INFRASTRUCTURE

Stop jumping the gun on projects cash, Hong Kong officials told

Fears legislature will be reduced to mere rubber stamp if tenders are invited before funds are discussed, let alone approved

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 July, 2017, 8:01am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 July, 2017, 8:01am

The government has been found to have jumped the gun in more than half of infrastructure projects by starting tendering procedures before the discussion and ­approval of funding requests.

Environmental group Green Sense and planning sector lawmaker Edward Yiu Chung-yim said such behaviour may ­reduce the Legislative Council to a rubber stamp with suggested improvements by members ­ignored in ­order to avoid the revision of ­tendering documents.

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Green Sense chief executive Roy Tam Hoi-pong said: “With the blind support of pro-establishment lawmakers, the government will often put the projects up for tender first, because it is confident the funding requests can pass Legco. It is unacceptable to jump the gun on any occasion.”

The group and Yiu said of 34 funding requests submitted by the government to Legco since the start of the legislative year in October, 18 had been put out for tender before being discussed.

For example, tendering to ­reclaim 130 hectares of land off the northern coast of Lantau Island began on June 30, but a ­request for HK$20.5 billion to fund the project will only be ­discussed by the Finance Committee on Friday.

Several green groups want a reduction in the proposed reclamation and greater protection of the environment, especially the Brothers Marine Park, which is a kilometre away and is the habitat of the rare Chinese white dolphin.

Yiu said the government may be unwilling to make improvements because any changes would ­require revisions of tendering documents or even restarting the procedure.

“Lawmakers have the right to question the plans, request revisions and raise conditions for approval,” Yiu said. “The practice [of starting tendering first] will make our discussions pointless.”

A government request for HK$3.6 billion to finance the ­construction of an integrated basement for the West Kowloon Cultural District, which was ­discussed by Legco on Tuesday, was another example. The tendering process began in March.

Professor Chau Kwong-wing, head of the department of real ­estate and construction at the University of Hong Kong, said tendering early could save time because contractors could hit the ground running as soon as funding requests were approved.

“For straightforward projects that are less controversial, this practice can save a lot of time,” Chau said. “But when it comes to more controversial ones, the ­government should leave some room for public discussion.

“The government needs to strike a balance between efficiency and public participation.”