MTR to donate another HK$5 million to Hong Kong arson victims, amid criticism
Chairman Frederick Ma earlier refuted accusations of being ‘unsympathetic’, and said company already helped raise over HK$2 million for 13 injured
Hong Kong’s railway operator announced on Friday night that it would donate another HK$5 million in cash to passengers who were injured in a petrol attack on one of its trains earlier this year.
The donation by MTR Corporation takes the total amount of money for victims of the firebomb incident to HK$7 million, including HK$2 million raised between February and March.
An MTR spokeswoman said the details for beneficiaries, such as individual amounts and the exact number of recipients, would be ironed out soon.
The announcement came less than a day after chairman Frederick Ma Si-hang revealed in an interview in London that MTR was “still considering spending money” to help the victims.
He was addressing accusations levelled at him by victims and a lawmaker who said Ma had been “unsympathetic” in handling the incident.
Ma claimed the company and the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals initiated a fundraising campaign collecting HK$2.4 million. He said the company and its staff had brought in HK$2 million and that the money had already been distributed to 13 injured passengers.
In total, 19 commuters were hurt in the February 10 evening rush-hour incident, and a 60-year-old man was arrested and charged with arson.
At a press conference on Monday, some of the victims demanded MTR compensate them for their injuries, claiming they had received nothing but fruit baskets from the company.
Democratic Party lawmaker Roy Kwong Chun-yu, whom some had contacted for help, said the lack of compensation showed Ma was “unsympathetic” and putting up a “public relations show”.
On the sidelines of a trade symposium at the British capital on Thursday, Ma said it was the insurance company’s loss adjuster that concluded liability for the incident “rested solely with the individual and not the MTR”.
“It was not caused because we did not do well. In terms of legal responsibility, the MTR Corp was a victim too,” Ma said.
“After the incident, we extended our sympathy towards those injured, raised money and donated HK$2 million ... It was regrettable that a lawmaker accused me of being unsympathetic and putting up a show. I hate to be described like that because it’s simply not true.”
Ma had described himself as caught in a dilemma, saying that while he sympathised with the victims, it was also “a matter of principle” that a large listed corporation should not set a precedent of compensating people when a third-party loss adjuster concluded it was not legally responsible.
“We are still thinking of ways to help them ... and money will be spent if we find a way,” he added without elaborating.
Ma said the MTR had set up a panel with independent investigators, which concluded the company’s handling of the attack had been “effective”.
Separately last month, critics in the city questioned why the multibillion-dollar railway operator was only fined HK$2 million for one of its most serious service breakdowns in recent years. That incident affected hundreds of thousands of passengers for up to 10 hours.
But Ma argued the MTR, boasting a service delivery percentage exceeding 99 per cent, was one of the world’s most reliable railway networks.
Ma has also recently faced pressure on other fronts, namely in his role as chairman of Education University’s council. Its student union has sought his apology after Hong Kong’s privacy watchdog chastised the institution for leaking images of two men suspected of pasting posters mocking the suicide of a top education official’s son. The incident sparked a debate over personal data rights and free speech.
The university expressed “regret” for the leak, but some students demanded a personal apology from vice-chancellor Stephen Cheung Yan-leung as well.
Asked if he or Cheung would apologise for the leak, Ma replied: “I would not ... and the vice-chancellor shouldn’t either because it wasn’t us who leaked the images.”
Tony Cheung is reporting from London