【明報專訊】RUMOUR was already rife last year that the Express Rail Link (XRL) project would fall behind schedule. The management of the MTR Corporation Ltd (MTRCL) kept denying it until it could not choose but admit it. The "black" rainstorm Hong Kong saw towards the end of last March has given the MTRCL management an opportunity. It has now attributed the delay (of at least a year) to the torrential downpour and unforeseeable geological conditions at the site of the XRL terminal in West Kowloon. In short, the delay has to do with heaven and earth, and nobody is to blame.
In May last year at least two newspapers (including Ming Pao) reported on the strength of contractor documents that the construction of the XRL was seriously behind schedule and the contractors had claimed $1.55 billion in compensation from the MTRCL. However, MTRCL chairman Dr Raymond Ch'ien vowed solemnly there would be no delay or cost overrun. Secretary for Transport and Housing Prof Anthony Cheung subsequently said something to the same effect.
The XRL project has fallen behind schedule. That points to a question - how much do MTRCL directors know about the company's affairs? Take the XRL terminal project. It would be Dr Ch'ien's problem if he heroically vowed there would be no delay or cost overrun though he was fully aware of the gravity of the situation. However, if he knew little about the situation when he made that remark, it will be a concern whether there has been a cover-up. Secretary for Transport and Housing Prof Anthony Cheung, who sits on the board of the MTRCL, said yesterday (April 15) he was surprised and had demanded that the MTRCL submit a full report to the government. That shows he is totally ignorant of the situation. Then, what does he do sitting on the board of the MTRCL?
The XRL costs more than $60 billion. As the XRL project is seriously behind schedule, its contractors are expected to claim large sums of money. Yesterday the MTRCL management refused to reveal whether the company would apply for additional funding. Conceivably, the amount needed has been determined, but the MTRCL management refrains from disclosing it lest the public should be even more greatly surprised. It is the taxpayer that has to provide the money, which will be used by the MTRCL, which is not adequately supervised. It is therefore a question who should protect citizens' interests.
Two bureau secretaries sit on the board of the MTRCL ex officio. The Secretary for Transport and Housing is one, and the Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury, the other. Normally, the government gets information on the MTRCL from them and supervises the company through the agency of them so that it will provide good railway services and do what is in citizens' interests. However, over the past few years, MTR failures have become frequent and MTR services have worsened. Furthermore, The MTRCL has diversified into so many areas that the provision of railway services has become a "side dish". All such unhealthy developments and tendencies have emerged under the two bureau secretaries' very noses. There are only two possibilities. Either they carry out the government's policy or they fail to do what they ought to do as MTRCL directors.
The government is a major shareholder in the MTRCL and wholly owns the East Rail Line. It must fulfil its functions and step up its supervision of the MTRCL. The Mass Transit Railway Ordinance is not such that the MTRCL (which virtually enjoys a monopoly) can be adequately supervised. The government should remedy the situation by having it amended so that the MTRCL will return to the right track.