• Tue
  • Dec 23, 2014
  • Updated: 5:37am
Lai See
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 December, 2013, 6:04am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 December, 2013, 5:28pm

RMJM hit with winding up order for non-payment of salary

BIO

Howard Winn has been with the South China Morning Post for two and half years after previous stints as business editor and deputy editor of The Standard, and business editor of Asia Times. His writing has also been published in the Far Eastern Economic Review, the Wall Street Journal, and the International Herald Tribune. He writes the Lai See column which focuses on the lighter side of business.
 

The Hong Kong operation of troubled architectural firm RMJM, once one of the world's largest practices, has been issued with a winding up petition by a former employee who is claiming almost HK$335,000 in unpaid pay.

The petition was filed last month in the Court of First Instance by former marketing director Liliana Silva who left the company in August after working for the company for 11 months. The petition says that RMJM breached a Labour Tribunal agreement to pay Silva HK$334,986.18 in three monthly instalments. The company paid her nothing.

Having missed the first payment, this triggered a condition of the Labour Tribunal agreement which said it should pay the entire amount. RMJM has failed to meet this condition and the petition claims because RMJM is unable to pay it should be wound up. A court hearing has been scheduled for January 22. Silva told Lai See that once it had been gazetted she expected five of her former colleagues to join the petition.

She said that she had been contacted by the company in late November saying RMJM would try to pay her before the January court hearing, but she has heard nothing further. A number of former employees have not been paid by RMJM despite successful Labour Tribunal cases.

In its glory days RMJM was responsible for a string of high-profile designs including the New Scottish Parliament Building, the National Convention Centre, Beijing, Huawei's Research and Development Park, Nanjing, and The Gate of the Orient, Suzhou. Trouble at RMJM's Hong Kong operations began to surface in 2010 and culminated in early 2011 when the firm's then principal architect, Catherine Siu, was suspended and subsequently left the company, after firing off an e-mail highly critical of the way the company was run, to the company's chief executive Peter Morrison and circulating it to all staff. She accused Morrison of "stripping out all the cash" from the Hong Kong office, making it difficult to pay staff and creditors.

RMJM's operations over the past few years have been punctuated by claims for unpaid wages, demands from creditors and the departures of leading designers. The Hong Kong office, once a buoyant practice has been reduced to a staff of 15. Nobody answered the company's listed phone number and managing director for Asia, Nick Haston, did not respond to Lai See's e-mail or phone call.

 

Wu findings due soon

We understand that the long wait for the disciplinary tribunal of the Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants (HKICPA) to produce its findings on former Hospital Authority chairman Anthony Wu may shortly be over. The tribunal is likely to complete its report before Christmas and the HKICPA, which has been fretting over the length of time to produce the report, is likely to publish it soon afterwards. In addition to Wu, the other defendants are Ernst & Young, of which Wu was chairman until December 2005, and Catherine Yen Ka-shun, another senior figure at the accounting firm.

The complaint relates to the collapse of the investment firm New China Hong Kong in 1999. Wu was the financial adviser to the company and Ernst & Young was the auditor. This is by far the HKICPA's longest-running case and dates back to December 2009. It has exposed a number of shortcomings in the HKICPA procedures and the authorities would be well advised to reconsider them. In particular the issue of whether to have a paid or unpaid disciplinary tribunal should be looked at. The reason why the disciplinary proceedings have taken so long is because, we believe, it has been done on an unpaid basis without secretarial support.

 

Choir Aid raises HK$200,000

Taking a leaf out of the legendary Live Aid concerts held in 1985 to raise money for famine relief in Africa, seven Hong Kong choirs got together to stage a mass Christmas Concert in St John's Cathedral last Sunday to raise funds for the victims of Typhoon Haiyan that devastated parts of the Philippines last month. The initiative, led by the Welsh Male Voice Choir, also included the Kassia Choirs, Il Coro, The Cecilian Singers, Celtic Connection, the Grace Notes, and a choir from the local Diocesan Pastoral Centre for Filipinos. The event, with some 200 singers, raised HK$200,000 for The Hong Kong Red Cross South East Asian Relief Fund.

 

Have you got any stories that Lai See should know about? E-mail them to howard.winn@scmp.com

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