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Hong Kong MTR

New MTR boss must restore public faith in rail operator following string of scandals on Sha Tin-Central link, says Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam

  • But chief executive does not go so far as to name incoming non-executive chairman, citing corporate protocol
  • It is thought Rex Auyeung will be tasked with restoring confidence in the MTR when Frederick Ma steps down in June
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 February, 2019, 12:18pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 February, 2019, 11:28pm

The new boss of Hong Kong’s beleaguered rail operator must restore public confidence following a string of scandals on the Sha Tin-Central link, the city’s leader said on Tuesday.

Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said the incoming non-executive chairman at the MTR Corporation would face serious challenges, especially those arising from the HK$97.1 billion (US$12.4 billion) line, Hong Kong’s most expensive rail project to date.

Lam stopped short of naming the MTR Corp’s new boss, citing corporate protocol, but the Post revealed on Friday it was thought the new chairman would be Rex Auyeung Pak-kuen, head of the governing council at Lingnan University.

“Various problems arose from the Sha Tin-Central rail link in the past year,” Lam said before a meeting of the Executive Council, her cabinet. “The new chairman will have to work very hard to restore public faith in the corporation.”

The government is the biggest shareholder in the MTR Corp, with a 75 per cent stake.

Auyeung, 66, retired in June last year as chairman of Asia operations for investment and retirement solutions consultancy Principal International, after a 26-year stint. He is expected to succeed Frederick Ma Si-hang, who will step down at the end of June when his contract expires.

Ma earlier declined Lam’s offer to have his three-year contract extended. Instead, he chose to extend it for six months so he could finish hiring a new CEO.

“For the past six years, I have been with the MTR Corp as independent non-executive director and now non-executive chairman. One of our strategies is to make the MTR the pride of Hong Kong. The whole project management team has tarnished that perception,” Ma said on Tuesday.

“But, mark my words, I am confident that over time, people in Hong Kong will still consider the MTR Corp as their pride. And they may see that we do the utmost to make sure the project issues will be behind us and continue to provide first class transport and do well on the mainland and overseas. Time will tell.”

Ma declined to comment on whether Auyeung would be his successor.

The corporation has been embroiled in a construction scandal over the Sha Tin-Central project since substandard work was found in the expanded Hung Hom station in May last year. Missing documents on safety checks of certain parts of the station were exposed more recently.

‘Very high chance’ lost papers on scandal-hit railway destroyed on purpose

It is a subject of a commission of inquiry and a police investigation.

“I am disappointed. I am upset at the project management team [of the Sha Tin-Central rail project],” Ma said, adding that the discovery of the missing documents was shocking.

He said he believed his successor would have time to restore public faith in the corporation.

Lawmaker and former Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation chairman Michael Tien Puk-sun said he did not know Auyeung well, but was confident he was trusted by the government.

“He once sat down with students and listened to their views, which shows he has political wisdom,” Tien said.

Auyeung’s appointment marks the highest-level change in the firm’s leadership since the scandal began. Lincoln Leong Kwok-kuen has also opted to leave as CEO, and will retire once Ma has hired his replacement. Three general managers of the rail project were fired after Lam demanded heads roll in August last year.

The rail operator’s managing director, Jacob Kam Chak-pui, will replace Leong, the Post reported in November.

Last Friday, the MTR Corp announced that a former manager, Roger Bayliss, would return in March as projects director, a position left vacant after Philco Wong Nai-keung was forced to resign in August last year.

Ma called on Bayliss to do his best to put the project division back on the right track and to restore public confidence when he takes office in March. He also said the board of directors had decided on the new CEO, and an announcement would be made pending the completion of internal hiring procedures.