Hong Kong housing

Hong Kong government to split up overburdened Transport and Housing Bureau, Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung says

  • Office, created 11 years ago, recently plagued by construction scandal, legal wrangles and frequent rush-hour MTR breakdowns
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 November, 2018, 6:52pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 November, 2018, 10:57pm

Hong Kong’s government will break up its overloaded and trouble-plagued Transport and Housing Bureau within this term, the chief secretary announced on Wednesday.

Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said the office’s broad remit was leaving its staff “under huge pressure”.

Answering lawmakers’ questions on a possible reshuffle at a Legislative Council meeting, Cheung agreed there was a “practical need” to reorganise the government’s structure.

“The bureau has been knee-deep in trouble. There have been so many emergencies and accidents coming up, and [officials] are under huge pressure,” he said.

“I don’t think there will be much objection from the public or from lawmakers.”

The Transport and Housing Bureau, overseeing the construction and operation of transport infrastructure as well as public housing, has faced crisis after crisis since it was established in 2007 by then chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen.

Previously, transport and housing fell under two separate bureaus.

Under the current administration alone, the bureau has been troubled by a construction scandal involving the Sha Tin-Central Rail Link, a legal puzzle arising from the introduction of mainland Chinese officers to the terminal of the high-speed rail line in West Kowloon, frequent rush-hour breakdowns of MTR services, and the influx of mainland tourists to the Tung Chung new town following the opening of a cross-border bridge.

It is also under pressure to meet targets for public housing as the queue for the low-cost rentals grows. By Monday, the wait for a public flat had lengthened to five years and three months, an 18-year record.

In her policy speech last month, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor noted members of the public often said to her the bureau – currently led by Frank Chan Fan – was overburdened and should be split, with the creation of a new policy bureau to coordinate housing and land policies.

Lam agreed on the need and said she would further consider how to implement the suggestion.

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Cheung added on Wednesday: “This administration will start and complete the work ... It should be able to implement the split-up.”

Liberal Party leader Felix Chung Kwok-pan asked if there would be a broader reform of the government’s structure, noting an imbalance in the division of work among bureaus. He said the Development Bureau and the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau were equally overburdened, while the Environment Bureau had a “simpler” purview.

Cheung replied that the priority would be the Transport and Housing Bureau.

The discussion, however, did not touch on Cheung’s own role. Earlier media reports suggested Lam would seek to replace him, the government’s No 2, with a “stronger” personality at her right hand. Lam had dismissed that as “speculation”.