Someone must make sure the numbers add up

From the cross-border bridge to the scheme to attract hi-tech talent, government projections are once again way off and it is time an independent reviewer was brought in

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 June, 2018, 5:02am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 July, 2018, 5:31pm

Can we ever trust our government with its projections? Two news stories caught my attention.

Traffic on the HK$120 billion Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge may be up to 26 per cent less than originally estimated by 2030.

Officials have admitted the goal of recruiting 1,000 workers in the hi-tech sector during the first year of a pilot immigration scheme to attract talent is pure guesswork.

Under questioning, the Innovation and Technology Bureau admitted no formal study was conducted, and the figure of 1,000 was little better than something pulled out of a hat. At least the immigration scheme could not do much damage even if it failed.

Time pressure and manpower shortage behind fake bridge tests

You can’t say the same about the cross-border bridge, which has long been advertised as an essential infrastructure in integrating with the mainland.

The latest traffic projection is that there will be 29,100 vehicles and 126,000 passengers per day by 2030, which are respectively down 12 per cent and 26 per cent from 33,100 and 171,800 from a previous study.

If the new figures had been used, would the former administration of Donald Tsang Yam-kuen have been able to sell the bridge to the public?

Liberal Party lawmaker Frankie Yick Chi-ming said hopefully: “We will propose measures to boost traffic for the bridge to complement the [Greater] Bay Area development.”

So, increase traffic to justify building the bridge, rather than building the bridge to meet traffic demand.

Oh, did I mention seriously underused Kai Tak Cruise Terminal, which was supposed to make us the cruise hub of Asia? Or the case of John Tsang Chun-wah? During his decade-long tenure as financial secretary from 2007, he never managed to produce a single accurate budget forecast.

Mega bridge traffic estimates have been cut, bureau admits

Sometimes, the left hand of the government doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. Consider the plan for the East Lantau Metropolis, billed as necessary for the city’s future growth. It will require reclamation of a whopping 1,000 hectares and is based on a future population of 9 million.

Yet, according to the Census and Statistics Department’s 2015 projections, the population is expected to peak at 8.22 million in 2043, and then decline to 7.81 million by 2064.

There are endless such examples. To restore credibility, we may need an independent statistical bureau, such as the government auditor, to review all key government projections that involve large-scale planning and lots of money.