Taxpayers' money washed down drain

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 July, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 July, 2001, 12:00am

Rainfall from Typhoon Yutu has filled Hong Kong's reservoirs and looks likely to wash more than $1 billion of taxpayers' money down the drain because the SAR still has to pay for water it ordered from the mainland.

Heavy rain in the first part of the year has left the SAR with an excess supply of about 400 million cubic metres - which means it will be paying for $1.16 billion worth of water it does not need.

Sixteen reservoirs are full, and the 17th, High Island, is 90 per cent full.

Officials at the Water Supplies Department insist the fixed amount they are contracted to buy from the Guangdong provincial Government at $3.085 per cubic metre is necessary insurance in case of dry years.

They say Hong Kong needs 711 million cubic metres (mcm) of water from July to December. Some 234mcm is kept in reserve.

But the total supply during this period is now estimated to be 1,111mcm. This includes 586mcm of water already in the 17 reservoirs, 148mcm in predicted rainfall, and 377mcm from Dongjiang. The water authority will buy 790mcm of water this year and has drawn 413mcm in the first six months.

Under a contract between Hong Kong and the Guangdong provincial Government, both the amount of supply and the price of water cannot be changed.

'If the expected rain does fall, and assuming we are not going to use the current reserves, we will not need all the 377 million cubic metres of Dongjiang water,' the spokesman acknowledged.

The amount of water the territory gets is based on the average annual rainfall of 2,214.3mcm measured by the Observatory between 1969 and 1990. The Observatory said last week the annual average was subject to revision as last month saw a record-breaking 1,051mcm of rain.

In 1999 the Audit Commission hit out at a hefty excess of $1.7 billion worth of water paid for between 1994 and 1998, due to heavy rain and the irreversible Dongjiang water purchase agreement.

'We have excess water every year. But in a populated city like Hong Kong, this should be considered a mild but necessary insurance for the dry season,' the department spokesman argued.

The department has been in regular talks over the past two years with the Guangdong authorities to change the terms of the agreement to allow the SAR to buy less water during the wet season.

But there has been no success so far.

Democratic Party legislator Fred Li Wah-ming said: 'This is a sheer waste of Hong Kong people's money.

'It is also very environmentally unfriendly to waste natural resources like that.'

Negotiations have been going on between works officials on both sides for two years, and Mr Li urged Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa to step in.

'This year we've got heavy rain and next year we may have heavy rain too. Are we going to prolong the negotiations forever? This way, we are only delaying the problem.'

Graphic: FULL26GET