Hong Kong MTR

Transport chief Anthony Cheung vows to quit if panel finds him liable in rail saga

Transport chief not afraid to bear responsibility for mishandling of construction project, but lawmaker says MTR management is to blame

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 May, 2014, 6:57pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 May, 2014, 8:34am

The transport minister says he will resign immediately if he is found to be at fault for delays to the construction of the high-speed cross-border railway.

Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung was speaking yesterday as lawmakers discussed the matter. He said a government-appointed expert panel would look at the monitoring role he and his bureau played in the HK$67 billion project, which has been delayed two years to 2017.

"If the panel find in their observations that I have any specific responsibility as the minister for the delay, I will resign immediately," Cheung said.

The Legislative Council's railways subcommittee yesterday voted down motions calling for Legco powers to be invoked to investigate the delay and for the public to be allowed to read information that the MTR will release to lawmakers under a confidentiality agreement.

Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor announced last week that an expert panel chaired by Mr Justice Michael Hartmann would look into the MTR and the government's roles in the project.

It was revealed earlier that Cheung had tendered his resignation to Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying after the delay came to light last month but that Leung had rejected it.

Cheung said the government had requested more information from the MTR and was seeking advice from the Department of Justice on the possibility of making claims on the corporation under an entrustment agreement. It also planned to appoint one more government official and three additional non-executive directors to the 15-member MTR board, he said.

Lawmakers asked whether MTR chief executive Jay Walder would take responsibility and immediately resign.

One of them, Michael Tien Puk-sun, accused Walder of gross negligence, saying he should have immediately asked projects director Chew Tai-chong how the delay could be mitigated when he was told of the problem.

Walder said Chew had submitted his early retirement request to him and he had accepted it without consulting the board.

Chew decided after the delay was announced to retire in October. Walder will leave when his contract ends next year, but the MTR said the decision was made last year and was unrelated to his handling of the project.

Tien, a former chairman of rail operator KCR, which merged with the MTR in 2007, said if Cheung did resign, "it wouldn't be good for Hong Kong". Chew and Walder were responsible, he said. He added that other ministers should learn from the mistakes and take a more active role in monitoring works in their area.