'Delta bridge will get three border control systems' SCMP headline February 4 I AM ONE with the Guangdong provincial authorities this time. I also don't want to see the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge built. It will ruin the vistas on that superb walking trail from Fan Lau to Tai O. Okay, call my objection a trifling one compared with the objection of the Guangdong authorities. The reason they don't want it built is that it will get in the way of making money from border crossings. But let us get one thing straight. We have a common view on this bridge. We don't want it built. This is why Guangdong has ruled that Hong Kong, Macau and the mainland must each have a separate customs and immigration checkpoint on it when Hong Kong and Macau want a one-stop shop instead. Guangdong wants no bridge at all. And if you think that a little human intrusion on the distant natural views from a hiking trail is no reason to object, what about a cost to the Hong Kong taxpayer of HK$30 billion with little to show for that money at the end of the day? That is what I think it will really come down to in the end. I cannot prove it but I can sketch out the scenario and, if any of our government officials want to tell me I'm wrong, well, be my guests, folks. I'm sure the editor will give you space. These border crossings are valuable because the people who run them can stick out their hands and skim some of the money that comes across, too. It is most notably done in the case of cross-border vehicle licences, particularly for goods vehicles, but there are other versions of the game. At the moment, Shenzhen sits astride all four border crossings and is lobbying fiercely to get a fifth at Shau Tau Kok. It wants to stop Zhuhai from getting a bridge to Hong Kong because that would give Zhuhai a border crossing too, and immediately, there would be competition in the game. The take could go substantially down. Why the provincial authorities should then see their advantage to be so exclusively on Shenzhen's side is beyond my feeble understanding of closed-door arrangements across the border, but it is apparently the state of things. It is so much so in fact that two years ago one senior Guangdong official even argued that a bridge would have pylons and pylons would obstruct the flow of water in the Pearl River and the Pearl River would then back up and Guangzhou would drown. Okay, he didn't quite say Guangzhou would drown but he got pretty close. Beijing is behind the project, however, and has tried several times to get it moving again when Guangdong has brought it to a halt. The latest central government move last month was to put a high-ranking official in charge. But Guangdong has always had a way of subverting Beijing's wishes and has done it once more through its authority to establish the border checkpoints. There are to be three of them on the bridge and count on it that waiting times will be long for at least one of them. What this does is send an immediate signal to any private interests who may have been toying with investing in the bridge under a build, operate and transfer scheme. That message is a simple one - 'Do you people really think you are going to make money from this venture if a crucial government partner would rather you did not?' And the answer to that question is also simple - 'No, I suppose we don't think so. Maybe we should put our money into something else instead.' But this poses another question. Who will then pay for building the bridge? The answer is once again simple. Look for the entity that has the money. Who might that be? Well, what a surprise, it happens to be Hong Kong. How fortuitous. It was only a week ago that Hong Kong's chief executive said in a campaign opening speech for his mock election that he wants to spend lots and lots of money on infrastructure projects in the border areas. It's settled then. Let Hong Kong pay for the bridge. It's a mere HK$30 billion. Hong Kong could have that much in its budget surplus this year. The big problem, however, is that the Guangdong provincial authorities are right about this bridge, even if for the wrong reasons. With the speed at which the container port business is moving across the border, within a few years we will not need that bridge for our port, and there is no other big reason to build it. What we will have done is put a great deal of money into another monument to waste and made ourselves a laughing stock for administrators in Shenzhen, Zhuhai and Macau. The best idea would be to let me keep that full natural vista on one of my favourite hikes.