After the blame game, the MTR must now get back on track

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 July, 2014, 4:13am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 July, 2014, 4:13am

Blame and shame follow when a public body fails to live up to expectations. This is what happened to the MTR Corporation in the wake of the two-year delay in completing the HK$67 billion high-speed railway to Guangzhou. But inevitably, finger-pointing serves little purpose other than to vent grievances and outrage. What's more important is to learn from mistakes and prevent such things happening again.

Useful insights can be found in the MTR's internal inquiry. According to the report released by a committee, chief executive Jay Walder and projects director Chew Tai-chong showed poor judgment when handling the delay. A slow response and poor public communications added to the woes and turned the saga into a crisis. The duo have been heavily criticised ever since the delay was formally announced in April. That they have to step down is to be expected.

Chew is to retire in October, while Walder will leave next month, a year earlier than scheduled. Although the MTR said the early departure was decided for the sake of continuity and had nothing to do with the report, the company well knows that the public would not be appeased without heads rolling.

It remains to be seen whether the controversy will be laid to rest. Another expert review commissioned by the government is to be released later. Also, the additional cost incurred by the delay has yet to be made known to the public.

From project delivery to public communication, there can be no dispute that the MTR and the government have done a bad job. However, blame and shame will not help to put the high-speed railway back on track.

To uphold its reputation as a world-class railway operator, the MTR should take up the committee's recommendations, such as forming a capital works group at board level to oversee the railway project. The government, being the company's major shareholder, should restructure the board and appoint more people with expertise to ensure the body can work professionally and live up to public expectations.