Don’t waste HK$80 million it will take to run Hong Kong high-speed rail by blocking bill, MTR urges
Three ministers also seek to ease pan-democrats’ concerns that Basic Law would be undermined with presence of mainland officials in city terminus
A controversial cross-border express rail link to Guangzhou will cost an estimated HK$80 million a month to run, according to its likely operator, which warned the money would be wasted if the law needed to launch the service was not passed by next year.
MTR Corporation chairman Frederick Ma Si-hang made the comment as the city’s pan-democrats held firm to their vow to block a bill on the joint checkpoint plan in which national laws will be applied in a quarter of the West Kowloon terminus to be leased to the mainland.
Ma revealed the HK$84.4 billion high-speed rail link would be manned by 700 staff and require HK$80 million a month to run.
While officials have targeted opening the link in the third quarter of next year, Ma cautioned on Saturday that meeting this goal would depend on whether local legislation could be passed before the Legislative Council takes its annual summer break next July.
“If it can’t be launched, it means the HK$80 million will be thrown into the sea,” he said.
Ma believed the MTR could finalise an operation agreement with the government by the end of this year, while issues such as fares, train frequency and the implementation of MTR by-laws in the leased mainland port area would be discussed between the local and mainland authorities.
He added the 700 staff would be given training on legal issues tied to their work in the port area and that the MTR would set up a task force with the government to work out how to handle contingencies in the leased zone.
Pan-democrats fear the leasing plan will set a dangerous precedent. Founding Democratic Party chairman Martin Lee Chu-ming, a barrister who sat on the committee that drafted the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution, warned that Hong Kong and Beijing could invoke the same legal arguments in future to tackle a repeat of the 2014 Occupy movement and rent the occupied area to the mainland on a short one-week lease.
But three ministers on Saturday dismissed the concern and insisted that national laws had to be applied in part of the terminus.
Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung called Lee’s suggestion “totally impossible”.
“It is not as if it is something that we can do because I want it done and in a split second one can do it,” he said.
But Yuen indicated there was a slim chance of keeping matters relating to freedom of speech governed by Hong Kong law – a suggestion that was raised by Michael Tien Puk-sun, a delegate to the National People’s Congress, the country’s legislature.
“The current proposed differentiation was not made overnight,” Yuen said.
The justice chief added that allowing mainland officers to exercise authority only on customs, immigration and quarantine matters could lead to “overlapping jurisdiction” and complicate security issues.
Security bureau head John Lee Ka-chiu said the law had to be clear and that discretion could be exercised, giving the example of a warning or summons being issued for rubbish thrown on the street.
Transport and housing minister Frank Chan Fan said it was not practical to ask mainland officers to refrain from acting if someone went to the terminus to stage a protest.
Chan claimed if Hongkongers upheld the rule of law as a core value, they should reflect that in their conduct and respect another jurisdiction.
“If we go to another jurisdiction and demand special treatment, I think it is a violation of Hongkongers’ reputation or even spirit.” he said.
However, Carpier Leung Kai-chi, a member of a joint checkpoint concern group set up by pan-democrats and legal experts, criticised the arrangement as undermining the Basic Law.
“In the eyes of the government, efficiency is the only value,” he said. “However, we all know Hongkongers are after much more than that.”