The Hong Kong Productivity Council (HKPC) has been awarding itself huge project grants as manager of the government’s $1 billion Smart Traffic Fund, Transit Jam has learned.
The council, entrusted as the fund’s “implementation partner” by Transport Department (TD), has given its own automotive division APAS three grants out of the 14 awarded to date, amounting to $26 million, a third of the $80 million grant money doled out so far.
The first two grants were for exactly $3,240,000 each – one to “monitor the minibus environment” and another to detect the crane position on crane trucks. The latest and largest project, for an autonomous vehicle development, was for $19,730,872.
Routine enquiries to APAS about the projects set off alarm bells when a source at APAS cast doubt on the latest autonomous vehicle project fulfilling its project criteria.
The funded project titled “Pilot Project of 5G-enabled Autonomous People Mover Service in a Residential Park” says it aims to develop an autonomous people mover for a Hong Kong “low-density residential complex”.
But the source said the autonomous vehicle wouldn’t be trialled outside HKPC’s own Kowloon Tong grounds, leading to queries on whether the public project title was misleading while exposing the relationship of APAS – listed as Automotive Platforms and Application Systems (APAS) R&D Centre on the public project documents – and HKPC.
APAS was in fact once a separate company founded by the government’s Innovation and Technology Commission and “hosted” by HKPC until 2012 when it ceased operations and became a wholly-owned division of HKPC.
When asked for clarification on the project, APAS staff referred all enquiries to HKPC’s press team, which has so far refused to comment on either the autonomous vehicle project or answer questions on whether HKPC’s charter as the Smart Traffic Fund implementation partner allows it to fund itself.
The Smart Traffic Fund was born from Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s 2019 Policy Address and aims to support projects on vehicle-related technology with objectives of “enhancing convenience of motorists, enhancing efficiency of the road network and improving driving safety”.
Meanwhile a source in the traffic tech space said the Smart Traffic Fund grants were a notorious gold mine for consultants. “We get cold calls all the time from these consultants, they are often ex-government, they say, ‘you need a friend in government to get the grant, we can do it for 20, 30%’.”
A look at the Management Committee of the fund reveals a very tight circle of management and beneficiaries, including Hugh Chow Hin-poon, who was CEO of ASTRI until January last year and is now with the government’s Transport Advisory Committee. ASTRI won a $16.1 million grant to study “Vehicle-to-everything” (V2X) communication technology in the latest funding round last week.
Also on the committee is Hong Kam-lo, chair professor at HKUST, who is the listed contact person for a $7.98 million Smart Traffic Fund project to calibrate traffic lights with an Artificial Intelligence model.
Transport Department is yet to comment.