Few executives who pay attention to Hong Kong's logistics industry would have been surprised by the revelation yesterday that Tradelink expects to ink a deal for the digital trade transport network (DTTN) before the end of the year. It was wholly predictable. Below Deck has to hold up his hand and admit to a high degree of naivety: the smokescreen of the 'competition' process had me actually believing the contract would be awarded on merit in an open, transparent and accountable manner. In actuality, the process the award is going through reminds me of the farce that was billed as a tender for the dedicated express terminal at the airport. There was only ever going to be one winner in both contests, pre-ordained by the assessors. The similarities don't end there. The sad thing is, both winners may have won their contracts on merit but the assessors couldn't afford to take that chance. Granted, the Tradelink award is not final yet. But the likelihood of it not being approved is about as likely as Chris Patten returning to govern Hong Kong. Consider this: the government, in this case the assessors, owns 42 per cent of Tradelink. It has stated its desire to divest itself of its stake, but would prefer to wait until the company is listed before doing so in order to let the market assess the value of its interest. A well-informed little birdie informed Below Deck the other day that all the pieces were in place for Tradelink's listing - except the DTTN award, which would enhance the value to its existing shareholders. Is this commercially prudent business management or political skullduggery? I'll let you decide. But if you're waiting for the trade transport community to raise the questions that need to be answered about the apparent conflicts of interest involved in the process, don't. A quick scan of the private sector shareholders in Tradelink reveals a who's who of the logistics industry. These companies all directly or indirectly own shares: Citic Pacific, Wharf (Holdings), Swire Pacific, Jardine Pacific, Hutchison Whampoa, Cathay Pacific, China National Aviation Corp, Hong Kong Association of Freight Forwarding and Logistics, Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce, HSBC, Modern Terminals, PCCW and Standard Chartered. Below Deck is sure this is by no means a comprehensive list. So if you are waiting for the private sector to ask the government why it was not a conflict of interest when it selected a company in which it owns 42 per cent for the lucrative DTTN contract, you'll wait a long time. If you're waiting for someone to ask why the government has not seen fit to explain its decision to the taxpayers who are going to foot at least 42 per cent of the bill for the DTTN's construction, your time would be better spent twiddling your thumbs. That bill, by the way, has been estimated at $3 billion over the next 17 years by Accenture, the company that designed the model the government is committed to using. If you were wondering why the government has for two months not bothered to answer a request from the losing bidders for a clarification of why they were not selected, you will keep on wondering. The truth is, the selection of Tradelink, whether or not it was merited, appears to be the most comfortable solution for all involved. The adage that nothing in this world is certain except death and taxes can be broadened. Below Deck sees equal certainty in the following: If put in place in accordance with Accenture's model, the DTTN will ensure Hong Kong's competitive advantage as the region's premier logistics hub for a decade after it becomes operational. Tradelink will win the contract to operate and manage the DTTN, and will announce its listing very shortly afterwards. This will be immediately followed by the government selling its interest - probably to existing shareholders and justified by enhancing the perception of operational 'neutrality' - at a tidy little profit. The Transport and Logistics pages are to be incorporated into the news and business sections from Monday.