Date
29 May 2017
A Hong Kong legislature panel approved extra funding for an express rail project (L) on March 11. There are hopes that the cross-border rail link, when completed, can give a boost to the planned West Kowloon Cultural District (R). Photos: HKEJ
A Hong Kong legislature panel approved extra funding for an express rail project (L) on March 11. There are hopes that the cross-border rail link, when completed, can give a boost to the planned West Kowloon Cultural District (R). Photos: HKEJ

Why the overbudget Express Rail Link is like an omelet

You can’t unmake an omelet.

Or can you?

The soap opera over the government’s request for extra funding for the Express Rail Link turned ugly on Friday when Chan Kam-lam, acting chairman of LegCo’s Finance Committee, tried to end the filibustering by pan-democrats by abruptly calling an express vote in the midst of a heated debate.

But the outcome — Chan declared the funding passed after he eyeballed a show of hands — was not too bad.

Well, we have already spent HK$71.5 billion (US$9.22 billion) on the much-delayed project.

We know that it would take HK$10 billion to clear up the mess if we decided not to go ahead, and it would probably be even more expensive to restart the project if we decided to suspend it for a further six months.

Hasn’t Moody’s Investors Service just downgraded the outlook for Hong Kong to negative, partly because we will face increasing borrowing costs for the Express Rail Link and other infrastructure projects?

Now the issue is: how do you deal with the mess?

Well, can we have a hole in the middle of the most pricey land in Hong Kong?

After all, it is at the center of the city, not like the Kai Tak redevelopment (HK$100 billion), Hong Kong airport’s third runway (HK$141 billion) or the North East New Territories development (HK$120 billion).

Without the completion of the Express Rail Link, we are not sure how the long overdue West Kowloon Cultural District will play out.

A bigger question: do we have something new to attract more visitors?

The chief executive of a global hotel chain recently came to town to make a sales pitch.

In the discussion on the upcoming tourism calendar, nothing was said about Hong Kong.

Cherry blossom watching in Japan, the opening of Shanghai Disneyland and a nice summer in Europe seemed more appealing.

Do we have anything to improve our regional competitiveness other than offering buy-one-gets-one-free for our theme parks?

From another perspective, filibustering is effective in learning what the government really wants to do for its people.

But it is also a very devastating tactic that pushes Hong Kong and its people into a loss-loss situation.

Hong Kong Construction Association chief executive Thomas Tse said the industry needs HK$180 billion to support 400,000 construction workers in Hong Kong.

This year though, the Legislative Council only approved HK$200 million in project funding.

Well, he can count on the HK$19.2 billion in extra funding for the Express Rail Link soon.

As one might expect, the arguments over the funding of the Express Rail Link will never end if you put legislators Albert Chan Wai-yip and Priscilla Leung Mei-fun together, as occurred this morning on RTHK’s Backchat program.

But perhaps what we need most is a sensible outcome that can make more people happy.

[Go to Backchat]

– Contact us at [email protected]

BK/JP/FL

EJ Insight writer

EJI Weekly Newsletter

Please click here to unsubscribe