• Fri
  • Nov 28, 2014
  • Updated: 5:00am
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TRANSPORT

MTR was given 'benefit of doubt' on rail delay, says transport chief

Transport chief denies accusations he helped in a 'cover-up' ahead of grilling by lawmakers

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 May, 2014, 5:41am
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 May, 2014, 9:27am

The government was giving the MTR "the benefit of the doubt" when it decided not to inform lawmakers about a possible delay in completing the high-speed railway to Guangzhou, transport minister Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung said yesterday.

Speaking ahead of a meeting of Legco's railway committee tomorrow - in which the government and the MTR face a grilling by lawmakers on the saga - Cheung denied accusations that he was conspiring with the MTR to cover up the delay.

Lawmakers are planning to try to invoke Legco's powers to investigate the fiasco and table a motion of no confidence against Cheung.

They are also calling on MTR chief executive Jay Walder to quit. He is due to attend tomorrow's meeting along with MTR chairman Raymond Chien Kuo-fung.

Walder and Chien have made no comment on the delay since it was announced on April 15.

A report by Cheung's bureau submitted to Legco on Friday revealed that the government had wanted to tell lawmakers that the railway may not be ready next year - as scheduled - at a Legco meeting in November.

However, Cheung was stopped from doing so by Walder, who called him the day before and told him that the schedule was still feasible.

Cheung said the bureau held an urgent meeting with Walder after the phone call, but they could not reach a consensus.

"The bureau thought the MTR was being too optimistic, and we kept urging the MTR to explain why they thought it was still possible to open the railway in 2015," he said.

Cheung's undersecretary, Yau Shing-mu, told lawmakers the following day that the major works could be completed within 2015 and the testing and trial runs would take another six to nine months.

Cheung said yesterday: "MTR had its own assessment and judgment about how to make up time. Sometimes, different engineers can have different conclusions, so I said I would give them the benefit of doubt.

"In hindsight, we know the progress was lagging behind. But at that time, in November, we were exchanging views in a pragmatic manner."

He was surprised when the MTR later informed him the railway would not be running until 2017 because he had not expected a two-year delay.

Cheung turned a deaf ear to reporters' questions about whether Walder should be removed from his post.

Former secretary for the civil service Joseph Wong Wing-ping said it was "evident" that the government was conspiring with the MTR to cover up the delay.

Democratic Party lawmaker Wu Chi-wai said he would consider invoking Legco's special powers to probe the saga and table a motion of no confidence against Cheung.

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22gt7
From what now transpires, it appears that Cheung knew the progress was lagging behind and that he was surprised of "only" a two-year delay. Perhaps MTR should be asked to commit the final completion date with a penalty clause of, say, HK$6.7 million (being 0.1% of 67 billion)a day exceeding the two-year period and part of the penalty should be recouped from the remuneration of the responsible Management personnel.
cleareye
22gt7 - It would be a waste of time. The penalties will be passed back to riders as the MTR is guaranteed to profit. Moreover, the government is its biggest shareholder.
meoii
What a waste of time. Given that they're all buddies, nothing would happen anyways. Look at the Henry Tang illegal structure fiasco, no one except his wife was liable in the end.
rpasea
I hope Legco demands Cheung's resignation tomorrow.
r6b
"MTR should be asked to commit the final completion date"
Lets recall the Airport Express construction timelines. There was significant political pressure to commit to a technically impossible completion date.
So - was the HSR completion date political fiction? Perhaps it was a "best case" or " if no unforeseen problems arise" type of target date. Lets also keep in mind that a 2 year delay, is consistent with the recent mainland rail project target completion dates too !

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