Opening up the power industry to provide cheaper prices was more difficult in Hong Kong than in countries overseas, a senior official said yesterday. Secretary for Economic Services Sandra Lee Suk-yee, however, said the Government would keep an open mind when it carried out an interim review of the profit control agreements with the two power companies next year. She made the remarks after legislators passed a motion last night calling for a lower profit return for the power companies. The 15-year-long agreements with CLP Power and Hongkong Electric (HKE) are due to expire in 2008. The two companies are at present guaranteed a maximum profit return equal to 13.5 per cent of their fixed assets. Pressure for the Government to fight for a better deal grew after HKE increased its charges from this month by 5.3 per cent. Officials were also urged to speed up studies on supply sharing between the two firms to help reduce tariffs. Responding to calls to open up the power supply market, Ms Lee said that the two companies were privately run - unlike overseas countries where power supply companies were often government-owned. 'Under the principles of upholding the spirit of contracts, it will be more difficult for us [to open up the power supply market] than in other countries,' she said, stressing that she would address the issue. She also said the issue of sharing supply was a sensitive one as the two companies had different investments to consider. Democrat Fred Li Wah-ming, who sponsored the motion, quoted a senior Motorola executive who said that electricity charges in Hong Kong were too high. Motorola laid off more than 700 staff this month when it moved most of its production to the mainland. Mr Li said the 13.5 per cent profit cap under the control agreement should only be an upper limit, but not a guarantee. Party colleague Dr Yeung Sum quoted an estimate by academic Lam Pun-lee, of the Polytechnic University, that HKE charges 17 per cent more than CLP Power. Mr Li's motion was passed with an amendment by Liberal Party leader James Tien Pei-chun who said the spirit of the contracts should be upheld. 'I also think 13.5 per cent is too high. However, we have to honour the contract,' he said.