• Mon
  • Sep 22, 2014
  • Updated: 6:02pm
NewsHong Kong

Panel probing high-speed rail project 'not looking for individuals to be penalised'

Carrie Lam says objective is to uncover 'systemic' problems, as she appoints top judge to replace academic who quit over a suspected conflict of interest

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 May, 2014, 2:28pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 May, 2014, 3:15am

A senior judge has been appointed to head a three-man government panel inquiring into delays in building the high-speed railway to Guangzhou.

The appointment of Mr Justice Michael Hartmann, a non-permanent judge of the Court of Final Appeal, follows the embarrassment of original chairman Professor Lee Chack-fan stepping down within two hours of his appointment because of a conflict of interest.

The project has been further rocked by an MTR report showing that a broken tunnelling machine - blamed in part for the two-year delay to the HK$67 billion project - was already out of action when it was further damaged by a flood in March.

The other panel members are Peter Hansford, chief construction adviser to the British government, and Andrew Whittle, a professor of civil engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States. Announcing Hartmann's appointment yesterday, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-Ngor confirmed the panel members had no conflict of interest. Lee stepped down because he is a director of Paul Y Engineering, one of the project contractors.

Lam said the independent expert panel's main task was to identify what had gone wrong with the project, not to look for who was personally responsible. "[But if the panel] comes across issues relating to how individuals have performed, then I suspect [it] will also report on those findings," she said.

Hartmann, who also chairs the Securities and Futures Appeals Tribunal and the Market Misconduct Tribunal, said he was "quite happy" to accept the appointment and "deal with matters that affect the public and are important to the public".

Asked whether his panel should have the power to find out who should be held responsible, he said: "It's probably for other people to think whether we should have more or less power."

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said that if anyone was found to be at fault, the government would pursue the matter.

In a paper submitted to the Legislative Council yesterday, the MTR said repairs to the tunnelling machine further damaged by flooding in March would take another nine months.

A government report said Chew Tai-chong, projects director of the MTR, had raised the alarm about a possible delay before MTR chief executive Jay Walder called transport minister Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung in November to persuade him not to tell Legco because the delay could still be made up.

Additional reporting by Tony Cheung



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This article is now closed to comments

The reason for delay is obvious. Donald Tsang's political will to please China and the landlords to set up the station in W Kowloon overrided technical consideration to move ahead the project. No matter who take up the project manager role, the project will be delayed as it is technically impossible to meet such an aggressive timeline. What's unfortunate is Cheung is so stupid to follow the line of MTR without doing something to know what's happening in the ground. I am sorry for him.
captan - you are totally correct
Government is also squandering money by paying lawyers to determine which of its departments should pay for cost overruns.
Between the lines, it seems that the government's contract with MTR for HSR construction, did not have a project timeline written into it, detailing who would be responsible for additional costs due to delays and unforeseen events - which is why this week, they are merely "asking" the MTR to pay for cost overruns rather than demanding it meet ( non-existent ) terms in the construction contract
There is a real danger to the government, now that the panel is not made up of "inside" experts", that, just like the 1st Lama Ferry Inquiry, the HSR report will be an indictment of Government's failures and weaknesses.
Based on Carrie Lam's now very careful wording, I suspect she can already see the report writing on the wall.
The public money being spent on this enquiry would be better utilized to engage a few additional tunnelling experts to get the job completed rather than looking for witches to burn at the stake. Construction delays like this, when dealing with complex engineering vs. geotechnical issues, are routine. It was minor judgment error to not go public about this when there was perhaps still a fighting chance to change tactics and catch up with the projected completion schedule. 'T'is much ado about nothing , methinks' ........... once again being exploited by senseless, grandstanding local politicians..... the very people who seek to "rule us" . I shudder to think of the thought.
(submitted on behalf of)
Bill Shakespeare
Great comment! Especially the part commenting on some senseless local politicians.
Well said, Sir. I note one of the 'experts' is from the UK, a country renowned for delays on major infrastructure projects. I'm sure he has a cupboard full of excuses that can be used to cover the failure of the government to supervise the project. We all know went wrong and why, this probe is superfluous.
Strange that individuals are already being highlighted as smaller issue before the inquiry. Processes are designed by individuals. They rarely fall from the sky.


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