As mainland immigration and law enforcement officials begin working within their designated area at the West Kowloon Station, ahead of the launch of the cross-border express rail service later this month, among the topics have come in for heated discussion among Hongkongers is this: will Hong Kong be forced to bear the meal expenses of the mainland officials serving at the rail terminus here?
Under the so-called co-location arrangement for the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link (XRL), hundreds of customs, immigration and quarantine officials from China are being stationed at the West Kowloon Station, the Hong Kong end of the cross-border high-speed rail link.
With the XRL co-location ordinance taking effect on Tuesday, a specified area within the rail terminus has formally passed into the control of mainland China, and the Chinese officials have begun taking up duties as they prepare for the Sept. 23 opening of the new rail link.
MTR Corporation, which is responsible for construction of the Hong Kong section of the link, had indicated that meal expenses for some estimated 700 mainland officers stationed at the West Kowloon Station could amount to more than HK$100 million per year.
The estimate was based on the calculation that each officer has three meals a day, with each meal entailing an expense of up to HK$100 per person.
MTR officials have revealed earlier that a total of about 3,000 meal boxes have to be prepared each day, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
The mainland side would, however, only give each of the officers a six-yuan allowance per meal, MTR sources said, suggesting that the Hong Kong rail operator may be forced to assume the lion’s share of the cost.
After learning about the situation from media on Monday, many Hong Kong netizens slammed the railway operator, raising questions as to why the company has to bear the meal expenses out of its pocket for officers who are not from Hong Kong.
Late in the evening Monday, an MTR spokesperson sought to dispel the worries, saying the mainland side would pay for their officers’ meals, which would be prepared in Hong Kong and delivered to them every day.
The rail operator is sorry if its comments earlier had created some misunderstanding on the issue, the spokesperson said.
According to MTR, catering services for the mainland officers had been requested by relevant mainland authorities. Suppliers will be selected through a tender process, and mainland entities in Hong Kong will be responsible for costs of the services once they accept and confirm the tender result and the price.
It is believed that bidding has ended and that MTR is currently reviewing the received tenders.
Still, MTR failed to specify in detail how much the price will be, and whether mainland entities will pay the full cost in relation to the meal supply or seek to pass on some of the burden to the Hong Kong rail operator.
As for why a restaurant was not put in place at the West Kowloon Station to save all the trouble of delivering meal boxes, the spokesperson said it was a decision made after taking multiple factors into consideration, such fire safety of underground floors, ventilation and pollution discharge systems, and technical and design restrictions.
Asked for her views on the high-cost meals for rail station personnel, Priscilla Leung Mei-fun, a lawmaker who represents the pro-establishment Business and Professionals Alliance for Hong Kong, said the co-location officers deserve HK$100 meal boxes since they have to work underground and shoulder a lot of stress.
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