Lawmakers angry at water secrecy

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 February, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 February, 2000, 12:00am

Lawmakers were angry yesterday at the Government's refusal to disclose key documents surrounding the 1989 agreement with Guangdong on water supplies from the Dongjiang River.

Despite repeated pleas for officials to supply the relevant Executive Council papers and the minutes of the talks between the two governments, officials remain reluctant to comply.

The Legislative Council's Public Accounts Committee members were eager to know whether officials at the time had done their best to press for flexibility of supply from Dongjiang and a guarantee that water quality would be improved.

Secretary for Works Lee Shing-see cited 'sensitivity' as the reason for non-disclosure, arguing that it might not be appropriate to reveal information involving negotiating strategy.

He pledged to seek legal advice and said he would supply documents if it would not harm the public interest.

The Audit Commission has said in its latest report that water supplies worth $1.72 billion had been dumped into the sea over the past five years due to inflexibility in water supplies.

The deal, valid until 2008, was based on a forecast average annual growth rate between 1995 and 2000 of 3.43 per cent. It cannot be altered.

However, annual consumption rose only 1.28 per cent on average over the past 10 years, mainly due to the movement of factory production from Hong Kong to the mainland.

Committee members accused the Government of deliberately concealing the deteriorating quality of water from Guangdong.

Lau Kong-wah, of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong, said officials had ignored failures and only reported good news, such as the approval by the provisional legislature's finance committee in 1998 of a $2 billion interest-free loan to Guangdong to build a closed viaduct from Kiu Tau in Guangdong to Shenzhen.

Mr Lee told members that supplies from Kiu Tau - the source of the water imported into Hong Kong - complied with the mainland's 1983 national standard for surface water.

Tributaries upstream at Weizhou are relied upon to dilute pollutants in raw water coming to Kiu Tau.

Speaking after the meeting, committee chairman and non-affiliated legislator Eric Li Ka-cheung said: 'If we merely rely on river branches at Weizhou to dilute the pollutants and don't act now, problems will arise sooner or later.' He said members were worried that water quality would deteriorate within five or 10 years.