Carrie Lam

Carrie Lam must brace for another U-turn

  • Failure to win support for cross-harbour tunnel toll adjustments brought the government its second setback in a matter of days, and it has only itself to blame
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 January, 2019, 9:44pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 January, 2019, 10:49pm

U-turns are not uncommon in politics. But for a government that prides itself as competent and daring, a second about-face in five days seems too much to swallow. Alas, this is the sad political reality facing Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor when wrestling with an election-driven legislature.

Even though it is worth trying out a package of tunnel toll adjustments to help ease the worsening cross-harbour traffic congestion, the red light from major pro-government parties means officials have no choice but to put on the brake for the time being.

It is most unfortunate that the motion came after an unexpected tussle with pro-government allies over adjustments to welfare for the elderly. But even without the setback, the tunnel rationalisation bid would have been a hard sell.

The vote was scheduled just days after the opening of the Central-Wan Chai Bypass, a transport link which the government says will complement the move to spread uneven tunnel traffic.

Officials must have known that chaos and congestion at the bypass, which they said was within expectation, would only dampen support. Likewise, resistance to unpopular toll rises in the run-up to the district council polls in November was also foreseeable.

The government has only got itself to blame. Years of all talk and no action have pushed the Lam administration into a make-or-break situation. Transport minister Frank Chan Fan had months to prepare after Lam announced the proposals in her policy address last October.

But the political novice has been overwhelmed by problems with the Sha Tin-Central rail link, the cross-border high speed railway and the mega bridge, so much so that he needed Eric Chan Kwok-ki, director of the Chief Executive’s Office, to help lobby support for the toll adjustments.

Tunnel tolls plan stalls as government makes face-saving U-turn

Frank Chan still vowed to step up lobbying on Tuesday morning, but hours later announced the motion would be shelved pending further lobbying over the next two months.

Lam had said her government would not shy away from tackling thorny issues. We hope the delay is not just a tactic to buy time. Chan insists there is little chance of concessions being made, but this also means there may be no room for compromise. It is difficult to see how it can be passed without a further U-turn.