The Chinese section of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge has encountered yet another budget overrun totalling RMB10 billion (HK$11.7 billion). The cost will be shared by all three sides, along with bank loans.

The bridge project – with a price tag of over HK$120 billion – has been plagued by over-spendingdelays, deadly accidents involving workers, instances of hacking, and falsified test results.

The Transport and Housing Bureau said in a press release on Tuesday that there had been an escalation in the construction costs arising from an increase in labour and material costs as well as the refinement of the design and construction schemes.

Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge
Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge main bridge. Photo: HZM Bridge Authority.

After reviewing an application to adjust the project estimate from the contractors, the bridge’s managing authority prepared a report which has been submitted to the State Council via relevant mainland authorities: “According to our understanding, the cost overrun of the Main Bridge may be around RMB10 billion,” it said.

“It is expected that the apportionment of the additional capital cost arising from the cost overrun of the Main Bridge will follow the above principle as stipulated at the time when the project was approved, i.e. it will be partly financed by the three sides and the remaining sum will be financed by borrowing from the banks by the HZMB Authority.”

“We will report to the LegCo the detailed arrangement, including the amount to be financed by the Hong Kong side, after the cost overrun of the Main Bridge is confirmed. We will also seek LegCo’s approval for the required additional funding.”

Troubled waters

Financial Secretary Paul Chan, who is visiting Beijing, said it was too early to tell whether the funding request will further delay the bridge. He added that he was not certain about the part Hong Kong will have to cover, but he believed there is existing mechanism to handle the added costs.

The commissioning date of the bridge has still yet to be announced, but the bureau said the three sides were aiming to complete major construction works by the end of this year.

Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge
Photo: GovHK.

Both pro-democracy and pro-Beijing lawmakers expressed disatisfaction.

“Hong Kong people have a feeling that the LegCo’s Finance Committee has become an ATM,” said Civic Party lawmaker Kwok Ka-ki.

He said that when the government requested extra funding in 2016, they would not reveal the actual amount of budget overrun: “There is a cover-up. I have reasons to believe the government knew the funds were not enough last year.”

He also said the government did not reveal the source of the added costs. If it is because of a mistake in an estimation by contractors, the three sides should not share the extra costs according to Hong Kong’s system, Kwok said.

Federation of Trade Unions lawmaker Michael Luk said the last minute cost overrun situation was shocking and ridiculous. He said that the local and mainland authorities must investigate to see if there was any mismanagement or cover-up by mainland officials.

“There must be a clear answer,” he said, adding the government should ensure the rest of the project will be completed smoothly to avoid further overruns.

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.