Hong Kong needs public works projects delivered on time and within budget
It is not unusual to learn of delays and cost overruns in public works projects. From time to time, we come across news about countries struggling to deliver much-touted facilities within budget and on schedule. But when cost overruns and delays become regular occurrences, there is every reason to be concerned. The latest cost estimates for the South Island Line and the Kwun Tong Line extension are HK$24.1 billion in total, HK$3 billion over budget. The completion dates have also been put back by a few months to a year, according to the Mass Transit Railway Corporation.
The bad news does not square with the image of a world-class rail operator that boasted a net profit of HK$8.2 billion in the first half of the year. The government has already been told that the Sha Tin-Central link can only be built at an extra cost of HK$1.27 billion. The cost of the Hong Kong section of the cross-border high-speed rail link has also soared, first from HK$65 billion to HK$71.5 billion and later to HK$85.3 billion, representing an increase of 30 per cent.
That budget overruns and delays are becoming the norm rather than exception for railway projects is worrying. Not only will it add to the burden of taxpayers and passengers, it also raises concerns over the company's management.
While the Kwun Tong extension and the South Island Line are financed by the MTRC, the other two are funded by the government. Whether the extra costs are to be borne by taxpayers remains unclear. The Transport Bureau has rightly expressed serious concerns over the ballooning costs. It should also seriously handle the question of who will foot the bill.
The MTRC is not the only entity facing difficulties in completing mega infrastructure projects on time and within budget. From the West Kowloon Cultural District to the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge, delays and cost overruns have become an issue. The challenges are as much for the railway giant as for the government and bodies in charge of public works. Lessons must be learned to ensure future projects can be delivered in a cost-effective and timely manner.