Just forget any East Lantau mega project
In the wake of the rail and bridge fiascos, and their cost to the taxpayer, the government should stay clear of such giant works unless it can give assurances
After declaring “large-scale reclamation” is inevitable to meet the housing needs of the city’s population, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor denied she was interfering with an ongoing public consultation on land supply.
The government-appointed Task Force on Land Supply has proposed 18 options for the public to consider, among which are reclamation outside Victoria Harbour and the so-called East Lantau Metropolis. So it’s hard to see how Lam’s statement to the legislature last month is not pre-empting the consultation results when she was effectively advocating East Lantau reclamation.
Now I am no greenie, so I am not opposed ideologically to developing Lantau or carrying out nearshore reclamation. But as a taxpayer for my entire working life, I am sick and tired of government incompetence and inefficiency, in light of the poor track records of the post-1997 government in keeping mega projects on time and within budget. And of course, there are also concerns about the dodgy and even criminal conduct of contractors and subcontractors.
Now these considerations alone make me want to say no to Lam and her supporters such as those at Our Hong Kong Foundation, headed by former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa. I would argue such concerns are especially relevant considering the proposed East Lantau reclamation would be the mother of all mega infrastructure projects in the history of the city.
The government proposal is estimated to cost HK$470 billion while the foundation believes it would take 14 years to complete the whole project.
We all know those numbers are little better than fantasy dreamed up to justify projects favoured by the government, rather than realistic figures provided as guidance for future budgeting.
Once we are committed, we can’t back off without losing all the investment.
Judging by the delays, cost overruns and/or underutilisation with the Hong Kong-Macau-Zhuhai bridge, the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link and the ongoing fiasco with the Sha Tin-Central rail link, we can safely add 30-50 per cent to the cost and time frame for the East Lantau project.
So, if Lam sticks to those forecast numbers, we would probably end up paying HK$600-HK$705 billion and have to wait 18 to 21 years to see the results, and possible scandals with criminal substandard works being done by contractors and subcontractors.
Unless Lam and her lieutenants could provide convincing assurances such recurrent problems would not come into play, I say we should give it a pass.