Secret floor, ceremony add to Hong Kong’s express rail rows

Secret floor, ceremony add to Hong Kong’s express rail rows

With less than three weeks to go before the high-speed rail link goes on-stream, but the revelation of a hitherto-unknown basement at the West Kowloon terminus and a handover ceremony held without any media presence have raised new questions about the project’s transparency.

Lawmakers from both sides were demanding answers today after the MTR Corporation confirmed the existence of a level that does not appear in layout plans and which Legco was not told about.

Pro-government lawmaker Priscilla Leung said she was not aware of the B5 level that is below the mainland-controlled B4 level at the station. Civic Party legislator Tanya Chan said she had checked the papers the MTRC submitted to Legco and there was no mention of the floor in any of them.

But speaking ahead of the weekly Executive Council meeting, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said such basements are common in infrastructure projects – especially those with tunnels – and there’s nothing “secretive” about it.

A spokesman for the corporation later told RTHK that the B5 level is only to be used for maintenance and as an emergency fire escape.

However, the railway operator did not explain why the public and legislators were not told about this floor of the station until its existence was reported first by local news outlet HK01.

An event that was held overnight at the station to mark the beginning of the joint immigration arrangement also added to the controversy.

Transport Secretary Frank Chan Fan and the Deputy Secretary General of the people’s government of Guangdong province, Lin Ji, attended the event but there was no official intimation about this until a statement was issued by the SAR government today.

But Lam said there was no ceremony as such. It was just to hand over the area earmarked for mainland officials working at the station, she said.

But the government’s own press release had described the event as a “ceremony” and photos were issued showing officials shaking hands.

The Hong Kong Journalists Association issued a protest note saying as this high-speed rail project has caused much anxiety to the public, officials should have ensured that the media were there to report this key event. The association said the lack of access had “seriously undermined the people’s right to know”.

Another concern is the co-location arrangement — for mainland officers to be stationed at West Kowloon and enforce mainland laws in parts of the terminus.

The government said earlier that mainland officers will not be staying overnight in Hong Kong, but Lam acknowledged that some staff will be on overnight shifts at the station. She said they will not be allowed to leave the mainland-controlled area and will returns to Shenzhen once their shifts are over.

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