My Take

Delaying mega projects can hurt the little guys

We need Legco oversight to make sure major infrastructure projects don’t turn out to be white elephants. But with 30 projects worth more than HK$80 billion still waiting for funding, opposition lawmakers must balance the need for oversight with workers’ need for jobs

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 June, 2017, 1:37am
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 June, 2017, 1:37am

The narrative about collusions between big business and the government is a favourite one among pan-democrats. It is often alleged that such corrupt relations are the outcome of the undemocratic form of our government. That’s true – up to a point.

What they forget is that in free societies, politics is usually of the pork-barrel variety. That’s true in Hong Kong as well. Massive developments and infrastructure projects may profit developers and construction giants, but they also create thousands of jobs for the little guys. So blocking or holding up those government-sponsored mega projects is a double-edged sword for the opposition. They may win support from members of the disgruntled middle and educated classes. They shouldn’t be surprised if grass-roots workers and their unions are now calling for their blood.

The Hong Kong Construction Alliance is threatening to blockade the Legislative Council building in Admiralty with trucks if lawmakers don’t stop filibustering to delay major infrastructure projects. Why?

Hong Kong lawmakers warned: stop delaying or we’ll surround Legco with trucks

So far this year, only seven public projects worth a total of HK$4.8 billion have been approved by Legco. There are 30 projects worth more than HK$80 billion still waiting for funding. Among these are controversial projects such as the HK$31.9 billion sports complex at the former Kai Tak airport site, and a top-up funding request of HK$847.7 million for the rail link between Sha Tin and Central.

It’s true we need Legco oversight to make sure such mega projects don’t turn out to be white elephants. But opposition lawmakers must balance that with workers’ need for jobs, and the families that depend on them. Some critics have claimed that their unions are fronts for pro-Beijing or government-friendly elements. There may well be close ties between such groups. But the opposition only have themselves to blame. The pan-dems have used filibustering so indiscriminately in the past five years that the tactic has lost all credibility – the public has no way of knowing whether they are doing it on legitimate grounds or merely picking a fight with the government.

In any case, it would be absurd to argue that a one-year budget of HK$80 billion would not have a huge impact on job creation in the construction and buildings industries. The government, for better or worse, can only use profits from land sales on infrastructure projects. Related industries – and their workers – depend on this merry-go-round of funding for survival.