The budget to expand the Legislative Council Complex will be capped at HK$1.56 billion (US$199 million), a senior Hong Kong official has told lawmakers, saying the government is unlikely to ask for more funding for a project that will already cost about HK$400 million more than estimated. Director of Architectural Services Winnie Ho Wing-yin also promised that her department would learn a lesson from the HK$391.2 million shortfall and make bolder estimates in the future. After grilling the official for two hours, Legco’s public works subcommittee agreed that the funding request would be passed to the Finance Committee for further discussion next month. A source said the government expected the committee to vote on it on June 10, so that construction could start in mid-June. Last September, the Finance Committee approved the government’s request to spend HK$1.17 billion on the project, which could involve prolonged nighttime work, to expand the council complex to make room for 20 new lawmakers. Extra HK$391 million needed to expand Hong Kong’s Legco for new members But legislators were told last week that the project would cost HK$1.56 billion, 33 per cent more than the original government estimate. At the meeting on Wednesday, Tik Chi-yuen, the city’s only non-establishment lawmaker, said the discrepancy was unacceptable. “Can the department state clearly that this would be the last time, and that no further funding request will be needed for this project?” he asked. Ho explained that when the department estimated the cost, it had taken into account that the wages of construction workers would need to be at least doubled for nighttime work, she added. However, the workers’ wages in the bids were four to five times higher than the usual salary. “The four returned tender prices that exceeded our estimate by 62 per cent on average,” she said. “We will learn from it as our estimate could have been bolder … But if there is no significant change to our requirements of the firm, I don’t see any reason why we need further funding [after this one].” But some lawmakers said the department’s problem was that it was “too detached from the ground”, not that it was not courageous enough. Starry Lee Wai-king, chairwoman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said some residents were concerned whether bid-rigging was involved. Ho said there was no evidence to suggest that bid-rigging was involved. “The bids are based on very different foundations and ways to complete the project,” she said. Hong Kong’s Legco ‘could approve government restructuring plan by end of June’ Gary Zhang Xinyu suggested re-launching the tendering process and capping the estimated cost at a certain level. But Ho warned that starting the process over would only result in even higher cost estimates.