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Donald Tsang

Donald Tsang criticises Hong Kong government’s handling of infrastructure projects

Tsang said infrastructure projects in Hong Kong are often overbudget and behind schedule, and the current administration must do more

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 November, 2016, 8:40pm
UPDATED : Monday, 21 November, 2016, 10:53pm

Former Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen has questioned the current government’s capability to keep infrastructure projects within budget and on schedule, saying he hopes the administration can “resume” the efficiency achieved during his term in office.

In a column published in the AM730 newspaper on Monday, the former city leader said he was having a conversation with a professor and realised that it is common for new airports to face the problem of delays and running overbudget.

“There is an airport in the US where construction started at around the same time as the Chek Lap Kok airport did. But the airport is still facing all sorts of problems,” Tsang said.

“These days, almost all major infrastructure projects face the same difficult situations. It has become a normality for government-initiated infrastructure projects to run into delays and go overbudget.”

He did not specify if he was also referring to projects in Hong Kong in the apparently carefully worded column.

Hong Kong needs public works projects delivered on time and within budget

But he went on to say that during the initial stages, projects are bound to run into different problems, including issues with choosing the locations and environmental concerns.

“Fortunately, once past this stage, infrastructure projects in Hong Kong in the past could always be completed in time and within budget. But recent projects have shown that this has changed. The government has recently established the Project Cost Management Office to supervise the progress of projects. I have high expectations of the office and I hope that we can resume the efficiency we used to have,” he said.

He said that if any projects run into delays and go above the budget, senior officials including the Chief Executive would have no choice but to be grilled by lawmakers and journalists. Officials “must” do their very best to ensure that the two problems do not occur while at the same time do not hinder the engineers and architect from doing their jobs, he said.

When he was Chief Executive, he would ask project managers to prepare two charts at the monthly meeting for him to review. One chart listed what needed to be completed at different stages of the project, in accordance with what the officials have promised. The other chart also listed what needed to be finished at different stages, while listing the expected expenses. The expenses must not go over the budget.

Delayed infrastructure projects put Hong Kong’s reputation on the line

This measure had been effective because the engineers knew that the Chief Executive cared very much, Tsang said.

“This top-down mechanism to supervise major projects has been effective because different government departments knew that the Chief Executive would personally ask about the progress and expenses, and they would subsequently be extra careful,” Tsang said. “Times and circumstances have changed. I wonder if this simple measure would still work?”

His criticism was made against the backdrop of a spate of project overrun and overbudget under the Leung Chun-ying administration.

A case in point is the 26km Hong Kong section of the Hong Kong-Shenzhen-Guangzhou Express Rail Link. In March, the Legislative Council’s Finance Committee approved an extra HK$19.6 billion to complete the project. The latest cost is estimated at HK$84.4 billion and the target date for completion is the third quarter of 2018. It should have been completed last year under the original schedule.