Let's not go off the rails over MTR

Editorial | Mary Ma 22 Aug 2019

MTR Corp is among many who have fallen victim to violent confrontations between protesters and police over recent volatile weeks.

The subway company is little more than the operator of a public transportation network, so it's plainly unfair to single it - or its employees - out for harassment and all kinds of verbal abuse.

As protesters vent their anger on MTR station workers, do they realize their actions are the equal of Beijing's roughshod treatment of Cathay Pacific Airways, in retaliation for the carrier's flight crew participating in the anti-government protests?

Or have the protesters ever reminded themselves that so many of them were lucky to escape from tear gas and rubber bullets because near normal train services were maintained during those wee hours?

The MTRC has frequently been hit by crises in recent years, and its corporate affairs director, Linda So Ka-pik, would be in the best position to recall earlier dark incidents.

But none of those past crises were as ridiculous. While the Hung Hom station construction scandal, or the embarrassing building delay of the Express Rail Link were of the corporation's own making and deserved blame, it doesn't make sense to disrupt train services or hold protests at rail stations.

What did the protesters expect to hear from MTR staff as they questioned why riot police were allowed to chase protesters down the escalators in Tai Koo station, and shoot rounds of tear gas canisters into Kwai Fong station?

It was unfair for the protesters to direct their anger at the innocent, after feeling frustrated by the government's "lukewarm" response to their five demands. It's morally wrong to target the weak and use them as scapegoats or punching bags.

The MTRC said its crisis management specialist, So, is stepping down for greener pasture elsewhere. Since she left the Federation of Hong Kong Industries to join the MTRC in 2015, she has helped navigate the company through numerous political crises.

With rumors swirling that she will become one of the executive directors at the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, the current crisis is likely the last one she will have to lay to rest before departing in mid-January.

The MTRC is special. While it's publicly listed and expected to operate as a commercial corporation, it's more than 70 percent owned by the government, and behaves as a semi-government department - always walking a fine line to maintain a balance appropriate to its dual roles.

When landlords of major malls were caught between a rock and a hard place, and Cathay Pacific had its wings clipped as Beijing escalated rhetoric over the anti-extradition bill movement, it's patently unfair to blame the MTRC for not answering questions beyond its control.

It was exactly a month ago when alleged gangsters in white T-shirts, wielding rattan sticks and metal pipes, ambushed black-shirted protesters and pedestrians at Yuen Long MTR station. Some suspects were arrested but no charges have been laid.

As the government presses charges against protesters, it should also demonstrate it isn't color-blind - if the MTRC is to be spared the curse.

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