Snail speed on fast-rail fix

Editorial | 10 Mar 2017

Justice secretary Rimsky Yuen Kwok- keung will see his term end in a few months, but the matter of common immigration clearance for the Express Rail Link is yet to be resolved.

Unless an answer is found, the project, although it won't ne a white elephant, will undoubtedly become a "white snail."

The cost is just too high to allow this to happen. With HK$84.42 billion spent on the 26-kilometer rail link that will connect the SAR to the mainland's vast express rail network, anything falling short of efficiency is unacceptable.

Speaking in Beijing recently, Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office director Wang Guangya said further progress is expected on the matter very soon.

But Yuen continued yesterday to parrot the same old line that the government is negotiating with the mainland on the co-location of immigration facilities at the West Kowloon terminus, stating the obvious that an announcement will be made once a deal is reached.

Wang didn't say much, but at least held out expectations for progress this month. On the other hand, Yuen's comments were totally bereft of new information.

Judging from Wang's words, it's possible to deduce the negotiations are at an advanced, or even the final, stage. While the need for caution is appreciated, Yuen should be able to reveal some information, so as to assure the community that's growing increasingly anxious over the project, while being keen to see it succeed.

There have been reports for days that the construction of mainland immigration facilities at the West Kowloon terminus is nearly complete, sparking speculation that mainland officers will enact mainland laws here - in violation of the Basic Law and "one country, two systems" policy.

Yuen should know rumors feed on a lack of information. If speculation is allowed to become rampant, will it be too late to improve the social atmosphere for timely passage of the needed legislation, when an agreement on co- location immigration clearance is announced?

The outcry over a plan to put up a Palace Museum in West Kowloon is a lesson to learn from, bearing in mind that the museum plan had been kept from the public throughout. As principal officials, Yuen and his peers should have the wisdom to judge when to involve the public, so that people won't be shocked by what's to be announced.

Co-location of immigration and customs facilities is the only policy direction to pursue. The question is how this can be accomplished without causing alarm, and in full compliance with the Basic Law and one country, two systems.

It's practical since such an arrangement is precedented. Isn't there a common clearance point on the mainland side of the Hong Kong-Shenzhen Western Corridor?

Beijing adviser Alan Hoo Hon- ching said part of the West Kowloon terminus can be designated as a border area, within which mainland officers are allowed to enact their border laws. This could be a plausible alternative - if it can be clarified how much power the officers can exercise there.

Time is running out, and Yuen must act fast to put forward a package prior to his stepping down.

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