Hong Kong lawmakers approve HK$850 million in additional funds for troubled Sha Tin-Central rail link
Finance Committee votes 25-19 in favour despite heavy opposition from pan-democrats
After almost 10 hours of arguing, Hong Kong lawmakers have approved nearly HK$850 million in additional funds to keep construction going on the troubled Sha Tin-Central rail link.
On Saturday morning, concluding discussions which began last week, 25 lawmakers on the Legislative Council’s Finance Committee– all from the pro-establishment camp – voted in favour of the funding bid, with 19 voting against.
In an embarrassing blunder, legislator Martin Liao Cheung-kong, also an executive councillor, mistakenly voted against the proposal. He later asked for the result to be rectified, but was turned down.
In order to speed up discussion, Finance Committee chairman Chan Kin-por slashed the speaking time for each lawmaker from five minutes to one.
A number of pan-democrats were upset by the decision and accused the authorities of trying to bulldoze the opposition.
“We’re talking only about advance works here, and the cost has gone up by [more than] HK$800 million. The whole project costs more than HK$80 billion – how much is it going to end up [costing]?” Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung asked the officials in attendance.
The lawmaker argued that no one was taking responsibility for the project going over the original cost estimate. Instead, he said, they simply asked for more money.
“Cost overruns of MTR projects have become the norm, and the Finance Committee has become an automatic teller machine,” Cheung continued.
But Luk Chung-hung of the pro-Beijing Federation of Trade Unions said the problems encountered this time round were purely technical, adding that he believed no man-made error was involved.
“We have to let the project continue as quickly as possible … therefore I oppose lawmakers who filibuster by exhausting every possible mechanism [in the rules of procedure],” he said.
The Finance Committee had approved in February 2011 a sum of HK$6.3 billion to carry out the advance works for the 17km rail link between Sha Tin and Central, namely the expansion of Admiralty station to accommodate the new rail line, as well as the relevant section of Ho Man Tin station, which has since been completed.
Citing unfavourable ground conditions and the modification of the original construction schemes, the Transport and Housing Bureau asked for another HK$847.7 million in January this year, bumping up the latest cost of the advance works to HK$7.1 billion.