
'We ought to institute a system for reviewing AA [Airport Authority] claims and ensuring that AA management would agree lines to take with the Government, its sole shareholder, before briefing the AA chairman and vice-chairman.' At a meeting in September 1996, Mrs Chan said 'we should have a stiff word with the CEO in a different forum'.
'The Government . . . must get them to be more forthcoming, after all we had to bail them out,' she said.
The minutes quoted Mrs Chan, who chaired ADSCOM, as saying that problems with the new airport 'had a lot to do with the chief executive officer's management style' and that 'we might need to give some form of ultimatum'.
At an ADSCOM meeting in December 1996, Mrs Chan was said to have sought assurances the authority had a 'real handle on all key issues'.
ADSCOM members were angry with compensation claims from some contractors against the Airport Authority.
Mrs Chan admitted yesterday Dr Townsend's performance was less than satisfactory. 'His management style was not good; he does not have a strong personality, but I cannot therefore judge that he is unfit for his office,' she said.
Mrs Chan said no ultimatum had been issued to Dr Townsend due to the imminent opening of the airport.
But she said she had discussed Dr Townsend with authority chairman Wong Po-yan. It was at Mr Wong's request that Billy Lam Chung-lun, then head of the New Airport Project Co-ordinating Office (NAPCO), was seconded to the authority as Dr Townsend's deputy.
It was only at the hearings that she learned Douglas Oakervee, the authority's project director, was not responsible to Mr Lam.
Citing weekly progress reports compiled by the NAPCO, legislators asked Mrs Chan if she was aware of problems with the flight information display system. Mrs Chan told the Legco inquiry in September that there had been no indication that the new airport would not be ready to open on July 6.
Two weeks before the opening, reports highlighted 'instability problems' with the system and warned 'continued system delays and operational problems represent a significant risk to the smooth opening'.
Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee asked: 'Reports pointed out in black and white that there would be substantial risks to a smooth opening. How would you regard this not as the slightest indication?' 'It depends on how you define substantial risks,' Mrs Chan said.
She admitted her confidence was based on the backup system and two final successful trials in late June.
But she did not know it took three hours to switch to the standby system.
'To a certain extent I feel I was misled,' Mrs Chan said.