Hong Kong MTR

Frederick Ma tapped as next chairman of Hong Kong's MTR Corp

The former commerce secretary known for the 'penny stocks affair' will replace Raymond Chien for a three-year stint starting on New Year's Day

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 08 July, 2015, 3:23am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 08 July, 2015, 8:35am

Former commerce secretary Frederick Ma Si-hang is to replace Raymond Chien Kuo-fung as chairman of the MTR Corporation for a three-year term starting on New Year's Day, the government announced yesterday.

His appointment comes at a time when the administration is locked in a dispute with the MTR Corp over how much it can claim against the rail company for its responsibility over the delayed and overbudget high-speed railway link to Guangzhou.

Ma, who joined the company as an independent non-executive director in 2013, said: "I am honoured to be appointed chairman of the MTR Corporation.

"In taking up the chairmanship, my priority will be to the Hong Kong travelling public to ensure MTR Corp continues to provide high-quality services while completing the four railway projects we have on hand."

The four rail projects the corporation has undertaken all face delays, the most high profile of which is the express railway line.

Last week, the MTR Corp announced that the cost of the project had ballooned by about 30 per cent, to HK$85.3 billion, and new challenges had further pushed back its opening to 2018.

The government is set to enter into discussions with the MTR Corp management this week about who should bear responsibility for the latest snags.

Ma headed a committee set up by the MTR Corp to investigate the delay. It criticised former CEO Jay Walder for failing to be more critical in monitoring the progress.

Ma's political career began in 2002 when he joined the government as secretary for financial services and the treasury. He was soon drawn into a crisis when a consultation paper published shortly after he took office called for some stocks to be delisted and caused the value of some to plummet.

The so called "penny stocks affair" led to Ma bowing in front of TV cameras and apologising to the public. But he went on to become one of the most popular members of former chief executive Donald Tsang Yum-keun's cabinet, until he resigned in 2008 for health reasons.

Michael Tien Puk-sun, chairman of the Legislative Council's transport panel and a former railway boss, said the MTR Corp needed a tough chairman at this difficult time, and "he is the man".

Tien added that he hoped Ma, with his good public relations skills, could forge a consensus with the government on how to share the extra cost of the railway link's construction before funds ran out.

Secretary for Transport and Housing Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung said he expected that under Ma's leadership, the corporation would grow stronger and enhance its services to meet the needs of customers.