• Thu
  • Aug 21, 2014
  • Updated: 12:39am
My Take
PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 July, 2014, 3:40am
UPDATED : Friday, 18 July, 2014, 4:01am

Have MTR's Jay Walder and Chew Tai-chong been thrown to the wolves?


Alex Lo is a senior writer at the South China Morning Post. He writes editorials and the daily “My Take” column on page 2. He also edits the weekly science and technology page in Sunday Morning Post.

So, Jay Walder will now fall on his own sword. But the outgoing MTR boss will get close to HK$20 million for the trouble, which should considerably lessen the pain. This follows the premature retirement of Chew Tai-chong, the MTR's projects chief most directly responsible for failing to sound the alarm about delays to the HK$67 billion high-speed railway to Guangzhou.

Still, you can't get rid of the nagging feeling that the two men, however responsible, have been thrown to the wolves to save the honchos in government, the MTR's biggest shareholder, from further embarrassment and opprobrium. After all, what exactly were the two, especially Walder, guilty of besides failing to be fully transparent about the two-year delay to 2017? Walder had been the MTR's chief executive for over two years. Construction on the project started in 2010 as one of 10 mega-infrastructure projects started by former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen.

As the new CEO, Walder inherited a questionable timetable that seems more the outcome of political considerations to meet the opening of the mainland section of the project than a realistic engineering estimate. By the summer of last year, some newspapers were reporting possible delays.

Recently I met a group of non-MTR senior construction and engineering executives and they all said the delay was "industry knowledge" long before transport chief Anthony Cheung Bing-leung claimed he was told about it and was ready to inform the legislature in November last year had it not been for a last-minute phone call from Walder.

From the start, the high cost and 2014/15 completion date were questionable. Surely the MTR would have enough competent and experienced engineers who would demand due diligence for such a large project, yet it appears it was never conducted.

The MTR and the government are going softly-softly about who should pay for the cost overrun, having decided to finish the job first. Though the 2015 deadline was mentioned in the original contract, you would think the government would now wax indignant and demand the rail operator pay for the whole cost overrun if it didn't think there might be dirty laundry to air in the event of a court case.


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This article is now closed to comments

People in this town have such short memories. When the new Airport opening was messed up in 1998, the blame was placed on a few ****s, whilst the main culprit, the saintly Anson CHAN, walked away unblemished. She pushed for the opening despite repeated objections from some. Apparently, she'd booked the opening date and sent out the invites without consulting. So this is just history repeating itself. Its always much easier to blame a few foreigners than accept responsibility.
To Kub...
I agree. Hong Kong people have shockingly short memory from what I can deduce from reading their postings at SCMP. Sometimes I feel I am talking through my postings to a bunch of strangers to Hong Kong.
This could be explained that Hong Kong people during the colonial time didn’t pay attention to politics or life outside of property. Developing, buying and selling, later renting out property was the focus of the majority of Hong Kong of all classes. It is apathy that lead to ignorance of ironically a very slow developing city. Therefore it had been such an easy town to govern until now.
To lesser extent Hong Kong is a transient city. Mrs Anson Chan is a stranger to them.
Right, these foreigners were just fall guys for Hong Kong. It's a shame, the Chairman & Board Members warrant no consequences - were they also sleeping and not asking the right questions. As important as roles of CEO and Project Director, it's a shame that no Hong Kong person dare to step up or is being viewed as capable enough to take on those roles. Come on, Hong Kong, if it is that important, take responsibility instead of looking for foreigners to lead and blaming them !
Any person who have been involved in building projects or infrastructure projects will tell you that delay is common and often unavoidable. This shows the international community how incompetent our legislators are in dealing with this episode at the MTR. It also shows how cold blooded and uncompassionate we have become. It seems that Hong Kongers are demanding perfect executives that simply do not exist. Have you never made mistakes in your working life?
Mr. Lo, they were. Hiring and firing Walder and Chew would have been HR decisions to the MTR board, but why was Fred Ma's report conspicuously absent on remedies needed on the MTR board itself? Aren't they the executives of the HKSARG, managing MTR?
Completely agree with your observations. Where were the Government's representatives on the Board when all of this information was being circulated? This is yet another fine example of the total lack of accountability by those the Government's representatives. Can you please name and shame them? Did they receive remuneration as directors - if so did they pocket this or did the money go back into general revenue? So many questions and no answers. This is fiasco is a prime example of the very poor job those at the top have been doing - they take the appointments and the status but duck and dive whenever things go wrong.
John Adams
When will the SFC investigate and punish ( as per Jake van der Kamp ) ?
Seems this case is cut and dried.
Simple case - proven.
Total failure to divulge share-sensitive information on time.
Or does the SFC have no guts for real meat, especially government meat ?
Does the SFC only censure and penalize minnows ?!
(Seems so, which makes a mockery of the SFC )
It was a terrible idea to build a HSR line below a dense urban area. Almost anywhere in HK would have been a better choice. Thanks, Donald.
John Adams
Yes thanks - meaning NO thanks - Donald "the duck"
Wherever you are ducking out these days I hope you and your pious Christian faith are feeling suitably ashamed.
It must be a tough deal to have to live the rest of your life with your gross mistakes and guilt (Or was that why you originally wanted to move to live in a Shenzhen penthouse paid for by one of your cronies ? )
Do you really think that arrogant little man ever feels guilt?




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