Government must ensure MTR Corp is fully transparent
The latest controversy over a construction project makes it more crucial than ever that the administration aggressively pushes the company to be forthcoming about any problems in future, for the sake of public safety
Nothing is more damaging to crisis management than leaving more questions unanswered. The trouble-plagued MTR Corporation ran into such a situation when trying to defuse an escalating controversy over its most expensive railway project.
In a hastily convened press conference days after a construction scandal in 2015 came to light, top executives were still unable to provide full details. This has inevitably fuelled the impression that it has yet to fully come clean on the fiasco.
It is astonishing to learn that MTR Corp did not keep full records after inspectors found irregularities in a platform being built for the HK$97.1 billion Sha Tin-Central line. In what appears to be a subcontractor’s attempt to cut corners, some steel bars were found to have been cut improperly to make it seem like they had been correctly screwed into couplers.
Despite having spotted such a problem five times in the second half of 2015, only one warning was issued. No further action was taken and the problems were not reported to the board of directors or the government.
If there is any comfort, it is that the irregularities were said to have been swiftly fixed after they had been unearthed during routine inspection. While the management was right in focusing on rectifying the problems at the time, it should also have alerted the board of directors, the government and perhaps the public.
The faulty work has only come to light recently amid a series of media reports over the problems with MTR projects. The lack of accountability has undermined public confidence in the rail operator.
Amid growing pressure for independent investigation and inquiry by the Legislative Council, the MTR Corp’s pledge to pursue fraud should any evidence arise is a right but belated step. It shows that the management was wrong not to have flagged up the incidents, which have proved of grave concern to the public and the government.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has set the right tone with an undertaking to handle the matter seriously. But the overdue response has again put the government’s supervisory role under the spotlight.
From the construction of the Sha Tin-Central link to the cross-border high speed rail, officials in charge of transport appear to have no clearer understanding of the problems flagged up by the media than the public. As the major shareholder of the listed company and the guardian of public interest, the government is expected to play a closer monitoring role.
At stake are confidence and the safety of our public transportation. We trust the authorities are now aware of the need of better monitoring and reporting mechanisms on irregularities.