MTR inquiry set to span entire legal line

Given the widening problems uncovered along the Sha Tin-Central link, the judge heading the probe should be tasked with looking at the whole picture

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 June, 2018, 5:13am
UPDATED : Friday, 22 June, 2018, 5:13am

The MTR is a gift for journalists that keeps on giving. What was supposed to be the glory of the subway company – the HK$97.1 billion Sha Tin-Central rail link – is now marred in accusations of construction lapses, lax supervision and possible cover-ups.

Problems have been exposed at not one, not two but three out of 10 stations along the rail link: Hung Hom, To Kwa Wan and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai.

Naturally, there are now calls for heads to roll, and the first target has been Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan Fan.

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Poor Frank! Last week, the guy was glorying in the passage by the legislature of the controversial “co-location” checkpoint arrangement at the West Kowloon terminus for the express rail link to Guangzhou. What do they say about a week being a long time in politics?

But to be fair, some of the rail link’s problems date from 2015, long before the current government. Surely if someone needs to fall on his sword, it’s MTR Corporation chief executive Lincoln Leong Kwok-kuen.

It is, after all, an MTR project, and the most expensive to date. He wouldn’t be the first. His predecessor, Jay Walder, left under a cloud in 2014, thanks to delays and cost overruns at the express rail link.

At the moment, though, the damage control strategy of the government and the MTR appears to be to blame it on the main contractors.

For faulty steel bars installed at transit platforms at Hung Hom station, officials have called in the police after setting up an independent commission of inquiry headed by a former judge of the top court. The obvious hint is that if someone did something criminal, then the MTR and the government have been victims, too.

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Following the latest disclosure, Chan said the government might yet report the lapses at To Kwa Wan and Exhibition Centre stations to police if criminal activity was suspected.

The government and the MTR won’t get off so easily, though. The mandate restricting the commission – headed by former Court of Final Appeal judge Michael Hartmann – to probing the fiasco at Hung Hom station looks increasingly untenable by the day.

Given the widening problems uncovered along the entire Sha Tin-Central link, Hartmann should now be tasked to look at the whole picture. But for officials, who knows what he would uncover if he is so let loose?