Officials must come clean on bridge bill
With the cost of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge ballooning by another HK$11.8 billion, the taxpayer has every right to know where their money is going
With cost overruns occurring so often in the construction industry, it is not surprising that the mega bridge being built across the Pearl River Delta is also facing the same problem. It was nonetheless disturbing when the government revealed that the cost of the main section of the 22.9km bridge and the 6.7kmunderwater tunnel had surged by a third, or HK$11.8 billion more. Officials can expect some tough questioning when they seek the approval of lawmakers for extra funding.
This is not the first time work on the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge has needed more money. An extra HK$5 billion was approved in 2015 for the works in Hong Kong waters, bringing the total cost of major and supporting projects borne by the local government to more than HK$110 billion. So when there is yet another budget blowout, taxpayers are entitled to ask why.
This time the overrun concerns the main bridge being built in mainland waters. The Hong Kong government said it had learned from the bridge authority that an increase in labour and material costs and refinement of design and construction schemes had pushed the budget up by 10 billion yuan, or HK$11.8 billion. The actual amount that Hong Kong needs to pay remains unclear at this stage. Based on the previous agreement, the city is set to share 50.2 per cent of the cost, while the mainland and Macau will share 35.1 per cent and 14.7 per cent of the cost respectively.
Spiralling costs are a major problem facing the construction industry. This is not helped when funding for public works projects is not approved expeditiously by the city’s legislature. The cost may well rise further if lawmakers again drag out funding procedures.
Inevitably, taxpayers will have to pay whatever it takes to finish the bridge. But any extra spending must be fully explained and justified. The fact that the construction of the main section falls outside the city’s direct control makes supervision and monitoring by the Hong Kong government more difficult. However, officials still have to hold themselves accountable for overspending.