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Hong Kong housing

Was Hong Kong’s transport chief a man with vision who was in the wrong place at the wrong time?

Former university president was picked on expectation his bureau would be split into two and allow him to focus on housing, his area of expertise

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 June, 2017, 9:32am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 June, 2017, 9:32am

The Hong Kong transport minister was a man with vision but it could be said he was re-routed to the wrong job at the wrong time.

In the end, Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung failed to win approval across the political spectrum over the last five years amid a tight housing supply, sky-high property prices and a host of transport challenges, such as those involving the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge and the high-speed rail link to Guangzhou.

As a long-time Housing Authority member, Cheung was expected to hit the ground running when he was approached by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying in 2012 to take up the sensitive portfolio.

Leung’s plan was to split the Transport and Housing Bureau into two so that Cheung – then president of what is now the Education University – could look after housing issues.

But a twist of fate thwarted Leung’s plan. It was blocked by pan-democrats in the Legislative Council, forcing Cheung to helm both areas, with transport being something about which he knew little.

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In the end, it was this uncharted subject that took up most of his time. High-profile cases included the Lamma Island ferry crash in late 2012 that claimed 39 lives; cost overruns and delays to the rail link project; and forged concrete test results for the large-scale bridge project.

Cheung failed to resolve ongoing transport controversies, such as the rail link’s joint checkpoint facility staffed by mainland and local authorities. And his proposed franchised taxi scheme to ease public concerns over poor customer service elicited strong industry criticism.

As a result, Cheung had insufficient time to deal with hot-button housing issues, leaving him far short of his goal of maintaining an average waiting time of three years for public flats. As of March, the wait had stretched to 4.6 years.

Meanwhile, property prices kept soaring, but it could be said the government’s punitive tax measures helped somewhat to rein them in.

All in all, Cheung admitted he could have done better on housing, conveying regret he was not more effective in his field of expertise.