Head of Hong Kong’s Lingnan University council Rex Auyeung Pak-kuen ‘front-runner’ for MTR Corp chairmanship
- Source says there is a ‘very high chance’ former boss of investment and retirement solutions consultancy will take up post at troubled rail giant
- Auyeung was previously also tipped to be in the running for posts of city’s finance secretary and Securities and Futures Commission chief
The head of the governing council at Hong Kong’s Lingnan University has emerged as the front-runner for the chairmanship of the city’s troubled rail giant, the MTR Corporation, according to sources.
On Tuesday, a source familiar with the matter said Rex Auyeung Pak-kuen was the government’s preferred candidate for the top post since the company’s announcement in November that incumbent chairman Frederick Ma Si-hang would step down.
Ma, citing personal reasons, had turned down Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s offer to extend his three-year contract, agreeing instead to stay on for six months until June 30 next year. The move was part of a major reshuffle at the MTR Corp after shoddy work was uncovered in a major project, triggering an inquiry and shaking public confidence in the company.
Auyeung, who has been reported to be in his 60s, retired in June as chairman of the Asia operations of investment and retirement solutions consultancy Principal International after a 26-year stint.
“There is a very high chance he will take the job,” a source said.
A government spokesman said it was identifying a suitable candidate, pending an announcement at an appropriate time. The Hong Kong government owns 75 per cent of the rail company – which also has investments in property – and has the sole authority to appoint its chairman.
The role came with an annual salary of HK$1.7 million in the 2017-2018 fiscal year, up 13 per cent from a year before.
Auyeung could not be reached for comment. He was rumoured at one point to be a candidate for the post of the city’s finance secretary and chairman for the Securities and Futures Commission.
“Whoever takes over the job will take over the hot potatoes,” another source said of the MTR position.
Wong Kwan-yu, a member of the Lingnan University council, praised Auyeung for being serious and prudent in his work. He said Auyeung had handled student issues and the contract renewal of the school’s headmaster cautiously, adding that he took great care in every aspect.
“He is quite a people person and others respect him,” Wong said, referring to council members.
He added that he believed Auyeung would be competent in handling personnel issues.
VC Asset Management managing director Louis Tse Ming-kwong said Auyeung, if appointed, could make use of his decades of management experience in the finance sector.
“What matters is to ensure the MTR Corp learns from the lessons and knows how to turn around the troubled situation,” Tse said. “There is a lot of room for improvement in its internal reporting system and internal control.”
In May, the MTR Corp was hit by a construction scandal involving substandard work done at the Hung Hom station of the HK$97.1 billion (US$12.3 billion) Sha Tin-Centrail link, the city’s most costly rail project.
As the problem escalated, the government demanded that heads roll among those overseeing the development, sparking four immediate resignations in August – projects director Philco Wong Nai-keung resigned with immediate effect, while three other general managers of the project also left.
Ma revealed at the time he had submitted his request to step down but the government had asked him to stay on until a new CEO was in place. CEO Lincoln Leong Kwok-kuen, who had just renewed his contract for two years in February, would quit earlier than expected once his successor was appointed.
A criminal inquiry is under way into allegations that steel bars were cut short to make it seem as though they were properly screwed into couplers at an expanded platform at the Hung Hom station of the Sha Tin-Central link. The panel will also look into supporting diaphragm walls at the site, which had deviated from authorised designs.
On December 10, a test was launched to gauge structural integrity at the expansion station, and will last for two to three months.
Additional reporting by Kanis Leung