Hong Kong MTR

Bid for Legco to invoke special powers to probe rail delay fiasco defeated

Lawmakers’ call for select committee investigation narrowly vetoed

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 May, 2014, 12:19pm
UPDATED : Friday, 09 May, 2014, 5:41pm

A move to have the Legislative Council invoke its special power to investigate the two-year delay in the MTR Corporation’s high-speed railway was defeated today.

By 29 votes to 31, with one abstention, Legco’s house committee vetoed an attempt by pan-democrats Wu Chi-wai and Gary Fan Kwok-wai to bring the special powers motion onto the agenda.

The rejection came hours after two other lawmakers said that the government could appoint two to three more members into the board of the MTR to improve its monitoring role.

Wu, of the Democratic Party and Fan, of the NeoDemocrats, wanted to invoke powers in the Legco’s Powers and Privileges Ordinance to set up a select committee to probe the two-year postponement of the cross-border railway to Guangzhou.

The pan-democrats said a select committee was necessary because the government and the MTR corporation have failed to answer all queries surrounding the delay. But the pro-government camp – except the Liberal Party – said the new motion was repetitive and most did not support a Legco investigation.

Beijing-loyalist Wong Kwok-kin, of the Federation of Trade Unions, said using special powers to start an investigation was premature.

“The responsibilities surrounding the delay is unclear … we should wait and see,” said Wong, whose party has vowed to support a Legco probe if the government failed to come clean on the Legco’s railway subcommittee meetings, which has a second session scheduled for May 16.

But the Labour Party’s Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung, disagreed. “The Legco is obliged to scrutinise the saga as it involves tremendous public interest,” he said.

The Liberal Party, the only pro-government party which wanted discussion on the motion, called on the chief executive to appoint a commission of enquiry.

“I told the chief secretary a commission of enquiry, appointed by the chief executive, is the only way out. It can be headed by a retired judge, aiming at sorting out the responsibility of each of the bureau, the Highways Department and the corporation,” said Liberal party leader James Tien.

“If there is no concrete reply from the government it is very likely for us to support the vote on a Legco probe next month.”

Despite today’s rejection, however, lawmakers can still table a special powers motion at the full council meeting next month.

Earlier today, lawmakers Michael Tien Puk-sun and Ng Leung-sing said in an RTHK interview that the government could appoint two to three additional members into the board of MTR if it wants to strengthen its role.

They were responding to comments yesterday by Secretary for Transport and Housing Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung who said that the government – which now only appoints the chairman and three members – plans to have more representatives in the 15-strong non-executive MTR board.

Currently, Cheung, Commissioner for Transport Ingrid Yeung Ho Poi-yan and Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury Professor Chan Ka-keung sit in the board.

Without giving details, Cheung said yesterday he hoped to appoint members from a wide variety of backgrounds into the board to improve the government’s monitoring role.

Michael Tien and Ng said that two to three more government representatives in the board would be sufficient for the government to strengthen its role.

Michael Tien said the new directors should have a background in developing new railway projects to suit the company’s needs. As well as the high-speed railway, the MTR is constructing four other links.

Ng said additional directors in the board could help it manage the wide scope of MTR business, which covers transportation, properties and overseas business.

“It would be helpful if the new directors have experience in transportation and housing,” he said.