The government and MTR must not hide the truth from public
Cost overruns, delays and now possibly faulty trains – it’s time for the authorities to come clean on who should be held responsible
Two questions have been asked ever since the troubles with the high-speed rail project came to light two years ago: how should the government and the Mass Transit Railway Corporation tackle the cost overruns and delays, and who should be held responsible? Now that the project is being put back on track following the approval for new funding arrangements, the accountability issue weighs even heavier, especially in light of fresh concerns over the procurement of new railway carriages.
Those who looked to our lawmakers for answers to the controversy that emerged in 2014 are understandably dismayed by the outcome of an inquiry by a Legislative Council select committee. Not only did committee members fail to unearth more details after months of open hearings, they could not even agree on some of the findings. Apportioning blame and responsibility is essentially a political judgment. The lack of consensus should not come as a surprise for a legislature that is so politically divided. Adding to the confusion is the wording in the report. While the 13-member panel unanimously agreed that there was “non-disclosure” to Legco and the public by both the government and MTR Corp, it stopped short of calling it a cover-up. Only two senior MTR executives who had left in the wake of the fallout were singled out for attack.
Pan-democrats also said transport minister Anthony Cheung Bing-leung had sought to cover up the problems. But the pro-government camp was adamant that claim was unsubstantiated. It would be of little surprise if some people got the impression that government officials were let off lightly.
The Legco report is the third inquiry, following ones by the MTR Corp and a government-appointed panel. Regrettably, the question of responsibility remains unanswered. Regardless of the findings, there can be no dispute that both the government and MTR Corp have done a poor job in delivering the project and keeping the public informed of the progress.
Concerns are growing that the MTR Corp awarded a HK$6 billion contract for new trains to a mainland firm last year, even though the carriages it manufactured for Singapore were found to have structural defects. The government also is under growing pressure to clarify whether it was aware of the problems. The MTR Corp has maintained that the trains are safe. But when non-disclosure occurs, public confidence is inevitably affected. The authorities should learn their lesson and keep the public informed on issues of concern at all times.