Corporate carnage costs MTR its reputation

The city subway operator still runs its trains on time and its facilities are among the cleanest and safest in the world, but scandals are taking their toll

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 08 August, 2018, 9:22pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 08 August, 2018, 10:27pm

Until recently, the MTR was considered one of the world’s best, if not the best, subway services. Now it goes from blunder to blunder and scandal to scandal.

Once it was a symbol of the city’s can-do spirit, when major projects were finished on budget, sometimes even ahead of schedule.

Today, maybe it’s because its biggest projects get more ambitious, costs routinely exceed budgets while deadlines are delayed again and again. Worse, police are called in, and an independent inquiry set up, to investigate possible criminal substandard works on the most expensive project by the MTR Corporation so far, the Sha Tin-Central rail link.

It is still a symbol of Hong Kong, but lately more of its “can’t do” attitude and lack of spirit.

So, another MTR chief executive bites the dust. Lincoln Leong Kwok-kuen will retire early, though his contract was only renewed in February. Chairman Frederick Ma Si-hang will go also, as soon as they find Leong’s replacement. Others are already gone – projects director Philco Wong Nai-keung and three other general managers of the Sha Tin-Central project, Lee Tsz-man, Jason Wong Chi-ching and Aidan Rooney.

We shouldn’t feel too sorry for Leong, though. The size of his golden handshake will probably make his public humiliation all worthwhile.

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His predecessor Jay Walder also left under a cloud, having been found responsible for a two-year delay and cost overruns in the construction of the cross-border express link to Shenzhen and Guangzhou.

But at least he got to pocket HK$15.7 million to ease the pain.

It’s not all the MTR’s fault, though its executives are taking the fall. When you have contractors and sub-contractors bent on cutting corners and hiding them, it’s difficult for senior management sitting in expensive offices to find out.

However, it appears managers at the MTR did know about the dodgy works being done, some of which were subsequently rectified, though the problems were only exposed recently by the media.

Exactly what was done and to what extent the law may or may not have been broken awaits the outcome of a criminal probe by the police and an independent inquiry led by a former High Court judge.

To be fair to the MTR, its trains still run on time and its facilities are still among the cleanest and safest in the world.

But they are increasingly being maintained at a high cost of corporate carnage.