Photo of Hong Kong LegCo from Wikimedia.

Hong Kong LegCo votes to hold urgent special hearing on safety issues relating to Kawasaki/CSR Sifang trains

The Legislative Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (LegCo) has voted 24 to 22 to hold an urgent special hearing on July 13 to hear about safety issues relating to Kawasaki/CSR Sifang trains.

The votes were held on the proposal by Gary Fan Kwok-wai, a member of LegCo and Sai Kung District Council to seek the House committee’s agreement for asking an urgent oral question at the council meeting of 13 July 2016 on the safety issue in relation to the new trains for the Hong Kong section of the Guangzhou – Shenzhen – Hong Kong express rail link and for MTR urban lines.

On July 5, FactWire News Agency, a watchdog news organization released an exclusive report on the secret transportation of defective trains by SMRT Pte Ltd, one of Singapore’s train operators back to Qingdao-based CSR Sifang.

While MTR Corporation in Hong Kong as well as the Secretary of Transportation and Housing Anthony Cheung Bing-Leung had initially denied knowledge of the defects found in the trains purchased by Singapore, FactWire subsequently revealed internal documents revealed by a whistleblower that they knew of the defects, yet still awarded a contract for subway trains to Qingdao-based CSR Sifang.

MTR Corporation had admitted on July 7 that it awarded a HK$6 billion (around S$1 billion) contract for 93 new trains to CSR Qingdao Sifang (now CRRC Qingdao Sifang) while being aware of problems with its trains two years ago. This comes after the Transport and Housing Bureau said on the same day that the Highways ­Department had already sounded warnings to the MTR Corp early last year after the bureau received some emails about the train problems in Singapore. MTR Corporation is now being ­accused of a cover-up.

Transport minister Anthony Cheung Bing-leung had also confirmed that his bureau had received some tip-offs early last year, but insisted he had not seen the emails personally.

Back in Singapore, Land Transport Authority (LTA) issued a press release on Wednesday evening to address the defects found on the 26 North-South and East-West Lines (NSEWL) trains, emphasizing that the trains on NSEWL are safe for service.

LTA stated that it had awarded the contract, 151A in 2009 to Kawasaki Heavy Industries and CSR Sifang to design, manufacture, and deliver 35 new trains for the NSEWL. It added that the trains were progressively put into service from February 11, following rigorous testing of their safety and reliability.

On the subsequent contracts awarded to the contractor that manufactured the defective trains, LTA said that in assessing the contractors, it looked at “the overall quality that the contractor can deliver.”

LTA said: “We also considered that the contractor was able to quickly identify the cause of the defects, take responsibility and carry out the necessary action promptly to rectify the fault.”

MPs of the Workers’ Party have filed parliamentary questions on the issue of defective trains being “secretly” sent back to its manufacturers.

Differences between LegCo and Singapore Parliament

Incidentally, a similar motion to call for a special meeting is not possible in the Singapore Parliament even if there are enough votes. Currently, there are not. 9 Workers Party MPs and a some of the NMPs could vote for a motion while MPs from the People’s Action Party will not given a choice given the imposition of the party whip.

Members who are not ministers have to give a seven day notice for motions. Urgent special motions from members need to be approved by the Speaker after the Leader of the House (i.e. Leader of the majority party in the House) presents the motion to the Speaker.

Likewise, a special sitting requires both a representation by the Leader of the House to the Speaker and the Speaker’s concurrence.

In other words, even a vote by a majority of MPs to call for an urgent motion, will not have the urgent motions to be included in a Parliamentary sitting or cal for a special sitting, no matter how important an issue may be.

special sitting

Other than the power to call special sittings, it is rare to have individual votes by the MPs recorded in Singapore Parliament. Individual votes are recorded in the HK Legco by default whereas a division has to be called in the Singapore Parliament for the votes to be counted, a recent example of a divison being called was during the debate on the Population White Paper. By not recording votes, this makes the whole decision process less transparent and makes it harder for voters to know how their MPs have voted and represented their interests on a given issue.