As heads rolled at MTR Corporation’s top management on Tuesday, chairman Frederick Ma Si-hang found himself all alone on the stage.
The beleaguered rail operator’s majority shareholder – the SAR government – has ordered the replacement of chief executive Lincoln Leong Kwok-kuen, projects director Philco Wong Nai-keung and three other senior officials linked to the construction scandals at the HK$97.1 billion Sha Tin-Central rail link.
With the public seeking his scalp, a defensive Ma stressed that he tendered his resignation twice last month as a matter of command responsibility, but his offer was turned down because the government needs someone to clean up the mess.
He would be given a few more months to tie up the loose ends and look for new faces to set things aright at the company.
It’s sad that Ma, 66, will be retiring soon under such circumstances.
In 2008, he quit the government as secretary for commerce and economic development on a high note, proud of his accomplishments in public service, although he was leaving for health reasons.
But then more offers came, from the academe and the private sector. And eventually he was named chairman of MTR Corp. three years ago.
On the job, he made good use of his business acumen, network and exceptionally good relations with media. But then all sorts of troubles came.
Asked by reporters over a derailment during a test run of the Express Rail Link, Ma lost his patience and said it would be meaningless to give them more information about the incident, suggesting that the details would be too technical for them to understand anyway.
“If we tell you it’s OK, then that means it’s OK,” he snapped. He later apologized for losing his cool, blaming it on the hot weather and his failure to say his morning prayers.
Ma has found himself in deeper trouble before. In the first month after he joined the government as secretary for financial services and the treasury in 2002, the “penny stock crisis” erupted.
His rating plunged following a report suggesting that it would be better to delist poorly performing stocks. Under pressure, Ma apologized and bowed in contrition in front of TV cameras.
We later heard that he vowed never to do such a thing again.
That episode could have been the lowest point in his civil service career. But he rebounded and became one of the most popular government officials in the post-handover era.
And so in the face of this current challenge in his professional life, we believe that Ma will show that he is capable of bouncing back again.
He has to weave his magic once more, or risk losing his hard-earned reputation.
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