November 18, 2016

Transport minister coy on figures as Sha Tin to Central Link overrun costs reaches HK$20 billion

We need to wait for MTR Corp to finish its assessment of the project’s overall cost estimate, says Anthony Cheung


UPDATED : Friday, 18 November, 2016, 9:44pm

Divers were sent to investigate large metal object, estimated to be 40m by 20m, which was found in March this year on the seabed within project area of Wan Chai Development Phase II. Photo: David Wong

Transport minister Anthony Cheung Bing-leung refused to be drawn on the actual cost of the plagued Sha Tin to Central link yesterday as the overrun reportedly shot up to a stunning HK$20 billion, taking the total cost to almost HK$100 billion from the original HK$79.8 billion.

“I won’t speculate on the figures. The MTR Corporation already announced in its interim report that the cost estimate for the line will significantly exceed its original estimate,” Cheung said. “We need to wait for MTR Corp to finish its assessment of the project’s overall cost estimate. It will submit a report to the government for further scrutiny.”

Cheung was responding to media reports that the cost overrun would reach HK$20 billion and may need approval from the highly polarised Legislative Council’s finance committee.

Lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun of New People’s Party echoed the report, saying he had heard from various sources that the overrun was worse than that of the high speed rail link.

In its interim report in August, MTR Corp’s chief executive officer Lincoln Leong Kwok-kuen, already sounded a warning about the cost overrun and a possible further delay to the project expected to be completed in 2021.

“Taking into account the continuing difficulties and challenges ... the company considers it is likely that the cost estimate ... will need to be revised upwards significantly,” the report said, without mentioning the actual amount.

However, Leong said they still needed to conduct a detailed review of the project’s cost estimate and the assessment would only be completed in the second half of next year – when the MTR Corp will formally report the findings to the government.

Leong also did not rule out any further delay to the project revised to be completed in 2021.

“Any further delay in site handover will result in an equivalent additional delay to the completion of the north-south Corridor,” he said.

The 10-station 17km link connects existing railway lines to form an east-west corridor and a north-south corridor with six interchange stations.

Some major factors were attributed for the cost overrun and delays, such as the discovery of archaeological finds at the To Kwa Wan Station site leading to an 11-month delay in the east-west corridor and an additional cost of HK$4.1 billion.

Also, the late handover of certain critical work sites at the new Exhibition station, caused by the discovery of a large metal object on the seabed and unbudgeted foundation works at the station, already caused a six-month delay.

As of June 30 this year, the project was about 59 per cent complete with the east-west corridor and north-south corridor being 74 per cent and 40 per cent complete respectively. Under its entrustment agreement, the government is responsible to bear all the work costs.

November 02, 2016

Who has the last laugh in oath-taking row?

Voice of Hong Kong

Today, 07:49

By Chris Yeung –

In a show of his “single-tasking” work approach, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying cancelled a trip to Beijing scheduled this week to focus on his Number One task, or more accurately, enemies, namely the two Youngspiration legislators-elect, Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching.

Following a surprise announcement of a last-minute change of his travel plan Monday night, he revealed on Tuesday he would be staying in Hong Kong to handle a judicial review he has filed to stop the pair from swearing in again. For the first time, he did not rule out the possibility of asking the Chinese National People’s Congress Standing Committee to interpret the Basic Law for that purpose.

Two days before a High Court is due to hear the arguments before delivering a verdict, Leung cannot wait to make it clear there can only be one result whatever the court rules. Leung and Yau must not be allowed to take another oath to be given their seats in the Legislative Council Chamber.

The writing is on the wall.

As if the Government remains committed to judicial independence by giving respect to their ruling, Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung stuck to his view that the row “could and should” be resolved through the city’s judicial system.

They are nice words from Yuen the “good guy.”

Yuen ‘good guy’, Leung ‘bad guy’

The naked truth Leung Chun-ying, the “bad guy”, has laid bare hours before Yuen spoke was that the Government looks certain to ask the NPC standing body to overturn the High Court ruling if it is unfavourable to them.

Retired judge Woo Kwok-hing has described as an act that “does not look good” when he commented on the unprecedented legal action taken by Leung to bring Legco President Andrew Leung Kwan-yin to court over his decision to give Leung and Yau a second chance of swearing in after he ruled their first attempt that contained offensive words was invalid.

The blatant move by Leung to pave the way for the NPC Standing Committee to step in cannot be an uglier political act that runs the risk of inflicting fresh wounds in Hong Kong’s independent judiciary and the high degree of autonomy.

Michael Tien Puk-sun, a vice chairman of the pro-establishment New People’s Party, said Leung’s move was an attempt to put pressure on the court. He warned it would deal a body deal to the “one country, two systems” policy. Another pro-establishment lawmaker Paul Tse Wai-chun hinted that Leung was keen to score political points from the oath-taking controversy as the chief executive election heated up.

A blow to ‘one country, two systems’

Though widely tipped to seek re-election, Leung has refused to confirm his plan and when he would make a decision.

He said last week he was focusing on one task in the next few months, referring to the 2017 Policy Address and the related Budget. He asked his team members to do the same, without naming Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah, who is said to have told Beijing he wants to quit to join the CE election.

Nothing could be further from the truth. While pulling out all stops to stop the Youngspiration pair from taking the Legco seats they won in the balloting last month, Leung has kicked off his re-election task on two fronts.

First, he wrote an article to defend his achievements on a wide range of policy areas covering land and housing, anti-poverty and economic development.

Secondly, he led the crusade against the two young localists for their “mispronunciation” of the word “China” as “Chee-na” and the “People’s Republic” as “People’s Refxxxing” with a sinister motive.

The miscalculation and misjudgment of the pair over the potential dire consequences of playing fire with those politically-sensitive words have provided a godsend gift for Leung to show his loyalty to the ruling Communist Party by killing off the pair.

By acting tough on the localists now being branded as independence advocates at all cost, Leung sought to impress Beijing leaders pro-independence activism in the city would be nipped in the bud before it could “converge” with separatists in Taiwan, Xinjiang and Tibet as some pro-Beijing figures have warned.

Words from the pro-establishment circle were that Leung’s chance of re-election was given a big boost, thanks to the Youngspiration pair.

Leung has cast doubts last week about whether those “pushing for … independence stop what they are doing… (and) those insulting their own country shut up” if there is a new leader.

A similar question can be asked: will those who promote independence and “insult” China shut up if the two localists are being banned from taking their Legco seats.

If the answer to Leung’s question is no, the second cannot be a yes.

Any changes will be for the worse. Any brutal axing of the localist pair is poised to fan the growth of localism and pro-independence thinking and, worse, cause serious damage to “one country, two systems.”

Who has the last laugh?

Chris Yeung is founder and editor of the Voice of Hong Kong website. He is a veteran journalist formerly worked with the South China Morning Post and the Hong Kong Economic Journal. He writes on Greater China issues.

Photo: VOHK picture

November 01, 2016

Dark clouds over bridge to Macau and Zhuhai

EJ Insight » Hong Kong

by Mark O'Neill / Today, 14:35

Engineering challenges aside, whether there will be enough traffic is another major uncertainty facing the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge. Photo: HKEJ

At the end of September, the company building the link from Hong Kong to Zhuhai and Macau announced with much fanfare the completion of the 22.9-kilometer bridge and said it should open for traffic at the end of 2017.

The bridge is a major component of the project that runs 55 kilometres across the Pearl River and is the longest bridge in the world crossing the sea.

The cost is 38.1 billion yuan (US$5.62 billion), of which the mainland government is providing 7 billion yuan, the Hong Kong government 6.75 billion yuan and the Macau government 1.98 billion yuan; the rest is bank loans.

But dark clouds hang over the project, both engineering and financial.

The engineering challenges are substantial.

In addition to the bridge, there will be 6.7 km. of tunnels built under sea water that is subject to strong currents and typhoons during the summer.

One problem is that part of the artificial island being built next to Hong Kong International Airport has moved because the seabed is hard to stabilise.

Dragages Hong Kong is boring two 4.2-km two-lane road tunnels under the sea between Tuen Mun and the artificial island.

It cannot complete the work until the reclamation is stable.

The other big question mark is who will use the new bridge.

The three governments involved have not started detailed negotiations on which vehicles will be allowed to use it.

Hong Kong and Macau want to restrict severely the number and kind of vehicles that enter their small and crowded territories.

Only a limited number of Hong Kong vehicles with Guangdong number plates are allowed to enter the mainland. Such plates are expensive and hard to obtain.

So enormous man-made islands are being built at either end; vehicles will stop there and unload cargo and passengers who will transfer to cars with the necessary permits.

The one at the Zhuhai/Macau end has been completed; the 150-hectare island at the Hong Kong end is under construction.

So why should passengers use the bridge?

Currently, they can board a ferry in Macau, Zhuhai or Zhongshan and reach the ferry terminals in Sheung Wan or Tsim Sha Tsui in 60-70 minutes with no traffic jam.

They pass through immigration and customs at both ends. Both terminals are conveniently placed in the center of the city.

Once the bridge is open, they will board a bus that will take them to the man-made island at the other end, disembark with their luggage, go through immigration and customs and board a bus or taxi for their onward journey.

While the ride over the bridge will take 30 minutes, it will take more than double that to reach their destination, depending on traffic. So the door-to-door journey time may be the same or even longer.

There is also a question mark over the cargo. The bridge was first proposed in 1983, when Hong Kong had the finest sea and airport in China that could offer an unrivalled service to mainland manufacturers.

The Zhuhai government carried out a feasibility study in 1992, but the colonial government opposed the idea.

After the handover, the State Council approved the idea at the end of 1997 but it was torpedoed by the Asian financial crisis. Construction began finally in December 2009.

This long delay means that the bridge has lost the economic opportunity it would have had 10-20 years ago. Until 2004, Hong Kong was the top container port in the world.

But last year, it had slipped to fifth position, behind Shanghai, Singapore, Shenzhen and Ningbo/Zhoushan. Guangzhou ranked seventh.

The cities of southern China have rushed to build world-class sea and airports with global connections; for many mainland manufacturers, it is simpler and cheaper to export through them than through Hong Kong.

Another negative is a new bridge over the Pearl River between Shenzhen and Zhongshan that is under construction and due to be completed in 2023. Its price will be lower than that of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai bridge.

If you live on the west side of the Pearl River, in Heshan, Jiangmen or Zhongshan, and want to go to Hong Kong, you can cross the river by the Zhongshan Shenzhen bridge and then go to Hong Kong from Shenzhen.

Users will not have to go through customs and immigration. It will be simpler and cheaper than going via the HK Zhuhai bridge. This may also apply to cargo if you are sending it to the seaport of Hong Kong.

So the taxpayers of Hong Kong may well wonder if they will ever see a return on their investment in this giant project and ask what practical benefits it will bring to them.

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Corruption Spreads in Hong Kong – Suspected Bribery Case at University Election – Bribery Suspect Plans to Study in America

Real Hong Kong News
1st November 2016
Recently Hong Kong University’s Student Union started a petition (closed on 31/October with over 2,400 signatures by students and alumni) requesting the University’s Council to investigate the suspected bribery in the Postgraduate representative election to the Hong Kong University (HKU) Council, after a complaint against one of the candidates was rejected by the Council.
Zhu Ke, a candidate who stood at the election of a full-time Postgraduate Student to the HKU Council, was accused of giving out Red Packets to eligible voters in a WeChat group, and he subsequently won the election after the complaint being rejected.
The complaint was filed by Michael Mo Kwan-tai, also stood at the election. Mo received screenshots of Zhu Ke giving outRed Packets in a WeChat group named “New Hong Kong Youth” from multiple individuals, all appears to be sufficient evidence of Zhu’s alleged bribery action. The WeChat group is believed to be targeting HKU students from China. Mo’s complaint, however, was quickly rejected by the HKU Council which said that the RMB80 (USD) wroth Red Packet was “immaterial”.
Michael Mo filed complaint against Zhu
Zhu: it’s all due to “cultural difference”
When the complaint was rejected, some local HKU students expressed their disappointment in the Council’s decision by posting comments on the university’s Democracy Wall. Some exchange students from China, however, disagree with their views by replying to those comments saying that “Zhu only gave RMB80 to a group, not to each group member” and “giving out Red Packets is not bribery but a habit and purely for fun”.
In an interview published by The Initium, a new media allegedly backed by pro-China individuals, Zhu Ke rebuked all the accusations, and stressed that giving outRed Packets on WeChat group is a “habit and only for fun” and should not be regarded as bribery. He also said, “being a Mainland Chinese and the fact that this case involved money, I’d be condemned forever (in Hong Kong)”.
Zhu also commented that Hong Kong students overreact largely due to cultural difference as “giving out Red Packets is a common practice on WeChat which can spice up the atmosphere in a group”.
During the interview, Zhu also admitted that he is angry at Michael Mo for what he did (filing the complaint), and accused Mo of “taking things out of context” and “fabricating the event”, which all made him feel “a little disgusted”.
Zhu Ke, also hinted in the interview that he is the victim of this case, by saying that the whole situation has made him “sensitive” and “worried about going out”. He also said that he originally planned to study his PhD in Hong Kong but given what happened, he has now decided to further his education in the US. The Initium reporter asked him why he would give up Hong Kong permanent residency as he could have gained it should he spend three more years in Hong Kong, Zhu said, “once I get to the US, I can get a Green Card! Why would I want permanent residency in Hong Kong?”
In response to enquiry, ICAC said that there is no legal ground for the unit to investigate alleged corruption case in an election held in an academic institution.
Commented on the incident, Peter Mathieson, Vice-Chancellor of HKU, said that the incident was between students and does not affect the credibility of the university. He also said that he would respect the Council’s decision. Mo said that Mathieson’s comment was irresponsible given that Mathieson had a vote in the Council’s decision on the complaint against Zhu.
Zhu is successfully elected.
HKU’s Student Union’s statement about the case is available on its Facebook page.
(Source: Apple Daily, Headline Daily, The Initium and Stand News)

Jasper Tsang: At least four people interested in CE post

by HKEJ / Today, 12:12

Jasper Tsang believes the 2017 chief executive race will draw more contenders as the nomination period approaches. Photo: HKEJ

Jasper Tsang Yok-sing, former president of the Legislative Council, said he believes there are at least four people interested in running for Hong Kong’s top job in the chief executive election next year, and that more candidates may join the fray as the nomination period approaches.

In an exclusive interview with the Hong Kong Economic Journal, Tsang said that apart from retired judge Woo Kwok-hing, who formally announced last week that he will join the race, it looks likely that the city’s incumbent leader, Leung Chun-ying, will be a contender in the 2017 battle. 

While Leung will seek a second term, it appears he will face a challenge from two other prominent personalities — Financial Secretary John Tsang and New People’s Party chairwoman Regina Ip, the former Legco chief said on Monday.

Information gathered by him suggests that some more names could also throw their hat into the ring, he added.

From Beijing’s perspective, the ideal number in the final list should be no more than three, Jaspar Tsang said.

As of now, there has been no clear message as who the central government intends to back for the chief executive contest, he said, adding that there is no clarity on Beijing’s stance with regard to a potential re-election bid by Leung.

The silence is understandable as Beijing fears that if it makes its position known, it will draw criticism for trying to interfere with the Hong Kong election, he said.

That said, the former Legco chief believes that Beijing will not keep silent for too long since the candidates must be first approved by a 1,200-member election committee, whose members are to be elected in December, before one of the contenders is picked for the top job on March 26.

According to Jaspar Tsang, Beijing would want no more than two candidates from the establishment camp, to prevent cannibalization of votes from pro-Beijing members in the nominating panel, if there are one or more pro-democracy candidates.

However, two or more pro-establishment candidates would be fine if there is no candidate from the pro-democracy camp.

Referring to comments last week by Woo who said he cannot understand why those interested in the top job are yet to openly declare their candidacy, Tsang said the contenders have some issues to deal with.

John Tsang, for instance, faces a responsibility issue if he really decides to resign from his current post and run for the top job, the former Legco chief said, adding that the finance chief may be keeping his cards close to his chest pending a reply from Beijing.

Jaspar Tsang has said in the past that he would consider running for the election himself in order to spur competition, but he seems to have changed his mind.

He said recently that he would rather provide assistance to a candidate who he deems fit for the top job. A decision will be made only when he completes an assessment of the political ideas and campaign platforms of all the candidates.

[Chinese version 中文版]

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What can CY Leung do to stay in the game?

Beijing is worried about over-competition if CY Leung, John Tsang and Norman Chan (left to right) were to run in the CE election at the same time. Photos: HKEJ

by SC Yeung / Today, 13:59

Thanks to retired judge Woo Kwok-hing, we have been spared for a while from more guessing game over the chief executive election.

At last, Hong Kong people have something more substantial to sink their teeth into — the first declared candidacy.

Still, Woo’s entry did not bring so much focus on himself as on certain undeclared aspirants — Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and Financial Secretary John Tsang.

And now we have central banker Norman Chan reportedly interested in joining the race but more on that later.

There are increasing signs Leung may find himself being sidelined in favor of Tsang.

Observers say Leung missed his chance when he failed to secure Beijing’s blessing during the recent Communist Party plenum.

It’s quite unusual for Beijing to keep silent on its preferred candidate with the election only five months away.

For instance, Tung Chee-hwa and Donald Tsang had won verbal support from Beijing at least one year before the election.

On Monday night, Leung abruptly canceled a trip to Beijing without giving any reasons.

Some have speculated that Leung had wanted to use the visit to make his case with senior leaders but the cancellation only sparked more rumors about his future.

Still, Leung is determined to keep himself in the pubic eye.

An upcoming article to be published in a pro-Beijing magazine this month will tout his chief achievements in the past four years — more homes and higher tax revenue.

Leung also uses his blog to elaborate his views.

In one post, he paraphrased the late US President Harry S. Truman (“The buck stops here”) to point out that he will not shirk from his responsibilities.

And recently, Leung urged his cabinet ministers to focus on “one thing at a time”, referring to preparations for the government’s policy address and budget early next year.

But all these moves have been rearguard action, pending a formal declaration from John Tsang of his prospective candidacy.

It’s unclear which way Beijing is leaning.

Beijing may not pick its preferred candidate at all, which would be in keeping with “one country, two systems”, but Hong Kong people are not naive to believe senior officials will not be involved one way or another.

While playing coy, Tsang is certainly not hiding him ambitions.

All he has said is that he will “consider anything” to contribute to Hong Kong but he has been furiously peppering his blog with what looks like election propaganda.

One article highlights his patriotism. He decision to return from the US is underscored as a show of love of country.

Tsang continues to punctuate his duties with a people-friendly approach that serves to counter any perceptions that he is all business as usual.

By contrast, Leung is unraveling at the seams — thanks to his failure to achieve teamwork.

Some key cabinet members — Tsang included — are refusing to endorse him. Among them are development chief Paul Chan and tech honcho Nicholas Yang, who arguably are hedging their bets on a potential new leader.

Meanwhile, on Monday pro-Beijing website reported that Norman Chan had expressed interest in the job to a senior Beijing official.

That injects a new twist to the unfolding drama but it’s unlikely Beijing will want to have Tsang and Chan — both with financial backgrounds — compete for the top job.

It has to be one over the other. Stay tuned.

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