Crackdown on 'cowboy' contractors
By KEITH WALLIS
TOUGH measures to outlaw 'cowboy' construction contractors have been drawn up in a Buildings Department consultation document.
The department proposes a major shake-up of its register of contractors to ensure all firms listed are properly qualified.
Separate lists will be compiled for general building contractors and those involved in specialist work including demolition, piling and asbestos removal. The register will cover all private construction. Firms working on public works are covered by different criteria.
The most far-reaching change is an annual interview all owners and directors of the 2,300 contractors on the register must have with a board of experts formed by the Government.
Assistant Director of Buildings, Cheng Wei-dart, said the experts had still to be identified but could include architects, engineers and senior construction executives.
He said people would have to pass this interview before a firm's registration was renewed.
'A major weakness of the present system is there are no subsequent checks,' he said. At present, once firms are registered, they can stay on the list without any further investigation.
'All contractors will be subject to an annual assessment looking at the general experience, the number and qualifications of technical staff, the firm's financial capabilityand whether there is sufficient plant and equipment,' he said.
The department had proposed renewing the register annually to take into account changes in staffing and financial stability, Mr Cheng said.
People wanting to register new firms will face a rigorous series of tests to ensure they have the necessary experience and technical expertise.
Mr Cheng said the register was intended to plug the loophole where people own more than one company.
'It will be a personal register - of owners and directors - not a company register,' he said.
Construction companies welcomed moves to tighten the regulations, but questioned annual renewal.
'Once a year is crazy, ridiculous. Just as you've passed one interview you will be preparing for the next. Once every three years is much more sensible,' said one building company boss.
'But the other immediate problem is where they are going to get the staff. They have been screaming out they cannot get enough staff to carry out inspections. Where is this extra manpower going to come from?' The secretary-general of the Hong Kong Construction Association, Patrick Chan Wing-tung, said: 'Generally we welcome moves to get rid of cowboy firms'.
The overhauled register is being introduced as part of a package of proposals which also includes improved registration of architects and structural engineers.
This follows stinging criticism during the summer after two fatal building accidents revealed major flaws in the existing procedures.