Enough of the excuses on delays and cost overruns
Officials must learn the lessons from previous experience and adopt more vigorous measures to deliver infrastructure projects on time and within budget
Cost overruns for major public works projects have become all too common. While taxpayers may not necessarily object to paying more depending on the circumstances, the authorities must give a clear account of what has gone wrong. More importantly, there should be measures to prevent recurrences. The disclosure that the main section of the 38 billion yuan (HK$43 billion) bridge linking Hong Kong with Zhuhai and Macau has overrun its budget is unsurprising. Involving the efforts of three governments, the construction of the 29.6km bridge and tunnel sea crossing in the Pearl River Delta estuary is administratively challenging and technically demanding. The extra cost has not been disclosed yet, but it will be shared on a proportional basis by the three cities, either through commercial loans or injection of funds by the governments involved, according to transport minister Anthony Cheung Bing-leung.
Under the original plan, the bridge should already have been in use. While ballooning costs and delays are not unusual for projects of such scale, officials are expected to exercise due diligence in adhering to budgets and schedules. Cheung cited construction and manpower issues for pushing up the cost of the main section, but dismissed the suggestion that the city was to blame for dragging the project behind schedule.
As the main section lies within mainland waters, Hong Kong probably has little control over the construction. But taxpayers are entitled to know what went wrong, especially if we need to fork out more money to finish the project. That said, the prospect of seeking lawmakers’ approval for extra funding does not look promising. The Legislative Council Finance Committee still has a backlog of 9,000 funding requests in the queue.
There is a danger that delays and cost overruns for public works projects are becoming the norm rather than exception. Officials must learn the lessons from previous experience and adopt more vigorous measures to deliver infrastructure projects on time and within budget.