Hong Kong MTR

Delayed infrastructure projects put Hong Kong's reputation on the line

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 June, 2014, 5:27am
UPDATED : Friday, 06 June, 2014, 7:09am

Hong Kong does not just impress with its speed and efficiency. It also awes with an insatiable appetite to build more and more. Thanks to our credentials in public works and an indefatigable can-do spirit, we have put in place bridges, railway links and an airport that are the envy of the world. But however accomplished we are in civil engineering, there is a limit to how much we can take on at the same time.

It does not take an expert to tell us that the city is weighed down by an array of huge infrastructure projects. Construction of five railway links are currently in full steam, in addition to the arts hub in West Kowloon and Hong Kong-Macau-Zhuhai bridge. The proposed third airport runway and the government's ambitious housing target add to the pressure.

The recent delays with several railway projects has no doubt tarnished our reputation and image. The latest case only came to light during a West Island Line media tour last week. The December opening may be derailed by problems at a station exit. Work on the South Island Line has also fallen behind. Together with the Kwun Tong Line extension, the Sha Tin-Central link and the cross-border high-speed railway, all five projects under the Mass Transit Railway Corporation have suffered setbacks. The cross-border railway also affects the arts hub nearby and has forced officials to revise the plan.

The delays not only highlight problems with the MTR management, they raise question about whether our building capacity has been stretched to the limit. Some of the projects were inherited from former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, who splashed out on 10 major infrastructure projects after being re-elected for a five-year term in 2007. The initiatives were much-needed stimulus for the city's morale and economy. But they also put our ability to deliver to the test.

Huge construction brings problems, such as the manpower shortages and spiralling costs of these projects. The situation is aggravated by bad management and monitoring, as in the case of the high-speed railway and arts hub. The extra cost and the lost benefits caused by the delays will be substantial.

Reputation and reliability are everything in the construction industry. Government agencies should have better monitoring and coordination to reduce bottlenecks in projects. Authorities in charge of construction should also ensure they have the expertise and experience to deliver.