LOOPHOLES in the terms of consultancy contracts already let for government-funded airport core programmes will cost taxpayers up to $54 million in extra fees. Seven consultancy contracts, including those related to the North Lantau Expressway, the West Kowloon Expressway and Route 3, have already produced claims for more money. This is despite the fact that the Government was now widely granting fixed-price lump sum contracts on airport-related projects in an attempt to allay legislators' concern about a possible cost explosion in the mammoth infrastructure plans. So far 28 major contracts, including the engagement of consultants, have been awarded at a cost of almost $30 billion. Variation in the payments have come under fire from the Director of Audit, Brian Jenney, in his latest value-for-money audits of government departments to be tabled to the Legislative Council tomorrow. Officials argued that the seven consultancy contracts referred by the Audit Department were awarded either shortly before or after the Government adopted the fixed-price contract approach. The problem of extra cost arose only during the transitional period because at that time, the consultancy fees were not fixed and were calculated as a percentage of the project price. As the Government moved into the fixed-price contract approach, some of the projects had already reached an advance stage of contract negotiations, making it difficult to convert to a fixed price arrangement. Mr Jenney's report is expected to renew concern from legislators about possible cost overruns, even though officials have been telling lawmakers that the seven government-funded projects are proceeding on time and within budget. According to an investigation of the Audit Department, officials have failed to sufficiently consider the appropriate conditions under which additional fees were to be paid. In the Director of Audit report, Secretary for Works James Blake said an exact amount of additional fees was not available yet but he estimated the payout would be as much as $54 million. Mr Blake denied that the contract terms had been drawn up badly. The auditor's revelation follows another recent incident, disclosed only last month, in which an extra $50 million has to be paid to a consultant because of design changes to the airport terminal. The $536 million design contract was awarded by the Provisional Airport Authority (PAA) to the Mott Consortium. The Legislative Council Public Accounts Committee, which scrutinises the auditor's report, is expected to grill officials at the committee's hearings next Monday and Tuesday. Legislators are also expected to raise concern at cost controls by the PAA, which will build the Chek Lap Kok facility, and the Mass Transit Railway Corporation, which constructs the airport railway. At present, the two corporations are not subject to value-for-money audits for the Audit Department but some legislators have been pressing the administration for a change. They are calling for the corporations to be placed under the scrutiny of Mr Jenney, who is understood to favour the idea. Responding to the Audit Department's criticism, officials argued that the problem of changes in consultancy fees had been tackled and contracts negotiated subsequently had not encountered this problem. Although the Director of Audit's report was not specific on how the extra money was made available to meet the rising cost, given the fixed price nature of the core programmes, it is believed the payments were drawn from contingency funds built into the airport financing plans.