MTR Corporation Chairman Frederick Ma Si-hang has appealed to lawmakers not to filibuster the approval of funds for the high-speed rail construction project. He warned that further delays would cost another HK$10 billion.
The High-Speed Rail link (HSR) project is asking for an additional HK$19.6 billion from the Legislative Council’s Finance Committee, which must approve of the additional funds before granting them. However, the request has yet to be submitted to the committee for review. The pro-Beijing camp has expressed their support for the fresh round of funding, whilst pan-democrats stated that they would oppose the over-expenditure as it was “too serious” an issue.
During a Commercial Radio programme on Sunday, Frederick Ma said that the deadline for the Legislative Council to approve of funds for the project is the end of March. Construction will otherwise have to be halted, Apple Daily reported. Should filibustering cause a delay in the approval of funds, another HK$10 billion would be needed to complete the construction, Ma said.
Ma denied that this was a threat and said that he hoped lawmakers would be “magnanimous” and the matter would be resolved quickly. He also said that he agreed that the government should pass a ruling to decide whether to fine the MTRC after construction is completed. However, he said that cost overruns in projects were the norm now and it was not entirely the MTRC’s fault, especially in the face of rising wages and the lack of overseas labour assistance.
At a high-speed rail forum on Sunday organised by the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Professional Commons Chairman Albert Lai said that the MTRC’s assertion that failing to proceed with the current rail plans would mean all the work done would go to waste, or that the project’s failure could cost 7,000 engineers and workers their jobs, was misleading.
Lai explained that HK$84 billion was needed to continue building the rail project, but only HK$57.1 billion would be required to construct an underground complex and cultural centre at the site of the West Kowloon station. The site would be the largest of its kind in the world and would serve tourism purposes, Sing Tao Daily reported.
Chinese University of Hong Kong professor Edward Yiu Chung-yim said that the economic returns of such a complex would be 70 percent higher than the high-speed rail project. He also said that, should funds be approved for the high-speed rail project, a bad precedent would be set and taxpayers would be conditioned into doing so again for future construction projects.