My Take
by

Funding of Hong Kong’s express rail link to mainland should take priority over immigration issue

When travellers face long queues from the inconvenience of having to go through two immigration checkpoints, there will be public pressure for centralising the checkpoints in one place

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 January, 2016, 1:15am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 March, 2016, 2:59pm

Leung Chun-ying and his lieutenants were hell-bent on “co-location” at the West Kowloon terminus for the much delayed and over-budget high-speed rail link to Guangzhou.

In truth, the chief executive had very good reasons to insist immigration clearance could and should be conducted in the same location by Hong Kong and mainland officers. It basically saves time and resources for both travellers and authorities.

But the bizarre disappearance of five booksellers from the same store has blown a big hole in that argument and helped boost claims by pan-democratic critics that the arrangement would breach “one country two systems”. Worse, it would become a black hole through which mainland security forces could “disappear” people from Hong Kong.

Well, the “bookstore” affair could not have come at a worse time.

That’s why at the weekend, the city’s transport minister softened the government’s stance by hinting at an interim solution that would not involve co-locating immigration checkpoints.

“If we really can’t achieve co-location for whatever reasons,” he told lawmakers, “we have no choice but to resort to the option of ‘two locations, two checkpoints.”

The massive rail project is in enough trouble as it is.

The MTRC needs an extra HK$19.6 billion to continue the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link, scheduled to open in 2018.

An earlier approved sum of HK$65 billion would be used in July and work would have to be suspended if no cash was found by next month.

Filibustering by pan-democratic lawmakers now threatens to delay scrutiny by the legislature’s public works subcommittee. That’s got the MTRC’s new chairman, Frederick Ma Si-hang, jumping up and down and warning about the loss of 7,000 jobs if the project is held up without extra funding.

The funding issue has become an existential threat. Being the majority shareholder, the government would be wise to have one less battle to fight by giving up on “co-location” for now.

After all, it will not be final. When travellers face long queues from the inconvenience of having to go through two immigration checkpoints, there will be public pressure for centralising the checkpoints in one place.