29 February 2020
Instead of apologizing for insulting the public, MTR Corp’s Frederick Ma blamed bad weather and a missed morning prayer for controversial remarks. Photo: Bloomberg
Instead of apologizing for insulting the public, MTR Corp’s Frederick Ma blamed bad weather and a missed morning prayer for controversial remarks. Photo: Bloomberg

Frederick Ma inadvertently blurts out the truth

At least it can be said of Frederick Ma, the chairman of the MTR Corporation, that he has been frank in revealing the arrogance and insensitivity of his company in insisting that the public is not entitled to information about the continual problems troubling the express rail link to the mainland.

He was certainly being more straightforward than Chief Executive Carrie Lam who tried to dampen down anger over Ma’s remarks by promising to ‘employ a honest and transparent attitude’.

But back to Ma who responded to reporters on the express railway’s problems by saying: “When we tell you that it is okay, it is okay. You don’t need to worry.”

He went on to insist that only technicians were capable of understanding the problems facing the railway and reporters should simply rely on the assurances of experts and not bother the MTR’s management with constant questions because if they did it would be impossible for the poor dears to sleep.

Yes, yes, there have been problems, Ma conceded after the furor following his initial remarks but “it’s like when you open a new restaurant – on trial runs you may have no customers, water leakage and stoves that don’t really work, but there is no reason to tell your future customers about these issues.”

To sum up, Ma’s attitude is that members of the public are too ignorant to be trusted with information about the railway project and in any case there is no need to proffer information because in-house experts have determined that everything is fine and dandy.

What Ma, in his blunt fashion, does not appreciate and Lam, in her devious way, refuses to acknowledge is that this is a publicly-funded project consuming zillions of dollars, which has suffered endless delays and encountered a number of real and troubling safety issues. Public interest in this matter is therefore hard to question.

Layered on top of this has been a consistent level of official mendacity over how sensitive jurisdiction issues will be handled, how much tickets will cost, topped off by laughable lies over the alleged time saved by traveling on this rail system, including the use of much publicized figures about journey times that turn out to be utter nonsense because they fail to take account of trains stopping at stations enroute.

No wonder that Ma feels it would be better to shut down discussion, and justifies it by saying that these issues are way too complex for members of the public to understand.

Ma was previously the commerce secretary and got into big trouble by wondering aloud whether it would be a good idea to banish so called penny stocks from the stock exchange. His irresponsible statement caused a serious collapse in share prices leading to what passes for a humble apology.

Instead of learning from his mistakes Ma is at it again and, instead of apologizing for insulting the public he put his remarks down to bad weather and the fact that he had forgotten to pray on the day he made his initial comments.

Lam gamely also thought that bad weather was his best excuse. But this is not half good enough.

The reality is what Ma has inadvertently revealed – namely the contempt that mighty officials have for the public and their instinctive reflex to conceal information on the grounds that they know best. They have no real concept of accountability or indeed of the need for checks and balances that are essential in any well-functioning system.

Meanwhile let’s hope that Ma recovers from this bout of hot weather. While lesser mortals simply have to put up with it and get on with their jobs, apparently in the upper echelons of officialdom they find the heat far more difficult.

– Contact us at [email protected]


Hong Kong-based journalist, broadcaster and book author