• Tue
  • Sep 23, 2014
  • Updated: 6:26pm
My Take
PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 May, 2014, 3:01am
UPDATED : Monday, 05 May, 2014, 3:01am

How MTR-gate has damaged Anthony Cheung's rock-solid reputation

As the late Freddie Mercury of Queen sang, another one bites the dust. Anthony Cheung Bing-leung was supposed to be the sure thing, the man with the right academic and public service records, that rare public figure with a pan-democratic background whom Beijing could trust.

But MTR-gate now looks set to dent Cheung's rock-solid reputation, perhaps irreparably. It appears the transport and housing chief knew about a possible delay with the MTR's massive HK$67 billion high-speed railway linking Hong Kong with Guangzhou as early as last November. Yet he feigned surprise when the rail operator finally revealed last month that the delay would be at least two years, until 2017. Hitherto one of the few policy secretaries from within the troubled Leung Chun-ying administration who enjoyed a degree of public confidence, he could face the media without provoking too much hostility. Not any more.

The bureau claims it was ready to disclose the delay to lawmakers late last year but was asked by MTR chief executive Jay Walder not to do so. Cheung said he wanted to give the MTR "the benefit of the doubt" as some senior engineers were optimistic that any delays would be minor. Could Cheung really have been so naive? Surely he must have realised he would be dragged down with the MTR when people learned about his prior knowledge, as we do now.

To compound his bad judgment, his bureau helped secure the appointment of Professor Lee Chack-fan, a former University of Hong Kong pro-vice-chancellor, to head a panel to investigate the delays. Lee promptly resigned after it was revealed he was an independent non-executive director of Paul Y Engineering, a key contractor for MTR's troubled West Kowloon terminus. Two top MTR managers have quit over the delay. But a few pan-democratic lawmakers are calling for more heads to roll, including Walder's, and are threatening to invoke Legco's special powers to investigate.

There's no need for the pan-dems to waste time grandstanding. We already know this massive project was compromised from the start and the delays now looked inevitable, regardless of when and whether Cheung knew about it. Let's just hope there won't be further delays down the road.


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This article is now closed to comments

"Anthony Cheung Bing-leung was supposed to be the sure thing, the man with the right academic and public service records, that rare public figure with a pan-democratic background whom Beijing could trust."
Only an anachronism like you ever believed that, Alex.
OldPeak Toad
Has anyone of you ooh so publicly responsible (see Philip Bowring's article yesterday) journalists, columnists, bloggers, politicians, etc. who are once more trumpeting form the high horse bothered to find out how progress on such a big project is monitored and "delays" assessed?
Instead we are now fed these repetitive 'opinions' from every Tom, Jack and Alex without actually adding anything. Please, go talk to a project manager and have terms like "PERT" and "critical path" etc. etc. explained. Or are you just in for the clicks?
No one is questioning the complexity of such a project. What is at issue here is the transparency, or lack thereof, by the minister whose portfolio this project falls under.
How About
Not a bad take Alex! It would now appear the MTR's CEO should also resign - their reporting system and its accuracy definitely needs overhauling. As for CY Leung and Anthony Cheung - everyone knows this HSR was a political score from Tsang's era, so to redeem yourselves that you can still turn this around into something positive - please work out how
(a) other than the property-rights atop the HSR or other new line stations, HKG will press MTR's new head to make the HSR line viable;
(b) how HKG plans to re-distribute the profits from the property-rights from HSR and other new lines in the next 10 years and
(c) whether a mechanism can be put in place to fund some of these unforseeables from future property-profits by way of bonds/loans.
Hardly news. I think history tell us we can safely assume that anyone who takes a role in the HK Government (or related advisory boards, civil service etc) is an amoral, self-serving, ignorant shoe shiner who is potentiality corrupt to boot. The only surprise is how long it takes us to find out.
At least we know him better now, the reason given for not releasing more information on the Lamma tragedy shows that he is none better than CY Leung in handling the TV licensing controversy.
Cheung is finished in the eyes of the HK people but the accountability system means accountability to Beijing so we will need to see what fate our masters have in mind for him. As he messed with their grandiose plans for a high speed rail system, he may be toast with BJ too.
IS that "accountability system" actually still around?
The other question that needs to be addressed is why did Lee Chack-fan apparently accept the appointment to head the inquiry only to resign when found out. It cannot have slipped his mind that he was a director of one of the major contractors. Or, maybe he has so many of these side jobs that he can't keep track of them...
He accepted because he didn't consider the obvious conflict of interest a problem. He knows that the 'independant' investigation is a charade - and he was chosen as the frontman. This is accepted practice in government circles. Your bad, Mr. Cheng - indeed.




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