Democrats call on Ombudsman to probe high-speed rail link delay

If Highways Department did not know of issue then it was not doing its job, Ombudsman told

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 April, 2014, 6:26pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 April, 2014, 4:04am

The Highways Department would have known about the delay in the high-speed cross-border railway project if it had been doing its job, the Democratic Party said yesterday as it lodged a complaint against the department with the Ombudsman

The MTR disclosed last week that the opening of the railway would be delayed by two years to 2017, with transport minister Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung saying he was "totally caught by surprise".

Democratic Party transport spokesman Chai Man-hon said it was unreasonable that the department's railway development office did not know about the delay earlier.

He said the government had hired a principal engineer costing HK$176,500 a year and 10 more junior ones to monitor the project.

"It's maladministration that the team of more than 10 officials who are supposed to monitor the construction failed to spot any delay beforehand," he said.

The office is required to report each month to Cheung's bureau on the construction progress, but had never mentioned the possible delay.

The MTR Corp blamed difficulties in excavation at the West Kowloon terminus and near the border, along with damage to a tunnelling machine during heavy rain last month, for the delay. "Cheung said he only knew about the delay through the MTR, so the team is not doing anything at all," said Chai , adding that it was strange the Highways Department had said nothing about the delay even after the disclosure.

He suggested that it hire an independent overseas consultant to investigate. "It's necessary that we find out who should be held responsible so the same mistake won't happen on other lines under construction," he said.

After the complaint was laid, the Ombudsman said it would look at the information provided before deciding whether to launch an investigation.

A spokeswoman for the department said it would co-operate with the Ombudsman if it decided to launch an investigation.

The Democratic Party will urge the Legislative Council on Friday to investigate the delay.

It will also seek information through the Legco committee on the West Kowloon Cultural District to see what impact the delay will have on the cultural hub.

Two planned facilities of the district sit atop the terminus.