Lawmakers fear project cost limit will neuter Legco

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 April, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 April, 2007, 12:00am

Lawmakers fear they will be sidelined after a senior official suggested that only government projects costing above HK$30 million should require Legco's approval.

The suggestion was made by Secretary for Environment, Transport and Works Sarah Liao Sau-tung during yesterday's Legislative Council motion debate on the budget.

At present, the government can go ahead with works projects costing more than HK$15 million only after it secures Legco's approval. Dr Liao suggested that this threshold be raised to HK$30 million, to speed up projects and help create jobs.

Her proposal drew mixed reactions from lawmakers.

Liberal Party chairman James Tien Pei-chun criticised the proposal as an attempt at 'getting round Legco'.

'I have the impression that the government does not want to come to Legco and they want to do all the things themselves,' Mr Tien said, adding it was the government rather than Legco that delayed projects.

Emily Lau Wai-hing of The Frontier, chairwoman of the Finance Committee, warned against any attempt to dilute Legco's power.

But Raymond Ho Chung-tai of The Alliance, the chairman of the public works subcommittee, welcomed the proposal, saying it could relieve legislators of the burden of discussing minor projects.

Financial Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen said in the budget the government would continue to earmark HK$29 billion a year on infrastructure in the next few years. The government has failed to spend all its infrastructure budget in the past few years.

Dr Liao said some major projects had failed to get off the ground in recent years.

For example, the design and construction of Hong Kong International Airport took only nine years, while railways including the Tseung Kwan O Extension and West Rail took 11 years. But Kai Tak development project and the Central Wan Chai bypass project, which were first planned in 1993 and 1995 respectively, were still under planning stage.

She suggested policy bureaus and departments that oversaw basic infrastructure projects should outline their projects early on for consultation. But she warned against any abrupt changes after consensus had been reached.

'If there's no absolute necessity, the contents of the projects should not be changed because the changes may appear very simple, but in reality the progress of the whole project would be delayed,' she said.