Lawmakers say they will launch an investigation into the delay in completing the high-speed cross-border railway if the administration and the MTR fail to explain the situation in detail within two weeks.
Democratic Party lawmaker Wu Chi-wai said he would invoke the Legislative Council Powers and Privileges Ordinance if the administration and the MTR did not submit documents tracking the progress of the project. Gary Fan Kwok-wai of the NeoDemocrats said he had similar plans.
The ordinance empowers Legco to launch investigations into matters of public concern, summon witnesses and request the inspection of documents relating to an inquiry.
The MTR said on Tuesday that the opening of the HK$67 billion railway would be delayed by two years to 2017. It cited a tunnel-boring machine damaged by flooding together with excavation difficulties at the West Kowloon terminus and the cross-border section as the main reasons for the delay.
Secretary for Transport and Housing Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung and Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying urged the MTR to submit a report on the issue by May 2, when the Legco railway committee next meets. The request came during a meeting with MTR chairman Raymond Chien Kuo-fung and chief executive Jay Walder yesterday.
Cheung said the administration was willing to provide lawmakers with the information. He noted the MTR had told the administration last month that construction was on schedule. MTR board members Christine Fang Meng-sang and Ng Leung-sing said they had learned about the delay only last weekend.
Parties across the political spectrum said their decision on whether to support Wu's plan depended on what the administration and MTR offered in the coming fortnight.
"We are asking for the government's technical comments which led them to reach the conclusion that the project could be completed on time … and the contingency plans based on different projected completion dates," Wu said. "We will also file a complaint to the ombudsman as the Railway Development Office of the Highways Department hired a government engineer, supposedly to oversee the railway's progress."
He said that if Legco powers and privileges were invoked, the scope of the probe would be wide, "possibly involving former transport minister Eva Cheng Yu-wah".
Ben Chan Han-pan, of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said: "It is too early to say what the next step to take on the delay will be, but we remain open to all options."
Meanwhile, Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah said yesterday that the government will bring in tighter cost controls and review procurement procedures to rein in the soaring cost of public infrastructure projects. The measures were announced as he asked the Legislative Council to pass his budget bill, which lawmakers did by 44 votes to 15.
Additional reporting by Tony Cheung